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Monday, 10 November 2008
Page: 10248

Mr SIMPKINS (1:14 PM) —As a father of two children at a local state primary school in Cowan, I share the interests of my fellow parents in all matters educational. The Tax Laws Amendment (Education Refund) Bill 2008 is a very important means by which parents in Cowan will be able to claim a tax offset. So I am pleased to speak on this bill, but I am also very keen to state how it could be much better. The bill is known colloquially as the ETR, or education tax refund, bill and it essentially provides a refund of $375 for a primary school aged child after $750 is spent and $750 for a secondary school student after $1,500 is spent. This will allow parents and caregivers to seek refunds for expenses to do with computers, a home internet connection, software, textbooks and stationery.

This brings me to the alternative proposal, which was the coalition’s plan which we took to the election. In our plan, the rebate could include preschool education expenses, school fees, school uniforms, extracurricular school activities and tutoring. I would encourage the government to look at extending the list of expenses for which this rebate can be claimed—that is, if they really want to focus on improving educational outcomes. The point I would make is that there are schools around this country where the children would prefer to fit in by having a uniform on as a priority before they start selecting software. There are children that would like to do the incursions, let alone the excursions, before having a printer at home.

That is the trouble with this bill and the government’s policy: the almost myopic focus on computer hardware, software and peripherals has meant that they do not understand one of the basic requirements in a young person’s or child’s life—the need to fit in. I think that it is a very bad thing for a child to miss out on the opportunities that their classmates are being given, because they are then reminded of the challenges of their socioeconomic position or other issues in their lives. To that end, I advocate that the government look at the matter of individual inclusion and widen the criteria for the items that can be claimed under this bill.

I am sure that all the government speakers will talk up this bill and the comprehensive benefits that it will provide, but my view is that the benefits are neither comprehensive nor targeted towards the reality of the need. I again urge the government and the government members to think carefully about the best way to assist parents and their children to ensure they fit in and are therefore comfortable enough to pursue the opportunities that education offers. If you do not make sure children, particularly those from more challenging socioeconomic backgrounds, are supported with a school uniform like everyone else’s and the opportunity to participate in all school activities like everyone else, then you risk these children feeling isolated. They may become disruptive, bringing themselves down and those around them.

Of course, by expanding the criteria for claims, you do not guarantee that parents will spend the money on uniforms, school activities or other expenses, but you make it a bit easier for them to come to that decision to act now and claim it back later. As a father I want my children to have the same opportunities as their peers. I do not want my children to miss out and feel bad. I know that a majority of parents think the same way. For those who do, change in the criteria in this bill would be of benefit to the parents but, most importantly, to their children. Children do not wish to be different from other children, and I believe that assisting children to fit in is the best way to start.

I draw upon my experiences with my own children and my significant experience in coaching teenagers in sport to refine my views of what is important to young people, but I also have very up-to-date information on this matter. I recently assisted the senior class of Waddington Primary School in Koondoola by paying for one of them to go to the school camp. Koondoola is a suburb challenged by lower than average socioeconomic standing and I know that many of the parents struggled to find the $170 for the camp. If they knew they could get the money back, maybe that would make a bit of a difference. Widened criteria would mean that all the children could have the nice graduation polo shirt uniform or in fact the regular school uniform.

This is not to say that Waddington Primary School is not a proud school. I do like what they do. I like the commitment of teachers like James Cunningham, a man dedicated to ensuring the children in his class have the best opportunities. He is a fine example to the children and a role model to them. James actually brought his class up to my office and we all had morning tea. I was very pleased to have welcomed them to the office. I look forward to providing every assistance that I can in the future to the school. I would also mention that the principal of Waddington is Leanne Alderman, and she has continued the great work of previous principals of the school Stephen Blechynden and Peter Mulcahy.

I would next like to turn my attention to the Hawker Park Primary School in the suburb of Warwick, in the south-west of Cowan. The school has a strong community feel to it and an outstanding reputation. When I mention the school to other principals I always get the comment that Hawker Park is held in high regard. A school’s reputation is often developed over a long period, and it is a credit to committed staff and parents that although the school is just 25 years old it has been such a great success and holds such a positive position in the community. At the helm of this great little school is Dr Irma Roberts, the principal. The acting deputy is year 1 teacher Felicity Randell, but Tom Kelly, normally the deputy, is on long service leave and has served for many years as the deputy principal. Tom is the lead organiser behind the sports carnivals and serves the school very well.

