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Monday, 22 August 2011
Page: 8794

Ms GAMBARO (Brisbane) (16:49): I am very pleased to speak on the Schools Assistance Amendment Bill 2011 and to associate myself with the comments made by the member for Sturt. I am pleased to support the amendments to the Schools Assistance Amendment Bill. They are a very important step in rectifying the failings that we have seen in the proposed implementation time line of the national curriculum over the last three years, and I wholeheartedly support these amendments.

I believe in a system of education that is outcomes focused and a system that enables students to achieve their full potential as functioning members of our society. In the electorate of Brisbane we have over 40 schools and we are fortunate to have a plethora of choice in government, Catholic and independent education options for our children. For many years the non-government education providers, from All Hallows—my old school—to Gregory Terrace, St Margaret's, St James, St Rita's, Clayfield College and Brisbane boys and girls grammar schools, have provided a quality education and quality service to the children of the Brisbane electorate. I am very grateful for their contribution to this great state of Queensland through their combined years of dedicated service to the community. It was good to spend some time with the school community at St Finbarrs at the Marist hall yesterday for their annual fundraiser, which saw some 500 parents, supporters and sponsors attend. It was a great event.

I have been watching the national curriculum with great interest, because every time I visit a school usually a teacher will pull me aside and wring their hands with horror and ask me what is going on. It can be as simple a question as to what is happening with the citizenship program that a number of schools participate in—and many of us see schools come to Canberra to visit us. They are quite horrified by what they are seeing in the curriculum. They ask me if the citizenship program will stay in the primary school sector, as they hear rumours going around that it will be moved to the high school level. They really do not know what is going on and they are very confused and frustrated. They have been watching this process with great frustration. That is why we are all looking with very keen interest at the national curriculum debate and why these particular amendments are very, very important, particularly for non-government schools in the Brisbane electorate and other parts of Australia. These non-government schools serve as an important avenue to provide choice and flexibility for parents on how their children are educated. If we are to accept a nationally prescribed curriculum, it is centrally important that the sector is allowed clear representation, particularly in decision-making processes for the future of the national curriculum. The curriculum is for everyone; the curriculum is for government and non-government schools. In the seat of Brisbane alone, the non-government sector and the other sectors have many hundreds of years of combined experience in teaching, learning and adjusting the way in which they instruct Australian children.

It is wrong of the government to think that they can design a national curriculum for the millions of Australian schoolchildren in a mere three years without the representation of non-government schools. This sector really deserves an opportunity to make a direct contribution to the national debate. I was a member of the previous Howard government, which had many proud educational reforms which led to the development of the national curriculum. It has been clear, however, that since 2007 the Rudd and Gillard governments have failed to listen to the key stakeholders, the stakeholders who are involved every single day in the important education of our children. A Labor government would happily take any opportunity to undermine the viability of non-government and independent school sectors in Australia, and it is just not acceptable.

However, with regard to the national curriculum, they must not ignore this important voice in the sector. The current curriculum itself stands as an ideologically-driven document that ignores the inescapable contribution of Australia's British heritage and Judeo-Christian traditions. It is important to recognise the contribution of Aboriginal history and our engagement with Asia as integral to the multicultural success of Australia's development. However, with reference to the religious institutions that I have mentioned today and their important history in religious instruction, we must also place a greater importance than we currently see regarding the influence of Judeo-Christian values in Australia, both directly and indirectly. As I mentioned earlier, choice and flexibility is absolutely important; however, they are lacking in the current curriculum.

During my time as the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for Defence—and I notice we have the shadow minister sitting at the table today—a number of defence families, particularly of the Defence Families Association, constantly highlighted to me the inadequacy of the system that saw schoolchildren unable to continue a uniform education across state boundaries and, as the member for Sturt mentioned earlier, there are some 80,000 students that cross state boundaries every year, whether they are children of defence families or doing so through interstate relocations of their families. Labor has managed to create an overly prescriptive and overloaded mess, rather than providing a clear national program that serves as a framework for the success of Australia's next generations. It burdens our schools with mandatory hours in the areas of English, mathematics, science and history. I understand the importance of these four areas, as they are absolutely fundamental in life, but the curriculum does not strike a proper balance and does not recognise the diversity of students or the diversity of interest. This lack of balance reduces the amount of time allowed to teach other areas of interest, thereby reducing the ability of schools to differentiate themselves and to provide that really important choice and flexibility in the eyes of the parents.

The current government has failed to listen to key stakeholders, including the NSW Teachers Federation President, Bob Lipscombe, who has made it quite clear that there are significant concerns in the community with regard to support that will be provided to teachers when the curriculum is finally implemented. The coalition has been listening and has listened to three stakeholders, the Independent Schools Council of Australia, the National Catholic Education Commission and the Independent Education Union, which have endorsed the coalition's amendments. Schools across different state jurisdictions will not be able to adapt to the new curriculum overnight, and while I understand members on the opposite side of the House have had difficulty in recent years—particularly in rolling out any programs, including national programs—it is nevertheless difficult to understand how the government has not been able to recognise the support required to implement the national curriculum in our schools.

In order to have an efficient but timely implementation that is of benefit to all students in Australia, the government must dedicate resources to provide professional development for teachers in both government and non-government schools. We need a high-quality core curriculum for all schools which is relevant, realistic, achievable and measurable, and where competency in numeracy and literacy are basic requirements. That is why I support the amendments proposed by the member for Sturt.