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Tuesday, 12 February 2013
Page: 994


Dr STONE (Murray) (19:50): I rise to support the Australian Education Bill—along with the coalition, of course. But as with most things that Labor puts into this House it could have been much better. We only have a fraction of the information we need to be satisfied that we are going to have a more successful education system in the future—one that is competitive and will give us a set of educational outcomes that put us in the top five countries in the world.

Of course in Australia we want to provide excellent education for all students, and that is one of the aspirations of this bill. We also believe Australian schooling should be equitable and, as I said, one of the three goals of this bill is for Australia to be placed in the top five countries in reading, science and maths; for quality and equity to be recognised in international testing; and for this to be achieved by 2025. We do not have a detailed understanding of just what the new funding model will be. There are no details of how much money will be available. And we certainly do not know how, and according to what sorts of principles, the new funding model will operate, or how much individual schools will receive.

Education is not just about cash or about injections of additional grants and funding but they certainly go a very long way to improve the quality of teaching and learning outcomes. You can empower school leadership through properly placed resources. For me, as the member for Murray, all of these matters are of critical concern given the current declining state of educational opportunity in my electorate. There are reasons why those educational opportunities and outcomes are declining. It is very much, sadly, a consequence of this government's neglect of the agricultural sector, and the agricultural sector underpins the economy in northern Victoria.

I need to tell you about the Goulburn-Murray school attainment statistics because they emphasise why it is so important that we drive for equitable outcomes in Australian schooling and for excellent education for all students. These statistics have been put together by the Goulburn Murray Local Learning and Employment Network or GMLLEN as it is locally called. My electorate, particularly the City of Greater Shepparton, is over-represented in the number of refugee students who have very recently arrived both from the Middle East and from Africa. We also have a big proportion of Indigenous students in our schools and we now have a growing proportion of students whose parents' enterprises, particularly farm enterprises and small businesses, are in great financial distress. Given those factors, the statistics I am about to relate to you are not surprising. It is the sort of experience of a rural regional community like ours which must drive a government, like the Labor government that we now have, to try harder. The Labor government has failed regions like mine comprehensively and I am afraid it will probably not be until we have a change of government that the students in my electorate will have some sense of equitable treatment and achieve excellence in education.

The school retention and university enrolment rates in the broader Hume region, including Shepparton, are the lowest of all Victorian regions. Education levels are lower on average in Shepparton among Australian-born students than among overseas-born students. Some of my schools have more than 70 per cent overseas born students in them, but that is also reflecting my Indigenous population. A third, or 33 per cent, of all students who completed year 12 in government schools in Shepparton in 2010 continued on to further or higher education. But that compares with 50 per cent of all Victorian students continuing on to further or higher education, a difference of nearly 20 per cent. In 2011, the total number of students continuing with a bachelor degree or certificate IV in my region was 39.9 per cent, compared to Victoria as a whole, which had 63.4 per cent.

University deferral rates in Shepparton are nearly twice as high as the state average. In 2011 in Victoria the overall deferral rate was 10 per cent. In the Goulburn-Murray area it was 19.8 per cent. There is limited access to TAFE and ACE in the shires surrounding the City of Greater Shepparton. Twenty four per cent of the working-age population in Shepparton is on Centrelink benefits, compared to 17 per cent of that population in Victoria and in Australia. We have many younger people with low aspirations and high welfare dependency because of their family circumstances. They need special support in our schools. They need enthused and talented teachers. Unfortunately, as we know, teaching in Australia is a low-status, low-paid job with very little support for those who excel. And there is certainly not much support for those who enter the profession with bright ideals but are then confronted with poor infrastructure, red tape and bureaucracy that does not support them to grow their professional skills.

Let me go on to tell you more about the younger people in my area and why they need a better outcome than the Labor government is delivering. Unemployment rates among my early school leavers are higher than the state average. In 2010 the teenage unemployment rate in the City of Greater Shepparton was five times higher than that of the overall working age population, and much higher than that of Victoria. The teenage birth rate for 15- to 19-year-olds in Greater Shepparton was 20.9 per 1,000 girls. That compares with the state average of 10.6 teenage births per 1,000, so we have almost double the number of teenage births. Greater Shepparton is ranked 14th out of 67 local government areas for teenage birth rates. Teenage birth rates particularly reflect young girls' lack of alternatives, lack of good information and counselling and lack of choices in their lives. As we know, where you have got 15- and 16-year-olds giving birth it often leads to interrupted education, failure to complete schooling and a lifetime of poverty. That poverty becomes intergenerational too, as we know.

