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Monday, 10 November 2008
Page: 10288


Mr NEUMANN (3:49 PM) —The member for Pearce talked about a number of things in this debate. She talked about little observable action in the last few years. She talked about the fact that there were plenty of reports and recommendations, but one wonders whether in fact she was present during the years of the Howard government. Indeed, after 12 years of the Howard government, there were 24 reports into education and 220 recommendations but not much to show for them. That is why the Tax Laws Amendment (Education Refund) Bill 2008 is so important.

The legacy of the Howard government is so tragic for the education of the youth of our country. We have no national teaching standards, no national curriculum, too many children leaving school too soon, too many children incapable of basic numeracy and literacy, and 6.5 million Australians with no post-school qualifications. The 2006 OECD study shows that Australia’s average performance in reading literacy worsened between 2003 and 2006, primarily because of the decline in the percentage of high-performing students and a tail in underperformance linked to disadvantage. It showed that in scientific literacy 40 per cent of Australia’s Indigenous students, 27 per cent of students from remote schools and 23 per cent of students from the lowest socioeconomic quartile performed below OECD baselines. And we do have, by OECD standards, relatively low levels of year-12 education completion. During the 1980s and the early 1990s we saw a doubling of our retention rate for the completion of high school, but that flatlined during the Howard government. Since 1992 we have seen around 75 per cent of students completing high school, according to the ABS schools Australia statistics of 2007. Thirty per cent fewer Indigenous young people reach year-12 qualification as opposed to non-Indigenous young people. So we have seen a tragic legacy.

Having no national curriculum has made a big impact in my electorate. We have 80,000 families moving across state borders and we see about 5,000 military families in a situation where they do not experience consistency in terms of what is being taught to their children. And many of them live in my electorate of Blair, which has the largest military base in the country, at Amberley. I note that the Defence Families of Australia association has come out recently and commended the Rudd Labor government for its proposal of a national curriculum.

The bill which is before us today is part of the education revolution of the Rudd Labor government. As the Treasurer said in his second reading speech on 25 September this year, education is the engine room of prosperity, and it helps create a fairer, more productive society. This bill is also about building prosperity and spreading opportunity. It is a key part of our education revolution. It will help meet the needs and the costs of children’s education in my electorate of Blair and it will help parents to allow their children to fulfil their educational expectations and advance to the best of their respective abilities.

The budget included $4.4 billion to create a new education tax refund. This is a refundable tax offset of 50 per cent of eligible education expenses for children undertaking primary and secondary school studies. About 1.3 million families—about 2.7 million students—will be eligible for the refund. My electorate and others will see families in private schools and in public schools benefit. It is not about the old, antiquated notions of providing for one system over the other; it is about helping children who attend private schools and children who attend public schools to get the best education possible. For primary school children, it will allow eligible families to claim 50 per cent of eligible education expenses—up to $750 for each child, providing a maximum tax offset of $375 per child per year. For children undertaking secondary school studies, families will be able to claim 50 per cent of their eligible expenses up to $1,500 per child—being a maximum tax offset of $750 per child per year. Parents and others entitled to family tax benefit part A who have children undertaking primary or secondary school studies will be eligible for the education tax refund.

Students living independently from their parents are also eligible for the education tax refund. The tax offset will apply to eligible expenses incurred from 1 July 2008. This is an important initiative to improve our productivity and our participation in education, to build prosperity and to eliminate, as much as we possibly can, educational disadvantage. It is the Rudd Labor government which has seen fit to take on this task. So much was said by the Howard government in relation to educational standards, values and attainment, but precious little was done in real terms to assist the young people of this country to achieve their full potential. The Rudd government is determined to ensure that the Australian populace is as highly educated and skilled as possible.

Education empowers. It gives people opportunity. It builds up individuals. It assists families. It creates a more just and fair society. It is crucial in ensuring that our human capital achieves its latent skill and talent potential. Education is not about the philosophy of the Left or the Right. It is about both. It is about economic growth and it is about social justice. The education revolution that we talk about is about building a stronger Australian economy and a fairer Australia. It should be our aspiration to make our schools cathedrals—cathedrals of learning and opportunity. It should be our desire to ensure that our children want to attend those institutions because they provide the technology, the facilities, the structure, the sporting equipment and the cultural advantage that will enable our children to prosper in education, sports and the arts.

Too often we have heard the arguments of the past. We heard arguments by the previous government, which vilified public school teachers, public schools and state governments in every part—from Western Australia to Queensland—about what they did and did not do. It is a sad fact that poor educational levels seem to go hand-in-glove with intergenerational poverty and disengagement from society and civic responsibility.

