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Monday, 6 December 2004
Page: 129

Senator NETTLE (10:07 PM) —How lucky you are, Senator Carr, because I am actually going to withdraw the Australian Greens' amendment.

Senator Carr —It's my powers of persuasion!

Senator NETTLE —I am very happy to be supporting the amendment before the chair at the moment because it directs that money back into our public school system, which is where I believe that money should be going. It says that teachers are the best people to know the reading needs and reading difficulties of the students, in this instance the year 3 students. They should be, as the qualified and competent professionals that they are, the people who provide assistance for the students with their reading difficulty needs. As I mentioned in my speech in the second reading debate, this is the privatisation of year 3 literacy. That is what that government are proposing.

The government are saying that they are such supporters of choice that they want to say to all parents of year 3 students, `You now have the responsibility to determine not only what reading difficulties your child has but also who is the best person to help your child improve their reading difficulties.' The Greens do not think that is an acceptable obligation to put onto parents—particularly when I think of the parents I worked with when I worked with children a little bit older than this, many of whom were from non-English-speaking backgrounds. I think of the many Tongan and Lebanese members of the Granville community that I used to work with. To ask those parents not only to understand what the reading difficulties of their year 3 child are but also to go out into the private education marketplace and find the person who will be the best tutor for their child and that child's learning difficulty needs is a tremendous obligation to put onto parents. When there are qualified and professional teachers who have done the training and who are specialists in learning and literacy difficulties, clearly they are the best people to provide that service. What the government's proposal does is to deregulate the literacy needs of year 3 children. It will privatise it and throw it wide open to this government's education marketplace. It says that it is up to the parents to make those decisions. I do not think that is right.

That view is shared by a meeting of principals from public schools that occurred in Melbourne earlier this year. The chairperson of the National Principals Committee, Neil Free, said:

Principals believe that the most beneficial way to support improved literacy outcomes is to provide adequate funding to schools so that current programs based on knowledge of individual students and best practice can be fully implemented ...

There are a number of successful literacy programs using intensive one-on-one tuition, such as Reading Recovery, that can be provided when appropriate funding is available to schools.

Under Minister Nelson's proposal, not only is there a risk that the $700 “voucher” will produce minimal, if any, improved literacy outcomes, but the potential use of unqualified tutors without knowledge of the student's other learning program, and no accountability, may actually negatively impact on learning, and could put student welfare at risk ...

There we have a principal saying that they are not only concerned about the government proposal; they are suggesting that if there are unqualified tutors who do not know the learning program the student is involved in—they are not the teacher, they are not part of the school and they do not understand the process they are following through—then you may have a situation where the teacher is subsequently teaching a student but has no idea what additional tutoring the student may have received and whether that is contributing to or adding to the teaching that the teacher is doing. They would have no idea.

If, as is proposed in this amendment, additional funds are provided through the department of education and through qualified teachers who have expertise in learning difficulties to provide that additional tuition one-on-one, whatever it may be, to the student then it can be part of a comprehensive literacy training program that the student is involved with and that is provided through the public education system. That is a far better way to ensure that the literacy needs of the year 3 child are met. For that reason the Australian Greens will be supporting this amendment. I withdraw the Australian Greens amendment on this issue.

Question negatived.

Bill agreed to.

Schools Assistance (Learning Together—Achievement Through Choice and Opportunity) Bill 2004 reported with amendments and the States Grants (Primary and Secondary Education Assistance) Legislation Amendment Bill 2004 reported without amendment; report adopted.