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Wednesday, 3 December 2008
Page: 12370

Mr GEORGANAS (2:54 PM) —My question is to the Minister for Education, Minister for Employment and Workplace Relations and Minister for Social Inclusion. Will the Deputy Prime Minister update the House on the delivery of the government’s education reforms, including the development of the national curriculum and the Schools Assistance Bill?

Ms GILLARD (Minister for Education, Minister for Employment and Workplace Relations and Minister for Social Inclusion) —I thank the member for Hindmarsh for his question and know that he is deeply concerned for all the schools in his electorate, both government and non-government. This government gave the Australian people three very important commitments in education. We said to the non-government schools around the country that, if elected, we would deliver funds to them on the SES formula and with the indexation arrangements applying at the time. We have a bill before the Senate, the Schools Assistance Bill, which does just that: $28 billion of resources for the next four years. That bill also delivers on our election commitment for transparency: transparency measures are in the bill for non-government schools, and identical transparency measures have been agreed to for government schools at the recent Council of Australian Governments meeting. Thirdly, that bill delivers on this government’s commitment to the Australian people to deliver a national curriculum. The bill is currently being held up because the Liberal Party is opposing that section of the bill which delivers the national curriculum.

Mr Pyne interjecting

The SPEAKER —Order! The member for Sturt!

Ms GILLARD —In doing so, of course, the Liberal Party has embarked on a course which means that non-government schools around this country could open in January and February next year without the benefit of government resources. I am sure all members in this House can imagine what chaos and what pressure that will bring non-government schools—on the principals, on the teachers, on the parents and, indeed, on the students themselves—given that for many of these non-government schools government funds are 40, 50, 60 or 70 per cent of the funds that they use.

Mr Pyne interjecting

The SPEAKER —The member for Sturt will stop interjecting! That was not an invitation.

Ms GILLARD —Earlier today I conducted a media conference accompanied by Mr Bill Daniels, who is the head of the association of independent schools, the national voice of independent schools in this country. I was also accompanied at the media conference by Mr Bill Griffiths, who is from the National Catholic Education Office of this country, the national voice for Catholic schools. Both Mr Bill Daniels and Mr Bill Griffiths said at that media conference to this parliament and to the Australian people that they support the national curriculum, they do not seek the deletion of the clause dealing with the national curriculum in the Schools Assistance Bill and they ask this parliament to pass the bill. I thank Bill Griffiths and Bill Daniels for appearing at that media event. I also thank them for facilitating me sending, as this parliament sits, a letter to every non-government school in the country, and that will be received by email in the next few hours. That letter from me to the non-government schools communities around the country says in part:

The Independent Schools Council of Australia and the National Catholic Education Commission have supported the bill. Unfortunately, the Senate has not passed the bill. In these circumstances the government will continue to urge the Senate to pass the bill. We will continue to do everything we can to give funding certainty and consistent accountability to non-government schools for the year ahead.

I table that letter. It may assist members of parliament, particularly members of the Liberal Party, who get phone calls from non-government schools today asking them why it is that they are holding up funding to non-government schools.

Mr Pyne —Mr Speaker, I raise a point of order on relevance. The minister could pass the money to the schools right now if she wished to.

The SPEAKER —That is not a point of order on relevance.

Mr Pyne —We passed that aspect of the bill and she knows it.

The SPEAKER —The member for Sturt will resume his seat, and the member is warned!

Ms GILLARD —The shadow minister, in holding up funding to schools, does so in defiance of the nationally expressed view of the non-government representatives, both independent and Catholic. The shadow minister then says, though he acts in defiance of those representatives, that he is reflecting the concerns of schools like Montessori schools about the national curriculum. I have received a press release from Montessori Australia entitled ‘The Montessori community supports passage of schools assistance bill’, and it quotes spokesperson Christine Harrison:

The Montessori community appreciates the need for robust debate, but what is really important to our parents, schools and the students we educate across the country is certainty of funding as the school year finishes.

Ms Harrison goes on:

We support the introduction of a national curriculum—

that is the Montessori schools speaking—

and see this as an opportunity to continue to work with the Government to allow endorsement of the internationally recognised Montessori curriculum and really only want to see the Bill passed.

She goes on:

We are confident that Montessori schools will be able to offer the Montessori curriculum under the framework of the new national curriculum.

The shadow minister for education in this matter represents no-one. The non-government schools of this nation are calling on the Liberal Party to pass the bill, including the national curriculum. This is now a matter that has gone beyond the shadow minister for education and needs to be dealt with by the Leader of the Opposition. This is a serious matter about the delivery of $28 billion of funds to non-government schools. Non-government schools around the nation are asking the Liberal Party to pass the bill. They support the national curriculum. The Leader of the Opposition must act. If non-government schools do not get these funds because of Liberal obstruction and non-government schools cannot open at the end of January next year, if they are standing down teachers, if they are turning students away and if there is educational chaos, then that will be on the head of the Leader of the Liberal Party and the Liberal Party generally. It seems remarkable to me that the Liberal Party in this country today cannot see its way clear to support funding for non-government schools.