Wednesday, 21 June 2017
Australian Education Amendment Bill 2017; In Committee
I am pleased that we have been able to commence with the minister with us now, so that I can get directly to some very important points. I do not have the precise time, but very, very recently the government tabled some amendments. My first question to the minister will be: is this it? Are these all the amendments that are due to appear, or is there a further sheet of amendments that is yet to arrive? The reason that I ask that question is that there has been so much speculation about what this debate may involve, and so little real information. There was even the question I asked earlier to the minister after question time about the order of production of documents. That was due, eventually, to be tabled, but that regular process was interrupted by the lengthy debate around the hours motion as we dealt with our concerns about the fact that we were being asked to establish hours to deal with this debate, without even an understanding of what the matter was before us. I have raised this same point with senators who have been involved in some discussions with the government . I will be very specific, because I know the minister needs us to be very specific on these issues. So far we have circulated for the government GX158, GX160 and GX167.
Obviously, we have had very little time to analyse those, but, on a very cursory analysis, they certainly do not seem to be the full monty. There are many other issues, including faster transition arrangements for government schools to reach better funding levels—although still, quite probably, not anywhere near the student resource standard, because there is no capacity to commit states in this process—but the full monty I am referring to here is this supposed moratorium that has been canvassed. What is unclear is what that moratorium actually relates to. Figures were circulated in the press overnight, and this seems to be the government's preferred mode of operating: 'Let's leak stories into the press rather than provide the public or the parliament with adequate information to assess a matter.' Overnight we saw stories, and the first one suggested, if I recall correctly, a one-year accommodation that was worth $62 million. Then today there was another story circulating, talking about an accommodation that was worth $50 million. So the crux of the matter, minister, is: what is the real deal? I am hoping that, rather than at midnight tonight or midnight tomorrow night, we might actually get to a stage of understanding what is in this bill.
So, what is the real deal and, of course, what is a special deal? That is a particular question that I would like the minister to answer, because, for even longer than the last seven weeks—if you go back to the lead-up of his campaign, going to his two case studies before the ministerial council—he has been telling us that he was going to have a consistent standard across Australia: his pure, one-size-fits-all model. That is what was going to be going forward, and then any other arrangements that might have been put in place under Gonski 1 involved special or, as I have quoted before—the former minister, Christopher Pyne—special dirty deals.
Well, now the government is back-pedalling, it seems. Maybe some of my colleagues on the other side, such as Senator Back, have been able to convince the government that they were never special deals. But special deals is what the minister has told us consistently. It is what he told us through estimates. It is what he has told us in answers to questions in this place time and time again. And it seems, according to the media that has been circulating—because that is all we really have to operate by—that what he previously couched as special deals are no longer special deals.
Now, I do not take credit myself. I know we have been pointing out to the government for some time now why certain matters were structured in certain ways, why there was a need for a review of the SES model and how indeed it was Mr Gonski's review that recommended that it should occur somewhat urgently. And time and time again the minister has argued otherwise. Indeed, we even had to have a correction from the department, because they tied themselves in knots trying to defend this minister on the fraudulent claims that were being made about the SES measure. So, the department tried to argue in the committee inquiry into this bill that indeed the SES measure had been adjusted and revised. That reflected earlier public comments that the minister had made in the media—or at least that he was reported as having made; maybe it was a spokesman. But at that point in time the government was arguing that it had been revised. And we know that was false. We know that the department needed to make a correction and that whilst they did not ultimately admit the consequence of that correction, the consequence was that the minister's claims were wrong; the SES measure had not been adjusted in the way that was claimed. It had never been taken down to the mesh blocks that had been suggested in the Gonski review, and that work still was urgently required.
Of course we have also heard the minister claiming that the Gonski review did not recommend that, until such time as that urgent review of the SES model occurred, systems should still be assessed as systems and a system weighted average calculation should continue to apply. No: instead, what this minister did in this bill was remove that arrangement, call it a special deal—even though it was an arrangement recommended very clearly in the Gonski review—and then, secondly, make further changes to the capacity to contribute arrangements for non-government primary schools. And remember, this is not a special deal for Catholics here; this was an arrangements for all school systems.
That is why in the committee inquiry—glossed over in the government's report—there were Lutherans, Anglicans and a range of other school systems saying that the impact of these changes was going to damage them as well. So while the minister is standing up there saying that there is growth for—as an example—independent schools, the 4.7 per cent over 10 years, what that glosses over is that there are school systems within even independent schools that were losing out over these changes. What is even worse is that this minister had in place a 10-year transition, he would have you believe. The capacity to contribute changes and the system weighted average changes were going to impact in full in 2018—in full, no transition, no accommodation. We have been told by the systems that have been asking this question—contrary to the non-answer that I got in the legislation inquiry—that systems have been told they would have no access to the adjustment funds. Perhaps that is the second question that the minister could clarify. Will systems have access to the transition adjustment funds, or is it designed specifically for another special group? But, of course, we do not have special groups, or so the minister would have us believe, now that he has done yet another backflip on how he is proceeding here.
So the next question that I would have related to that one is: what will happen, if, indeed, we do eventually see amendments—or maybe they are in front of me and I have not been able to digest them properly yet—that do adjust the system weighted average arrangements and that do deal with the capacity to contribute measure? If we do revert back to the full existing model arrangements, as some media commentary has suggested—and maybe for the purposes of these discussions I will call that the 'full Monty moratorium'—if we do get a full Monty moratorium, what will happen to systems such as the Anglican system? I cannot recall which state, but there is one system that has been seeking the minister to acknowledge them as a system. I have been told they have been waiting for 12 months. So, Senator Back, here is an interesting example of a case at point. We have a system that had an application before the minister to be recognised as a system, like their brothers and sisters in other states, and the minister refused to act upon it. He can correct me if my information is not accurate, but where does that system sit now? Are they inside or outside? Is it the full Monty moratorium, or is it something less? If it is something less, then what is the impact of not fully preserving the arrangements that Gonski recommended should be put in place? That is one question.