It is also appropriate for me to mention that six teachers have 17 or more years service at Hawker Park. In fact, for 25 years Tony Bourne has been teaching the year 7 class and is now teaching the children of his former students. Tony has been a great and positive influence on every graduating class over those 25 years. The other long-serving staff include Julia Hill, with 18 years service; Lois Watt, 19 years; Pamela Barnes, 19 years; Lori Chatman, 18 years; and Liz Everall, 17 years. It says something about a school when the teachers want to stay and contribute over such a long period. I thank them for their efforts, their dedication and overall commitment to quality education.

The P&C has been working very well and effectively for many years, undertaking fundraising activities and supporting the school. Although there are many outstanding volunteers that have been there for years, I will just mention the president, Margaret Brocx, and long-time school volunteers Vicki Mattock and Chris Henry, who have been integral to the success of the school community over many years. I would also mention Belinda Mackay, who again did many years of dedicated work with the P&C. Finally I will mention Beth Worsdell, who runs the canteen. Beth has been in the position for many years and the canteen serves the school very well. Again, widened criteria for the education tax refund would benefit Hawker Park. Voluntary school fees should be included under this bill. This would encourage more parents to contribute, which would then result in an increase in funds available to the school to use for educational outcomes.

I also want to speak about another school in Cowan, which I have had a long-term association with. In 2005 I went to see Peter Smith, the then principal of South Ballajura Primary School. South Ballajura is in the north-east of Perth and it gets particularly hot in summer. The school has demountable classrooms that are air-conditioned, but in 2005 the remainder of the school was not. I offered Peter the option of me writing the Investing in Our Schools Program application for him, and Peter told me that he did not have the time to get everything done, so I agreed to get the quotes and put together the application. This was done and the grant was received. The result was that evaporative cooling was installed in South Ballajura Primary School. I certainly found it was an easy case to make, the case for air conditioning. There is little doubt that children are able to make the most of school when they are in a cooler environment and can therefore better maintain their levels of concentration. South Ballajura Primary School is an example of the coalition government’s commitment to education, and the facts cannot be brushed away, like the current government likes to do so often.

But I think it is important to talk about South Ballajura in 2008. There are more than 600 students at the school, representing 30 nationalities. In the languages other than English program they learn Indonesian, which adds to the rich diversity that they derive from the different cultures represented by the students. A couple of weeks ago I went and spoke to a year 5 and 6 group of students about a stronger and better community. While I was there, Miss Jade Green asked me a number of questions that demonstrated to me that she cares about being a good citizen in Australia. I would say that the children were very well mannered and they are therefore a credit to their teachers, and to the principal, Lynda Moir.

I have the highest regard for Lynda and her outstanding registrar, Betty Vlahov, who has been at the school since it opened in 1994, and the dedicated school staff, yet the support of parents and volunteers remains critical to the success of the school. To properly acknowledge the work of the P&C, I will mention, with my thanks for their efforts, president Annie Whitehurst, vice-president Rachel Whitworth, Jane Green, Julie Cruden, Naomi Brown, Tracey Jones, Judith Hill, Charmaine Robertson and Karen Markham—to name just a few of the current members. I also mention the good work of previous executive members of the P&C Caroline Bennetts and Mrs Lisa Raats. Given this bill is about supporting parents, I would note just one of the many examples where the South Ballajura P&C have supported the children. This year the P&C funded 15 flexible pianos for the music room. This ensures a better and more enjoyable music experience for the children. I have great pleasure in acknowledging South Ballajura primary’s staff and parent volunteers for the excellent work they do for education in our community under what are, at times, challenging circumstances.

It is for that reason that I also believe widened criteria for the education tax refund would benefit South Ballajura Primary School. In these suburbs of challenged socioeconomic circumstances, it is all the more important that children feel that they are fitting in. School uniforms, incursions and excursions are all key features of a child fitting in and therefore feeling that link to the educational process. Without such a link, children are at risk of feeling isolated or second best and therefore may avoid school, undermining their futures. Again, if the government included voluntary school fees, extracurricular activities and uniforms under this bill, it would encourage more parents to make these outlays and make the children feel part of the school and better linked to education and its great value.

