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Monday, 22 August 2011
Page: 8805

Mr McCORMACK (Riverina) (17:35): The coalition supports the national curriculum in principle. It is a good idea. It is necessary. Many people in my Riverina electorate have told me how confusing and frustrating it is when they move from or to another state and there is inconsistency with what is being taught and at what year level. This is particularly prevalent for children of transient workers such as those who work in some agricultural pursuits, who follow the picking seasons, and also those in military families who frequently move from base to base. As a tri-service defence city, Wagga Wagga has many people who fall into the latter category. For them, a national curriculum would be welcome.

The coalition's concerns regarding the national curriculum are not with the concept but rather its direction under Labor. When the Prime Minister was Minister for Education in 2008 she said a national curriculum would take three years to develop and be ready to implement by January 2011. Under the current legislation, non-government schools are required to put the national curriculum into place by 31 January 2012. As with anything Labor touches, the whole thing has been mucked up. Just like the rapscallion schoolboy who tells the teacher a dog ate his homework, the current Minister for School Education, Early Childhood and Youth also gets an F for failing to deliver on Labor's commitment. The final version of the national curriculum is yet to be approved, and most states will not introduce it until 2013 or 2014. The original legislation therefore needed adjusting. The coalition sought to make the necessary amendments back in March, but the minister was apparently unaware that this presented a problem and did not support our amendment. Schools cannot put in place a curriculum which is not ready—not anywhere near ready. This bill is proof positive that Labor has not delivered on its commitment. During last year's election campaign the Prime Minister claimed, obviously falsely, that the national curriculum was finished. She made statements such as:

This nation's talked about national curriculum for 30 years. I delivered it.

When, Prime Minister?

The coalition's amendments have now been endorsed by the Independent Schools Council of Australia, the National Catholic Education Commission and the Independent Education Union. The coalition noted advice from non-government school sector authorities to the House inquiry into the Schools Assistance Amendment Bill 2011 that the issue of appropriate representation on the Australian Education, Early Childhood Development and Youth Affairs Senior Officials Committee is becoming increasingly important given the emerging task of the committee. This is especially so relating to the national curriculum. If adopted, the coalition's amendment would provide the government with an opportunity to provide non-government sector authorities with 'observer status' on the AEEYSOC instead of or in addition to membership. This could permit, for instance, non-government sector authorities to receive agenda and briefing papers for both the standing council and AEEYSOC in advance, as well as draft minutes in retrospect. We hope the government will adopt this necessary and reasonable amendment to enable non-government sector authorities to make much more informed and better targeted contributions to the national debate. Further, it would ensure that they would be appropriately consulted regarding time lines for introduction of the national curriculum. This is wholly appropriate. This amendment is significant given that the number of parents who have chosen to send their children to non-government schools are not represented on the appropriate bodies which make the decisions in relation to education in this nation. This is unfair and needs to be altered. The coalition amendment also provides for a broad, appropriate teacher development strategy for the national curriculum. Although this bill relates only to non-government schools, we also advocate that professional development to teachers should be available across the whole schools sector.

The draft K-10 curriculum for the subject areas of English, mathematics, science and history has been prepared by the Australian Curriculum, Assessment and Reporting Authority, and Labor intends to present a final draft to education ministers this October for approval at ministerial council. The coalition is deeply concerned about some of the ideological undertones which are pervading the curriculum. The coalition is deeply concerned about the overly prescriptive nature of the draft document. Experts in education agree the content will swamp teachers, with no funding or backup for the required training for the rollout to succeed. These fears are shared by key stakeholder groups, including teacher representatives and professional associations.

As a result, the coalition has moved two vital amendments. Firstly, schools will need to be provided with the appropriate level of assistance and support to introduce an Australian curriculum. Secondly, we seek to include clear representation of the non-government school sector in the decision-making processes for future time lines of a national curriculum. Presently there is no national or consistent approach to making sure all schools are getting the support they so desperately need in teacher professional learning to be able to implement an Australian curriculum. Having adequate representation adds a safeguard that non-government schools would be properly consulted in the lead-up to decisions regarding implementation time lines. These two modest amendments will certainly help smooth this challenging reform process and bring some level of fairness to the debate.

For the Prime Minister to say that she has already delivered a national curriculum is a case of her getting ahead of herself—way ahead of herself. New South Wales Teachers Federation President Bob Lipscombe said only recently, on 10 August:

"The Australian curriculum's not ready to be implemented in NSW. We must be careful to ensure that when we do implement it we don't do it in a way that undermines the already high curriculum standards in this state … There are issues around the overarching framework it fits in and importantly there are also issues around the resourcing that will be put in place to support its implementation.

"Until these questions are addressed by the Federal Government, then a delay is quite appropriate."

Now we know that the decision to delay the new curriculum has irked the education minister. He accused New South Wales of 'letting students down' and walking away from its commitment. 'There is no justifiable reason for this 11th-hour backdown,' the minister said.

At the heart of this issue is the cost of getting teachers ready for the new curriculum. The New South Wales Minister for Education, Adrian Piccoli, said it would cost about $80 million over four years to implement the curriculum and to provide professional development of teachers. If Mr Piccoli said New South Wales is unwilling to run with the national curriculum agenda because federal Labor has not done due diligence on funding and support then that would be correct. The New South Wales education minister is the member for Murrumbidgee, much of which is in the federal seat of Riverina. He was a competent shadow education, skills and youth affairs spokesman from 28 December 2008 right through the dying days—excuse me—

The DEPUTY SPEAKER ( Mr S Sidebottom ): Who's dying? Sorry.

