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Tuesday, 12 February 2013
Page: 967

Mr RAMSEY (Grey) (17:54): I rise to support the member for Sturt's amendment. But I am gobsmacked that we are debating the Australian Education Bill 2012 now, and I must say that I am somewhat personally insulted that we are doing so. I am the deputy chair of the House Standing Committee on Education and Employment. This bill was referred to us during the recess. We called for submissions during the break and are due to commence hearings on Friday; we have not even started our inquiry into the bill. I have put aside three days of my valuable time next week to chase the hearings around Australia. In 2010 there was a hung parliament, and the member for Lyne negotiated his deal to support the government according to his new paradigm: the parliament of cooperation and consultation; the parliament that would let the sunlight in. There was a reform of standing orders, and a more important role was given to the House standing committees. Much more legislation has been referred to the committees as a result, and my experience is that they have worked very hard to try to deal with the legislation. Yet, on this bill, it appears that the government does not really want to hear what the committee has to say at the end of its deliberations.

Standing order 143 says:

After the first reading but before the resumption of debate on the motion for the second reading:

(a) a motion may be moved without notice to refer a bill to the Main Committee for further consideration as provided by standing order 183;


(b) a determination may be made by the Selection Committee as provided by standing order 222 to refer a bill to a committee for an advisory report. The determination may specify a date by which the committee is to report to the House. After an advisory report has been presented to the House, the bill may then be referred to the Main Committee …

The tabling of this bill is clearly in breach of standing orders. The government should wait until the committee has reported. Not only does the government not want to hear what the members of the opposition have to say after the committee's hearings; it does not want to hear what the member for Kingston or the member for Deakin or the member for Robertson or the member for Petrie—even though I am not sure whether she is still on the committee—have to say either. The government obviously does not want to know what the member for Melbourne has to say. He co-opted himself onto the committee for the inquiry and then voted today to bring on the debate. Perhaps the government does not want to know what the government members of the committee have to say because it is already known what they are going to say: they will be told to toe the line. So what is the rush in bringing the bill forward?

This bill is the government's response to the much-vaunted report by David Gonski. The Gonski report is 319 pages long, and one of the recommendations in it which has caused the most difficulty for the government is that funding be increased to education by an amount in excess of $6 billion per annum and that the funding be met 30 per cent by the Commonwealth and 70 per cent by the states and territories. Among the other big recommendations of the Gonski report is that each student be allocated a standard resource, which would then:

… include a 'per student' amount, with adjustments for students and schools facing certain additional costs.


Base funding would be set for every student at the amount deemed necessary to educate a student in well-performing schools, where at least 80 per cent of students achieve above the national literacy and numeracy minimum standard.

The report suggests the base amount could be about $8,000 per primary student, and about $10,500 for secondary students.

There would be extra loadings for disadvantage such as disability, low socioeconomic background, school size, remoteness, the number of Indigenous students, and lack of English proficiency.

The report says at least 10 per cent of student funding in non-government schools should come from private contributions. The minimum public contribution would be set at between 20 and 25 per cent.

That is what Gonski said; let 's have a look at what is in the bill. Sadly I must report that there is very little in the bill and that what is in the bill are platitudes, aspirations and motherhood statements. The education sector's reaction to the tabling of this bill has been at best muted and bewildered; in fact, an argument could be made that the education sector does not want to buy a fight with the government. The sector is completely underwhelmed.

There are five main points in the bill, and I will paraphrase them. The first is, 'We should develop a plan.' I thought that is what the bill was supposed to be—a plan. But, no, it says that we should develop a plan. It says that teachers should have good skills. Really? Good grief—teachers should have good skills! That is a revelation, isn't it? That really rips the skin off the back of your hands. It says we should have quality learning, but does not offer any strategy; it just says we should have it. It says we should develop benchmarks. Wow; that is a breakthrough! It says that funding is the most central issue of the Gonski report, and you think that the government would offer something to respond to those recommendations in the Gonski report. Sit down everyone here—they all are—and take a deep breath, because here it is: it says we should develop a funding model with the states. No wonder the education sector is underwhelmed.

After getting through that challenging agenda comes the coup de grace on page 9. Bear in mind that there are just nine pages in this bill. I have been sitting on a similar inquiry into the APVMA, and the bill there extends to over 300 pages. So 300 pages for a regulatory regime for pesticides and 10 pages—just 10 pages; 1,400 words—to overhaul our entire school education system. It must be said that the school education system needs some attention, because recent surveys show that, despite the billions of dollars spent during the school halls program and the billions of dollars on the computers in schools program, Australia is in fact going backwards. But, as I said, the coup de grace is on page 9. I quote:

This Act does not create legally enforceable obligations etc.

Et cetera! It goes on to say:

(1) This Act does not create rights or duties that are legally enforceable in judicial or other proceedings.

