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Tuesday, 12 March 2013
Page: 1457

Senator MARSHALL (Victoria) (16:04): I rise to speak to this matter of public importance on education reform. I wish that Senator Wright would heed her own advice in this respect and move beyond playing political games, because that contribution by Senator Wright did exactly that: it attacked the government for what it wanted to do and it attacked everybody for wanting to do something and putting in place significant reforms. Somehow, it said that only the Greens political party would be able to do that, yet we have seen no evidence and no demonstration of any serious commitment. I commend Senator Wright personally—I know she is very committed at a personal level to public education in this country—but she ought to come into this place to have a serious debate about these matters and not play the political games which she accuses other people of playing.

Education is the key to innovation and enterprise. It is the foundation of our present prosperity and it is the foundation for our future prosperity as a nation. That is why this government is so committed to education. That is why this government initiated a serious reform and review of the funding process called the Gonski review. It is something this government initiated because we knew that the system in its present form is not delivering the funding to where the education needs of our Australian community are. It is the most comprehensive reform with the most comprehensive set of recommendations that has ever been undertaken in education in this country. It is a difficult process, one that has to be worked through. Senator Wright is not here to hear this, but it has to be worked through with state governments and other stakeholders. There is a lot at stake. The future of the education system in this country is at stake. Those negotiations are happening—they are continuing—and this government is committed to getting an outcome and bringing all participants and all stakeholders with them.

This financial year the Labor government will invest $13.6 billion in our schools. I know it was a little while ago, but compare this with the last year of the Howard government, in which $8.5 billion was spent. This is a significant investment by the Gillard government. It comes on top of record amounts invested in the first four years of the present government—over $65 billion in schools and around $22 billion for early childhood measures by the end of 2015-16.

It is why we are driving reform in respect of the national curriculum. It is why we are driving reform in terms of transparency. It is why we are driving reform to assist those who I think are very professional teachers to become even better equipped for the challenges of classroom teaching in this country. We have in this country a world-class education system but it can be better, and that is why this government has set a goal of being in the top five international education systems in the world. We are confident that we will achieve those goals, given the amount of spending, the amount of reforms, the amount of professional development and the amount of assistance we are going to give our educators in achieving those goals.

We have delivered the most significant education improvements in living memory. They are based on Labor's values of fairness, equality, accountability and transparency. Thanks to this government every Australian student will have access to a great education, no matter where they live or the school that they attend. This is something that has been lacking in this country for too long; we must move to the areas where the need is most. We need to ensure that the low-performing tail in this country—which is too large—is brought up, and close the gap between the lowest-performing students and the highest-performing students. Unfortunately, a lot of that is based on where you live—on your postcode. We want to ensure that every Australian child—regardless of their background, or how privileged their upbringing may have been or how educated their parents may be—has the ability to fulfil their education abilities.

One of the great hallmarks of this government—I think one of the great legacies that will be remembered for generations to come—is the Building the Education Revolution, particularly during the global financial crisis. When it came time for the Australian government to invest back into our economy to support jobs we chose, as one of our watershed expenditures, to support jobs and to support the economy—and only a Labor government would do this—building and rebuilding schools in this country. We invested more than $16 billion across nearly 10,000 primary schools, rebuilding classrooms, building school halls, upgrading facilities, building science labs, and libraries—facilities that had been neglected—and we did that in every primary school across the country and in many secondary schools too. The Catholic education system regularly said to me, when I was involved in the opening of those facilities, that this was a once-in-a generation opportunity for them. The plans that we were able to put in place to build those facilities were things that they would never have been able to do over the next 20 or so years. It will be a long, important and lasting legacy.

But, of course, our reforms have not been simply about building facilities. They have been about assisting teachers to deliver better programs and more targeted programs to get better educational outcomes for our kids. Our parents and school communities now have more information about schools than ever before through the MySchool website. Schools and students are benefitting from the $2.5 billion we are spending in the Smarter Schools National Partnerships, helping to improve literacy and numeracy, to boost teacher quality and to provide extra support to low-SES schools. We have invested an additional $243.9 million in improving literacy and numeracy in a new national partnership to build on the successes of the Improving Literacy and Numeracy National Partnership. We are investing $2.1 billion in the Digital Education Revolution, which has delivered more than 967,000 computers—one for every student in years 9 to 12—tools of the 21st century.

Australia now has the first ever national curriculum from foundation to year 12, starting with English, maths, history and science from foundation to year 10 and $2.5 billion is being invested by this government in trade training centres, giving high school students access to industry-standard training which is helping them to complete school and to get a job.

We have committed an extra $200 million to help students with disabilities to get the best education possible. One thing we do know for sure is that if people with disabilities get a good, adequate and proper education—and that is what they deserve—then their employment prospects and their future prosperity is underpinned by those things. We are investing in that, and we have been investing in it.

We are rolling out the first phase of the Empowering Local Schools initiative to 926 schools across the country, giving principals more local decision-making powers over things like staffing and budgets. We as a government—as a Labor government—are delivering an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Education Action Plan to states, territories and non-government schools. We have invested $128.6 million to help boost school attendance, literacy and numeracy skills, strengthen the education workforce and provide extra resources to schools that are in most need of help. These are the things that the Labor government is doing.

Indigenous students in the Northern Territory will benefit from the $583 million Stronger Futures in the Northern Territory national partnership, which will focus on attracting high-quality teachers to Northern Territory schools, introduce a new Improving School Enrolment and Attendance scheme and provide funding for a School Nutrition Program so that children are getting access to healthy meals.

We are spending more than $706 million over four years investing in the National Partnership on Youth Attainment and Transitions to help more young people stay in school and successfully transition to work or further education. We, as a Labor government, introduced the first ever national certification process for highly accomplished and lead teachers based on the first ever set of nationally agreed professional teaching standards. And while we are on teaching, let me just say that I think Australia has a fine professional and excellent teaching profession in this country. We want to help make that even better and improve the learning outcomes for all our children.