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Wednesday, 26 June 2013
Page: 4099

Senator BOYCE (Queensland) (12:42): I did not want to spend too much time, in the very limited time we have, making the point that, yet again, there is legislation being rushed through here. But, perhaps quoting from the Premier of Queensland, the Hon. Campbell Newman, in a submission he made to the education, employment and workplace relations committee inquiry, will suffice to give people the details of how appalling the inquiry into this bill has been. I quote from the letter, which says: 'The fact that your committee received a reference for an inquiry on 19 June requiring submissions by 21 June 2013 and reporting by 24 June indicates their contempt for the business of government and of the Australian parliament by the federal government.' It is impossible to disagree with that. I think it succinctly puts the very poor process that we have in place, and we continue to have poor processes all over the place in terms of this legislation.

I am particularly interested in the effect of this legislation on students with disability. As an unintended consequence, this legislation may be causing a preference for special schools over mainstream schools. There is no explanation anywhere for why the loading for students with a disability in special schools should be 20 per cent higher than the loading for students with a disability in mainstream schools. The suggestion seems to be that this is a temporary loading for special schools, but this is not spelt out, and a number of people who submitted in the lightning-fast time they had to address this inquiry were not confident that this was the case. But, even so, why is it there?

There is nothing specific in the bill or in the regulation that creates any concrete expectations that education systems will be able to delivery fully on the national disability standards, or that Australia's obligations as a signatory to the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities or the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child will be met. It would seem quite relevant to me, and it was certainly a position put by Children with Disability Australia that, at the very minimum, the obligations of this government to meet those standards should be referenced somewhere in the bill.

We have the situation where the loadings appear to be set up in such a way as to encourage short-termism and encourage lack of resources in the sector of education for students with a disability. There is a high degree of difficulty associated with the development of a disability loading, and there is a lot yet to be finalised and introduced. There is no clarity around the reform package, but there is also no clarity around how it will apply to students with a disability. Of course, the odds of us getting a successful outcome on this are very low. I would have thought that the government could have acknowledged—in what has been referred to as the rhetoric and aspiration in this document—that, as Senator Xenophon was pointing out earlier, not just the academic performance of our schools across the board as something to be ashamed of, but our treatment of children with disability is something to be particularly ashamed of.

Children with Disability Australia described it as a national disgrace. They pointed out that 63 per cent of school children with a disability experience difficulty fitting in at school, 29.6 per cent of people between 15 and 64 with a disability completed year 12 compared to 49.3 per cent of people without a disability—that is almost half. They added that 12.7 per cent of people with a disability have a bachelor's degree or higher, and for people without a disability that figure is 19.7 per cent. Around 15 per cent of Australia's students require additional assistance, but only five per cent receive funded support. Clearly, improving these measures over time is complex, but getting a start on it is urgent. Students with disability have been marginalised in our system for long enough, and it beggars belief that, in 2013, this government would think that a system that somehow preferences special schools over students with disability in mainstream schools is a good thing. It is just unbelievable.

As I said, the loading system has been set up in such a way that it would appear to disadvantage mainstream schools which make the effort to follow the law and do their job of accepting students with a disability. The funding is on a per-student basis. There is no requirement for how the funding would be distributed within systems, and the loading appears to be payable for the year's enrolment that you have now. Whilst extending the national partnership agreement for More Support for Students with Disabilities is a start, it does not help with the issue of stop-start funding and no funding to improve the resources or the learning. It is just funding per student per year with nothing into the future. It is not endemic, it is not recurrent and it is not permanent. It is an unusual and difficult mess. I would urge the government to keep in mind that we must not end up with a system that has the perverse effect of giving special schools higher funding than mainstream schools that have students with a disability.

I would like to conclude my remarks so that others can speak by pointing out another comment from the Queensland Premier, the Hon. Campbell Newman, who makes the point that, I think, Ms Gillard continues to forget. The Queensland government is the owner and manager of state schools and is the regulator of non-state schools and provides nearly 90 per cent of government funding for state schools. The Queensland government aims to remove needless red tape and regulation in general and will not support the federal government adding even more regulation. I have no idea why Ms Gillard would be surprised that the majority of states have not signed up to her 'con-ski' reform, as has been referred to by the shadow education minister, Christopher Pyne. It is disappointing that this government have gone about it in this way. I would urge them to have a look at the way they are intending to fund provisions for disadvantaged students and for students with a disability and to make sure that, if this were to occur, there would be no adverse consequences.