(2) A failure to comply with this Act does not affect the validity of any decision, and is not a ground for the review or challenge of any decision.

Well, the government has really stuck its neck out there, hasn't it? There were 41 recommendations in the Gonski report and it did not even attempt to address any of them—none of them.

The bill does not say where the $6 billion comes from annually. It does not address the Commonwealth-state ratios. It does not say how the government will meet its commitment. It gives no modelling showing how any changes will affect individual schools. It does not say at what level will a standard resource be set; in fact, it does not even say there will be a standard resource.

So the bill says nothing, and even that nothing is qualified—if anyone can actually read anything creative into it they are wrong—because the bill explicitly states that the act is not legally enforceable. It says nothing and means nothing and yet is so urgent it must short-circuit the procedures of the parliament. It cannot wait for the report from the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Education and Employment. It cannot even wait for the inquiry to start. In fact, the only reason for any urgency here is for the government to try to tick some political boxes because the Prime Minister said that her government would respond to Gonski by the end of last year. It had to get something out. So, coming ready or not, like kids playing blindfold—'Coming reading or not'; and government definitely was not ready—here comes your policy.

Without the benefit of the committee's findings, rather than to oppose the bill outright or just wave it through because it is meaningless, I do support the member for Sturt's amendments as a genuine attempt to try to assist the government to put some meat on the bones of this bill. A mendment (1) state s :

(a) families must have the right to choose a school that meets their needs, values and beliefs;

(b) all children must have the opportunity to secure a quality education;

(c) student funding needs to be based on fair, objective, and transparent criteria distributed according to socio-economic need;

(d) students with similar needs must be treated comparably throughout the course of their schooling;

(e) as many decisions as possible should be made locally by parents, communities, principals, teachers, schools and school systems—

a very important tenet—

(f) schools, school sectors and school systems must be accountable to their community, families and students;

(g) every Australian student must be entitled to a basic grant from the Commonwealth government—

a point that the bill just does not address—

(h) schools and parents must have a high degree of certainty about school funding so they can effectively plan for the future;

(i) parents who wish to make a private contribution toward the cost of their child's education should not be penalised, nor should schools in their efforts to fundraise and encourage private investment; and

(j) funding arrangements must be simple so schools are able to direct funding toward education outcomes, minimise administration costs and increase productivity and quality.

Further, we have moved for clearer definitions and commitments to different types of schools and groupings to ensure that highly efficient and reputable organisations like Catholic Education are still able to manage their own budgets and that other independent schools will not have their funding channelled through the states to be manipulated as they see fit.

We stress that the legislation must address the disincentives to schools—schools who want to improve themselves either by raising funds to support their efforts or just plainly raising the standards—lest they jeopardise their government funding. This is another very important point, Mr Deputy Speaker. You can imagine how schools are feeling concerned about the fact that if they get off their backsides, and if their community and their parents decide to help them, they may well be penalised by seeing a reduction in the funding that they will receive from the Commonwealth.

Because of all this uncertainty, we call for the government to extend the current funding arrangements for another two years—and we will support the government if they should choose to do so while all this is being sorted out—and for guarantees to be given ensuring schools do not lose funding in real terms. In fact, the Queensland education minister, Mr John-Paul Langbroek, has said:

We've had absolutely no detail about numbers … We don't have a model from which we can work and we also don't have any idea about what state contributions are supposed to be, let alone whether we can afford them.

No wonder the schools are looking for guarantees.

It is difficult to really debate the contents of this bill when it says so little. It is difficult to disagree with the bill, because it does not actually say anything and it is, as I said, platitudes and motherhood statements. If nine pages of homework by the education minister is the best he can do in a little over 12 months, perhaps he should go back to school as well. Where is the commitment to the standard resource? This is the central tenet of the Gonski report: there will be a standard resource. There is no commitment from the government. Where is the commitment from the government to grant freedom to schools to appoint teachers of their own liking? On this point I note that religious schools, for instance, may well want to appoint teachers from their own religion to teach children, teachers that reflect their own moral standards, but there are no guarantees within the bill that schools will be given this freedom. Where are the guarantees that will ensure that schools are not penalised for trying to help themselves? How can they be sure that if they motivate their community and their teachers and if they adopt new and interesting teaching techniques they will not be penalised?

This bill is so typical of this government insomuch as we have seen before the MO of the grand announcement—'We are going to solve the problems of the world. We will have peace in our time. We'll flesh out the detail afterwards'—as we have seen with the NBN and project after project rushing to meet a press deadline rather than the government developing its policy and bringing something that is fully researched to the parliament —and nothing could be less researched than this bill.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER ( Mr Murphy ): Before I call the member for Shortland and before the member for Grey leaves the chamber, I would like to share some advice that has been provided to me by the clerk in relation to this debate. It is in accordance with the standing orders, not as you have suggested. I have familiarised myself with standing order 148 and so should you. I call the member for Shortland.