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Tuesday, 12 February 2013
Page: 1001

Mrs ANDREWS (McPherson) (20:22): Let me start by saying that I do not see that we should be debating the Australian Education Bill today. The Manager of Opposition Business, the member for Sturt, moved to have the debate adjourned and he moved that adjournment for some very good reasons. On 29 November 2012, the selection committee asked the House Standing Committee on Education and Employment to inquire into and report on the Education Bill 2012. There have been two submissions to that inquiry, both of which are available on the APH website. The first day of hearings for the inquiry is Friday of this week. We are here today debating a bill that has been referred to a House standing committee for inquiry and we are debating it before those hearings have even begun. This debate should be adjourned until the inquiry has been completed; it should not be rushed through.

Having said that, there are a number of issues that I would like to place on the record with regard to education. I have spoken many times on education at the primary, secondary and tertiary level. Education is an important part of any child's life. At primary school, they learn essential skills in literacy and in numeracy. As they continue through to secondary school, they expand their interests and begin to make pathways into careers that they wish to pursue into the future. It is the right of every Australian child to receive a world-class education. This parliament bears the responsibility to ensure that we deliver that to every student regardless of geography or demographic.

To ensure that each and every child is receiving the opportunity to pursue their ambition, we need to have a resilient yet diverse education system. The only way that we can do this is to provide the education sector, schools, teachers and parents with certainty in the way that the government will fund schools and provide resources.

The bill before the House attempts to set out aspirational goals for Australian education through the implementation of a national plan for school improvement, which the states, and territories, and non-government school sector authorities are expected to agree to in exchange for future funding. However, there are no details as to how the government will implement the plan or even those key elements by which the plan will be monitored. Astoundingly, or perhaps not given its rushed nature, this bill still contains no detail on a funding model for schools. It contains no information on the amount of funds that will be made available or which level of government will have to provide any additional funding.

I understand and my coalition colleagues understand that schools need to have funding certainty so that they can plan for the years ahead. They need to know what funds they will have before they order resources, hire teachers and staff, and investigate future works. Without funding certainty, none of these things can go ahead. It is peculiar to say the least that a bill of such significance to this government is only nine pages and 1,400 words long, with no funding certainty contained in it. Perhaps that is why there have only been two written submissions to the inquiry—there is actually not a lot to comment on.

As many in the House would recall, this bill is supposed to encapsulate the government's response to the Gonski review handed down in December 2011 which recommended a new funding model for schools. However, this new funding had a $6.5 billion price tag attached to it. The review panel's original proposal was that the cost of introducing the funding model would be split between the Commonwealth and the states on a 30:70 basis. Many technical issues arose with the theoretical model and leaked modelling in August 2012 showed that approximately a third of all schools would lose funding. Any new funding model that is introduced must not see any school left worse in real terms.

I understand that the modelling has been substantially revised but this has not been made public. Again, we have a lack of detail and what that lack of detail means is that there is virtually no opportunity at this time for property scrutiny and open debate about a funding model that will potentially run to billions of dollars. The lack of detail fuels the concerns of schools as they look for funding certainty. As I have said before, they need that certainty to plan, for example, for their class sizes, teaching and support staff requirements, and fee structures. For schools to have that certainty, the funding model must be known and this bill does not contain sufficient detail for that to take place.

Providing funding certainty will benefit not only the schools but also parents. I am sure we would all agree that school is a large part of any child's life and parents understandably want to be in a position to consider all the information available before deciding what they believe is best for their child. They want to know that when they send their child to school, the school is going to be able to keep its doors open or be able to afford the resources they need to teach their students.

Parents who do choose to send their child to a non-government school and wish to make private contributions towards their child's education should not be penalised for making that choice. In my electorate of McPherson on the Gold Coast there are 12 non-government schools and 19 government schools. If parents choose to send their children to one of those 12 non-government schools, they should not be penalised for doing that. We also need to ensure that students at government or non-government schools are not being deprived of a quality education just because of the school that they attend. We need to ensure that we provide families with the right to choose a school that meets their needs, values and beliefs, as well as providing students with similar needs with comparable treatment throughout the course of their schooling. The right of choice is fundamental to schooling and parents should be entitled to choose a school that they believe will provide the best opportunity for their child. I believe it is our responsibility to defend this right and to make the ability to choose easier wherever it is possible.

