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Monday, 22 August 2011
Page: 8808


Mr CHRISTENSEN (Dawson) (17:50): In rising to speak on the Schools Assistance Amendment Bill, I am reminded of the purpose behind our education system. Regardless of how we build the system and how we operate the system, the desired outcome remains the same—to help future generations to learn. Following the member for Riverina's comments, I want to endorse some of the remarks he made at the end of his contribution with regard to Catholic and private schools. I have always been of the belief that taxpayer funds are for the children, for the students, and it really should not matter which school they attend.

Every bill that comes before this parliament should, in some way, enhance education and learning outcomes for future generations—and I am talking about all students here. I believe the coalition's amendments to this bill will do that. But we cannot expect our children to learn if the system's builders and operators demonstrate a fundamental inability to learn, if they are unable to learn the easiest lessons of all—and that is learning from one's own mistakes. Such a flaw would undermine the system. It would undermine the outcomes. It would deliver for future generations a standard lower than they deserve.

What we have in the bill before us is a warning that the current government is simply not capable of learning from its own mistakes. It is not for the want of opportunity. They have created more than their fair share of learning opportunities—or mistakes. Amongst an extensive back catalogue of these learning opportunities, we find familiar themes. There are common threads. These threads suggest that, if only a small number of lessons could be learnt by the government, a large number of future stuff-ups could be avoided.

The troubling thing is this. We can see the problems coming. We can see that the national curriculum and how it is going to be implemented have not been properly thought through. We know what happens as a result, because we have seen it happen one too many times during this current government. It is troubling because we can see it coming but the government cannot. It is like being a passenger in a car doing 200 kilometres an hour who can see the approaching cliff when the driver is too busy looking in the vanity mirror.

It is troubling because we can see yet another knee-jerk reaction in the pipeline. We can see a government going off half-cocked because they are so desperate to make it look as if they have actually done something. They are so desperate, in fact, that they do not even wait until the job is half done before claiming that it is finished. With this Schools Assistance Amendment Bill in mind I might remind the House that the Prime Minister said on 2 July last year:

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

That was more than a year ago. There has still been nothing delivered, and that is why we are here debating this bill almost 14 months later, and implementation is still a speck on the future horizon.

In addition to its concerns about delayed delivery the coalition also has serious concerns about exactly what is being delivered and how it is going to be delivered. That is why we have moved important amendments—amendments that we hope can stop this runaway car before it reaches the cliff.

We need the government not only to allow input from the appropriate sources but to listen to that input—to take in advice and admit to themselves that people and organisations outside the Labor Party and the Greens, people working in the education system and with the education system, might actually know what they are talking about. Because what this government thinks it is going to deliver as a national curriculum is nothing to skite about; it is something that should be cause for deep embarrassment.

The coalition believes that a delay in implementation is necessary. That is why we have sought previously to pass a similar bill. A delay in implementation of the national curriculum is necessary because it could be a very, very long time before this government could get the national curriculum right. The implementation of this national curriculum has all the loose threads—all the warning signs, all the hallmarks—of the multitude of miserable failures this government should have learned from. This government should have learned that what happens when you make promises you are not capable of delivering is something like the failed computers in schools program. There is a strong parallel between the Prime Minister claiming a year ago that she had delivered a national curriculum and the promise that computers would be delivered to every high school student by the end of 2011. In June this year, only 55 per cent of the computers had been rolled out, and that has taken three years to do.

Mr McCormack interjecting

Mr CHRISTENSEN: That leaves the government another six months to roll out the remaining 45 per cent which, the member for Riverina reminds me, is missing. But that was never going to happen. Even the education department knew that was not going to happen. The only problem is, they never told the minister for education that it was not going to happen, because a month later the minister was still telling us the program was on track and on schedule.