People who are better educated are less likely to commit crimes. People who are better educated have higher self-esteem. They desire to provide for their families, they desire to provide for themselves and they desire to provide for communities and for our country. That is what this bill is about. This bill is about providing assistance to families. Under the Howard government, nothing much was done in this area. The Howard government talked a lot but delivered little. One wonders whether in the 13th, 14th, 15th, 16th or 17th year of their legacy they would have done things, but we will never know. Fortunately, on 24 November of last year the people of Australia decided to vote for an education revolution.

This government is putting huge amounts of resources into schools and into assisting families, and that is what this bill is about. The current budget provides that a record $9 billion will be provided to our school system in this country. We will see an increase in funding of 5.5 per cent over 2007 in assistance to state schools and students, and an increase in funding of 3.7 per cent over 2007 in assistance to non-government schools. We saw too much blame, too much vilification and too much denigration from the previous government when it came to dealing with the states. Through the Council of Australian Governments, we are working to settle arrangements to ensure that our digital education revolution, our national curriculum and the rolling out of our trade training centres will be completed. Our national plan on literacy and numeracy will commence in early 2009.

This bill is about improving our education standards and improving the quality of teaching. I have many teachers in my family and many friends who are teachers. It is about rewarding them and others, and it is about providing that our teachers and their students have the best outcomes. In terms of teaching, it is about ensuring that teachers of the highest calibre are recruited and are paid accordingly. We should look at which schools are disadvantaged and which are not. We should measure our school performance. It is critical that we ensure that the parents of students in our schools have as much information as possible about the performance of their children and the schools. In my opinion, public reporting of schools is necessary.

But we should not forget the disadvantaged school communities. Sadly, in my electorate of Blair most of those seem to be in the public sector. We should end the idea of one local school being pitted against another. We should end underfunding in both the public and the private system in this country. The Rudd Labor government is committed to a digital education revolution. We are putting $1.2 billion into that revolution. Already $116 million has been handed over to the states to purchase 116,000 computers.

My electorate has benefited from the trade training centres in secondary schools through the $2.5 billion policy of the Rudd Labor government. In July this year the government announced that 34 projects involving more than 100 secondary schools and worth more than $90 million had been funded in round 1. I am pleased to say that three schools in my electorate, with St Edmunds Boys College being the lead school, will create the Ipswich Trade Training Centre, and nearly $3 million will be given in that regard. The two grammar schools in Ipswich, Ipswich Grammar School and Ipswich Girls Grammar School, joined with St Eddies in making application for funding. I am pleased to say that that funding is being delivered.

Brendan Lawler, the Principal of St Edmunds Boys College, and Wayne Sessarago should be commended for the fine work that they have done in making application and advocating further for the school. But that particular school is undertaking some additional applications for funding. The Local Schools Working Together initiative, which will provide $62.5 million over four years to construct shared facilities between government and non-government schools, is also in their sights. I commend them for the efforts they are making. They are doing this in partnership, and with the assistance of the Ipswich City Council. I commend the work they are doing in making use of what currently would be fairly useless ground on the north side of Ipswich. Just north of the Bremer River, in the Tivoli area, they are seeking to redevelop that particular site with funding that they are seeking from the Rudd Labor government.

It is important that we look at what we are doing for our schools locally. In my area I am pleased that the Rudd Labor government is providing $26.83 million for the relocation of the Amberley State Primary School, and I warmly welcome that funding. I ask that the Queensland government think about a name for the new school. My preferred option, as it is going to be located in Yamanto, would be the Yamanto-Amberley school, because that would ensure continuity of the name and that the historical attachment to the local school would continue. I think that would have broad community support also.

But we are also doing a lot in terms of C&K and preprimary education. It is an absolute fact that under the Howard government we spent 0.1 per cent of our GDP on preprimary education compared to the OECD average of 0.5 per cent. The Rudd Labor government is committed to the creation of 260 childcare centres. We are going to create one in Ipswich, and I warmly welcome that funding. But we need to think more about what we can do to ensure that our schools are the best they can possibly be. The Deputy Prime Minister said on 24 September this year in her second reading speech in relation to the guaranteed funding over the quadrennium of $42 billion for schools and the SES model which we committed to in 2007:

If this country is to succeed in the 21st century we need a schooling system which delivers excellence and equity for every child in Australia.

I think that should be our goal. I think that is what we should do, because, as Access Economics has said, we can create $9 billion in wealth and growth for this country by 2040 if we can raise the level of school retention to 90 per cent. If we can give our kids the opportunities that they deserve and they need, we can create an economically prosperous country that can be of benefit not only to us but also to our neighbours and that can take something akin to the good Samaritan type approach to our neighbours which, unfortunately, do not have the kind of prosperity that we have. We can also ensure that at home, here in this country, our kids can get the best opportunity possible to fulfil their potential and that we do what we can to ensure our children can be everything we hope them to be and everything they aspire to be. For that reason, I commend the bill to the House.