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Monday, 3 June 2013
Page: 4756

Mr IRONS (Swan) (12:51): In my electorate of Swan we have a wide range of schools. I see a former member for Swan in the chamber; he is now the member for Canning. I know he has an education background and was a teacher in my electorate as well. So I know how important education is to him.

Mr Randall: Cloverdale Primary School.

Mr IRONS: Cloverdale Primary School, he tells me. The diversity goes beyond the simple government and non-government distinction the Prime Minister often frames this debate around.

Mr Sidebottom: Ahem!

Mr IRONS: It is good to see the member for Braddon is awake today. I think the member for Braddon is trying to make the point that he was a teacher as well. The reality is: most schools have an element of public and private funding. As the shadow minister said, in the current Schools Assistance Act there are over 70 definitions relating to schooling. This bill before the House has only five definitions. The issue here is the government trying to make broad generalisations that simply do not fit with the detailed picture on the ground.

What we are debating today is a statement of principles—not a bill. It has no financial impact and it is not even legally enforceable. Perhaps this has something to do with the manner in which it was introduced—rapidly, at the end of last year, to try to convince the Australian people that there is an agenda for this government.

What the government has put out would be better put in a press release than a bill. It is an empty shell in a number of respects. For example, it lacks details on funding; it contains no details at all as to how much money will be available, or which level of government will be required to stump up for additional funding.

Too often, Labor's approach has led to politicisation of an important policy area which ought to be above politics, and I fear this will only worsen in the lead-up to their deadline of 30 June 2013. The politicisation has the potential to colour an appropriate and rational consideration of Labor's current offers to the state and territory governments.

I refer the House to comments in The Australian on 25 February:

WA Premier Colin Barnett said he believed the federal government was a 'small player'' in education and heavily criticised Ms Gillard's style of negotiation with the states.

'We have never indicated we would sign up to Gonski,' Mr Barnett told reporters in Perth.

'If the federal government has some proposal, they are very much the small player in education.

'We are not going to sit back and suddenly let the commonwealth take over the running of our schools.''

These concerns are shared by the schools themselves. We had the CSA state:

CSA supports the general principles of a Gonski-style approach. We cannot however give our full support to any proposal that has not fully been modelled and released for consultation.

… … …

We must express however our serious concern at the lack of detail about the achievement of this promise.

Should data modelling, and funding commitments not be provided to fulfil this undertaking our support would immediately be withdrawn.

I note Dennis Shanahan's piece on the front page of The Australian newspaper today, which says that the Queensland Premier has virtually ruled out the Queensland government's agreement to the Gonski funding by the Prime Minister's deadline. Furthermore, the article goes on to quote Mr Newman's letter to the Prime Minister, in which he refers to officials in her Treasury department as being intransigent, failing to negotiate constructively and unable to set out base education funding for the 2014 education year. The Queensland Premier told the Prime Minister that because of the intransigence of the federal government, even if agreement could be reached on the starting point, the flow-on effects would require substantial revision of the federal government's funding offer.

I notethat the Victorian government has described the negotiations as 'a farce' and 'puerile'. Even the South Australian Labor government has warned of concerns about funding for independent schools. Further to this, it has been reported by The Australian that:

Victorian Education Minister Martin Dixon excoriated the commonwealth over its handling of the Gonski negotiations, claiming the reforms amounted to nothing more than a slogan.

In unusually strong language, Mr Dixon said he no longer trusted the federal government over the way it had conducted the negotiations.

He said that he was being forced to read in the media about key developments in what were meant to be confidential negotiations about the future of billions of dollars worth of education funding.

"This process has been a farce and it's been a sham," Mr Dixon told parliament.

We are not going to sign up to a slogan. We want a real funding deal. We are going to sign up to what's best for every student, school, family and taxpayer.

Senior government sources said Victoria would only now sign up to the Gonski reforms if there was a "deal breaking" offer by Canberra.

Mr Dixon, Catholic Education Commission Victoria executive director Stephen Elder and Independent Schools Victoria chief executive Michelle Green have written to the Gillard government asking for four-way negotiations to address funding proposals. This is believed to be due to existing discussions having collapsed.

"The current bilateral negotiations have not achieved results we would have liked," the trio wrote in a letter to School Education Minister Peter Garrett.

Mr Dixon's outburst makes it increasingly unlikely that Ms Gillard will be able to broker a truly national approach to the Gonski reforms. While Mr Dixon has not ruled out signing up to the reforms, he has sent the clearest possible message that Victoria's support is highly conditional.

Queensland is still holding out on the reforms while Western Australia says it is not signing.

The South Australian Premier, who took on Treasury in his January frontbench reshuffle, yesterday hosed down any expectation he was about to sign up to Gonski and was just waiting for the right time to announce it with the Prime Minister before next Thursday's state budget.

And rightly so—the recent budget confirmed a number of suspicion long held by the coalition. In short, the total amount of federal Commonwealth money devoted to education over the forward estimates period to 2016-17 has been reduced by approximately $1.5 billion.

