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Monday, 3 June 2013
Page: 4809

Mr ZAPPIA (Makin) (15:57): I welcome the opportunity to speak on the Australian Education Bill 2012. I am not familiar with the data used to make comparisons with education outcomes in other countries; and, whilst I have heard some commentary about education standards in this country slipping, I nevertheless believe that Australia has a pretty good education system. Of course it could always be better, and that is what we all should be striving for.

For as long as I can remember, at each election education has been an election issue. That indicates to me two things: firstly, that the importance of education is well understood by the Australian people and by the educators we have throughout all of the schools in this country. And secondly, and perhaps more pertinently, that we still do not have the education system right, and the education system that we as a nation are striving for. So 40 years after the last major funding review was commissioned, we again have the opportunity to reassess what works, what does not and what is needed to improve education standards across Australia.

For our children, education is a continuous journey from infancy and preschool right through to adulthood and university. Each stage links to the previous one. The process cannot be changed along the way. You need a whole-of-education-life process to get it right, because one thing leads to the other, and the one it leads to is dependent on the right education being applied by the previous sector. That is why we need to get it right. Doing so will enable schools to plan for the future with a degree of confidence. This bill is not about the funding; it is about establishing a framework and some of the guiding principles that are fundamental to putting in place a good education system for all schools, both public and private.

When I visit schools in my electorate, as I often do, I have nothing but praise for the staff I meet and for their commitment to their students. I also commend each of the schools for the way they adapt and respond to the individual characteristics of their school community and for the range of opportunities schools provide to their students—opportunities in areas including sport, the arts and even humanitarian projects and the like, all of which complement academic education and better prepare students for life after school. Despite my view that Australia has a good education system, there are still too many students who either do not even complete secondary school level or, if they do, exit without the educational standards that will give them the best chance in life. In fact, according to one commentator, one in five public school students will leave school without the skills and knowledge to participate in society. That is of particular concern in today's society, when we live in a global environment. Competition for young people's future comes not only from within their own neighbourhood, state and country but from right across the world.

What is equally concerning is that many of those people whom the education system fails inevitably fall into a cycle of hardship and poverty which then flows on to their own children. Those children in turn become the children with poor educational outcomes—not because they do not have the ability or the intelligence but because they do not have the home life support that is also so important to achieving a good education. Educational outcomes are as much about home life as they are about school life. Our current education system fails those children, not because it is responsible for the problems at home but because schools are inadequately equipped to deal with problems arising at home. The National School Chaplaincy and Student Welfare Program is a commendable program which provides a level of support, but other measures are also required. Conversely, a good education system is the nation's best strategy for overcoming the cycle of poverty and the associated social problems that inevitably flow.

This bill articulates a process by which Australia's national education system will be improved. Funding will always be a consideration. However, funding without an agreed process about how the funding will be allocated is irresponsible. The process is required because Australia's education system has become a shared responsibility between the federal government, the eight separate states and territories, and parents, many of whom choose to additionally fund their children's education by enrolling them in private schools. For a policy to ensure that every child is treated equally and fairly under those circumstances requires an agreed framework based on guiding principles. This legislation sets out those guiding principles. The first step is to reach agreement on those principles between all the parties who have a stake in this matter. Those principles were clearly spelt out by the Prime Minister in her second reading speech. For the record, I will restate them. Principle 1 is a new citizenship entitlement. Principle 2 is new goals for Australian education by 2025. Principle 3 is a new national plan for school improvement. Principle 4 is new principles for school funding. Principle 5 is a new link between school funding and school improvement.

These principles and the framework that this legislation establishes build on earlier educational reforms implemented by the government since coming to office in 2007, reforms which were matched by significant funding allocations. In our first four years, this government invested over $65 billion in schools, almost double the $32.9 billion spent over the last four years of the Howard government. We are also investing a record $23.2 billion in early childhood education and care over the next four years. This government implemented the largest school modernisation program in the nation's history, with 24,000 projects in around 9½ thousand schools, including around 3,000 libraries being funded—a program applauded and appreciated by every principal of a school in my electorate whom I have spoken with and applauded by the leaders of the Lutheran, Catholic and independent schools sectors in South Australia in their discussions with me. It is funding that has enabled schools to provide much-needed modern facilities that would otherwise not have been possible in the foreseeable future and which will make a difference for the better for the students who attend those schools. In addition to the school modernisation program, to date the government has approved $1.2 billion for more than 370 trade training centres, which will benefit about 1,070 schools; and more than 967,000 computers have been delivered to schools around Australia. Other reforms include the implementation of the National Assessment Program—Literacy and Numeracy, the My School website, the National Partnership Agreement on Improving Teacher Quality and the National Partnership Agreement on Literacy and Numeracy.

