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Monday, 4 July 2011
Page: 7480


Mr PYNE (SturtManager of Opposition Business) (16:00): I rise to speak on the Indigenous Education (Targeted Assistance) Amendment Bill 2011, which seeks to amend the Indigenous Education (Targeted Assistance) Act 2000 to extend the existing funding arrangements, including indexation arrangements, for the 2013 calendar year. Initiatives included are the Indigenous Youth Mobility Program and the Sporting Chance Program. A similar bill entitled the Indigenous Education (Targeted Assistance) Bill 2010 was debated and passed last year and assented to on 29 June 2010. The bill provided a 12-month extension to program funding in order to align the funding with other school program funding periods.

The Sporting Chance Program and the Indigenous Youth Mobility Program are two initiatives of the previous coalition government that have been continued by the Labor government. Both programs have achieved success in both retaining students in school and increasing their participation and success rates. But Labor have not committed to long-term funding for these initiatives. Instead they have simply provided a 12-month extension in the last two budgets. This extension is described as being necessary to allow for the completion and release of the review of funding for schooling report at the end of 2011. By the government's own admission, the review is focused on the mainstream but there may be some implications for the design and operation of programs that run under the IE(TA) Act.

Longer term funding and therefore future planning for successful programs is now being held hostage to the Labor government's endless reviews. While the coalition have committed to considering the findings of the review of schools funding, chaired by David Gonski, there seems little reason why these programs should be extended for just one year rather than a longer period of time. One of the greatest complaints from service providers who deliver these programs on the ground is about the seemingly endless stop-and-start cycle of the funding commitments made by governments. The coalition understands the uncertainty created by such endless short-term commitments that are subject to review. However, the coalition will support the bill as drafted, as we recognise the value of these programs.

Sporting Chance is designed to use sport and recreation as a vehicle to engage Indigenous young people in their schooling. It consists of two elements: school based sports academies for secondary school students and education and engagement strategies for both primary and secondary school students. Indigenous secondary school students both male and female enrolled in a secondary school, particularly those deemed at risk, are eligible to participate in an academy. 'At risk' is assumed but is not limited to students who have been identified as having low attendance rates at school, literacy and numeracy skills below that of their fellow students or the national benchmarks, increased likelihood of not completing school or other social or behavioural concerns.

These projects utilise sport and recreation as a vehicle to increase the level of engagement of students, to improve their educational outcomes. It is important to note the development of sporting talents and participation in sport are subsidiary outcomes to the greater educational purpose of the program. According to the latest advice from the Department of Education, Employment and Workplace Relations, in 2011 a total of 22 providers are to deliver 68 projects under the Sporting Chance Program. This is intended to benefit 11,000 primary and secondary school students at risk of not completing their schooling. I also note that the Australian Council for Educational Research will undertake an evaluation of the Sporting Chance Program. The evaluation, to be completed by mid-2011, is expected to measure the extent to which the Sporting Chance Program is meeting its objectives. It will be crucial in shaping the future direction of the program.

This bill will also provide funding for the Indigenous Youth Mobility Program to continue. This program supports Indigenous youth who wish to move away from home to gain qualifications that will increase their chance of obtaining employment in their community or elsewhere. It has been mainly targeted at youth between the ages of 16 and 24 from remote areas, but it is also available to other students from larger towns and cities if they relocate to an IYMP host location to take up an apprenticeship, a VET certificate or university course. The objectives of the IYMP are ambitious. The funding supports 324 Indigenous youth and young people at any point in time undertaking an Australian apprenticeship, a vocational education and training course or study at university. This funding goes a long way to give these young students access to safe, supported and culturally appropriate accommodation while they are studying. The key principle of the IYMP is to provide choice for Indigenous young people and their families.

For many Indigenous Australians, especially those in remote communities, life chances can be severely limited by a lack of opportunity, both in education and in employment. This program is vital as it seeks to redress that opportunity gap, at least in part, by providing access to a full range of post-secondary education and training options that smaller communities are simply not able to provide. IYMP also provides mentoring and other practical support to help these young people while they complete their qualifications. IYMP helps build numeracy, literacy, financial literacy and other life skills of young Indigenous people. The program is also helping remote community capacity building by providing opportunities for those communities' young people to train for and return to jobs that have often previously been taken up in Indigenous communities by non-Indigenous people.

