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Tuesday, 12 February 2013
Page: 980


Mr WYATT (Hasluck) (18:54): Thank you for that, Minister. I rise to speak to the Australian Education Bill 2012, a bill that raises an issue of critical importance to our society—that is, the education of our young people. I am passionate about education and lifelong learning because it has made a difference to me and the options that I have had in my life. I want to see the same for all students. Sometimes we need to step down from the high moral ground of finger-pointing and look at what it is that we need to put into place that will make a difference to the educational options for all children regardless of the choices that their parents make.

When you educate a person, you liberate them from being a victim in life because you create the capacity for them to acquire knowledge to make informed consent decisions within the context of their life. Education develops within a person the wisdom to control their life but equally the capacity to question the way in which a government leads a nation. This is evident in nations where totalitarianism prevails, because they do not have that option; they are led to live a life that does not allow those freedoms.

I want to quote from a great man and an inspirational leader who has touched the lives of so many in different ways. I refer of course to Nelson Mandela, former President of South Africa, whose quote is pertinent to the core business of providing educational and training pathways for Australia's children and youth. He said:

Education is the great engine of personal development. It is through education that the daughter of a peasant can become a doctor, that a son of a mineworker can become the head of a mine, that a child of farm worker can become the president of a great nation.

Schools alone are not the only source of accessing an education within the framework of lifelong learning because learning begins at birth and an individual's family is a partner in the process.

What I did note when I read through Gonski is that recommendation 1 gives strong credence to the fact that we need to consult. It says:

The Australian government and the states and territories in consultation with the non-government sector should develop and implement a schooling resource standard as the basis for general recurrent funding of government and non-government schools.

It goes on to expand on those standards. What is disappointing is that that consultation process is not at a stage where I thought it could have allowed for the evolution of an agreed position with states and territories and the Commonwealth government, and then defined legislation as to how that would operate. It would be common sense that those who provide education at state and territory level are those who have a significant say in the modelling and the shape of it with respect to funding.

I have seen the doors that good education open and I have seen the doors that a lack of education close. As a nation, in the interests of our future prosperity, education is of critical importance. I cite the United Nations Education Scientific and Cultural Organization. In the 1980s, at the international consultative forum on 'Education for All' 155 nations participated. As an outcome of their collective deliberations, a joint statement 'Education for all: a goal within reach' was released. Within the context of this joint statement, the principles of education for all is based on an individual:

learning to know, so as to acquire the instruments for understanding the world;

learning to do, so as to acquire the instruments of understanding;

learning to live together in order to participate, understand others and cooperate with others in all human activities; and,

learning to be … the development of a greater capacity for autonomy and judgement, which goes together with strengthening the feeling of personal responsibility for our collective destiny.

Further, and this is what we all should strive for: 'An educated individual must be prepared to play many roles in the course of their life within their community.'

These include: an efficient producer; a public-spirited citizen; a responsible parent/individual; a reliable and convivial friend; a teacher; and a life-long learner.

In the document entitled 'A National Health Policy for Children and Young People' the Australian health ministers made the following statement:

Children and young people represent a country's future. They are also important, now, as valued members of society, each with unique characteristics and potential to contribute to family and community.

Within the context of education for all there is a need to invest in the education and training of all Australians and it is crucial to the attainment and maintenance of high-quality educational and training outcomes for all, both now and in the future.

This bill attempts to re-ignite a dialogue about the education of our young people and how this will impact on the future direction of our country. Unfortunately, this bill is all talk and no action.

The Prime Minister in her own speech has suggested three overarching goals for this bill: firstly, for Australian schooling to provide an excellent education for all students—none of us disagree with that; secondly, for Australian schooling to be highly equitable; and, thirdly, for Australia to be placed in the top-five countries in reading, science and mathematics, and for quality and equity recognised in international testing by 2025.

These are fine objectives but, unfortunately, this bill will only set the stage for further updates after the Council of Australian Governments meeting later this year. At this point, there is little substance to what we see. The real concern about this bill is how it will seek to achieve these broad aspirational goals of our schools. I have a genuine concern about what this is going to mean for our schools, particularly schools in my community.

I have great empathy for the schools which are closely monitoring the activities of this parliament in the hope of finding out what this bill will mean for them, their students and their communities.

This bill has no details at all as to how the new funding model will operate, how much funding individual schools will receive, how this funding will be calculated and what other obligations will be placed upon the sector.

This bill is basically a great big blank cheque for the government. It is difficult on this side of the chamber to have a thorough discussion about the merits of this bill because, at this stage, there is no detail about what the outcomes will be for schools.

