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Wednesday, 3 December 2008
Page: 12331


Ms GILLARD (Minister for Education, Minister for Employment and Workplace Relations and Minister for Social Inclusion) (11:58 AM) —I move:

That Senate amendment No. 4 be disagreed to.

We have just seen, even on the amendments that were agreed to, the perspective that the Liberal Party are bringing to this debate. It is about them, the Liberal Party, and it is about political credit for the shadow minister for education. It is about fear campaigns, and it is about misrepresentation. The only thing that it is not about, according to Liberal Party, is the education of Australian children. From the point of view of the government this is all about the education of Australian children and particularly Australian children in non-government schools.

The government went to the 2007 election saying that we would deliver funding on the SES formula—that has been done in this bill and is no longer contested by those opposite. We said we would deliver new transparency measures—that has been done in this bill and is no longer contested. We said we would deliver a national curriculum, and we are determined to deliver that national curriculum because it would be better for Australian children—better for Australian children in non-government schools, better for Australian children in government schools and, most particularly, better for those 80,000 children who move interstate each year and go into a school with a different curriculum.

This amendment deletes section 22 of the Schools Assistance Bill 2008, which requires as a condition of funding the implementation of a national curriculum in all non-government schools by 31 January 2012—that is, this amendment that I am asking the House to disagree to deletes the section that delivers on the government’s election commitment for a national curriculum. This amendment—which was moved by Senator Fielding and supported by the opposition in the Senate—would destroy the national curriculum. We are determined to deliver on our election promise of an improvement for Australian children. Already government schools have signed up through the premiers and chief ministers. This is a curriculum that is being worked on through a collaborative process—a curriculum board, which includes amongst its number representatives of independent schools and Catholic schools. So we are determined to deliver our election commitment and determined to have the same arrangements for non-government schools as those that apply to government schools.

Most importantly of all, we are determined to get money to non-government schools. Shortly before I came into the chamber I stood with Mr Bill Daniels, who is the executive director of the Independent Schools Council of Australia, and with Dr Bill Griffiths, who is the Chief Executive Officer of the National Catholic Education Commission, at a press conference. At that press conference those national representatives of independent and Catholic schools in this country said to the people of Australia, and most particularly to members of this parliament, that they are supportive of the national curriculum process, they are engaged in the national curriculum process—they are part of it and they are on the national curriculum board—and they do not seek the amendment that the Liberal Party supported and that Senator Fielding moved. They are content for the national curriculum to be part of this bill and they called most urgently and strenuously on all members of this parliament—both the House of Representatives and the Senate—to pass this bill with the national curriculum provisions in it and to pass it to give funding certainty to non-government schools.

The shadow minister therefore is not representing in this place the schools this bill is about. The schools this bill is about—the non-government schools who are going to get money—have said loud and clear through their national representatives that they support the national curriculum and that they want this bill passed with the national curriculum clause in it. The shadow minister is not representing them. The schools that will actually benefit from this bill want this bill passed as the government is proposing it. This is very serious. They want this bill passed as the government is proposing it.

The shadow minister has said in support of his arguments—and I say ‘his arguments’ because they are not the arguments (Extension of time granted) of the national independent schools sector or the national Catholic school sector—that people should not be required to sign up to a curriculum that they have not seen. But this is hypocrisy by the Liberal Party—rank hypocrisy of the worst order. When an education funding bill was last before this parliament for schools and the Howard government was in office, and the shadow minister was a member of it, the Liberal Party presented to this place a bill that tied funding to statements of learning that at that stage had not been developed. So the Liberal Party is now seeking to lecture the government about something that it did it itself when in government. This is hypocrisy—nothing more; nothing less.

Finally I want to lay before the House very clearly the consequences of the Liberal Party staying on this erroneous path and defeating or holding up the Schools Assistance Bill. Let us make no mistake about it—what this will mean is that non-government schools will struggle to open next year without the benefit of government funds that they are relying on. The shadow minister for education knows that. He is seeking to avoid the political responsibility for it by muttering that the government must have a contingency plan.

I want to say in this parliament very clearly that there is no contingency plan. To appropriate money for non-government schools requires the passage of this legislation—that is what it is for; it is for the delivery of $28 billion into the hands of non-government schools. If the opposition insist on this course then they must also take political responsibility for its consequences. You cannot act in politics without owning the consequences. Let us be very clear, and everybody in this parliament and members of the public should be very clear about this: the consequence of the opposition sticking to this course and this bill not passing the parliament whilst it sits in 2008 is that non-government schools will struggle to open next year because they will not have the benefit of government funds.

Now, I cannot tell you precisely what is going to happen, Mr Deputy Speaker Slipper, because we have never been in this position before. Maybe some of them will not open at all. Maybe some of them will open underresourced. Maybe some of them will open having stood teachers down because they cannot afford their salaries. I do not know precisely what will happen, but imagine you were a principal of a non-government school and a large percentage of your income—maybe 50, 60 or 70 per cent—was contingent on this bill passing. If it does not pass, how then do you run your school in the opening weeks of the school year next year?

This is not about the kind of politics that the Liberal Party is seeking to play with it. In this parliament, we get up here and, sure, we do the sorts of things that the member for Mayo just did—talking about other members, referring to things about them, seeking to make political advantage, political capital. That does happen in this place; it happens on all sides of this parliament. I acknowledge that. But this is more important than that. This is not the grievance debate, this is not a statement in the Main Committee; this is making a decision about whether or not students in this country who attend non-government schools go to schools next year that have the benefit of $28 billion of resources. The school sector has spoken. They stood alongside me at a press conference: Mr Bill Daniels to one side for independent schools; Mr Bill Griffiths on the other side for Catholic schools. They said they support the national curriculum. They support the national curriculum clause being in this bill, and they are asking this parliament to make sure that this bill passes the House and passes the Senate. On their behalf, I am asking the Liberal Party to do the same thing and to not play destructive politics which would harm non-government schools in this nation. They say they care about the non-government school sector. There is one way to prove it: vote for this bill with the national curriculum in it.