The coalition have been consistent with its approach to education as we want to ensure that every student gets the quality education that they deserve. We recognise the importance of both government and non-government schools in delivering this fundamental service to all Australian children. To ensure that no school is disadvantaged by any new funding model, the current quantum of funds for every school and indexation should be maintained as the basic starting point going forward. Any funding must be on the basis of fairness, objectivity and transparent criteria, and distributed on the basis of socioeconomic need.

Funding arrangements for schools need to done in a way that will allow schools to direct funding towards education outcomes and increasing productivity and quality, rather than increasing paperwork and administration costs. Increasing the red tape associated with providing funding to schools would make any funding increases to schools redundant, as schools will allocate more of their new resources to ensuring they are compliant with regulations rather than expanding on the services they already provide.

That is the last thing that we should be doing. Funding should be directed towards directly delivering quality educational outcomes.

Schools are local organisations and we can make them stronger by placing the power to run schools back in the hands of their local communities. Local teachers, principals and communities know what is happening on the ground and what the needs of their schools and students are. Empowering schools, their principals, teachers, staff and parents to make as many decisions as reasonably possible at the local level will give schools an appropriate amount of flexibility to address any issues that they face.

Last week I spoke in this place about one of the schools in my electorate, the Currumbin Valley State School, which has 127 students and prides itself on working closely with students, parents, carers and the school community. I think it is a very successful school and I believe that its success is due to three factors in particular: firstly, a 'students come first' culture where the needs of the students are paramount in the school decision-making process; secondly, the involvement of parents, carers and the school community in the running of the school—the school carnival last year was attended by about 5,000 or 6,000 people from the local community and it raised a significant amount of money for the school; and, thirdly, the leadership of principal Heidi Mackenzie and her staff.

Providing local communities with input into and responsibility for their own schools is a good thing and this has been ably demonstrated by the Currumbin Valley State School. It is in the southern part of my electorate, but in the northern part of the electorate we have a much larger, non-government school, All Saints Anglican School, with about 1,800 students, from pre-prep to year 12. All Saints has an excellent academic record and, last year, 20 of its year 12 students achieved an OP1. It too encourages the involvement of parents, carers and the community, and it empowers its staff.

All Saints participates in international student and teacher exchanges with schools in many countries around the world and I encourage and congratulate the school on the work it has done in this area. I believe that an international exchange program should be available to all students, as these experiences will benefit them not only in their academic pursuits but also in their personal development. A number of schools in my electorate have established exchanges with schools in other countries and I am working to establish further programs with schools overseas, in particular in Taiwan.

Student exchanges should not just be limited to school students, though. They should also be actively encouraged in tertiary institutions. The two universities in my electorate, Bond University and Southern Cross University, currently have student exchange programs with universities across the globe. That provides their students with the opportunity to not only study at an overseas institution but engage with another culture and to often learn another language. This gives them an opportunity to give themselves an edge in a highly competitive modern marketplace.

Student exchanges are just one way that our next generation of professionals will set themselves apart from the rest of the world. I want to see Australia's best and brightest travel the world to learn more about the countries in our region. I also want the best and the brightest in our region to learn in Australia and to share their experiences with students here. I am already encouraged by what opportunities are currently available to our students. I am excited and I look forward to seeing what further progress can be made in this area.

Education is vitally important to the future of our nation and perhaps our world. Funding reform for our schools should be done with care and attention, and the right for all students to have a quality education should be the paramount consideration at the front of our minds. It will be my primary consideration when I participate in the committee inquiry into the Australian Education Bill 2012 and I personally look forward to ensuring that Australian students are given the best opportunities possible throughout their education.