However, South Ballajura Primary School is just one part of the South Ballajura story. It would be wrong of me not to mention principal Cheryl Lennox, registrar Lee-Anne Green and the truly dedicated teaching and support staff at the South Ballajura Education Support Centre. The ESC exists to provide education for children with disabilities. Several Fridays ago I had a look around and was better able to appreciate the challenges, the conditions and the achievements of the ESC and its students. I am informed that there are children with disabilities integrated throughout the primary school as well as classes specifically for ESC students only. This policy is good for all the students. It would be good to see widened expense criteria added to this bill in support of the parents of the ESC. These parents already struggle with the costs of transport and the other additional costs for their disabled children. Extra help and tax deductibility should be included for these parents.

Before I conclude, I will make mention of Woodvale Senior High School. Woodvale senior high opened in 1985 and has almost 1,600 students. Paul Leech is the principal and he is a great advocate for this excellent school. I know that parents at Woodvale would also appreciate a widening of the criteria to which the education tax refund applies. I make mention of the benefits that could apply to parents of Woodvale students because of the outstanding specialist programs offered. These include the academic extension program, the music program, basketball, soccer, science enrichment and forensics. The great success and high standing of the school mean that there are long waiting lists for entry for those who live outside the local intake area or who are unsuccessful in gaining entry to a specialist program. Widened criteria could result in, for instance, parents claiming a rebate for a musical instrument so that their son or daughter could fully participate in the highly regarded Woodvale music program in which more than 300 students currently participate.

I should also mention that Woodvale senior high’s students perform very well academically, being in the top 25 per cent of students in the state. State, national and international testing reinforces the high quality of academic success the school enjoys. The parents and school community have been fully involved in this success, and I will rightly acknowledge the parts played by the P&C president, Virginia McNamara, as well as Dee Briggs and Fab Zannutigh, for all the hard work they do for the school and the students. Although there are around 130 staff, I will also acknowledge the work they do in making Woodvale senior high a success academically and the help they provide for young people through the specialist programs, the extra tuition classes on offer, programs to support student development and strong cross-curricular links with students working on specialist areas. I know Phil Mullane does an excellent job with the music program, which has resulted in the school’s concert band especially being highly sought after to support local community events. I will also mention some other staff that I know do a great job at Woodvale, including Steve Jurilj, who is renowned for his great coordination of the student services staff; Sue Festa, whose can-do and positive attitude plays a crucial role in running school administration; and, of course, Carol Stokes, the chaplain, for all her work in pastoral care.

Although I have named a number of strengths of Woodvale senior high—programs and individuals—I particularly want to mention three more areas that have also impressed me. They include the digital media capabilities and professional-level software supported by the campus-wide information technology network. I have seen the work of the students with digital media, and the level of imagination and creativity is a credit to the teachers. I also have been impressed with the manual trade skills that students can learn at Woodvale. Finally, I would make mention of the ongoing cultural exchange program with Japan which continues to work well in building strong connections with Asia. I understand a sister-school relationship also exists with a school in Jinan in China.

Further evidence of Woodvale’s high-quality education programs is provided by reference to its accreditation to enrol international fee-paying students. Today I have made reference to the many reasons why Woodvale is one of the best schools in Cowan. They are all valid reasons, yet what continually bears out its outstanding reputation is the number of parents whom I have spoken to from out of the intake area who want their child to attend Woodvale. Woodvale Senior High School achieves across a wide range of areas. They provide academic, artistic and vocational options for young people, and I am sure their success will carry on into the future.

Before concluding my contribution, I will mention of one more school, the Wanneroo Primary School. The principal is Penny Halleen and the school has around 530 students. The language other than English taught at Wanneroo is Italian, which is a departure from almost all other schools in Cowan yet reflects the history of the Wanneroo district. Of course, that is not all that the school does well. I know they focus strongly on literacy and numeracy and I know they emphasise the school values of respect, tolerance, self-discipline, cooperation, courtesy and confidence.

In closing, I reiterate the points that I made before about the shortcomings of this bill and the policy behind it. If the government is looking for another dot point in attempting to propagate just the term ‘education revolution’ then the almost exclusively narrow focus on information technology probably delivers that dot point. However, if the government believes in supplying real support and choice for parents that will benefit the children, it should look at school and preschool fees, uniforms, stationery, calculators, camps, excursions and extracurricular school activities as well as what is already part of this bill. It should add those things into the bill and achieve the basics. These things really do matter for some of the children out there from families that would really benefit from such an amendment. I urge the government to do this for the families and children of Cowan and the rest of Australia.