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Tuesday, 13 May 2014
Page: 2469

Senator LINES (Western Australia) (18:00): I seek leave to move a motion in relation to the response by the Minister for Education to a Senate resolution.

Leave granted.

Senator LINES: I move:

That the Senate take note of the document.

I had a look at the response from the Minister for Education, Mr Pyne, and I have to say it is a bitter disappointment—particularly from the party that, before the election, committed to Australian students, and indeed Australian parents and the Australian community, that it was on a unity ticket on Gonski.

We know that Gonski is about providing equal opportunity in our schools. It is a new funding model which, for the first time in Australia's history, will address disadvantage and will address different outcomes. As a modern society, as a society that prides itself on education, we cannot allow postcodes to keep determining student outcomes in Australia—that is the wrong approach. And judging by Minister Pyne's response this evening, I would have to say it seems it will continue along that way. All of what Minister Pyne wants to focus on—teacher quality, principal autonomy, engaging parents in education and strengthening the curriculum—has been revisited before, and the opportunity to really address the funding inequities in our school system across all sectors of schools, public and private, seems to have disappeared. That unity ticket on Gonski is a shadow of its former self, and who knows what we might expect in the budget that is going to be announced in a couple of hours?

And it is not as if we do not know what is happening with education in Australia. The pointers are there. We have the Australian Early Development Index, an index that goes across five-year-olds. It looks at five domains to see how ready our five-year-olds are for learning: it looks at their physical health and wellbeing, their social competence, their language development and their communication skills. And guess what? Most Australian students are doing reasonably well on those measures. But when you use those measures to look at the children who are developmentally delayed, 22 per cent of our five-year-olds—these are children who are just starting school: they are ready; they are eager to learn; they are the students we should be focused on—in Australia are developmentally vulnerable on one or more of those domains, and more than 10 per cent of Australia's children are developmentally vulnerable on two or more of those domains. These are five-year-old children at the start of their formal school-based learning. And when we look at Aboriginal children, they are twice as likely to be developmentally vulnerable on those indexes.

What Gonski was designed to do was address that inequality right at the beginning of our children's schooling. We know all the academic research tells us that brain development is done in the early years—five is, quite frankly, a little late, but not beyond fixing—and yet we now have a government, sadly, that is not funding, that is not even focusing on trying to address that sort of inequality. Gonski told us that a significant number of 15-year-olds are leaving school barely able to read, not literate enough to be able to effectively operate in our community. And no wonder when we look at that index for five-year-olds! We have five-year-olds we can measure and we know they are already failing before they start in the school system. Gonski would have addressed that.

But, no, the government wants to commit itself to independent schools, basing it on a Western Australian model. I can tell you, as a Western Australian senator, there is no academic research that tells us that independent schools do any better than any other school, and yet this is a plank the Abbott government is hanging its hat on. The life of our school students should not be something that is gambled on. We have quality research that tells us we need to do more for our five-year-olds. We have Gonski, which tells us that postcodes are defining academic outcomes. And yet this government is completely ignoring that, trying to reinvent schooling all over again, but all it is doing is committing significant number of another generation of Australian students to failure.

By the time children are 10, they know if they are failing in our system. We have an index that tells us five-year-olds are missing out. By the time they are 10 they know they are missing out. And we know from Gonski that we have 15-year-olds who are not literate. That is a shame. It is a disgrace. And all of us, no matter which political party we come from, should be wanting to do something about that. But, no, the Abbott government is going to focus on making schools independent, but there is no proven academic research that tells us that does any good for our students. So it is very disappointing to see the response from Minister Pyne. It is very disappointing, and quite frankly dishonest, that he committed to a unity ticket on Gonski to the Australian public, which has found that it is now gone. Goodness knows what our budget is going to do. I implore in this chamber that it would be a travesty to follow the Western Australian model of education. Western Australia is not a leader in education by any stretch of the imagination, and it is a shame that Minister Pyne's response does not address equity at all.