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Tuesday, 22 June 2010
Page: 6128


Mr CRAIG THOMSON (4:59 PM) —I rise to speak on this matter of public importance and acknowledge the member for Lyne for bringing this matter on and the contribution of the member for New England. The member for New England comes from a university town. I grew up in Bathurst, which is also a university town, and know the benefits that having a university in town brings.

This matter of public importance is about participation rates and access to education. What we all know on this side of the House—and I know, from the contributions of the member for Lyne and the member for New England, that they also believe this—is that access to education is so important for anyone in securing a job in the future and progressing in life. This MPI is about making sure those of us who live in regional or rural Australia have access to education at all levels. The member for New England made the point that it is not just about a university education; it has to start much earlier than that. It is a point that the Minister for Education, the Deputy Prime Minister, has made on many occasions. It is important to start as early as we can, to make sure there are resources going into education and that resources are also made available to regional and rural Australia so that there is equal opportunity for all Australians to pursue an education and hence a career.

I want to use the seat of Dobell to show not only the difficulties that we have at the moment but also the programs this government has put in place to assist students. Dobell has the lowest average family household income in New South Wales. It is a poor area. Dobell has the fastest growth rate of Indigenous Australians—around three per cent a year. What we also have is very poor retention rates in our schools. Some of our schools have retention rates of below 40 per cent but, on average, the rate is below 50 per cent in all of our high schools. This is very much below the national average retention rate. This is reflected in figures referred to earlier by the Parliamentary Secretary for Employment, where unemployment in my electorate on the Central Coast is over one per cent higher than the national average.

The real problem for us on the Central Coast is youth unemployment. Youth unemployment is in excess of 40 per cent on the Central Coast. You can see the direct parallel between the retention rates that we have at our schools, under 40 per cent, and youth unemployment, over 40 per cent. What is frustrating for many job seekers on the Central Coast—and this is typical of many areas—is that there are jobs on the Central Coast, but they often require skills that the education system does not provide them with. We see people coming from Sydney and Newcastle for these better-paying jobs on the Central Coast, because we have not been equipping our local young people with the skills to be able to take these jobs.

These are very real issues for me and very real issues for everyone on the Central Coast. What are we doing about it? There is a whole range of programs that we have put in place, starting with the Building the Education Revolution. Bricks and mortar are important for education—making sure that kids have access to proper facilities does assist in their educational outcomes. It also makes sure that kids go to school and enjoy school more because of the surroundings. I was at Wyong Grove Public School the other day, where a new hall is being built. Wyong Grove Public School is a very disadvantaged school. A little six-year-old came up to me and I asked him what he thought of the new hall. He said, ‘I get up every morning excited to come to school because of the activities that we do in this hall.’ That shows, directly, the effect that this is going to have. This child is going to school, participating, being retained in the school system and getting an education—because of the Building the Education Revolution. This six-year-old nailed it better than any of us could—the importance of these new buildings, this investment in infrastructure at these schools. It is an important lesson that we should all remember. There are over 106 schools on the Central Coast that are either just completed or in the construction phase and we are seeing lots of stories like the one of this six-year-old from Wyong Grove.

The computers in schools program is absolutely vital. I have a letter from Mr Andrew Newman, who is the Deputy President of the New South Wales Secondary Principals Council. He is also the Principal of Tuggerah Lakes Secondary College, which has three campuses in my electorate, with over 1,500 secondary school students. He wrote to me saying that the Digital Education Revolution in New South Wales has been an outstanding success in government schools. Careful planning that involves secondary principals has seen all year 9 students in 2009 receive a laptop. He said ‘We are well on the way to completing a second phase this year, with 14,000 laptops being rolled out per week to the current year 9 students.’

He goes on to say that they have put state-of-the-art software on the machines, which allows every student to be innovative. Additionally, technical support officers were appointed to all secondary schools to support the rollout, along with a wireless network with laptops to work on. Money was set aside for professional development of teachers so that there could be real changes in the classroom, and this is changing the way many teachers now teach. Classrooms reflect 21st century best practice.

This shows the importance of the computers in schools program. It ensures that kids in regional and rural areas right around Australia get the same chance as kids in the big cities. This is a program that rolls out right across Australia. It is absolutely vital that this program continues so that kids right across Australia get the advantage of this education and are not hamstrung. This program ensures that it is not just schools in the major metropolitan areas that have more money that are able to provide this type of education, which gives an advantage to children. We need to make sure that kids in regional and rural areas have the same base starting point. The computers in schools program is a vital program in relation to that.

Another very important program that we have in place is the Trade Training Centres in Schools Program. In my electorate, we have a $13 million promise so that four schools working together will be able to provide trade training at school. When you have only 40 per cent retention rates in your schools, you need to make sure that you are not just training kids at school for university, because many of them are not going to go to university. You need to make sure that you are training them for the jobs that are available in the area and jobs that they are going to be interested in—jobs that are not going to turn them off education. That is why it is so important that trade training is part of the curriculum in our schools. It needs to be part of what we do there. It is an absolute travesty that if the Abbott opposition is elected this program—the $13 million that is promised for my electorate—will simply not go ahead. We need to make sure that kids right around Australia get the opportunity for trade training.

In conclusion, I would also like to talk about the KickStart program and the success that it has had, building on the comments made by the Parliamentary Secretary for Employment. In the year before the global financial crisis, 303 apprenticeships were attained in my area. In the year of the global financial crisis, we lost over a third of those and there were just over 200 apprenticeships. In 2010, with KickStart the number went back up to 334—more than what we had before. This is an important program. This is the government acting to make sure that there are opportunities for education for all Australians. It is vital that rural and regional kids get the same chance as other kids. That is why this government is putting in place so many programs as part of the education revolution.