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Monday, 22 August 2011
Page: 8812

Mr TEHAN (Wannon) (18:02): Mr Deputy Speaker, it is always a pleasure to see you in the chair and I hope you are well today.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER ( Mr S Sidebottom ): Thank you.

Mr TEHAN: In speaking on the Schools Assistance Amendment Bill 2011 this evening, I will start by reading a quote out because sadly it sums up where we are at with this legislation. It comes from the President of the New South Wales Teachers Federation, Bob Lipscombe:

The Australian curriculum's not ready to be implemented in New South Wales. 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.

Mr Lipscombe said that on the ABC news on 10 August 2011. He spoke not only for New South Wales but also for the states and territories of the Commonwealth because sadly, as we stand here this evening debating the Schools Assistance Amendment Bill 2011, we see that the national curriculum is not ready to be implemented.

The coalition supports a national curriculum in principle. We are not concerned with the idea. We are sadly concerned, though, once again with how it is being implemented by the Gillard government. This dates back to 2008 when Julia Gillard, our current Prime Minister, said it would take three years to develop and implement. That was in 2008—three years ago—and it would be ready to go by January 2011. If I am not mistaken, it is now August 2011 and here we are debating this bill.

It is ironic that the coalition sought to amend the legislation when it was initially put so that we could look at a start date of 2013 or 2014 and the government would not allow our amendment, yet here we are having to look at either a 2013 or a 2014 start date. It shows that, once again, this government is lacking when it comes to implementation. Although it has been quoted by pretty much every speaker that has been before me on our side, it is worth reminding the House what the Prime Minister said during the election campaign: 'This nation's talked about a national curriculum for 30 years. I've delivered it.' Sadly, she has not and it is going to take some time yet.

If it is to be delivered in a way that is meaningful and does the right thing by schools in this country, it is going to need some change. That is why, in a very positive and bipartisan way, the coalition is putting forward two amendments to help improve the government's legislation, to show the government the way. It is often said—I must say wrongly—that we are negative in the approach that we take. Here we are being extremely positive. We are offering two sensible amendments to show the government the error of its ways and asking it to take them on board to improve the legislation that it is putting forward. It will be very interesting to see what the government does with this positive approach that we are putting forward. The two amendments we are putting forward make a lot of sense. The first relates to the importance of ensuring that schools are provided with appropriate support and assistance to implement the Australian Curriculum. You would have thought that you would take that sort of assistance for granted—that schools would be granted support to implement. I would have thought that that is as logical as day following night. Sadly, it does not seem to be the case with this government. We are putting forward an amendment which would see that happen. We would see teachers getting the support that they need to implement the curriculum. Teachers would have the confidence to say: 'We are going to be teaching a national curriculum in maths, in English or in science. We know exactly what that curriculum is about. We know exactly how students need to be taught. Therefore, we have confidence going into the classroom and making sure all students across Australia get the teaching that they need to develop and go on and be wonderful individuals.' That is a very positive contribution to this debate and to this legislation, and I hope that it will be one that the government will take on board.

Our second amendment seeks to include clear representation of the non-government school sector with respect to decision-making processes for future time lines of the national curriculum. I would just like to point out to the government and to the education minister in particular—and the one that went before him—that there are actually two types of education that we have in this country. There is a very good government sector and there is a very good non-government sector. We do not just have one sector. Therefore, if we are to get balance in the way the national curriculum time lines are to be set, about what the character of those guidelines should be, about what should be in the curricula, it would only be wise and fair that both the non-government and government sectors can play a part in doing that. If a national curriculum is to serve the learning needs of our children then we should ensure that it does it for those children who are learning in the non-government sector as much as we do it for those students learning in the government sector.

These are two what you would call positive, modest amendments—ones which will go a long way to alleviating the recurring concerns about the curriculum process. When you look at the detail that has been in the curriculum, or the overarching framework which has been set out, there have been concerns. Our two amendments will address them. The government should do the right thing and take them on board.

I would like to point out two particular flaws that the curriculum has in it. I think most of the speakers on our side who have been before me have touched on these, because I think they are fairly important. Sadly, Labor's curriculum is driven on ideological grounds. For example, in the history component, the Labor Party and union movement is included but there is no mention of the Liberal or National parties or the parties on the conservative side of politics that went before them. Imagine if we were developing the national curriculum and we put forward that it would only address the history of the United Australia Party, the National Party, and the Country Party that came before it, and the Liberal Party. Could you imagine the outrage if we left the union movement and the Labor Party out? The other side would be just ballistic in their rage if we did that. Yet they have the gall to do it here. It just beggars belief that they could do such a thing.

The worst thing about it is it highlights what they are about here. It is not about a national curriculum which is about teaching our students across the country maths, science and English in a uniform way; sadly, there is a deeper desire here, and that is to drive the ideology through our students. I would hope that Labor would be able to look at this and say: 'This is not the right way to teach the young people of this country. We need to provide balance.' They should put themselves in our shoes from a moment and say: 'Yes, look, if the reverse was done, we would have problems with that. We need to address this.' And I hope that they will.

The second point that I would like to make about this national curriculum as it has been developed so far by this government is that it is overcrowded. There is an excessive amount of content to be covered in courses, which means less flexibility for schools. I would have thought in the 21st century we should have been looking to put more flexibility into our schools, not less, by giving our teachers the freedoms to be able to operate within their classrooms by giving them an outline of what needs to be addressed but not detailing every last sentence. If you are trying to drive an ideological agenda maybe, because you would say: 'You have to talk about the Labor Party and the union movement. You have to talk about those things. Of course, don't worry about the other side.' It is overly prescriptive. We need to pull back from that. We have to allow teachers and our principals to be able to go about doing the things that they do best. They need the flexibility to be able to do it. I hope we will get a pullback from that overly prescriptive approach, because our students across the country will benefit from it, our teachers will benefit from it, our principals will benefit from it, and our whole education system will benefit from it. If we continue to be too prescriptive the national curriculum will not do the job it is meant to do.

I would like to draw my speech tonight to a conclusion. So it is nicely rounded, I would like to go back to where I started, which is the quote from Bob Lipscombe, because I think that quote, although it is on behalf of the New South Wales education sector, reflects what the concerns are across the country as a whole:

The Australian curriculum's not ready to be implemented … 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 …

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.

The Prime Minister is on the record as saying: 'This nation's talked about a national curriculum for 30 years. I delivered it.' She has not delivered it.

We have to make sure that her embarrassment of not having done that does not mean that we rush our implementation now. Our kids' futures are at hand. A lot of us here have students who are going through the schooling process at the moment. We want this to be done correctly. The coalition, in a very positive manner, have put forward two amendments—two positive approaches—to try to fix the mess that the implementation of this bill is likely to create. I hope the education minister will take those two amendments on board. I hope the Prime Minister will see the positive approach on which they have been put forward and see that this is being done to improve the educational outcomes of our children and to make sure that our schools, our teachers and our principals have the right guidelines going ahead. The coalition support the idea of a national curriculum. What we do not support is the way this government is going about it.