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Tuesday, 12 February 2013
Page: 990


Mr PERRETT (Moreton) (19:35): I rise proudly to speak on the Australian Education Bill 2012. The Gillard Labor government is committed to giving every Australian child the right to a world-class education irrespective of where they live, the school they attend or their family background. Sadly, I have been listening to some of the speeches from those opposite. They seem to occasionally touch on this as a topic, as a theory, but not in practice. It would seem to be that they believe in the status quo. I guess that is the brief of conservatives everywhere but it is particularly that of those opposite, the conservatives opposite. They insist on conserving, whereas obviously in the Australian Labor Party, as the progressive party, we are a party of ideas, a party of making sure that there is opportunity for all.

The Gillard Labor government strongly believes in the power of education, and the Prime Minister has made this a central part of her prime ministership. She, as a migrant from Wales, like many of the people in the Labor Party who have been given opportunities through education, knows that the right education can transform lives. We are committed as a party to making sure every school is a great school.

It is in Labor DNA. We have a strong track record that we can be very proud of when it comes to investing in our children's future. As I have said previously, I will stack our 3,000 libraries up against those opposite's 3,000 flagpoles when they were in office for 12 years, any day. I am particularly proud of the Building the Education Revolution that was rolled out across my electorate.

And now today, we have a very resilient economy with low unemployment, contained inflation, solid growth, record levels of investment and low debt. In fact, the level of investment is a bit of a problem in some areas. I know up in the Roma area, in some bits of the Darling Downs, there are some labour shortages—but that is a great problem to have. It would be nice to have a lever that would enable some of the people who need employment, where there are job shortages, to be able to move to other areas—not that we want to go the way of those opposite with their 'troppo' plan.

The reality is that the Gillard Labor government has put in place measures to help Australians with cost-of-living pressures at the same as taking a longer-term view—not just a short-term populist view, but a longer-term view—that improves productivity, which can then flow to all and make sure that the high-wages economy of the future can be a reality for my grandchildren.

We have invested in revolutionary initiatives such as the National Broadband Network, an initiative that will be destroyed by those opposite despite the fact that when they go to their electorate they are happy to say to people, 'I am lobbying for the NBN to be rolled out faster in my electorate'. Yet, they come in here and are prepared to commit to ripping up some of this NBN.

The Labor Party also introduced the first paid parental leave scheme. We have lifted the childcare rebate, not to mention those great environmental initiatives. Some I am particularly proud of include the Coral Sea Marine Park and, although it is a bit outside my electorate, the initiatives in the Murray-Darling Basin Plan.

However, the most significant investment that this Labor government has made toward the future, and the one I am most proud of, is obviously moving toward improving education for all Australian children in all Australian schools. Not just a case of empty platitudes: instead we have doubled the education budget—or basically doubled it—since Labor came to government in 2007. It is five years tomorrow since my first day in parliament, so to be able to tick the box and say in that time we have doubled the education budget is something I am particularly proud of.

The Gillard Labor government is also delivering on helping families make ends meet with things like the schoolkids bonus—something particularly appreciated in my electorate. I know that because parents have been telling me; as my son has gone back to school, parents have said, 'Thank you very much'. Particularly post Christmas, it is appreciated by parents with kids. Sadly, we hear again and again from those opposite that they will cut that scheme, an amazing initiative.

The Gillard Labor government is preparing Australia for the future and delivering on Labor values by investing in school improvements, in aged care, in a national disability insurance scheme—which I am proud to say is being introduced to parliament in this parliamentary fortnight—in dental care, in skills training and in significant investments in infrastructure. I have been waiting a long time for the Leader of the House, in his portfolio, to actually be asked some infrastructure questions, but that is yet to happen. But when he is asked a question, my goodness you cannot stop him on all the changes that we have brought in; changes that I know in my electorate we have been waiting for since Federation in 1901, in terms of some of the rail infrastructure—the archaic rules and guidelines that we had that have been cleaned up by Labor.

The National Plan for School Improvement aims to provide first-rate education for all school students, and to ensure that Australia becomes one of the top five countries in the world in reading, writing and maths by 2025. Isn't that a noble goal that we all support?

As a former teacher with 11 years' experience—I should stress I taught English, not mathematics—in state and Catholic schools, and then a further five years down the track as a union organiser with the Independent Education Union of Australia, I do have a fair knowledge of the education sector. I am proud to stand here today to speak on the progress the Gillard Labor government has made since the announcement of the National Plan for School Improvement in September last year.

Since the announcement of this plan and the release of the Gonski review findings, I have had many discussions with principals, P&Cs, P&Fs, parents and community members at forums, at P&C meetings and at P&F meetings, and they are all concerned about Australian education standards. I have had some great one-on-one meetings with some principals and then some lively debates with other education stakeholders. I do that both as an MP and also as a parent of a student in year 3.

These discussions have always come to the same conclusion, that our federal, state and territory governments need to work together to invest in an improved education system so we are not falling further behind compared to the rest of the world. This is not a blame game exercise; I am proud here in 2013 that I can say that the Labor Party does not judge schools by the name above the gate. However, I think we should judge political parties by the money that they devote to education rather than just the empty platitudes.

