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Monday, 6 December 2004
Page: 107

Senator CARR (8:42 PM) —The minister seeks to belittle the Labor Party's amendments—

Senator Vanstone —Not belittle; just disagree with—that's all.

Senator CARR —Disagree with them then. The minister has a perverse view about what makes up a school community. She seems to think that the school community excludes the school. The government excludes the parents to the extent that they will be told what it wants them to be told. It will not involve their analysis. It does not appreciate that school communities are made up of at least three elements directly: students, teachers and the educational authorities that go with them. I would say that the fourth element is the community at large, because these are organic institutions within our community.

The Labor Party's amendments add to the proposals which are outlined in the government's amendments under clause 14. They go to a whole range of so-called inputs, as the minister seeks to deride them, to the provision of services by the state, to whether or not the national consistency benchmarks have been met and to the systemic policies of the education system. The minister is not immune under her own bill from the criticisms she makes of our amendments. What she fails to appreciate is that the Labor Party's amendment in paragraph (d) makes it quite clear. It states:

... the content and format of school reports are to be developed following consultation with parents and school community organisations.

The minister's complaint that we are leaving parents out of the reports is just not valid based on the black and white words contained in the amendments before the chamber at the moment.

We say that the purpose of reporting is not to belittle people. It is not to set people up in rank order, to set up leagues tables and the like. It is not to be used as a competitive device, as a marketing instrument, as if education was some sort of commodity that could be listed on a stock exchange. It is about advancing the educational interests of students. That is the first criteria. The second is about providing information to assist schools and teachers to actually improve performance in developing teacher programs and meeting the learning needs of students. They are quite explicitly stated, in our amendment, as the purpose of the evaluation—to use the bureaucratic language which the minister is probably more familiar with. If we had `key performance indicators' would she be happier?

The point is that this is an education debate. It is not a bureaucratic exercise; it is trying to provide a legislative framework for the expenditure of the better part of $32 billion worth of public moneys. The government has said that it wants the issue of reporting to be at the centre of that discussion. That is fine with us; we are happy with that. We are saying, however, that your focus is too narrow. The framework in which you are looking at these questions is far too narrow, and we want to broaden it. We want to actually bring parents into the determination of what goes into these reports. The minister is very good at denigrating other senators in terms of their personal life experiences, so she would know about the current situation with school reporting. The fact remains that the process is inadequate. Any parent can tell you that it is inadequate. The response, however, is what is now under debate. Senator Allison can speak for herself, but what I am saying across the chamber to you, Minister, is that the present arrangements need reform but that the government's proposals in that regard are inadequate. That is why we are urging the chamber to carry our amendments in order to provide a proper framework, which is lacking in the government's programs.

The government says, `We don't carry on with all these matters because it is up to negotiations.' We know what this government means when it says `negotiations': it determines a position and directs the states to accept it. It is an extremely centralised, authoritarian approach that has now been adopted by this minister—it makes DIMIA look like an extraordinarily libertarian outfit.

Senator Vanstone —As we are!

Senator CARR —I hope under you, Minister, it changes. Under Mr Ruddock it became an extremely authoritarian outfit, and this is the way Education is going as well. It is matter of some disappointment to me that that is occurring.