While Budget Paper No. 21 indicates that $2.8 billion of additional money will be available over four years for the National Plan for School Improvement, NPSI, that spending is offset by concurrent reductions, redirections and savings of approximately $3.283 billion. Their total exceeds the additional amount that had been set aside for the NPSI by some $484 million. This means the Labor government will not contribute any additional money for education between now and 2016-17. In fact, it will contribute less over the same period than it otherwise would have. In addition, an examination of the relevant portfolio budget statement confirms further reductions to school-specific spending under the Schools Assistance Act 2008 by approximately $1 billion until 2016-17. The cumulative effect of these changes shows an intention to reduce spending over the forward estimates period by $1.5 billion from that which would otherwise have been spent absent of the NPSI.

What has become clear is that even if it manages to be re-elected for another two terms, the Labor government is not introducing Gonski. If it were, it would have committed the extra money Gonski called for. Far from increasing funding, the government has handed out a budget last month which reveals that Labor will reduce spending on schools by $325 million over the forward estimates from was forecast in the 2012-13 budget. What the government is doing is robbing Peter to pay Paul—except they are paying Paul a lesser amount. Overall, the government will spend $4.7 billion less on education, including higher education and vocational training, in the four years to 2016 than was budgeted last year.

I refer the House to some of the responses the government have received to their proposals. The lack of detail leaves many questions remaining. Where will the at least $6.5 billion per year the government floated come from? What programs will be cut and what taxes will the government increase to pay for it? If the leaked Gonski modelling shows 3,254 schools worse off, how much extra will it cost for every school to receive more funding as Ms Gillard has promised? When will the modelling be available showing the impact of this funding for each school? Will the Prime Minister guarantee no school will have to increase school fees as a result of the changes? Where is the detailed response to the 41 recommendations in the Gonski review? How much indexation will each school and school sector receive? What will be the benchmark funding per primary and secondary school student? How much funding per student will be allocated for students with a disability? Will this funding be portable between the government and non-government sectors? What, if any, future capital funding arrangements will be provided for schools? What new reporting requirements and other conditions will schools have to meet in order to qualify for government funding?

In the Southern Gazette newspaper, in my electorate, on 4 September 2012, in an article written by journalist Susanne Scolt, it was reported that 20 local schools could be faced with a combined funding loss of more than $8 million under federal government education plans. The article states that modelling based on data provided by the department of education to schools and state governments, based on the Gonski review, shows that 688 WA schools could emerge as potential losers, with Belmont City College, in my electorate 22nd on the list, projected to lose over $2.2 million. Other local schools in my electorate are also facing losses according to this news article include Como Secondary College, $975,185; Lathlain Primary School, $466,316; East Victoria Park Primary School, $293,926; Wesley College, $167,969; and Penrhos College, $85,458. In the article, local Kewdale resident Joe Mahon, who sends his children to Lathlain Primary School, was quoted:

"If these figures are true, then I imagine that this would be a substantial part of the school's budget," he said.

"The school is quite well equipped now but if we were to lose that money how would they expect to catch up on the technology of other schools in the area?"

Based on these figures, it is hardly surprising that schools and ministers are asking for more information.

I mentioned earlier the Independent Public Schools initiative from the Liberal government of Western Australia, and it is worth mentioning here as it will be a key plank of coalition education policy going forward. The Independent Public Schools initiative was introduced to give public schools choice, independence and freedom to provide for their communities' diverse education needs. Currently, 255 schools across Western Australia are operating, or are beginning to operate, as independent public schools. The IPS initiative empowers school communities by giving them greater capacity to shape the ethos, priorities and direction of their schools. I am on the board for Bannister Creek Primary School in Lynwood, in my electorate of Swan, which is an independent school. We visited with the shadow minister recently to show how the school would be developing a specialist in languages as a result of being granted independent school status.

In my electorate of Swan, 10 schools have become independent public schools since 2010, with six more electing to become independent in 2013. These schools assume greater responsibility for their own affairs and have greater flexibility to respond to their communities. The Western Australian government has recognised the great importance of government funded schools in our community by allowing very diverse schools to respond to the individual needs of the communities they service. By giving more power to the individual schools, programs can be tailored to meet the student needs of a particular enrolment area. School funding can be more wisely spent in line with the needs of the individual school, avoiding the rampant waste we have seen with the school halls program, Building the Education Revolution.

The standards for schools to become independent public schools are understandably rigorous. Every public school in Western Australia will be given the opportunity to be selected once they meet the high standards required to become an independent public school. This approach recognises that schools perform better, and achieve higher outcomes when granted flexibility to adapt to community and student needs in education. The approach also acknowledges some schools need more support than others when transitioning and provides guidance and expertise to ensure that schools and students around Western Australia are reaching their potential. Importantly as well, the IPS initiative provides parents, students, communities and schools with choice. Choice is incredibly important for schools as no two schools are the same in terms of funding needs, infrastructure needs, and student and staff needs.

The bill before the House today is unclear as to whether or not additional administrative burdens would be placed on schools with regard to funding, creating more red tape and a less efficient school system. While independent public schools are funded on the same basis as all Western Australian public schools, the ongoing funding uncertainty and the lack of a proposed funding model could inhibit some schools in their transition to become independent. All in all, this bill does little or nothing to improve education outcomes, but it has afforded many coalition members the opportunity to expose the hollowness of the government's budget and the hollowness of their commitments to the Gonski report. The focus needs to shift. Differences need to be made in the classroom rather than the bureaucracy. Our schools and children deserve better.

Debate adjourned.