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Wednesday, 23 March 2011
Page: 1537

Senator JACINTA COLLINS (Parliamentary Secretary for School Education and Workplace Relations) (10:04 AM) —I thank senators who have contributed to this debate on the Schools Assistance Amendment (Financial Assistance) Bill 2011. I thank Senator Mason for his comments welcoming the comprehensive and broadly supported review of school funding. But I must take this opportunity to make the point that there is absolutely no basis at all for his claim that Labor will not respond until after the next election on this matter.Senator Hanson-Young, I would also like to welcome the Greens’ support of the school funding review. However, I need to tackle some other reflections made in your contribution very briefly, because I do want to get to the details of this bill. The lack of courage you report being involved in this matter needs to be put into perspective. As Senator Mason is here I need to put into perspective his comments on history as well. I do not want to take the time of the Senate in talking about the history of school funding. Suffice to say that the one interjection I made was that I was indeed a product of Labor’s support for non-government schools, as my schooling was within the Catholic education system in the 1960s. Perhaps anyone who was listening to Senator Mason might understand that there is a very different historical perspective that can challenge much of his contribution.

Regarding Senator Hanson-Young’s comments about the major parties ganging up on the Greens, with respect, this is a much more serious issue. This comprehensive review of school funding to deal with the very problems she highlighted the Prime Minister identifying is very critical. The courage that the Labor government has shown in conducting this very broad independent review of school funding, bringing all parties to the table, is absolutely critical. Senator Hanson-Young raises some important points about public education, but we are the government with responsibility for all schools. Perhaps those who understand the difference between state and Commonwealth funding in school education will reflect the challenge that is before us there in terms of the issues around the public education system as well and the Commonwealth’s historical role there.

With those comments, I will just go briefly to the purpose of the bill. The Schools Assistance Act 2008 provides the legislative authority for the government’s financial assistance for non-government, primary and secondary education for the years 2009 to 2012. The current funding arrangements under the act will expire on 31 December 2012. The bill amends the act to extend the existing funding arrangements, including indexation arrangements for grants for recurrent and targeted expenditure until the end of 2013 and for grants for capital expenditure until the end of 2014.

With respect to the implications and the issues of certainty around the context of the school funding review, this bill will provide funding certainty to the non-government school sector until the Australian government has had the opportunity to consider the findings of the review of funding for schooling and determine how schools will be funded in the future. The review is due to report to the government in late 2011 and there is no indication that there will be any delay in that time frame. The review provides the opportunity for substantial reforms to the way national education is delivered in Australia. It is about achieving a funding system that is financially sustainable, fair, transparent and effective in promoting excellent education outcomes for all Australian students, no matter which school they attend. It is about supporting our students on their path towards excellence. The bill will allow non-government schools and education authorities to plan their future funding priorities and will assist with the provision of school facilities and support the government’s commitment to making every school a great school. The extension of capital funding to the end of 2014 recognises the longer lead time for capital works, planning and construction.

With respect to the context, the bill builds on the investment of the Gillard Labor government in education across the board. The bill will continue to build on the government’s unprecedented level of investment in education and will enable every child to get a great education. We are investing more than $64 billion in our schools over the years 2009 to 2012 to provide Australian students and parents with modern infrastructure, high-quality teachers, a national curriculum and unprecedented transparency on the performance of our schools. I commend the bill to the Senate.