However, the coalition is proposing an amendment to this bill. We believe and have moved in our amendment that the definitions in this bill should be supplemented to define both a 'systemic school' and a 'non-systemic school'.

The non-government school sector is very diverse and this diversity should be reflected in the funding arrangements for schools. There should be flexibility in how this funding is provided.

I continually meet and talk with principals and P&Cs within my electorate and one question they ask is about the operational budget that provides the scope and breadth of programs that allow for individualised learning for students who struggle. Most of them perform a shifting exercise in order to provide a diverse educational program. That should not need to happen in this country. We should not have the disparity in education that I often see across this nation. The challenge is how we recognise and define systemic and non-systemic schools, to allow the funding to be allocated to meet those needs—or, if they are not systemic then direct to the school, because there are Independent schools that are not part of a system; they are stand-alone within various jurisdictions. There has to be debate and consideration around the scope of the types of schools, and systemic schools and non-systemic schools that we have in this nation. The Gonski report recognised this need and I quote from the report, which says:

Public funding for school systems would be provided to system authorities for distribution to their schools. There would be an expectation that systems would be publicly accountable for their decisions on the redistribution of that funding. Non-systemic schools would receive funding directly from governments.

The last part of our amendment calls on the government to extend the current funding arrangements for a further two years, should this be required.

Parents and schools need funding certainty so that they can adequately plan for the next year and guarantee teaching positions. There is no detail about what this will mean for young students in schools across the country.

The bill outlines five directions for reform including: quality teaching; quality learning; empowered school leadership; transparency and accountability; and meeting student need.

This is the extent of the government's information. As a former educator, I am concerned that the government has made the assumption that schools and teachers are not already striving toward these goals. That is certainly underpinned by the number of national partnership agreements which exist within education and which came about as part of the COAG reform, led by the previous Prime Minister.

We would like to make it clear that the changes to this sector require close scrutiny but, until the government is willing to be transparent and accountable on exactly what changes it intends to make, we are unable to do so.

As soon as the government is willing to provide detail on the changes, we are willing to examine them and determine whether they will be beneficial to Australian schools and Australian students.

I doubt there would be any Australian who would philosophically disagree with the notion that we want Australian schools to be the best in the world. But it is the way in which this government intends to achieve this lofty goal that I have concerns about.

The final Gonski report leaves some serious questions to be answered and raises some deep concerns. Before this government can contemplate moving forward we need to know how this bill will be funded. The bill contains no details on how much money will be available or which level of government will be required to stump up the additional funding.

As we know, the Gonski report recommends an additional $6.5 billion per year be injected into schools. On that basis alone the current commitment is absolutely critical because, unless we provide the framework within which negotiations and discussions can occur between the Commonwealth, states and territories, systemic and non-systemic schools, then the uncertainty will prevail.

At this point in our history as a country we should, based on First World conditions, have an incredible education system that meets the needs of the disparities, the geographically dispersed and those who have need of intervention.

The assumptions we make about schools are sometimes not correct. When you stand in a school, when you sit with teachers and parents and students, you will see that some incredible work is being done. But the Gonski report provides an opportunity not for the imposition of a model but to develop a model that is inclusive of every facet of school and educational and training delivery.

It is probably a turning point that we need to seriously think about, because we lead into a world that is changing technologically. We live in a time when the information available and accessible is far beyond our comprehension. We also live in a time where there are families who are resource poor, and what we do not want to do is take away choices for parents. I know there are kids who come from outside of my electorate to attend schools in my electorate because these schools provide an opportunity; both government and non-government schools. Catholic schools are providing for Aboriginal kids in the Kimberley, but their funding has been affected. However, they are still continuing to provide a solid pathway.

Education is too important to play games with. It is important that we define what is required within the bill. Because if we do not, then the debates that we have here do not create the certainty. It is interesting that, in some areas, we sit on joint committees, and we work through commonality. We work through opportunities to create better pathways in whatever the factor is that we are looking at. Certainly, in the education bill, I would prefer, personally, and as an ex-professional who has worked in schools at both a teaching and curriculum level, and then as an administrator, to see much more detail so that you were able to foreshadow in your thinking some of the changes that will be required, where you need to modify. And let me say, the schools have overloaded curriculum that require teachers to take on much more than they did in the last decade. So there are a number of factors that we should negotiate with every state and territory. We should work cooperatively to put the detail into the bill that will achieve the outcomes that we seek. Thank you, Deputy Speaker.