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Tuesday, 2 December 2008
Page: 58


Senator CARR (Minister for Innovation, Industry, Science and Research) (6:10 PM) —I will take this opportunity to sum up and to thank everyone for their contribution to the debate on the Schools Assistance Bill 2008 and the Education Legislation Amendment Bill 2008. These bills provide an estimated $28 billion over four years for schools, beginning on 1 January 2009. They are an essential step forward in the government’s education revolution agenda, combining investment with transparency and accountability. They provide certainty for schools across this country. We should be clear about precisely how many schools we are talking about and how many students. We have 2,728 schools directly affected by this legislation. Enrolments in non-government schools, according to the latest figures I have available, are in excess of 1,148,000 students. They are the people we are talking about here. When we talk about the future and we talk about certainty, we should squarely focus on those people that are directly affected by this legislation.

What we are seeking here is a new era of transparency, of quality, of better resourcing, for both government and non-government schools. In the debate, we heard some mention of resourcing. I think it is important to draw the Senate’s attention to precisely how much money we are talking about. I have mentioned the $28 billion for these two bills over four years from 1 January 2009. But that has to be seen in the context of the overall commitments this government has made to school education, which are now in excess of $58 billion over a five-year period. There has been an increase in resourcing for school education, as part of the education revolution, of some 29 per cent. So we are moving from a situation where, under the old quadrennium, there was some $32 billion to a situation now where, as a result of all the various funding arrangements that have been announced and through various legislative measures, there is a figure of $58 billion over five years.

Senators in this chamber, therefore, will be obliged to make some pretty stark choices. I am sure Senator Mason is only too well aware of this proposition, and I trust he has communicated it to his colleagues. We have some stark choices before us. It is in the power of this chamber to make the decision as to whether or not this $28 billion goes to those students that I mentioned, the 1.148 million students, from 1 January next year. That is a stark choice.

From what I have heard from the debate today, it is quite clear to me that the Liberal Party are opposed to the transparency, opposed to the accountability and opposed to the development of a national curriculum. They have been arguing this position right throughout this year, so the question of timing that has been raised in the debate is of course quite fallacious.

What we have is a situation where the government has sought to see an education revolution, a revolution in transparency and in terms of a quality curriculum, and it is part of our intention to bring more resources to the education of children right throughout this country to lift standards and ensure that we strive for excellence in every school in this country. We have heard from the Liberal Party that their actions in this matter are being taken in the name of the rights of parents. We say that the program that the government is advancing as part of its education revolution is very much about the rights of parents—the right of parents to know what is going on so they can make informed choices about the future of their children’s education. That is precisely what this legislation does. It allows parents to know what is going on in their local school, as is their right.

The Schools Assistance Bill 2008 and the Education Legislation Amendment Bill 2008 are an integral part of the Labor government’s education revolution, and these bills are being introduced in conjunction with the new financial arrangements negotiated between the Commonwealth and the state and territory governments through the Council of Australian Governments. They are a very important part of the funding arrangements to ensure the future of quality education in this country.

Senator Macdonald has raised some questions. He started by saying he had not actually read the legislation. He then went on to say he did not know much about the legislation but he wanted assurance about their operation. It is his right as a senator to do that. We will give him the assurances that he is seeking in the committee stages of this bill.

Senator Xenophon has also raised some issues with the government. The government gives its firm commitment to the non-government sector that they will continue to be included as active and equal partners in the development of a national curriculum and in the process to recognise well-established alternative curriculum frameworks and reporting authorities once it is established in early 2009. The Australian government will ensure the development of this national recognition process is a priority through ACARA and that representatives from the non-government sector will have a seat at the table with the government sector during the development of this recognition phase. The Australian government gives a further commitment that, until such time as ACARA is established, the non-government sector will continue to be included as an equal and active partner in the development and specification of the national curriculum that is being led by the Interim National Curriculum Board. I understand a series of amendments to that effect have been circulated standing in my name.

The interim board has also released its framing papers from each of the learning areas of English, mathematics, the sciences and history—they are available for public comment until 28 February 2009—and it has indicated that it will release its final recommendations on the specifications of the national curriculum in term 1, 2009. The interim board has indicated that it will establish drafting teams drawing across the government and non-government sectors to establish the content and achieve standards for each learning areas. This means that those in the non-government sector will have the opportunity to directly participate in the drafting teams that develop the specifications of the content of the national curriculum. They will have a hands-on role in the development of the curriculum.