Adolescent and adult offender rates for crimes both against persons and against property are also significantly higher in Shepparton than they are in Victoria as a whole, and they have increased in the past five years—from 77.8 per 1,000 adolescents in 2005-06 to 90.6 per 1,000 adolescents in 2009-10. That compares with 65.3 per 1,000 in Victoria on average in 2009-10. Again, with our young people leaving school early and not being able to go on to higher education, they very often find themselves amongst those accused of crimes and find themselves contributing to the offender statistics.

The increased percentage of early school leavers in my area who are unemployed after six months is also very disappointing, but it is not surprising given the increased pressures on our rural communities. Let me explain why those very sad and damning statistics represent the people in my electorate. Let me also hasten to add, though, that I spend a lot of time in secondary and primary schools in my electorate and I am forever in awe of the quality of the individuals that I meet in those schools, both the teaching profession and the young people who are sometimes struggling against the most difficult family circumstances—where their single parent has limited resources, where there is very little public transport or where there are very few options for them to go to different schools that might better meet their needs. Where English is a second language, the number of hours available to schools to help with their newly arrived, non-English-speaking background, refugee students is not sufficient.

We face an enormous battle because we have been neglected by the Labor government. Even now, when I look at the objectives of this bill, there are so many motherhood statements. There is no detail that will give anyone in my area comfort to think that Labor are serious about addressing the inequalities and the disadvantage.

Why is there such educational disadvantage in my area? The region's labour force is concentrated in the Labor-squeezed and neglected sectors of manufacturing and agriculture. In this area of Victoria, 35 per cent of employment is concentrated in agriculture and manufacturing, compared with just 13 per cent in the rest of Australia. It is extremely difficult when you have a government like this, which pays no attention to the needs of food exporters—and 60 per cent of our food production is exported—and when you have the carbon tax making the costs of production so high that your sector cannot any longer compete with places like New Zealand, the US or the European community, where their competitors are. You have labour penalty rates and laws which discriminate against seasonal labour workforces. You have the carbon tax driving up electricity prices. You have power-intensive industry. All of that makes it very difficult.

Mr Stephen Jones: Mr Deputy Speaker, I rise on a point of order, on the question of relevance. We are straying beyond that which even a liberal ruling would say was relevant to the bill before the House.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER ( Hon. DGH Adams ): Order! The honourable member's point of order is reasonably valid. I ask the honourable member for Murray to come back to the bill.

Dr STONE: I will, Mr Deputy Speaker, but that is an example of why Labor are failing students in my area. They just fail to understand the drivers for early school leaving, failure to be employed, teenage pregnancies and incarceration rates of adolescents, all of which are part of an extraordinary environment of disadvantage. This bill, I am sad to say, does not home in on the very serious issues of structural disadvantage that are now affecting much of regional Australia. That is why I stress those statistics.

For example, since 2006 more than 50 per cent of the dairy farmers have exited the industry in the Goulburn-Murray region. They all had children. They had small schools that the local dairy community supported. There were 50 children in those schools; now there are 10 or the school has closed. A school with three teachers can offer better educational alternatives and options than a school with one teacher, but this is what is happening in the declining populations in rural and regional Australia, particularly in northern Victoria. At the Heinz factory, 146 jobs were lost and went to New Zealand. At SPC Ardmona in Mooroopna, part of Coca-Cola Amatil, another 150 jobs were lost. Rochester Murray-Goulburn has lost all of those jobs.

The problem is that our school students once aspired to work in local manufacturing and local agribusiness. They now, quite reasonably, feel they will have to look for alternative occupations and have to train elsewhere. But I am saying that we should have those training options right there in those rural and regional communities.

This bill does not give me much hope that we are going to see funds directed to better regional funding models. It does not give me any hope that our rural and regional teachers will receive better career counselling support so they can direct our students to alternative occupations in agriculture and food manufacturing. When I look at this bill, I think to myself: it is purely a feel-good set of motherhood statements. It should have really driven into the growing distance between the life experiences of metropolitan Australians and rural Australians. It should have looked at the disadvantage that we know exists with Indigenous students. It should have looked at the life experience now of so many refugees, who settle in a place like northern Victoria only to find that the schools do not offer support in English as a second language and the towns do not offer parents the sort of work they would have had even five years ago.

So I am not saying this bill is fantastic. I am saying that the goals expressed in the bill are fine, but the detail is missing. In fact, I wonder if the heart is missing from Labor when it comes to looking beyond the tram tracks and beyond its own electorates. When will you look at rural and regional Australia and understand that the people living there are Australian citizens too? Without decent education they cannot realise their genuine life prospects or opportunities, and that is just not fair.