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Tuesday, 12 February 2013
Page: 1008


Mr HARTSUYKER (Cowper) (20:49): I welcome the opportunity to speak on the Australian Education Bill 2012. A quality education for young minds is of the utmost importance. The young people in the education system today are the doctors, lawyers and community leaders of tomorrow. Australia must provide the best quality education to give the next generations the very best chance to make use of the opportunities that will present in the time to come. Adequate funding for schools is required for providing this quality education. Australia is fortunate to have a diverse range of schools, which gives parents the opportunity to enrol their children in the school that best suits their needs.

But unfortunately we are currently burdened with the worst government in our nation's history. When we look at education and this government, all we see is more broken promises and more policy failure. Despite all the rhetoric from the government about their commitment to education, the reality is that we have had five years of policy failings from federal Labor. To say Labor is the champion of education is like saying Labor is the champion of economic management—and, after more than $260 billion in government borrowing and the trashing of consumer confidence and business confidence, we all know this government's record on managing the economy is abysmal. Indeed, instead of delivering a better education for the next generation all this government has succeeded in doing is to saddle teenagers, undergraduates and all Australians in their 20s and 30s with a mountain of debt. It is these Australians who are going to have to pay for the reckless spending of the Rudd-Gillard era and the waste and mismanagement which have been its hallmark.

This bill confirms to all members that this government is all talk and no action; it is long on rhetoric and short on policy detail; it is great at creating expectations but rarely delivers. We have seen this with their commitments to a surplus, we have seen this with their border protection policies and we have seen this with their broken promises on private health insurance.

This government believes that delivering on policy commitments can be done through the distribution of a press release. The Labor way is to forget all the crucial detail, not worry about the real cost and make sure the delivery date is after the next election. That is the Labor way of implementing policy and it is the reason they have failed Australians in so many policy areas. It is no wonder that the government is now in a shambles and that it is scrambling together an uncosted dream in relation to Mr Gonski's recommendations and the National Disability Insurance Scheme.

Before going to the specifics of this bill, it is worth reminding members of the government's poor track record on education. In the past year, the government cut $600 million from the computers in schools program. This was the program that the former Labor Prime Minister promised would give every student in years 9 to 12 'a toolbox for the 21st century', but it now sees funding cuts that will put pressure on the families that it was established to assist.

Then in MYEFO, the Treasurer announced, in his words, 'responsible cuts to education'—some $3.9 billion. That was $3.9 billion not going to schools for the sole reason that those opposite wanted to claim that they had returned the budget to surplus, not that this claim lasted long. In fact, within two months it was abandoned and the surplus claim was laid bare. Then, to end the year, the government introduced this bill into the House with a section that clearly states that the bill does not create legally enforceable obligations, nor will the failure to comply with the act affect the validity of any decision. If no part of the bill is legally enforceable, the question must be asked: why has this bill been introduced at all?

This government likes to talk about education, but, when you look at the results from just the last 12 months, you can see that the delivery does not match the promises. Since this bill has been introduced, there have been reports that state governments are still waiting on payments from August last year for rolling out the computers in schools program. While a number of computers in schools will become obsolete this year—

Mr Laming: Landfill.

Mr HARTSUYKER: Landfill, indeed. There is no certainty that this program will continue.

To illustrate my point about the failure of this government to deliver meaningful policy for all Australians, I would like to note some of the details in this bill. Most of this bill focuses on aspirations rather than the implementation of good public policy. For example, the Australian Education Bill sets three goals: firstly, for Australian schooling to provide an excellent education for all schools. Well, that is pretty exciting! We all think it is a good idea but I do not think we needed this bill to tell us that. The second goal is for Australian schooling to be highly equitable. I do not think anyone would disagree with that. The third goal is for Australia to be ranked as one of the top five highest performing countries based on the performance of Australian school students in reading, mathematics and science, and based on the quality and equity of Australian schooling, by 2025.

The bill outlines five directions for reform under the National Plan for School Improvement, which states, territories and non-government school sector authorities will be expected to agree to. The directions are: quality teaching, quality learning, empowered school leadership, transparency and accountability, and meeting student need. But that is about the extent of the bill. There is no meat on the bone. The bill represents little more than a regurgitated thought bubble which the minister somehow convinced himself would be a good idea. There are no further details on how the plan is to be implemented or how the elements of the plan are to be monitored. As the member for Sturt pointed out, the government could try and show they are serious about education by answering some key questions on how they are going to implement the Gonski recommendations.

