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Monday, 22 August 2011
Page: 8814

Mr CRAIG KELLY (Hughes) (18:17): I rise tonight to speak on the Schools Assistance Amendment Bill 2011; a bill that seeks to address a rather unfortunate oversight by the Minister for School Education, Early Childhood and Youth, and one twice raised in this place by the shadow minister for education, but only now sought to be fixed by the minister. The oversight referred to is the implementation date of the national curriculum—currently set for commencement in just five months time for non-government schools. This sounds like a noble goal, but it is terribly hard to implement a curriculum that is yet to be finalised.

The shadow minister first raised the concern about the implementation deadline for non-government schools in November last year, and earlier this year repeated calls for a simple amendment to be legislated to remove this unreachable deadline. The reforms for a national curriculum—initially promised to be implemented by January 2012—have drifted and been left incomplete by a government well known for its inability to implement programs on time or on budget have start dates now pushing out to 2013 or 2014 and a legislative deadline rapidly approaching. This bill should have been unnecessary. But for the pigheadedness of those opposite in not understanding the problems in their own legislation, the problems this bill seeks to address would have previously been addressed.

Nonetheless, the fact that the national curriculum is yet to be finalised did not, of course, prevent the current Prime Minister from proclaiming on 2 July last year: 'This nation's talked about a national curriculum for 30 years. I delivered it.' One might have assumed that if a national curriculum had indeed been 'delivered' then an eraser would not have been needed to rub out the error riddled legislation the Prime Minister put forward back in 2008 when she was the education minister standing behind the former Prime Minister.

Ironically, the Prime Minister claimed to have 'delivered' the national curriculum, despite falling far short of doing so by the January 2012 deadline—as we see by the need for this amendment. The Prime Minister claimed to have 'delivered' the curriculum she has not delivered, just as she promised to the Australian people she would not deliver a carbon tax and is now doing so. No wonder, today, we find a 'convoy of no confidence' on our doorstep that has travelled to Canberra from across the nation to send a clear message to this incompetent government: the Australian people want an election now.

Let us be clear: this government is rushing through a national curriculum not for any good educational reasons but simply for a political reason to enable the Prime Minister to live up to her claim that she has delivered it. Simply, the Prime Minister is prepared to compromise children's education for a simple political purpose. What a disgrace!

Although the coalition broadly supports the intent of having a national curriculum, naturally, particularly under this government, we are deeply concerned about the looming implementation stage. This is especially of concern with a new minister who, as minister for the environment, rushed through an incompetent and poorly thought out program which will go down in our nation's folklore—a program that managed to burn down some 190 homes. We certainly do not want that performance repeated on our nation's schools or on a national curriculum simply because it has to be rushed through.

I would like to air a few broad points relating to the implementation of a national curriculum—or, if you would like, the important narrative and required elements behind the move to a national curriculum. Firstly, we must not allow a race to the bottom. In my home state of New South Wales, we already have a robust curriculum, developed over decades. The last thing we want to do in New South Wales is go backwards with our children's education. I have spoken to a great many teachers in my local area that are keeping a keen eye on the development of the national curriculum, yet they remain cautious about the dangers the implementation of the national curriculum may have and how it may have the potential to water down the high standards already in place in New South Wales. For the national curriculum to produce the results that the country has asked of it, it must look to the future and not backwards into the past. There must be an assessment of the needs of our country, and we must look to where it will be in years to come and present our children with a system that will meet their needs in the future and not lock them into the ways of the past. We will gain nothing and lose much if the national curriculum fails to provide for the future. This is why it cannot and must not be rushed. It is also worth noting that across New South Wales and the rest of Australia many schools who are doubtful of the quality of the national curriculum are considering alternatives for their students, such as the benchmarking International Baccalaureate program. In the past, the New South Wales Higher School Certificate has been recognised across the globe as being a first-class finishing qualification, and the move to a standardised curriculum could see this standing ruined in the eyes of the world.

The second crucial point to recognise is the important role that all sectors in the education system play in developing our children as well-rounded young adults. The national curriculum, if not established in the correct manner, with all the relevant checks and balances satisfied, could endanger the tireless work of the many great teachers of New South Wales. These teachers, who are responsible for teaching the future of our great nation, should not be sold short and forced to teach to exams. Instead, they should be allowed and encouraged to uphold the high standards that are currently evident in New South Wales. Time and time again, we have seen the failure of Labor ideology, the ideology of a deluded belief in centralised control of decisions by a small group of elite, when our history has shown, time and time again, that the best decisions are always made by people working at the coalface. We therefore should not implement a system that would tie the hands of our world-class educators and possibly cause a drop in our educational standards.