In my electorate of Moreton there are around 20,000 students attending 45 schools. I have state schools, private schools, big schools and small schools; some schools with over 1,600 students and one with only 40. I have religious schools and secular schools, single-sex schools and co-education schools: Catholic, Christian, Muslim, Anglican, wealthy, battlers, NAPLAN champions—those I will not single out but there are some of the top 10 schools in Queensland—and some schools that, according to NAPLAN, have some challenges and opportunities. Moreton is home to this large range of fantastic schools and I certainly want to see their students given the best opportunities in life through education.

As I said, both sides agree on this theory, but there is a giant chasm between us on the how and the when. There is my small primary school—Rocklea State School—through to the big primary schools, which are some of the biggest primary schools in Australia—Warrigal Road State School, Sunnybank Hill State School and MacGregor State School, three of the biggest; Graceville State School is also significant and also Corinda State High School. These are some of the biggest schools in Australia.

We also have some great private schools. I could mention St Elizabeth's Catholic Primary School in Tarragindi, St Brendan's Catholic Primary School in Moorooka, St Aidan's Anglican Girls School in Corinda and Southside Christian College. These are wonderful schools, but to complement that education story I need to mention some of the special schools in my electorate. Just before Christmas I visited the Sunnybank Special School to watch their Christmas concert, where I met their wonderful new principal, Nicole Finch. Watching the school pageant, where these people with varying degrees of disability did the The Twelve Days of Christmas in costume, I knew that for some it was like climbing Everest just to do their part of the song. It was very heart warming, and certainly confirmed why we need to have the NDIS and why we need to have individual schemes catering for individual disabilities and the opportunities and challenges that come with disabilities.

I have also been to Tennyson Special School, Kuraby Special School and Runcorn Secondary Special Education Unit—and Calamvale Special School, which is just over the border in the electorate of Oxley. They all do great work. I greatly commend all the education workers, the teachers, health workers and volunteers, that contribute to these schools, and obviously the parents. It is undoubtable that the community benefits from all their hard work. We need them to make sure that we have a bright future.

Moreton is quite a multicultural electorate. Consequently, the schools have a variety of cultural backgrounds. If you go to Yeronga State High School, particularly to their multicultural day, you can see all the countries of the world represented. At Milpera State High School students from all over Brisbane come to learn English in all of their subjects. Nyanda State High School is another very strong multicultural school.

Then I can go to the Murri School in Acacia Ridge. It is a private school set up by the Indigenous community. Southside Education is a school that I have a particular soft spot for. I think it might have been set up by the Baptists but it caters particularly for young women who have children. The school has its own creche to give the young women an opportunity in life. I was amazed, talking to some of the teachers there about some of the problems that are associated with homework, to learn that some of the students may not know where they are sleeping that night and they have a kid to look after. It puts some of the concerns I had, in some of the schools where I taught, in a completely different perspective.

All the schools I have mentioned and the many others in my electorate will benefit from the National Plan for School Improvement. How? They will benefit through the five key areas. First, the plan will endorse quality teaching to make sure we have the best and brightest teachers in our classrooms. I know that as a former teacher I am biased but I think the quality of teachers is the No. 1 factor in improving education. Second, the plan will ensure quality learning through a world-class curriculum while providing individual support for students. Third, the plan will empower school leaders by giving principals more say over how their school is run, within a consultative process to make sure that the parents as well as the broader school community is involved. Fourth, the plan will provide better information to the community regarding their school's performance. That is why My School is a favourite on so many home computers around Australia; it is about giving information to parents. Lastly, and most importantly, the plan will meet the needs of disadvantaged students and schools.

Under the Labor government the schools of Moreton have seen a number of significant improvements. When I attended BER openings in my electorate, in the middle of the GFC and soon after, it made me proud to be a member of the Australian Labor government. I saw the fantastic renovations and infrastructure developments that are promoting better learning environments, curriculum innovation and access to facilities for local students—and also access by the local community.

The federal Labor government is further building its vision for school reforms by continuing to drive change and deliver results across a range of school initiatives. The Building the Education Revolution invested $92 million in Moreton for 151 BER projects, including the building or upgrading of 21 classrooms, 26 libraries, 21 multipurpose halls and three science and language centres. We will continue to see the benefits of this program for many years to come.

There have been 4,384 computers installed under the Digital Education Revolution, National Secondary Schools Computer Fund. There was $1.6 million approved for the Acacia Ridge Trade Training Centre project benefiting local schools in the Moreton electorate. We invest in trades and TAFEs; sadly, we have a Premier at the moment who wants to close down TAFE sites.

My electorate has 15 schools participating in the Smarter Schools National Partnerships. I should declare that St Brendan's Catholic Primary School, where my son goes, is one of these schools. The Smarter Schools National Partnerships program is an agreement between the Australian government and state and territory governments addressing disadvantaged students, supporting teachers and school leaders and improving literacy and numeracy.

There are 26 schools eligible to receive funding for chaplaincy and student welfare services in the electorate of Moreton and I particularly commend the chappies and the great work that they do with students. I know that they save lives sometimes.