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Monday, 20 August 2001
Page: 29782

Dr KEMP (Minister for Education, Training and Youth Affairs and Minister Assisting the Prime Minister for the Public Service) (10:13 PM) —I am happy to answer the question. The figure of 30 per cent—or 27 per cent; it depends which particular aspect of the survey you are looking at—is a figure derived from the national schools English literacy survey. It fully conforms with the figures that have been identified, as I have said, over two decades for students in year 9. It is significantly less than the figures the ABS publishes in relation to adult literacy showing the extent of illiteracy in the adult population. It is a figure that was accepted, although not published, by the management committee of the national schools English literacy survey in 1996. So, it is a fair assumption, on the basis of all those studies which are supportive and none which depart from those findings, that the level of illiteracy amongst young people in year 3 in 1996 was 30 per cent or thereabouts.

The Commonwealth then instituted the national literacy benchmarks. The level of literacy skill required to meet the year 3 reading benchmark was essentially the same as the level of literacy required to meet the standard of mastery of literacy established by the Australian Council for Educational Research. The benchmark was then applied in several surveys—not nationwide, but in a number of places—in 1998, essentially across the country in 1999, and essentially across the country again in 2000. We have just had the 2001 surveys. The results of those assessments indicate that in each year the national literacy plan has been in place there appear to have been significant improvements in the proportion of students who have basic literacy skills. They show that there has been a significant movement in the proportion of students with literacy skills—in some states to a point where over 90 per cent of students appear to be meeting the basic reading benchmarks.

One can debate these data until the cows come home, but the fact is they are the only data available. They are data made available to the public by this government. The Labor Party, in attempting to argue, presumably, that there has been no improvement in literacy, or, if there has, it has been a very slight improvement—I do not know what their claim is; I do not think they know what their position is—beggar credibility. You have over the last three or four years a huge national effort as a result of the national literacy plan to raise literacy standards, and the state governments—Liberal and Labor—have all participated in that effort. To suggest or try to suggest that the most recent figures show no improvement is to absolutely damn and condemn the efforts that have been made by the state governments over this period. It really stretches my imagination to try to work out why the Labor Party would continue to pursue this incredible line—were it not for the fact that they deeply resent the fact that they did nothing for 13 years, that this government has finally addressed the problem and that we are moving to a federal election.