While on the subject of initiatives, I would now like to turn to some other issues that seek to lift education attainment and participation for Indigenous students. A recent report produced by the Council of Australian Governments Reform Council on Labor's National Indigenous Reform Agreement with the states and territories demonstrates there has been little improvement in lifting Indigenous children's reading, writing and numeracy skills. This is despite the government's promise that it would halve the gap within a decade shortly after coming into office. Results indicate that despite significant investment under this partnership, there was only a minor improvement between Indigenous and non-Indigenous students at or above the national minimum standard in reading and writing and, to a lesser extent, in numeracy in the early years of schooling. Nationally the gap has increased in year 9 reading, in years 3 and 7 numeracy and in year 9 writing. Equally disappointing is that there has been no improvement in Indigenous students' attendance rates in year 10 in government schools since Labor came into office, despite having promised to halve the gap for Indigenous students in year 12 attainment or equivalent attainment by 2020.

Perhaps what is most concerning is that the government are unable to report on how they are meeting the target to ensure all Indigenous four year olds in remote communities have access to early childhood education within five years, with the report stating:

There is currently no source for nationally comparable data on Indigenous participation in early childhood education.

Labor are also unable to report progress on their target to halve the gap in employment outcomes between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians within a decade. The report concluded:

No … data are available to measure the employment to population ratio for this target.

For the millions of taxpayers' dollars spent to deliver programs under this agreement, the government, at the very least, should be able to report on whether these programs are delivering. Approximately $723 million worth of measures have been set aside under the national partnership agreement to pursue reforms to improve young people's education attainment and transition from school and contribute towards achieving the COAG targets. Yet, this funding is being spent without adequately monitoring performance.

The recent report on the National Partnership for Indigenous Reform Agreement comes on top of damning COAG reports that were released in April for the $540 million National Partnership Agreement on Literacy and Numeracy. The April report for the National Partnership Agreement on Literacy and Numeracy found that assessing progress in lifting literacy and numeracy across Australia was difficult because the states and territories set their own benchmarks. This means that because there are so many differences in the numbers and types of schools involved, the report concluded that the transparency of reporting at a national level is questionable. The report urgently recommended that Labor improve clarity and transparency in reporting arrangements of the initiative. If the government cannot adequately measure and track progress under their national partnership agreements, it begs the question: how do they think they can get away with making grand statements they are transforming education if the evidence or data is not available to support these claims? Under Labor's national partnership agreement for the Building the Education Revolution program for government schools, they also failed to monitor the performance by the states and territories, and it was found that billions of dollars had been wasted under inefficient procurement arrangements. There is little hope of Labor delivering on its commitment to improve literacy and numeracy unless drastic changes are made to adequately monitor its investment. Sadly, Labor abolished the former coalition government's program to improve literacy and numeracy, which was to provide a $700 voucher for tutoring to help students who were not meeting minimum benchmarks. This policy was found to be 97 per cent effective in lifting student performance. Improving Indigenous participation and attainment in education and assisting students who are struggling to meet literacy and numeracy benchmarks is simply too important for funding to be handed over to the states and territories without ensuring that a system is put in place to monitor the return on this investment.

The computers-in-schools program, another initiative being delivered under the National Partnership Agreement with the states and territories, is also in strife. More than 3½ years, or seven school semesters, after Kevin Rudd made his election commitment that all these computers would be connected to fast 100-megabitts-per-second fibre, not a single computer has been connected by the government to 100-megabits-per-second fibre. As at 31 March 2011, only 434,000 computers had been delivered out of the 788,000 new computers needed to achieve the promised one-for-one ratio of computers per student. That is only 55 per cent of the computers needed to reach the goal of every secondary school student in years 9 to 12 having a computer, and it took the government three years to get there. Now the government claims that in nine months it will deliver the remaining 45 per cent of the computers. Having delivered 55 per cent in three years, it now claims it will deliver the remaining 45 per cent in nine months. It will need to more than double the current rollout in order to meet the deadline of 31 December 2011—and I think we all know that is a chimerical claim on the government's part.