The government has a proven track record of inability to deliver. But here they are, bragging about having delivered a national curriculum that is still miles away from completion. The government should have learned that what happens when you do not fully think things through is that you end up with a debacle like the overpriced school halls that picked the pockets of Australian taxpayers and ripped off state government schools. Did anyone ever sit down and think about how these school halls would be delivered, who would build them, how they would build them, how they would price them and how fair value would be measured? The result was a disastrous waste of money—money that should have created much greater benefit for our education system.

But here they are, skiting about having delivered a national curriculum when there is still no real plan as to how it is going to be delivered. The government should have learned that what happens when you do not consider the implications of a shoddy implementation plan is a pink batts scheme. If you create an environment where people are not properly trained for what they are supposed to do, not given clear guidelines on how to perform their task and not given the support they need to do their job, you have to expect a degree of failure. That should be a lesson learned from the pink batts program. But here we are, putting together a national curriculum content that will leave teachers ill-equipped for implementation. They will be overwhelmed with the size and scope of the task. There is inadequate provision for training and support and there is a distinct lack of clear guidelines to follow.

The government should have learned that what happens when you are led down the garden path by a minority interest is that you lose sight of the big picture. You end up pandering to a single entity with a minority view point. You end up pushing pokies legislation that is hated by millions of people just to garner the support of a single person. But here we are, creating content that is so ideologically skewed that it pushes every cultural context except reality.

The national curriculum in its current format goes to great lengths to add weight to minority views, Indigenous culture and Asian culture without equal weight for the dominant British heritage and Judaeo-Christian traditions on which this country was founded. I am not opposed to including such content in the curriculum. Indigenous culture is a very important component of modern Australian culture. Our country's geographical ties to Asia also need to be recognised, but these influences must be viewed, as they are in the real world, through the framework of our overwhelmingly British heritage and dominant Judaeo-Christian traditions. These are the foundations of Australian society. They are the foundations of the world our children live in. They are the foundations that have built our language—the language that our teachers will be using to educate our children. To ignore these foundations would be no less a failure than to completely ignore Indigenous and Asian culture.

These concerns about the content of the national curriculum are concerns held not just by the coalition; they are views shared by key stakeholders. Dr Kevin Donnelly, the director of the Melbourne based Education Standards Institute, said that he too could see this coming. He said:

I can see that my fears about the new curriculum were well founded.

He described the content as:

… a heady mixture of politically correct perspectives: sustainable, indigenous, feminist, class, postmodern and cultural relativist.

He shares the view that it is only through the context of our Western heritage that we can understand our legal system, our political system, our language, our literature and our education. We have to question why someone would sit down and develop a national curriculum that goes to great lengths to ignore the terms BC and AD to indicate years simply because BC stands for 'Before Christ'. We must not mention the C-word. No, they thought it would be better to use the term BCE: 'Before common era'. That is rewriting history at its best.

Not content with rewriting history, this government is supporting a national curriculum that gives a fantastic outline of the Labor Party but conveniently neglects to balance the outlines of the Liberal and National parties. That is serious. That is in the national curriculum. Perhaps if the people on the ground were given the opportunity for input and the government took the time to put its ego in a box long enough to listen to what the people were saying it would avoid such embarrassment.

The government should have learnt. They still are not listening to what people are saying about the carbon tax and it just makes people angrier—and we saw it today. It makes people more determined to force an election by any means possible. They need to avoid that personality flaw here and allow for more voices into the national curriculum formulation. In the time afforded by the extension of this deadline, the government should accept their own shortcomings and actively seek advice from those who really do know better. Including a representative from the non-government schools on the Australian Education, Early Childhood Development and Youth Affairs Senior Officials Committee would be a very good start, because so much of the future depends on our education system.

The lives of generations to come will be hugely shaped by the education that we provide now for our young people. It is of great concern to me that such an important part of our society is now in the hands of this government, Labor and the Greens, who clearly demonstrate that they are most incapable of learning themselves. I really do hope that this curriculum is delayed so that we can have some balance and we can get it right, because if we do not get this right it will not be the government that suffers but the children—that is, until we reach the ballot box.