Non-government schools are a crucial pillar of our education system in Australia. Without these educational institutions, some of which are over a century old, our education system would not be able to meet the demands of our population. In fact, if government funding to these schools were to be cut, the resulting burden on the state system would mean the collapse of our world-class education system. Over the past decade, class sizes in secondary schools have increased, and in some cases there are now 45 students to one teacher. Without non-government schools, this number could very easily increase still further, reducing the quality of education for all. Within my electorate of Hughes, there are many schools, government and non-government, all which are great schools filled with dedicated teachers who are teaching the next generation of Australians. I have been out and about, visiting local schools, and these visits have reinforced the importance of our work in this key area. We simply cannot get these reforms wrong through rushing them through. We must not let any of these teachers or students down by pushing them into a framework that is not ready and is not able to deliver them the results that they deserve for their hard work.

While the coalition will not oppose this bill, due to the obvious need for the parliament to act on what the coalition has been saying since November last year, it is not possible to implement a curriculum that is yet to be finalised. The coalition will seek to make two important amendments to enhance the progress of the reform, to deliver reform that works and that does not let our kids and their dedicated teachers down. I call on all members opposite to look deep inside themselves and to consider these amendments carefully. Do any of you really want to carry the burden of knowing that you had a choice to improve this bill and this program and chose not to for political expediency? There is a deep black hole in the current national curriculum proposal, and that is a complete lack of assistance in implementing the reforms. Currently, there is no nationally agreed or consistent approach across all jurisdictions to ensure that schools are receiving support in the area of professional development to enable teachers to implement a new national curriculum. Our amendment will rectify this to ensure a smooth transition into practice. We must offer our education professionals the training and support that they will need to implement this big change in Australia's educational system. We must not lock out teachers who work for non-government schools and, as a result, cause their students to suffer, hurting Australia's future in the process.

Our second amendment seeks to include representation from the non-government school sector in the decision-making process for future time lines of the national curriculum, providing the non-government sector with a seat at the table which they have not had to this point. This is likely a key reason why the government has thus far appeared unaware of the implementation time frame problem sought to be rectified by this bill. The government's failure to provide the non-government school sector with a seat at the table in the implementation of a national curriculum is a stark reminder of the bad old days of Mark Latham's infamous hit list, heartily supported by many members opposite during those dark days. By locking the non-government sector out of the decision-making process, we will lose the expertise and wisdom of some of the country's best and greatest educators, who want nothing more than the best education for our students. Instead of knocking down our system to the lowest common denominator, we should be seeking to raise our schools up, and to do this we should be asking for input from all educational institutions, not just those run by government.

The coalition's proposed amendments are crucial to ensuring a smooth and successful implementation of the national curriculum, and while the performance of the government in this area has been weak at best, particularly in failing to recognise and act with the coalition to address the government's failures in the implementation of the national curriculum and subsequent legislative issues such as those we are having to address with this bill, I feel it is important to review what stakeholders are saying about these important coalition amendments. The President of the NSW Teachers Federation has spoken of concern about the lack of support for the implementation of the curriculum, which the coalition amendments would address. On 10 August this year he said:

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.

Certainly, the coalition agree the government is failing to support our teachers to implement the national curriculum. We encourage those opposite to support our amendment on this key issue.

The President of the Australian Education Union also shares this position, having said previously:

… we're also seriously worried by the absence of any funding to support the implementation.

And, as previous speakers have canvassed, the Independent Education Union has described our amendment to provide a seat at the table for the non-government school sector as 'an important step forward' and an amendment 'that should be supported by all parliamentarians'. The amendments to be moved by the coalition are good and sensible. I encourage those opposite to support these reasonable moves to improve the implementation of the national curriculum.

In conclusion, there has been a lot of discussion regarding the overly prescriptive, biased and ideological content of the national curriculum, but I will not go into that in detail. However, as a previous speaker stated, I do understand the Labor Party and the union movement are included in this new national curriculum, whereas the Liberal Party have been left out. As a previous speaker noted, could we imagine if the reverse applied? We would not hear the end of the screams. I do not have any particular problem if the Labor Party and the union movement are included in the national curriculum—that is the way this current government is going. I simply suggest that these subjects belong in the ancient history curriculum.