I read an article by Noel Pearson last month in the Australian in which he agreed that the computers-in-schools program has been poorly implemented. He was writing about the success of the student education trust scheme operated by the Cairns based welfare reform organisation that he works with at Cape York Partnerships. Special trust accounts operate in welfare reform communities on Cape York Peninsula. Payments into these accounts are made by families on a voluntary basis and set aside specifically for education. A trustee oversees the accounts, and there is a process for families to use their saved funds to pay for computers, books, uniforms, excursions and other education expenses. He made the following observation:

Kevin Rudd's "toolbox of the future" program has been beset with problems. The opposition highlighted controversies about whether parents were going to be levied by schools to pay for maintenance and whether students could take computers home.

He went on:

This program was poorly conceived. The goal of comprehensive computer access for high school students was right, but it should have been done on a matching subsidy basis. Families should have been required to put in some of their money and be responsible for maintenance costs. They could then own the computer and the kids could take them home. Income-earning families could have been subsidised through a rebate and welfare families could have been assisted through SET-style facilities.

SET-style facilities could form the basis for solutions to school uniforms and other costs that another federal program is aimed at. Instead, all these programs have been conceived on the basis of a 100 per cent handout.

Noel has made the very valid point regarding computers in schools—one that the opposition has been making for such a long time—that when a program suffers from continuing cost blow-outs and is underperforming, one has to ask the question of whether there is a better way to meet the policy objectives.

I would also like to touch on another matter that has been brought to my attention as I continue to undertake my consultations with the various parts of the education sector. It is a program called MULTILIT, designed by Professor Kevin Wheldall at Macquarie University and delivered by the Exodus Foundation's Reverend Bill Crews. I met with the Exodus Foundation to talk about this program. It is used in tutorial centres for disadvantaged students at risk of dropping out of school. It is a direct, systematic teaching of the sounds of the English language and, importantly, has been a tremendous success wherever it has been used, particularly in Indigenous communities. It opened in 2009 for fewer than 200 struggling Indigenous students and has received partial funding under some of Labor's national partnerships in some states. A recent article in the Herald Sun reported on some of the results under this program in Darwin. The article included references to a report from the Exodus Foundation that tracked the progress of six Indigenous children at the Holy Spirit Catholic primary school, one of four Exodus centres in Darwin, in the 2008 to 2010 NAPLAN tests. To quote from the Herald Sun article:

In writing, for instance, in the 2008 NAPLAN test the group started in Year 3 right on the NT mean (or average) of 338, a full 70 points below the national mean. Then the NT and Exodus progress lines diverged as the Exodus children gobbled up the phonics program in 2009 and learned to read.

By Year 5 they had literally closed the gap, reaching the Australian average for their age group. It was the same story with reading.

Yet Multilit is struggling to attract extra funding to grow. The Minister for School Education, Early Childhood and Youth, the member for Kingsford Smith, has said that, due to budget constraints, there is no funding to expand the initiative. One of my primary concerns with the national partnership agreements is that programs that have the potential to be delivered and rolled out at a national level are constrained by the varying commitments made at the state level. There is no room for successful programs such as Multilit to flourish and grow. I am fortunate to be visiting the Cape York Peninsula in October this year, where Multilit also operates, and I am hoping that I get to see firsthand how this program works and how the results are yielded.

There is much more that I could speak about today on the topic of Indigenous education. Both sides of this House, I know, genuinely recognise the need to improve education outcomes and opportunities for young Indigenous people. The challenge is to do all that can be done to improve the current education reforms and the benefits that come from them. When a program such as Multilit has proven itself to be able to educate Indigenous young Australians to flourish and grow in national literacy and numeracy, it is a program that should be supported by government rather than starved of funds. I am certainly looking forward to hearing what David Gonski suggests in this area when his review of school funding is handed to the government. I hope that he will recognise, as the opposition has, the importance of programs like Multilit and the ability of local communities like those in Cape York and the programs run by the Exodus Foundation to actually address the real needs of Indigenous children on the ground, rather than assuming that all children will fit into a one-size-fits-all approach. With that, I commend the bill to the House.