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Monday, 22 August 2011
Page: 8796

Ms MARINO (ForrestOpposition Whip) (16:58): I welcome the opportunity to speak on the Schools Assistance Amendment Bill 2011. As we know, education is the greatest opportunity for people of all ages. However, fundamentally, it provides the basic groundwork for a productive, challenging but happy future for our young people. One of the major changes to school education is the move towards a national curriculum. We on our side reflect the concerns of stakeholders at the direction that the curriculum is heading in under the Labor government, a government that is noted for its serial incompetence in delivering policies and projects in a well managed, cost-effective and efficient process.

In education alone, we have seen repeated mismanagement, be it Computers in Schools or the wasted millions of taxpayers' funds in the BER program. Then there was the discrimination we saw with youth allowance and the uncertainty around school chaplaincy. This legislation gives us even more reason to be concerned. For instance, the Prime Minister originally said back in 2008 that the curriculum would take three years to develop and would therefore be ready to implement by January 2011. Well, that has come and gone. In 2010, the Prime Minister claimed:

… the nation has been talking about having a National Curriculum for … 30 years …

and claimed she had delivered it. But the national curriculum has not been delivered. For example, the bill before the House states that non-government schools are required to implement the national curriculum by 31 January 2012—certainly a long way from the Prime Minister's claim that she delivered a national curriculum in 2010. Unfortunately, the Prime Minister has made an art form of saying one thing and doing another.

One of the most serious issues with this legislation is the failure of the government to consult and respond to key stakeholders, though you would have thought that would have been integral to managing a national curriculum—for example, the Australian Curriculum Coalition, an organisation that represents teachers, principals, school leaders, academics and education researchers. This group believes that Australian schools, their teachers and their students deserve the highest quality national curriculum, and that is what they are asking for from this government. That is a very noble and worthy intent, and I support them in that. Matters raised by the ACC mostly remain unresolved, and the ACC believes there is a lot of work that still needs to be done in relation to a national, common approach to achievement standards. There is the additional material that is needed by states and territories to support effective implementation of the curriculum to accommodate different curriculum development approval and implementation requirements; the need for a clear overarching framework; the development of curriculum content and achievement standards as required to meet the needs of special-needs students; and engagement with teachers in the implementation process.

These are basic, core requirements that the ACC has asked of the government in rolling out a national curriculum. It is this group that knows how it needs to work on the ground—how it has to work with administrators, teachers and students in the actual schools. This is just another demonstration of how the Labor government is bungling yet another program. This final version of the national curriculum has not engaged key stakeholders—and, according to its current form, most states are not estimated to begin implementation until 2013-14.

The coalition are moving two further sensible amendments, noting that Labor ignored our amendments to the previous bill back in March. I should also highlight the endorsement of these amendments by the Independent Schools Council of Australia, the National Catholic Education Commission and the Independent Education Union—important bodies in any discussion about education in this nation. The first amendment moved by the coalition will ensure that schools are equipped with the support and assistance they required to implement the national curriculum. This is a sensible amendment and something that is badly needed by the schools. This amendment arose from the coalition's concerns about the current lack of a nationally agreed or consistent approach across jurisdictions to ensure that all schools are receiving support in the area of teacher professional learning to enable them to implement the Australian curriculum. The second amendment we will be moving seeks to include a clear representation of the non-government school sector with regard to the decision-making process for future time lines of the national curriculum.

The coalition have a number of specific concerns with this legislation, including the insufficient representation of the non-government school sector on the relevant subcommittee reporting to the Ministerial Council for Education, Early Childhood Development and Youth Affairs. We also have concerns that the curriculum is overcrowded and does not provide enough scope to recognise the diversity of students, including gifted and talented students. There are a wide range of students out there, with varying levels of need, and we need a curriculum that encompasses those needs. Our concerns extend to the manner in which the national curriculum documents are being produced and the content of these documents, not to mention the lack of stakeholder consultation and the lack of clarity around whether the material is meant to be mandatory or is designed to be a code around which jurisdictions and schools may add a local flavour. I would question whether those who will be producing this material, those in the printing and content sector, have even been consulted.

The coalition support a national curriculum in principle, but we do have major concerns about the direction in which the current curriculum is heading under the Labor government. The bill is evidence of the Labor government's routine of rushing policy through before thinking about the details and the practicalities—how it will be delivered, how it will work on the ground. None of those issues have been addressed in this legislation. As I said, there is a pattern of not being able to deliver these policies on the ground, where they matter.

As I said earlier, I believe that school education is of the utmost importance as it provides the grounds for a great future for our young people, but it does not appear that the Labor government is focused on delivering that through this legislation. I have previously raised in this House a number of the inequities the government created with youth allowance. We have seen a whole raft of different proposals by this government in relation to a range of education legislation, and it certainly has not delivered. I am hoping the inquiry by Professor Kwong Lee Dow will deliver some equity for students who were defined as living in inner regional areas. There are 10 sitting days left in which to table the report in each house of parliament. Given that sittings have resumed, I urge the minister to table the report immediately, to give students in inner regional areas who have been left in limbo some indication of what their future may hold.

This is all part of the education package that this government is failing to deliver in a way that is practical and sensible and that delivers on the ground, where it needs to, particularly in rural and regional Australia. We are determined to ensure that students in these areas are given the financial support they need and deserve, in the same way that we are determined to ensure that, through a national curriculum, students, teachers and all those who are engaged in the delivery of the curriculum have the resources they need. That is why we are making these particular amendments to this bill. They need and deserve the level of support that we are recommending through our amendments. In conclusion, I believe that people in Australia should have access to lifetime learning regardless of where they live. I support the amendments by the member for Sturt, but there are a number of concerns. I look around my electorate and see that any number of schools are affected by the national curriculum. Every school will be affected by it. I walk into their classrooms, I walk into their environments and each one of them has special needs in a different sense because they cater for a different cross-section of students. Some of them might have anything from 10 to 15 different languages spoken in their school and they have particular needs to deliver a national curriculum for students in that environment. But the teachers also have needs, and there is the need for resources. That is the basis for the amendments that we are proposing for this bill. I support the amendments by the member for Sturt and the coalition as very sensible. I encourage the government to take up these amendments. It is important that, in rolling out a national curriculum, all of the supports that are necessary to enable this to work in the schools where it is intended actually have the effect that is intended.