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Wednesday, 10 October 2012
Page: 11961

Mr PERRETT (Moreton) (10:51): I am proud to rise to speak on the Higher Education Support Amendment (Maximum Payment Amounts and Other Measures) Bill 2012 and I commend the member for Shortland for her contribution to this important debate. The Gillard Labor government strongly believes in education's power to transform lives. It is in the Labor Party DNA, and most of the Labor Party people elected here understand and value the transformational power of education. This government, and the Rudd government before it, has a very strong track record that we can be very proud of when it comes to investing in education.

Since 2007 the federal Labor government has doubled funding to Australian schools compared to the Howard government. It is not esoteric support; it is practical support. We have doubled the funding compared to the Howard government and we have modernised facilities in nearly all of the 9,800 schools across the country—from the smallest communities right through to the big superschools, some of which are in my electorate.

The coalition's 3,000 flagpoles during their 12 years in office was commendable and noteworthy but I would rather look to our record of 3,000 libraries, not to mention all the halls, classrooms, computers et cetera which I will go through in some detail. We have 3,000 flagpoles on the one hand and 3,000 libraries on the other. That shows the difference between this party's commitment to education and the opposition's small-time politics. With the flagpoles, it is my understanding that local members were not even allowed to go along to the opening.

Ms Hall: It had to be a government member.

Mr PERRETT: It had to be a government member even if it was in an opposition electorate. That is just petty politics. Thankfully, we have been nothing like that—and it has been great to see the opposition lining up outside of Canberra to get into the photos of the openings of the buildings, libraries et cetera.

The BER program has been a $16.2 billion investment in the nation's future, especially in our productivity in years to come. As all economists would know, sadly, for too long, during both the previous government and this Labor government, productivity had been flatlining. But it is starting to trend north now. Obviously productivity is the greatest measure of the health of an economy and we need to improve. The Labor government's investment in education has been the single biggest investment in Australian schools in our nation's history—with daylight second. In my electorate of Moreton, 45 schools received over $92 million in investment in education infrastructure. These projects are over 99 per cent complete, which means schools and their communities are using better and more modern facilities, giving schoolkids a flying start as they grow into young adults and contemplate their workplace choices.

And you see it in your schools when you visit them: the spring in the step of the kids, the pride that the parents have, the joy of the teaching staff and other staff in having something as simple as a fresh coat of paint, new buildings, new libraries, new classrooms. It just increases the pride in these places. These exciting educational facilities are an investment in our future and will deliver better education outcomes for students in our community. Sadly, things had been slipping slightly compared with other OECD nations. These investments are changing the way our students learn and are giving teachers and staff much more enjoyable places to work. The bricks and mortar of these buildings are merely the foundations on which long-term educational and economic benefits will be built and will continue to flow to Australian students and the broader community for years to come.

The libraries are the thing I am particularly proud of, because the modern library engages. When I think of Sunnybank Primary School in my electorate, or Robertson State School, these new libraries are much more engaging, instead of just boring shelves full of books—not that I ever thought books were boring; I was an English teacher! The modern facilities, being a part of the digital revolution, engage with students in so many different ways.

The BER program fits hand in glove with our other education investments in innovation—for example, computers in schools and the national curriculum. We have been a federation for 111 years, and it took that long for us to finally say, 'We are one nation; we should be teaching all of our children much the same thing.' It is not enough to mention the 80,000 or so kids who move every year from one state or territory to another. It took us that long to get it right. The Labor government has done it; we have brought in a national curriculum. This is in addition to developing national teachers standards, giving more decision-making power to principals and providing more information to parents through the MySchool website—surely one of the most clicked-on websites in Australia. I know I do it myself when I am going to a school, particularly for a speech night or to talk to an assembly, to look at where the strengths in the school are—and the challenges as well, but particularly the strengths, so that I can give praise where praise is due.

So MySchool provides greater transparency and accountability regarding school performance. These initiatives are complemented by the National Broadband Network, obviously, in that further educational innovation and new curriculum directions are now possible, linking up Cunnamulla with the rest of the world, linking up Coolangatta with the rest of the world, or the Cape—all those parts of Queensland and the rest of Australia interconnected. That is the digital revolution. All of these advances will combine to improve Australia's productivity in the long run.

