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Monday, 24 February 2014
Page: 693


Ms RYAN (LalorOpposition Whip) (12:52): I move:

That this House:

(1) notes:

(a) the importance of investing in education and ensuring that Australia remains competitive by providing quality education to all Australian children regardless of their postcode; and

(b) with concern that the gap between the most well off and disadvantaged students in Australia is on average 2.5 years, which is a much wider gap than the OECD average;

(2) acknowledges that the:

(a) well respected and qualified 'Gonski panel' identified six loadings and the importance of school reform as the key to improvement; and

(b) New South Wales, Victorian, South Australian, Tasmanian and Australian Capital Territory governments along with the national Catholic and independent school authorities signed up to this funding model;

(3) recognises that under the new four year funding arrangements for education, that it is impossible for the Government to guarantee that no school across Australia will be worse off; and

(4) calls on the Government not to return to the inequitable Socioeconomic Status scheme funding model of the past, but to commit to its promise of honouring the education funding agreements already entered into and provide equity by making it a truly national system.

There has been much said about our performance as a nation in the international measures of education in recent years. I have not heard one voice suggest that there is not a need for improvement. In fact, I would argue that no matter what our performance—be it low or high—there will always be room for improvement, because the education of our young people must continually improve to keep pace with the demands of modern life and to ensure that Australia can compete in a global economy.

It was to this end that the Labor government set about building a national system; a system to measure our performance and the resources going into our schools; a system that provided transparency and clear measures so that we as a nation could monitor our progress. The Labor government understood that national improvement requires national effort, a national plan, and national resourcing. The national Better Schools Plan, or Gonski as it is colloquially known, was designed to deliver just that, and it is needed—not least because each state and territory does things very differently; from curriculum to starting age, funding levels, and even centralisation and autonomy. But rather than doing as they promised, this government and this education minister have created division after diversion, to avoid getting started on the real work. On the same day that the minister made his announcement about the dismantling of ACARA, the body established to work with each state and territory system to make a national plan possible, he began a new curriculum war—the first of many distractions. And for what? So that, after years of an exhaustive consultation process, we can start again with a two-person expert review? His second distraction was about independent schools. The minister talks about independent schools with such relish, as though they are a new idea. He claims they are the cure-all for student outcome improvements. But the minister refuses to acknowledge Victoria, where autonomy and local decision-making have been happening in state schools for a long time and where, clearly, autonomy in and of itself does not improve student outcomes state-wide. And finally, in the latest announcement—that is, once again, a rehash designed to distract and divert—the minister talks about teacher training.

The Gonski plan incorporated the required changes in teacher training. The states that signed up to Gonski have already started on this work. Labor's Gonski reforms provide the necessary funding for, and make sure that states pursue, the following improvements: better admissions; tough literacy and numeracy standards; more practical experience in the classroom; professional standards for teachers at every stage of their career; and to continue to improve teacher education programs in partnership with the Tertiary Education Quality Standards Agency, universities and employers. If these things are already happening, why is the government wasting money on a review? Because they are stalling. They are stalling because the minister does not want to commit to needs-based funding. He refuses to even talk about it. We have only had reference to the SES model being a good system, signalling to many a return to the Howard years—a far cry from what the Gonski panel recommended. This, despite Victoria having had a model for many years, Western Australia having already conducted a review, and New South Wales embracing the same. This is the fundamental recommendation of the Gonski report. It goes to the heart of addressing the inequity in education that is holding our performance back. The minister needs to give us at least what he said he would give us—a unity ticket on equitable education. He needs to put the planks for national school improvement back in place; to deliver the full six years of better schools funding; and to let the schools and teachers get on with the job. The new mantra for this government is, 'get out of our way'. I say to them: there must be something standing behind you, because all you are doing is moving backwards.

I commend the motion to the House.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER ( Mr Goodenough ): Is there a seconder for the motion? I call the member for Fisher.