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Tuesday, 4 June 2013
Page: 5110


Mr GARRETT (Kingsford SmithMinister for School Education, Early Childhood and Youth) (17:17): On 28 November last year the Prime Minister introduced the Australian Education Bill 2012 into this House. As the Prime Minister said at the time, no more important bill was introduced last year and, similarly, no more important bill will be put to a vote this year. During the period of the debate, the choice before the Australian public this year became even clearer. As this debate unfolded, the Australian public has been able to hear two very different views on the future of education in Australia.

The bill before the House exists for a very specific reason. On this side of the House we are acutely aware of some facts about school funding and education outcomes. The fact is that Australia's school results are just not good enough. We now have more information about what is happening within schools and we should be compelled to act as a result.

Information from My School—information only available because this government understands the importance of transparency and evidence driving policy—and other sources like international tests across the OECD show us we must go further. Four of the five top schooling systems in the world are in our region. We are not one of them. The average 15-year-old maths student in Australia is two years behind a 15-year-old in Shanghai. By year 3, 89 per cent of children from the poorest quarter of Australian homes are reading below average. By year 9, the average child from the same families is two years behind children from the most well-off quarter of Australian homes in reading and maths.

Today, in very remote Australia, the average Indigenous year 9 student is reading at the year 4 level. This is unacceptable for those children who, quite simply, are not being given the education they deserve and need under the current system. Further, while we have skill shortages now we know that the jobs of the future will demand higher skills. These skills can only be developed if every child is leaving school with a high-quality education.

Australian businesses, and our economy, will not be able to compete if we accept these statistics as good enough. It has been said often, and it is true, that we cannot win the economic race if we lose the education race. Our children cannot get the jobs of the future if they do not get a great education now.

Why are our results not good enough? Because Australia's school funding system is broken. Today, schools that are teaching similar children get different levels of resourcing. Today, some schools funding is maintained and some schools funding is guaranteed while schools in comparable positions are treated differently. Today, state government cutbacks automatically feed into Commonwealth rates of indexation. This not only makes it difficult for schools to plan for future levels of funding but also means that without a change to the current system schools can expect indexation to fall in the future.

Today, too many schools in our country do not have the resources that we know they need in order to give the children in their school a great education. Today, we all have a responsibility to address these facts about our current funding system. Today, we all must act because until this bill passes the worst fact will still be true: school funding is not tied to school improvement. Perhaps the greatest of all the absurdities spread by the opponents of this bill is the notion that money does not matter in schools. Well, we know it matters. I see the impact when I visit national partnership schools right around the country.

More importantly, this bill is precisely drafted to create a new connection which has never existed before, precisely making additional school funding conditional on agreement to school improvement. This bill does exactly what the opposition failed to do in government. It specifically makes sure that money does matter in schools, yet they come in here and accuse us of their own sins of omission yet oppose our attempts to make satisfaction for their failures of the past.

Reforming the funding system and improvement in classroom teaching must continue for our children's sake, for our nation's sake. It is a great national moral cause. The Prime Minister did not exaggerate when she proclaimed this as a crusade. It is a great national imperative. It is a great national economic imperative. Ours is a nation-building party and this is nation building of the mind, and it is the pathway to informed, resilient, innovative and capable citizens such as will have the stewardship of our nation into the future.

The amendments circulated today which will be put to the House following a vote on the second reading ensure that we right a moral wrong and that we secure our economic future. The amendments will ensure that through this bill the Australian government will deliver long-term funding certainty to all Australian schools using a needs-based funding model that calculates Commonwealth funding according to a new school resourcing standard, or SRS. In April, the Prime Minister put $9.4 billion over six years on offer, committing 65 per cent of the $14.5 billion additional investment required to lift schools to at least 95 per cent of their SRS by 2019. On top of this, we have committed to lock in Commonwealth indexation at 4.7 per cent at a time when the current approach to indexation has been falling and is predicted to go even lower. If states and territories sign up, this extra funding will see the Commonwealth government invest an estimated $104.3 billion in schools over the next six years. This funding is linked to real reforms across five core areas that evidence shows will lead to better schools.

Since the budget, the debate has also allowed the more cynical members of the opposition to parade their preparedness to distort the budget papers and allowed the more naive members of the opposition to show how easily misled they can be. The claim made repeatedly that the budget delivers a decrease in education funding is of course quite false and no member of the House now has any excuse not to know this. Everyone has access to Budget Paper No. 1, page 6-20, table 7, 'Summary of expenses—education'. Fact: funding goes up for schools every single year. We have even heard the National Plan for School Improvement described as a plan for central control—this, when the national plan requires as a condition of funding that the states and territories sign up to more local control.

If half of the debate has been dismal and sort of instructive, half of the debate has been inspiring. Government members have shown their passion and their perspective, their knowledge of the needs of their own communities and their preparedness to fight for those interests in this parliamentary debate. My colleague the member for Capricornia shares the same passion I have and visits local schools in her electorate, speaks to students, goes to classrooms, listens to teachers and watches performances that the kids put on. Like her, I too notice the difference between schools when I go around the country—the difference in resources and why we need to keep investing in special schools and rural and remote schools. And the member for Deakin knows which are the really great schools, seeing firsthand the fantastic change that has occurred in other schools and those other schools as well that constantly face the challenge of recurrent funding—an issue that comes up time and time again when he speaks with principals and parents.

I also want to acknowledge and thank the member for Richmond for her contribution in the debate. Like her, I want to commend the outstanding schools and the contribution of teachers up and down the coast of New South Wales. We all know the benefits of Building the Education Revolution in transforming these communities and nowhere has seen that transformation better than electorates like the member's, with new science labs, halls, libraries and classrooms fit for the 21st century. These places of learning are something local communities like the electorate of Richmond or the electorate of Robertson can be very proud of. The member for Chifley knows the difference a good public education can make. Many of us on this side of the House had a public education and feel passionately about it. So many other colleagues on this side of the House also spoke to this bill.

I want to add to and place on record my thanks and personal appreciation to David Gonski for his central and significant contribution, as we strive to get this once-in-a-generation deal for better schools. I want to acknowledge the work done by those members of the Gonski panel. I want to thank them: Kathryn Greiner and many others who have shown a great commitment to the future education of students in Australia irrespective of which school they attend.

When this side of the House speaks about fairness, we mean that no child should be left behind at school. When this side of the House speaks about jobs, we know that every child needs great skills to succeed in the economy of the future. There is a choice in Australian politics this year. There is a bright dividing line and it runs right down the middle of the House this evening. I know the side that I am on and I know which side our government is on. Nothing matters more for Australia's future than better Australian schools for all and that is exactly what this bill delivers, enshrining a new National Plan for School Improvement with better and fairer funding based on the needs of all schools and students. I commend the bill to the House.

The SPEAKER: The question is that the amendment be agreed to.