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Wednesday, 2 November 2011
Page: 12562

Mr BRUCE SCOTT (MaranoaSecond Deputy Speaker) (19:00): I rise in the adjournment this evening to speak about two very important issues dealing with education in rural and remote parts of Australia. Educating children can be tough at the best of times, especially when both parents work. But the situation is exacerbated in rural and remote Queensland where children either have to travel hundreds of kilometres to attend school, or study through distance education if they are living at home in very remote locations. Parents who teach their children through distance education face a hard battle with many other responsibilities and commitments, such as helping on pastoral properties and, of course, keeping house.

For decades children and their families living in remote areas have been supported by a number of organisations including the Isolated Children's Parents' Association of Australia, the ICPA, who have been great advocates. Their prime cause is to advocate for assistance for students who are geographically isolated from access to education, such as access to school and, more recently, access to post secondary education. They are one of the great organisations when it comes to advocating for students in communities, particularly in remote Australia. The other organisation is the Priority Country Area Program or, as we know it in Queensland, PCAP. It is a federally funded program and is often called CAP in Canberra, the Country Area Program. It has funding from the federal government administered through state governments. More recently, there is the Volunteers for Isolated Students' Education organisation, VISE.

Sadly, the future of VISE and PCAP now hangs under a cloud. VISE recruits tutors, who are retired teachers, and others with relevant experience, who would like to spend time helping isolated students with their education. Sometimes a family needs the help of a nonteacher called an 'angel'. The angel responds to a definite need and will prepare meals, get the washing done, answer the phone or watch younger children so that the parents can concentrate on the schoolroom. VISE tutors and angels will often stay with a family for about six weeks.

The future of VISE is now in jeopardy after this government passed legislation which will see volunteer organisations subject to new occupational health and safety restrictions. This move will have serious impacts on regional, rural and remote Australia; yet the Minister for Regional Australia, Regional Development and Local Government voted in support of the amendments, which was quite extraordinary. Under the new OH&S regulations VISE will be subject to industrial law and it will not be able to meet the due diligence provisions. It is simply not possible for VISE to guarantee that a pastoral property will meet OH&S criteria before sending a tutor or an angel there. Spouses who accompany tutors on the placements will often help while at the property but, as they are not covered by VISE insurance, they will no longer be able to work under the new legislation. The legislation is badly drafted and could spell the end of this vital service.

I also have grave fears for the future of PCAP, which is a community based rural education program jointly administered by Education Queensland and the Catholic Education Commission. For over 30 years PCAP has been enriching the education experience of rural and remote students by supporting various extracurricular activities such as music, arts and sports programs. As of January 2012, not far away, PCAP will be replaced with a new program, the Rural and Remote Education Access Program, the RREAP.

There are many schools in the Maranoa electorate that have benefited over many years—in fact, decades—from PCAP and, as such, there is a lot of concern about the proposed changes. A mother from Wyandra recently contacted my office to tell me that the students at the local primary school would no longer be part of an instrumental music program. She said the instrumental music teacher at Wyandra State School had accepted a position teaching music at another school in the district due to her uncertain future as a result of the changes to PCAP. I have also been informed that there is a disturbing trend under RREAP that bigger schools will be better off—one such example I know of is a school that will receive $10,000 more—while the smaller schools such as the Isisford State School, which is in a very small community, will lose as much as $3,730 in annual funding.

It is the same old story: brand Labor will never be able to address the inequities in the education of rural and remote Australia. They do not care and they do not understand. I call on the government to address these two issues. (Time expired)