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Wednesday, 26 November 2008
Page: 11437

Mr RAGUSE (9:03 AM) —This is about developing standards. The Australian Curriculum, Assessment and Reporting Authority Bill 2008 is another historic Labor initiative. I spoke in the House the other day about a number of initiatives over the years, understanding and remembering that back in the Keating era the establishment of ANTA, the Australian National Training Authority, was very much about our push as a Labor government to increase and improve the social infrastructure in this country—our view and understanding of education, the importance of education, and certainly the establishment of a standards committee, of an authority, to then manage this process of curriculum development around the country.

Certainly the Rudd initiative, creating the vision for the education revolution, is very much a part of the Labor vision. I have said before in this House that the opposition do not quite understand what we as a government mean when we talk about a vision and a future. Nation building is not just infrastructure; it is also the soft infrastructure that we put in place. So when you look at building frameworks, particularly in education, it is about establishing the standards, providing resources and supporting the professional development of staff—teachers out in our communities in different states at different times doing different things but having some common understanding of where curriculum should be placed, certainly as a national approach to curriculum development.

It is interesting that a few members who have already spoken from the other side have suggested that it is all simply terminology—that we are beating our chests with throwaway lines. The reality is, of course, that Labor governments have a history of building and developing social infrastructure, particularly in education. All of us would remember the Whitlam era. The Whitlam government in a very short period of time in government introduced free university education. In that era no more than three per cent of our community ever got the opportunity to go to university. In this day and age over 35 per cent get fairly easy and direct access to university. In some states up to 95 per cent of people have post-secondary educational opportunities, whether it is in university, vocational education and training or other areas of skills development.

This is not something new. We have not just thought this up as something that might fit the time and have some political outcome. This is really a continuation of what Labor governments have established in the past. In the Whitlam era there was not only access to university education. People may or may not remember Myer Kangan and the Kangan report of 1974. Most people would understand and know a lot about the TAFE—technical and further education—system. Mr Speaker, you would probably be aware that it was the Kangan report to then Minister Beazley, Kim Beazley Sr, as Minister for Education, that developed our modern understanding of the TAFE system. Thirty-four years later and the TAFE system is still strong, albeit in the last 12 years coming under threat from the former Howard government. I will talk a little bit about that shortly, but the reality is that we started with major reforms in the Whitlam era in education, certainly at the tertiary education level with vocational education and training and the establishment of the TAFE system. If we take that into the Hawke era it was very much about skills and productivity linked to industrial rewards. It was all about people gaining more skills, better curricula, a better approach to training in a structured way and linked to the opportunity to not only enhance skills but get proper remuneration for those skills.

We go forward—and I have already spoken about this—into the Keating era and the establishment in 1992 of what was ANTA, the Australian National Training Authority. That was the next step in the development across the country of the TAFE system, the technical and further education system. I gave examples previously of what happened before the establishment of ANTA and of national training standards. I will make linkages with our secondary school system and the need for a national approach to curriculum development. I used the example of people in trades. An electrical contractor working in Queensland—that is, who had the skills and the licensing—could not work in Victoria simply because a national approach did not exist. ANTA established and reformed our whole approach to vocational education and training.

In the nearly 12 years between the Keating period and the Rudd government coming to power and into the position of being able to roll out our education revolution, we saw what was essentially the dismantling of the TAFE system. We saw the establishment of the New Apprenticeships system and the weakening of the TAFE system. We can link the standards put in place by previous governments and to the Rudd government’s education revolution. It is not just about computers; it is not just about physical resources. It is a philosophy and an ideology. It is about all of those things coming together to change the way that we understand our training and our training future and how that should be rolled out.

This is about empowering teachers. I will talk more about that and about the conversations that I have had with members of the teaching fraternity in my electorate. Change is always met with concern. I have had lots of conversations with teacher groups about the need for a national approach to curriculum. A lot of teachers are concerned. After 12 years of the previous government, they are suspicious of change. They are suspicious that fiddling around with the processes will mean they are going to lose something. I would like to assure the House—and I understand curriculum development, having been an educator and having done a lot of work in curriculum development, particularly in the vocational education and training sector—that this can only mean good things for our country. I will continue to work with and talk to those teachers. This authority will be set up for the purpose of transparency. It is about the ability of all people—that is, those in the education sector and others who have linkages to industry—to come together to work out and understand what the education standards in this country should be.