As a former teacher, with 11 years experience in the classroom and another few years working for an education union, I particularly value education and the opportunities it creates for our children's future. Also, as an education ambassador, as a member of the parliamentary education committee and as a parent of two young boys, one of whom is at school, I feel I am well-placed to see the importance of education in the Australian community.

The bill before the House amends the Higher Education Support Act 2003 to update the maximum payment amounts for other grants and Commonwealth scholarships to account for changes in indexation and to add to the next funding years. The bill also amends HESA to allow the minister, by legislative instrument, to determine maximum payment amounts for other grants and Commonwealth scholarships for 2013. There have been annual amendments to HESA since its enactment in 2003 to provide for annual indexation. The continual cycle of amendments is not the most efficient method of updating the appropriation amounts under HESA. Allowing the maximum payment amounts to be determined by legislative instrument will avoid the need for recurrent amendments to HESA. The Australian Research Council Act 2001 is the source for administering funding which enables the Australian Research Council to provide funding to underpin high-quality Australian research, which is both fundamental and critical to the Australian national innovation system.

Education gives us all the opportunity to become more efficient and innovative in the future, and that is obviously what we must do. Labor has always seen that the high-skills, high-wage approach is the way to go, and not just by pulling out the wages of workers—that is not the way to compete with the rest of the world. We will never be able to compete with India and places like that when it comes to labour costs.

Indexation adjustments and adding a forward estimate are purely administrative in nature. The proposed amendments change only the administered special appropriation; they do not alter the substance of the act or increase departmental funds.

Nevertheless, this is important legislation as it ensures that the ARC can continue to support high-quality research in Australia. It is not enough to change these schools if we do not give them opportunities at university.

Through the National Competitive Grants Program, the NCGP, the ARC supports the highest quality research and research training. Ongoing funding for the ARC is essential to the vitality of the Australian higher education system and our commitment to strengthen Australia's research workforce. Through a range of initiatives under the NCGP the ARC is helping us to reduce research career barriers and ensure the nation reaps the benefit of all its research talent. The ARC is not only supporting quality research and research careers through the Excellence in Research for Australia Initiative; the ARC is helping the government measure our research investment and ensure we are receiving value for money.

Through this important legislation the ARC will continue to advance our efforts to build a fairer and more prosperous Australia through innovation and education. The bill will also remove the provisions that prohibit the disclosure of personal information. This information is required for a range of regulatory, quality assurance and planning purposes. Currently HESA does not allow the disclosure of such information outside of the department as it can be used to identify individuals. This legislation will allow the department to disclose personal information to the following bodies: TEQSA, the national regulator established to ensure the quality of the higher education system is maintained—TEQSA requires access to detailed data on the functioning of universities obviously—and ASQA. ASQA, the national vocational education and training regulator, requires access to personal information to be able to assess vocational education and training providers whose students are eligible for VET FEE-HELP loans.

The legislation will include strong provisions to ensure that the personal information of students and staff is not misused or released publicly. Personal information will be disclosed only to organisations that have a legitimate need for access. Recipients may use the personal information only for the purposes outlined and they will not be permitted to on-disclose the information. Recipients will also remain bound by information privacy principles in the Privacy Act 1988 and by the higher education data protocols administered by the department. In addition, higher education and vocational education and training providers will need to amend their privacy agreements to ensure that their students and staff are informed and give consent to their personal information being used for quality assurance and planning purposes.

This bill is another example of the Labor Party investing in education. As mentioned by the member for Shortland, that is not the case necessarily in every state led by a conservative Premier. It was horrifying to hear of what is going on in New South Wales and in Victoria from the member for Shortland. I can assure her that, sadly, that is the case in Queensland as well. The Liberal National Premier Campbell Newman has cut 405 jobs from education, training and employment at a time when we should be investing in education. That is not to mention all of the casual jobs and the other attacks on the education system as well.

Thankfully at this time in my political life I am proud to be part of a campaign to implement the Gonski reforms. At this time in our nation's history we can transform our approach to education. Sunnybank State School invited me along the other day for a Gonski event and many other schools are lining up to do the same. I want to mention two people connected with that campaign—Brendan Crotty and Sam Pidgeon—who are wonderful educators. I wish them well for their wedding on the weekend. I commend the bill to the House.