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Thursday, 2 December 2004
Page: 9


Senator ELLISON (Minister for Justice and Customs) (9:56 AM) —I move:

That these bills be now read a second time.

I seek leave to have the second reading speeches incorporated in Hansard.

Leave granted.

The speeches read as follows—

Schools Assistance (Learning Together—Achievement Through Choice and Opportunity) Bill 2004

This bill renews the government's commitment to school education for the next four years. This funding package delivers $33.0 billion for schools over 2005-2008. This is an increase of $9.5 billion over the current quadrennium and represents the largest ever funding commitment to Australian schools.

The bill secures funding for Australian government programs of financial assistance to the states and territories for government and non-government schools. It succeeds the States Grants (Primary and Secondary Education Assistance) Act 2000 which authorised funding and arrangements for the 2001-2004 funding quadrennium.

This bill reflects the government's policy decisions related to the 2005-2008 school funding quadrennium. It is built on the principles that every student will be financially supported regardless of the school that the child attends and that no school will have its funding cut.

State Government Schools

Over the next four years the Australian government will deliver $10.8 billion in supplementary funding to state governments for their schools—an increase of $2.9 billion over the current quadrennium. This represents a 39 per cent increase over the current four-year period in general recurrent grants.

The generous average government school recurrent cost method of indexation will also be retained as the basis for determining the increases of Australian government funds to state schools, and also to non-government schools.

SES funding

The socioeconomic status (SES) funding model will be more deeply embedded as the basis for Australian government funding for non-government schools in Australia. From 2005 every non-government school, regardless of denomination, will attract funding according to the socioeconomic status of the communities that the school serves.

Catholic Schools

A major feature of this package is the provision of general recurrent funding of $12.8 billion over 2005-2008 for Catholic systemic schools, an increase of $3.7 billion or 41 per cent over 2001-2004. This includes an additional $368 million which will flow to Catholic systemic schools as a consequence of their joining the SES funding arrangements.

Independent Schools

Independent schools will receive a total of $7.8 billion in general recurrent funding—a 50 per cent increase over the current four-year period. The system of `funding maintenance' will continue and a funding guarantee mechanism will be introduced to ensure that when schools' SES scores are updated, no school will have its funding reduced.

Election Commitments

This bill implements several important election commitments, to provide additional funding for capital infrastructure for schools and to provide funding for non-government school term hostels.

Capital Infrastructure

The environment in which school children work and play and the standard of school infrastructure can have a marked bearing on the process of teaching and learning in schools. The Australian Government already contributes very significantly to school infrastructure funding in both State owned government schools and in non-government schools as a means of improving educational outcomes for Australian children. This bill continues that commitment by providing $1.5 billion in schools capital funding over the 2005-2008 quadrennium, which represents a 15% increase over funding provided in the previous quadrennium. Importantly, it includes an additional amount of $17 million over the quadrennium to provide specific capital grants for non-government schools in isolated areas and communities in the Northern Territory.

In addition, this bill implements the election commitment by providing a further $1 billion to restore and build Australia's school buildings and grounds. Of this additional funding, $700 million will be provided directly to government schools. Each government school community will determine its priority projects, but examples of projects that will be funded include: classroom improvements, library resources, computer facilities, air-conditioning and heating, outdoor shade structures, playing fields, sporting infrastructure, play equipment, floor coverings, security measures and amenity refurbishments. Projects of this nature are often desperately needed by school communities, but never seem to make it on the priority list of state education bureaucracies. Delivery of the $300 million for non-government schools will be administered through Block Grant Authorities using the same arrangements in place for mainstream capital grants funding.

This new $1 billion initiative will restore and build Australia's schooling infrastructure—infrastructure that is needed for current and future generations and brings the total commitment to school infrastructure funding to $2.5 billion over the next four years.

Non-government School Term Hostels

This Government is determined to ensure that all students have equitable access to schooling and it provides substantial funding to help rural and isolated families with the additional costs of educating their children.

This bill also provides additional funding in recognition that it is becoming more and more costly for families in isolated and remote areas to educate their children. This Government will provide non-government school term hostels across Australia with a grant of $2,500 per child per year over the next four years. This additional funding will support rural communities by providing an affordable alternative to boarding school or distance education for rural and isolated families. The grants will assist these hostels to provide a high standard of care to rural primary and secondary school students residing at the hostels and contribute toward the viability of individual hostels.

Special Purpose Grants

This bill continues the Australian government's commitment to improving literacy and numeracy for all Australian students. Students who are most in need of additional learning assistance will benefit from an estimated $2.1 billion for a new overarching targeted programme—the Literacy, Numeracy and Special Learning Needs programme.

The bill also includes $117.0 million to assist geographically isolated children, $245.8 million to assist newly arrived students of non-English speaking backgrounds and ?$114.2 million to improve learning outcomes of students learning languages other than English.

