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Wednesday, 3 December 2008
Page: 12325

Ms GILLARD (Minister for Education, Minister for Employment and Workplace Relations and Minister for Social Inclusion) (11:33 AM) —I indicate to the House that the government proposes that amendments (1) to (3) and (5) to (9) be agreed to and that amendment (4) be disagreed to. I suggest therefore that it may suit the convenience of the House to first consider amendments (1) to (3) and (5) to (9) and, when those amendments have been disposed of, to consider amendment (4). I move:

That Senate amendments Nos. 1 to 3 and 5 to 9 be agreed to.

Amendments (1) to (3) are government amendments. The government has been in constructive discussions with Senator Nick Xenophon. I would also like to acknowledge that Senator Christine Milne and the Australian Greens have also taken a very constructive approach to the Schools Assistance Bill 2008, and I thank both Senator Xenophon and Senator Milne for the approach that they have taken.

Government amendments (1) to (3) deal with the question of the powers of a minister when a school has a qualified audit. Obviously, to withhold or delay funding to a school is a very major thing to do. It was never the intention of the government that such a power would be used in any but the most serious of circumstances. It was proposed by Senator Xenophon that it may be convenient to make this a disallowable instrument so that, should this quite serious step ever be taken, the matter would be brought before the parliament. The government is very happy to agree with that. Obviously, our intention was never to use these powers lightly. Having a disallowable instrument will ensure that the parliament can exercise oversight should payments to a school ever be stopped or delayed because of a qualified audit.

Amendment (5) is also a government amendment. The government has been very clear that among other election commitments one of the things that it is seeking to achieve through this bill is a new era of transparency in schooling. We have also made it abundantly clear that there is not one obligation we will put on non-government schools that we will not also put on government schools. That will require transparency in relation to characteristics and needs of the school population, the teaching resources of the school, the academic results of students—including on national testing and attainment to year 12 and equivalent—and also the resources available to the school.

There developed a concern that making available matters associated with resources may require the identification of a particular donor to a school. It was never the government’s intention to seek to have the identity of individual donors disclosed. We were obviously talking about, and continue to talk about, categories of funding. Consequently, the government is more than happy to respond to these concerns by clarifying in the legislation that there is nothing about the government’s transparency measures which requires the identification of a particular donor. That was never sought by the government.

Amendments (6) to (9) were moved by Senator Mason in the Senate last night. These amendments relate to the Indigenous funding guarantee. The government maintains that the amendments moved by Senator Mason are not necessary given that the Indigenous funding guarantee ensures that non-government school authorities will receive funding levels at least comparable to their 2008 entitlement, and most schools will become immediately better off through the new arrangements. Obviously we are very keen to get money through to assist Indigenous students. Whilst we view these amendments as not being strictly necessary, the government is very happy to include them in the bill, because I believe we are all on the same page on this: we want to make sure that funding for Indigenous students reaches Indigenous students. Senator Mason had a concern about that and we are happy to respond to his concern by including these amendments in the bill.  (Extension of time granted)

I thank the House for facilitating a further contribution, which will be very short. With these amendments the bill delivers what the government promised. It promised non-government schools before the election that we would deliver to them on the SES funding formula. This bill delivers on that promise, making available $28 billion in resources. We promised the Australian people before the last election that we would introduce new school performance reporting. This is a matter we have worked on all year. This is a new era of transparency. We have just had Joel Klein, the New York City schools chancellor, in the country speaking about this matter. In this bill, with these amendments included, we deliver a new era of transparency. Once again, every obligation that this bill puts on non-government schools is an obligation that has already been agreed to for government schools by premiers and chief ministers when they met at COAG on the weekend.

This bill also delivers on the government’s election commitment for a national curriculum. That matter is still the subject of disputation and that will be dealt with when I speak to amendment (4), with which the government disagrees. I recommend to the House that Senate amendments (1) to (3) and (5) to (9) be agreed to, for the reasons that I have outlined.