Mr Lyons: Who's dying?

Mr McCORMACK: The state Labor government—that's who was dying! He held that position right through the dying days of the inept state Labor government and held a poor party to account for its mismanagement. He is doing a fine job as minister, and I commend him for that and for his genuine care and concern for the education of today's children—surely our greatest resource.

The state government said on 9 August it would postpone implementation of the national curriculum for 12 months because of the federal Labor government's failure to provide teacher development funding and questions about its quality. That quality is gravely concerning. One hopes a national curriculum is not used as a vehicle for Labor to push its propaganda. Disturbingly, according to a 13 March report in the Daily Telegraph:

PRIMARY school children are being terrified by lessons claiming climate change will bring "death, injury and destruction" to the world unless they take action.

On the eve of Prime Minister Julia Gillard's carbon tax package announcement, psychologists and scientists said the lessons were alarmist, created unneeded anxiety among school children and endangered their mental health.

Climate change as a "Doomsday scenario" is being taught in classrooms across Australia. Resource material produced by the Gillard government for primary school teachers and students states climate change will cause "devastating disasters".

…   …   …

Australian National University's Centre for the Public Awareness of Science director Dr Sue Stocklmayer said climate change had been portrayed as "Doomsday scenarios with no way out".

Dr Stocklmayer said she was not a climate-change sceptic but worried that "too much time was spent presenting scary scenarios, especially to young people".

"(Children) feel incredibly despondent and helpless in the face of all this negative information," she said. "To put all of this before our children … is one of the most appalling things we can do …

Mr Lyons: Like listening to the Liberal Party.

Mr McCORMACK: I will take the member's interjection, but what I say even includes Tasmania. The article continues:

Child psychologist Kimberley O'Brien also said the language of climate change should be "toned down".

Of course, the Minister for School Education, Early Childhood and Youth refuses to stop the teaching of Labor's climate science, despite moves in Britain for the subject to be withdrawn. But, then, this government also refused to stop the wasteful spending on school halls when it was plainly obvious to all and sundry it was a fiasco, a taxpayer rip-off in the order of a disgraceful $6 billion. At least the coalition's Investing in Our Schools program injected real and meaningful money into grateful schools—

Mr Lyons interjecting

Mr McCORMACK: including in Tasmania. Funding is an important issue as far as education is concerned. Recently, the Director of Schools in the Catholic Education Office, Wagga Wagga, Mr Alan Bowyer, was moved to respond in a media statement to concerns that funding would be cut and media reports that funding would be cut by this Labor-Greens alliance. The statement reads:

In responding to enquiries from a number of media representatives, Mr Bowyer declared, "We believe that a fair, equitable and certain funding scheme for all schools is vital for the continued growth and expansion of quality learning and teaching for all Australian students and teachers".

That is something I am sure all people in this place would agree with. It continues:

"Our belief is that education is a basic entitlement and all students, whether they attend a Catholic, an independent or a state school, have the right to be funded by government at a level that provides a balanced, rigorous and properly resourced education", Mr Bowyer said. "No parent should be financially penalised as a result of choosing to send their children to Catholic schools in accordance with their religious beliefs and commitment to the Church".

I say: hear, hear!

Mr Bowyer stated that figures taken from the National Report on Schooling in Australia (2008) clearly indicate that Catholic schools and non-government schools in general, are under-funded when compared with state schools. "While a student in a state school, on average, in 2007-08 received $12,639 in funding from state and federal governments for the year, the figure for a Catholic school student was only $7,685. Productivity Commission figures in 2009 show that the amount for public school students was a little less - $11,874 per student while the amount per child in the independent sector remained steady", he said.

"School funding is a complex issue. State governments are the primary source of recurrent funding for schools and provide approximately 93% of public school costs but only about 17% of non-government schools costs. The Federal government provides top up assistance of approximately 7% to public schools and about 53% to non-government schools resulting in the need for non-government schools to charge school fees to address the gap. Catholic systemic schools endeavour to keep school fees as low as possible to ensure Catholic education is affordable for families, but school fees as such, only partly contribute to the funding gap between what is received from government sources and the true costs of schooling …

Mr Bowyer went on to reveal that 704,000 (20%) students attend Catholic schools across Australia, and stated that these schools employ 78,000 staff. He said that in 2010 in NSW, 66 per cent of students attended public schools, 22 per cent of students went to Catholic schools and 12 per cent attended independent schools.

"It should be remembered that many Catholic schools, which dominate the non-government school sector in terms of enrolments, serve disadvantaged communities made up of migrant and working-class families and those living in remote and rural Australia", Mr Bowyer said. "In some areas, the Catholic school is the only school serving the local community".

Mr Bowyer welcomed the opportunity that organisations had to make submissions to the Gonski Review and said he was reassured by the Prime Minister's promise that, "this is not about taking money away from schools" and that "no school will lose a dollar of funding, in the sense that their school budget per student will not reduce in dollar terms".

I certainly do hope that the Prime Minister lives up to those words; I certainly do hope that Labor does not listen to the Greens and cut or freeze Catholic school funding, because it is all about choice, and in Australia we should have that choice. If a parent wants to send their child to a Catholic school they should be able to do so, with the knowledge that that schoolchild will be funded properly and sufficiently so that they receive a good and fair education. There should be fair and equitable funding right across the school education system.