We talk about the education revolution and we talk about better resourcing. If we do not have a road map for rolling out the resources, if we simply throw funds at individual schools, at individual systems or at individual states without an understanding of how we tie all this together, then it simply will not work. The establishment of this authority is an absolutely necessary first step in taking our education revolution forward and in rolling out and achieving the outcomes we want for our kids around the nation.

The wonderful thing about a national curriculum is that we will get over that problem experienced by people who move around our country—people in some of the government services or in our military—of different education systems. That has been a problem for families who have moved from Queensland to Victoria to Western Australia. There is no commonality. It is very hard to link a student who has travelled around from different states into the appropriate level of syllabus or curriculum. It is essential in finally overcoming the differences between the states. We have a model. We have the ANTA model. A national curriculum was rolled out from 1992 to 1996. The continuation of the national approach, albeit underresourced through those 12 years, has meant that we have some very good national standards in the vocational education sector.

I have spoken to our local teachers about their ability to engage in the process. Members in this House, and certainly those members who have an interest in education—and I presume that is all of us—can actively engage their local constituency and the teachers and educators in their community. I want to pay tribute to a number of people in my electorate—principals and teaching staff—who actively involve their schools in so many activities. There is the argument about what is curriculum and what is extracurricular. This is not about a tick-and-flick list. It is about understanding the core of a curriculum and making sure that people have access to many opportunities within the education system. Whether a school is private or publicly funded should not matter. If our curriculum is the basis of the way we all progress and gain our skills, then all the other skills and extracurricular activity that can be written into programs are acceptable.

I would like to pay tribute to a number of principals: Suzanne Jolly from Eagleby State School, Mike O’Connor from the Eagleby South State School and Marilyn Moballe from Beenleigh State High School. In fact, the Prime Minister back in September visited the Beenleigh High School, and I know he was very impressed with the way that school is progressing, particularly in what are at times very difficult circumstances. I also pay tribute to Alison Crane from Loganlea State High School. Alison’s school has a very high percentage of students with a learning disability. The practices in that school are very good. A national approach to curriculum would allow schools in the nation to gain information about how other schools are dealing with particular problems. That is one example. In Queensland, areas are broken up into regions, and regional directors and regional assistant directors manage the school communities. I would like to pay tribute to Samantha Knowles, who is an assistant executive director, and Glen Hoepner. I have worked closely with them in bringing their community together. I would also like to pay tribute to Michael Shyne, from the Tamborine Mountain State School. He is a very hands-on principal who understands the value of curriculum development. In fact, I know he will be leading the charge to ensure that all of the teaching fraternity within my community come together to talk about the opportunities that the education revolution will bring.

I want to pay special tribute to John Hammond from St Bernard State School on Tamborine Mountain. After a long career of teaching John is retiring. As excited as he is about a national approach to curriculum, he has decided to bow out after a long career. But I know that people like John will remain in our community and be very much part of our P&C and P&F network so that we can bring together their expertise.

I talk to many in our community about opportunities. They understand the record that Labor governments have from the Whitlam era through Hawke and Keating and now with the Rudd government—with that sad 12-year gap in between where we saw dismantled, essentially, lots of the opportunity that was there before 1996. The teachers who I talk to—and, being an educator, they certainly have some trust in where I am taking this—are fearful of change simply because of the experiences of the last 12 years. They are concerned that change does not mean good things. I can say to them that the education revolution of this government is about driving education forward. It is about not only the hard, physical resources but also building new social infrastructure. We talk about nation building certainly in physical infrastructure, but nation building is also about bringing communities, infrastructure and resources together to make Australia a better country. I believe that this is the first step in establishing what will be a national approach to skills development, certainly in the secondary schools sector. We have done it with TAFE—we created TAFE when in government. I believe this is the final chapter in our establishment of the education revolution.