Conditions of Funding

A key feature of this bill is the strengthening of the performance framework for Australian government funding, which will reinforce the link between the funding provided under Australian government programs and improved outcomes for all Australian students. These requirements will underpin the Australian government's national priorities in schooling, and include:

Greater national consistency in schooling, requiring implementation by 2010 of a common school starting age and implementing common testing standards, including common national tests in English, maths, science, civics and citizenship education, and information and communications technology.

Better reporting to parents by ensuring that school reports are written in plain language and that assessment of the child's achievement is reported against national standards—where these are available—and is reported relative to the child's peer group.

Transparency of school performance so schools publish school performance information to provide parents with objective data and information.

Greater autonomy to school principals so that school principals have a significant say over staffing issues in their own schools.

Creating safer schools by the implementation of the National Safe Schools Framework in all schools.

A common commitment to physical activity.

Making values a core part of schooling including requiring schools to fly the Australian flag.

This bill represents a major investment in the future of our society. We remain committed to quality schooling for all Australian students regardless of the school that they attend, and we will continue to provide record funding to all Australian schools and schoolchildren. If we are to develop the skills and knowledge for Australia's future then we need a genuinely national education system, proper recognition of quality teaching, greater freedom for schools at the local level, schools that are safe and are committed to teaching values, educational justice for Indigenous Australians, and a commitment to do something about schools that are not performing.

This legislation will strengthen all schools and build national consistency. Through improved accountability and outcomes this bill will ensure the health of the education sectors and the growth of our nation.

I commend the Bill to the Senate.

—————

States Grants (Primary and Secondary Education Assistance) Legislation Amendment Bill 2004

The purpose of the Bill is to amend the States Grants (Primary and Secondary Education Assistance) Act 2000, to provide funding for the Tutorial Credit Initiative and to correct a technical defect in the Act.

Tutorial Credit Initiative funding

Literacy and numeracy are the most important foundation skills our children need during their education. When this Government came to office there was no national reporting of literacy and numeracy standards. We have now introduced national literacy and numeracy testing and benchmarking at years 3, 5 and 7. These have now become a critical part of the schooling system and a key indicator of academic performance. The Australian Government is also committed to ensuring that States and Territories provide information to parents about their child's performance against the national literacy and numeracy benchmarks.

This Government is also taking steps to assist those students who do not meet the national literacy benchmarks. I recently announced the Tutorial Credits Initiative, to provide up to $700 to parents for tutorial assistance for children who have not attained the minimum reading skills as measured by the Year 3 national reading benchmark in 2003.

The Tutorial Credits Initiative will provide $700 worth of tuition to students on a one to one basis out of school hours by appropriately qualified, screened and vetted tutors. Parents will be able to redeem the tuition credit to choose the most appropriate type of assistance for their children. Brokers will be appointed through an open tender process to assist parents and assess and appoint tutors.

When I announced this initiative, only four states—Victoria, Western Australia, the Northern Territory and the Australian Capital Territory, reported to parents their child's performance against the national benchmarks. Other States that have now reported to parents their child's performance against national benchmark standards, will also be included in the trial.

In order to expand the number of states included in this trial initiative, additional funding is required under the National Literacy and Numeracy Strategies and Projects programme for 2004.

The 24,000 children across Australia who have not attained the minimum reading skills deserve the opportunity to receive additional tutorial assistance offered by the Tutorial Credits Initiative, and their parents are entitled to comprehensive information about their child's progress.

Technical defectSES funding phasing in arrangements

This Bill will also correct a technical defect in the Act.

The Act gave effect to the new socio-economic status (SES) based funding arrangements for non-government schools for 2001-2004. This historic reform has provided a more transparent, objective and equitable approach to funding non-government schools. General recurrent funding is distributed according to need and schools serving the neediest communities receive the greatest financial support.

Under the Act, schools with an SES funding level received increased funding phased in at the rate of 25 per cent of the increase each year. The intention of the original legislation, as passed by this Parliament in December 2000, was to fully fund schools at their new funding level by 2004.

There is, however, a technical defect in the SES funding phasing in arrangements as set out in the Act. This means that over 700 non-government schools, including schools which enrol some of the most disadvantaged young people in this country, cannot receive their correct entitlements under the General Recurrent Grants programme in 2004.

The proposed amendment in this Bill will enable the current Act to fulfil its original intent, so that schools receive their correct funding entitlement for 2004.

Conclusion

The Howard Government is committed to improving the literacy and numeracy standards of all Australian children and ensuring that all parents receive information on their children's literacy and numeracy achievement against the national benchmarks. This Bill confirms the Government's commitment to a strong school sector which offers high quality outcomes to all students and choice to parents. Quality education is vital to Australia's future.

I commend the Bill to the Senate.

Ordered that the resumption of the debate be made an order of the day for a later hour.