The interim board has been very clear in the 10 principles that it set out on page 4 of its scoping paper The shape of the national curriculum: a proposal for discussion.

   i)      The curriculum should allow jurisdictions, systems and schools to implement it in a way that values teachers’ professional knowledge and reflects local contexts.

   j)      The curriculum should be established on a strong evidence base on learning, pedagogy and what works in professional practice and should encourage teachers to experiment systematically with and evaluate their practices.

It goes on to say, in relation to the national curriculum, that:

There will be scope, as there is in state and territory curricula, for teacher professional judgement about what to cover and in what sequence, about how to reflect local and regional circumstances and about how to take advantage of teachers’ special knowledge and teachers’ and students’ interests.

As the Deputy Prime Minister has said before, the national curriculum will not be a straitjacket for schools. It will not specify down to the very last lesson. Clearly, we actually have a higher opinion of teachers and the professional quality that they bring to the task than the opposition does. The system will leave the decisions on how the curriculum is delivered to the judgement of schools and teachers. It will not interfere with the ability of schools to incorporate the content of the national curriculum into their own educational philosophies or their pedagogical approaches. They will be able to continue to offer local curriculum arrangements within the requirements of the national curriculum.

The development of the national curriculum provides an opportunity for the curriculum and the national assessment program to be properly aligned. There is clearly an appetite amongst those in the education community for that alignment. Consideration of aligning the national curriculum with the national assessment program will be a matter for the Ministerial Council on Education, Employment, Training and Youth Affairs. It is possible that the council will seek advice from ACARA on how best to achieve that alignment. The representatives of the non-government sector on ACARA’s board will ensure the non-government sector is well placed to communicate its views on any kind of alignment between the curriculum and the assessment. So, as a matter of and as per the arrangements of all governments, the final national curriculum will be signed off by the Council of Australian Governments after it has been endorsed by the Ministerial Council on Education, Employment, Training and Youth Affairs. ACARA will have responsibility for recommending the national curriculum to MCEETYA. This is an important point because it reminds us of where the driver of the national curriculum has come from. It was back in April 2007 that the states and territories agreed that the Council for the Australian Federation report The future of schooling in Australia was to commit the development of a national curriculum. This commitment to the national curriculum has been reiterated by the states and territories through the national education agreement announced at COAG on 29 November 2008. It was also agreed by MCEETYA through the national declaration on the educational goals for young Australians that will be released in the next week or so.

It has taken us some 30 years to reach this historic agreement—you could hardly say we have rushed into this! It has taken 30 years of discussion, but at last we are there. The interim board has indicated that the review of the national curriculum should be initiated in about 2013 or 2014, to ensure that its content remains relevant to students. This is in keeping with the usual good practice of curriculum renewal cycles operating in the states and territories and internationally. A curriculum does not remain static or fixed in time, no matter how many politicians say that it does. It must grow and must evolve. As such, the Australian government will be strongly supporting such a review of the curriculum.

Let me restate for the record the way in which the non-government sector can be assured about its equal and active participation in the development of the national curriculum. The non-government sector is currently represented by three members of the non-government sector on the interim national curriculum board. This provides an assurance that the non-government sector will have the opportunity to participate as active and equal partners in all—and I emphasise ‘all’—of the process that the interim board uses to development the national curriculum. The non-government sector is specifically represented on the board of the new authority, ACARA. It will be a partner in whatever is developed in relation to curriculum assessment and reporting. As we have already seen, the development of the national curriculum is being conducted in an open and transparent manner. Many members of the non-government sector have already participated in the national and regional forums that the interim board has held across this country to shape its early advice on the national curriculum. This is the kind of open consultation process that we would expect, and of course it will continue.

The Australian government has committed itself to ensuring a strong relationship between the Department of Education, Employment and Workplace Relations and the non-government sector during the development of the national curriculum and the national recognition processes—and you would expect nothing less. This will ensure that the non-government sector knows it can speak openly and frankly to government officials who will work with the non-government sector to ensure that there are processes and protocols in place for ensuring that there is in fact a two-way communication on these issues. This will build on the strong existing relationships that have already been in place between this government and the national peak bodies of the non-government sector. We have heard their testament to that effect throughout the Senate inquiry into the Schools Assistance Bill.

I would like to conclude by saying that this government, unlike the previous government, genuinely recognises and respects the role of the non-government sector as an equal and active partner in the development of the national curriculum. We are committed to working with the non-government sector on the issues. We are committed to listening to the non-government sector on the issues. We committed to ensuring that all young Australians receive the best quality education and have the best equality of opportunity that this country can possibly provide. We are putting forward a total of $58 billion to back up that commitment.


The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT (Senator Parry)—The question is that the Greens amendment on sheet 5681 moved by Senator Milne be agreed to.

Question put.