I share the concerns of other members of the coalition who are genuinely seeking answers in relation to education, Gonski and this government. I would like to place on record some of the questions which the government must answer in relation to education and the Gonski review. Where will the $6.5 billion per year that is needed come from? How much will the Commonwealth contribute and how much are the states expected to fund? What programs will be cut and what taxes will the government increase to pay for it? With Gonski modelling showing 3,254 schools will be worse off, how much extra will it cost for every school to receive more funding, as the Prime Minister has promised? Where is the modelling showing the impact of this funding for each school? Will the Prime Minister guarantee no school will have to increase school fees as a result of her changes? Where is the detailed response to the 41 recommendations in the Gonski review? How much indexation will each school and school sector receive? What will be the benchmark funding per primary and secondary school student? How much funding per student will be allocated for students with a disability? That is a very important issue. Will this funding be portable between the government and non-government sectors? What, if any, future capital funding arrangements will be provided for schools? What new reporting requirements and other conditions will schools have to meet in order to qualify for government funding? All these are legitimate questions which the government must answer if they are to be taken seriously.

The review of funding for schooling, chaired by Mr Gonski, made a number of recommendations in relation to funding for schools. Also recommended was a new funding framework, although technical issues arose once the panel's model was tested by the government. Both the National Catholic Education Commission and the Independent Schools Council of Australia reported serious anomalies, and leaked modelling revealed that approximately a third of all schools would lose funding. Since the report was given to the government, there have been hundreds of thousands of dollars spent on consultants to redesign the Gonski panel's original proposal for a funding model. With the funding agreement to commence next year, none of this modelling has ever been made public and no formal response has ever been provided by the government to each of the panel's recommendations. This bill adds no further detail. In fact, since this bill was introduced into parliament, representatives from key stakeholders, including state governments and the non-government education sector, have raised concern about a lack of certainty and detail as to the government's plans.

It is clear that this bill was introduced last year so that the government could issue a press release. The explanatory memorandum indicates that the bill will be updated once agreement is met with the states on the parameters of a new model. And, while the amendments are to be introduced, schools are becoming increasing anxious about the future funding arrangements and cannot plan beyond the end of this year. From the minister that presided over pink batts, we now have no certainty about funding for school education. It is also worth noting that we are debating this bill before the House Standing Committee on Education and Employment commences public hearings into this bill.

The coalition believes that the current arrangements for funding and indexation must be the basic starting point for any new funding model. No school should be worse off as a result of a new funding model. Nobody would disagree with the notion that we would like Australia's schools to be the best in the world. However, this government has seen a decline in Australia's standings in the international school rankings. Nobody should disagree that the Australian schooling system should provide an excellent education for school students. However, this bill does not have any details of what an excellent education is, just that school students should have one.

The coalition do not oppose the directions in this bill but are concerned about the lack of details provided to date. The coalition have our own values for schooling, as set out in our amendment. These values guide our approach to school funding and are as follows: first, that families must have the right to choose a school that meets their needs, values and beliefs; second, that all children must have the opportunity to secure a quality education; third, that student funding needs must be based on fair, objective, and transparent criteria distributed according to socioeconomic needs; fourth, that students with similar needs must be treated comparably throughout the course of their schooling; fifth, that as many decisions as possible should be made locally by parents, communities, principals, teachers, schools and school systems; sixth, that schools, school sectors and school systems must be accountable to their community, families and students; seventh, that every Australian student must be entitled to a basic grant from the Commonwealth government; eighth, schools and parents must have a high degree of certainty about school funding so they can effectively plan for the future; ninth, that parents who wish to make a private contribution towards the cost of their child's education should not be penalised, nor should schools in their efforts to fundraise and encourage private investment; and, tenth, that funding arrangements must be simple so schools are able to direct funding towards education outcomes, minimise administration costs and increase productivity and quality.

In conclusion, while the coalition do not oppose this bill in its current form, we fear that it is like so many other issues: this government just will not be able to deliver on its commitment. The budget is in crisis. Government borrowings are at historic highs. And the reality is that this government is in a desperate state. As a result, we can expect this government to come up with more hollow rhetoric, and no doubt they will try and blame state governments across the nation for the Gillard government's failure to deliver. But the truth is that when it comes to national reform it is the federal government that is responsible for delivering. And when one looks at this government's record of delivery we can see a litany of waste, mismanagement and failure that is without peer in our nation's history.