The amendments from the opposition are nothing more than an attempt to defer consideration of this bill because the opposition have no policy response of their own to the Gonski report. This bill was referred to the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Education and Employment. That committee has now reported back. Other than some minor amendments—I believe there are four of them—the committee has recommended that this legislation be passed. I am encouraged by that, because this is an important matter. Having the committee look at the legislation was quite appropriate, but it is interesting to note that the committee has now recommended that it be passed.

Statements made by members opposite about the importance of education are not commitments. What we have not seen from members opposite, to date, is their own commitment to education in this country. We have heard plenty of criticism about the fact that this bill does not have any details with respect to funding. Well, rather than move the amendments that they have done, why didn't they move amendments which included specific amounts of funding? They could have made their position absolutely clear if they wanted to simply by doing that, but they did not. When it comes to funding, we know what the track record of the coalition is with respect to education, because in the 2010 election the coalition were prepared to cut $2.8 billion of education funding.

The Australian people quite rightly have a right to know what the coalition policy is with respect to the response to the Gonski report. The coalition have had some six years in opposition to develop their policy. They have had almost 18 months since the Gonski report was handed down in December 2011 to come to a policy decision on it, yet to date they have made no comment at all other than to oppose this bill. From what I understand, what they are proposing to do if elected in September this year is to engage in further discussions with the education sectors across this country. One of the urgent things about all of this is that the schools need to have certainty of funding with respect to 2014 and onwards. What the coalition is effectively saying to schools is: 'We will not make any commitments with respect to that, and you will have to wait till after September of this year to know what funding you are likely to get if we are elected. In the meantime, we may continue with the current funding model.' Frankly, that is unacceptable and it certainly does not give any confidence to the schools around the country as to what level of funding they might get from 2014 onwards.

The government's position with respect to funding, however, is clear. The minister and the Prime Minister have made it absolutely perfectly clear. There will be $9.8 billion of funding over the next six years. That will be $9.8 billion of additional funding. Under the agreements being negotiated with the states and territories, for every $2 of federal funding there will be an additional $1 of state or territory government funding, bringing the total additional education funding that schools across Australia can expect to over $14 billion over the next six years. That is the certainty that this government is committing to. Yes, there are ongoing negotiations and discussions still taking place between the government and the various state and territory governments. I am pleased to see that the New South Wales and ACT governments have already agreed to the new funding model, and I have no doubt that other states will also come on board once the negotiations have been completed. I recall an answer in question time only last week from the minister for education that there are also ongoing discussions and negotiations between the government and the Catholic and independent school sectors, and it is quite appropriate that those discussions take place. But, at the end of the discussions, the bottom line is that there will be an additional $14 billion over the next six years if all of the parties agree to the reforms that this government is committing to, and this government is committing to $9.8 billion of those funds.

What I would say to those states that are still negotiating is: by all means you have the right to negotiate, but this is an opportunity to reform education funding in your state and across Australia—a reform that is now 40 years overdue since the last time we had a good look at education funding and the education needs of this country. We have had a report brought back to us by Mr David Gonski. There has been plenty of time for that report to be debated and considered across Australia. Most of the schools that I have gone to and discussed it with are keen to ensure that the general principles outlined in the Gonski reforms come to be, and this government has committed to ensuring that that will happen and is trying to do all it can to make sure not only that we reform the system as a system but that we support those reforms with the necessary funding. What I say to those states that are still negotiating is: support these reforms, because if you do not then what you are doing is denying the students and young people in your state the opportunity for a better future that they will get if we can have a nationally consistent and properly funded education system right across Australia.