The next question is, as I have said: what about schools that are wanting to operate as systems? There are actually some educational benefits for encouraging and facilitating schools to operate as systems, not only issues like economy of scale but also issues like improving pedagogy and a range of other factors that we know work better. Indeed, that is why the Grattan Institute has been telling us for decades that there are very good things about how low-fee Catholic systemic schools operate. They produce very good outcomes, and that is why I am pleased that Senator Back has been fighting to preserve their capacity to continue to operate in that fashion. Why on earth, under a claim of 'We're going to improve Australian education for Australian school children', would we attack or compromise what we know works?
I will be listening intently to the minister when he is able to answer: do we have the full Monty moratorium? Does it include both the system weighted average arrangements that currently exist? And does it remove from this bill the capacity to contribute changes that we know are going to be so damaging to parish Catholic primary schools, amongst others? There are Lutheran schools and Anglican schools. They have all told us the same thing. So when the minister has a chance to answer that and direct me to the precise provisions in the amendments that have only just been circulated, I will be very pleased to see those.
Before I go into a range of other matters, I will return to how proposed changes might impact on government schools, because that is probably the most fundamental principle here—the funds that will not flow to Australian public schools and that will not ensure that Australian public schools get anywhere near the government's student resource standard.
The point that I have been making consistently over the last day or so is the point that the shadow minister has been making in the House as well. This is what is missed by most of the commentators that say, 'Oh, but there is more money here.' It is the proportion of that money that goes to public schools that is the issue here. That is the fundamental issue about why Gonski 2 is not a real Gonski. We have ended up with a situation under Gonski 2—it may be adjusted, and that is a further question for the minister—where only 50 per cent of the additional money goes to public schools, whereas under Gonski 1 80 per cent of it did. Indeed, we have a settlement across all sectors about that. (Time expired)
I am happy to inform Senator Collins that the government amendments circulated are the only intended government amendments to the bill. I am happy to advise her that adjustment funds where they meet conditions are available to all relevant approved authorities. Indeed, there is an example here in the ACT Catholic system where some adjustment funding has been provided for.
I would like to table the supplementary explanatory memorandum relating to the government amendments to be moved to this bill. I seek leave to move amendments (1) and (3) to (7) and request (2) on sheet GX167 together.
Leave not granted.
Chair, take my previous remarks as a comment. I will let Senator Collins respond. If Senator Collins is going to be obstinate enough to insist that we go through each single amendment, then go through each single amendment the Senate will. If leave was denied purely because there is a clustering that Senator Collins wishes to be undertaken instead of the clustering that I proposed then I am of course happy to hear a reasonable argument on that front and to move such clusters.
The minister sought leave to move a certain number of amendments together. No, Minister, I am not being deliberately obstinate at this point in time, but I have just, as an example, asked you a range of questions. You have not responded to any of those; you have just sought to dive into amendments that have only just been circulated. I have already made the point that they have not yet been able to be digested. I asked you in my questions if you could please take me to the amendments that deal with some particular issues as part of the opening stage of this committee stage and you have not done so. So why on earth, if you cannot even conduct a regular committee stage debate where we deal with general matters first, would I be standing here agreeing to particular clusters?
There are two things that need to be dealt with before the opposition will reach an understanding of what clusters we are prepared to proceed with. One of those is that we have had time to digest your amendments. The second one, of course, is that we have a coherent running sheet that reflects those amendments. Until such time as that is before us—it is not obstinacy, Minister. You might have had these amendments in front of you, potentially, for 12 months, if I consider the question I asked you about Anglican systems. You might have known what your agenda is for 12 months, but this parliament, this Senate, has only just been provided with these amendments. Indeed, I think Senator Hanson-Young was still looking for the amendments. So, no; we will not, at this point in time, be discussing the order in which we will proceed through amendments, not until we have had an opportunity to digest them and not until we have a coherent running sheet that reflects them. You do not even know what a running sheet is, do you?—by the look on your face.
Yes, a revised running sheet was provided at 7.24 pm, Senator Collins, while we were both here in the chamber. The earlier running sheet also happened to have the government amendments on it. In fact, if you care to take a look, the only amendments added between running sheet No. 1 and revised running sheet No. 2 are actually the opposition amendments.
Chair, in order with the precedents of the Senate and the usual conduct a business in the Senate, I seek leave to move amendments (1) and (3) to (7) on sheet GX167 together. The usual order of the Senate is that we work our way through the running sheets as presented in that way.
Leave not granted.
I will explain again for the minister. He circulated a running sheet whilst I was on my feet. Frankly, it is impossible, Minister, to digest anything while you are on your feet, making a contribution in the chamber. You might not understand that, but I think the public at large would have a pretty sensible idea that that is the case. So that is one point.
The second point is we have not long had your amendments, and I think everyone in this chamber, including Senator Back, is still trying to digest what is there. You have not answered my question yet about whether there are any more whether this is it.
Senator Birmingham interjecting—
This is it, is it? Okay.
Senator Birmingham interjecting—
No, I did not hear you say that, Minister. But, again, given that all of us started the day and meetings at around eight o'clock this morning and we are now in here approaching eight o'clock at night, I am not surprised that I did not comprehend part of what you might have put. That does not override the critical issue here, which is that we will have a general discussion about this bill and about the amendments that will hopefully allow us some time to digest what has very, very recently been circulated.
The minister, at the start of this committee stage contribution, got up and gave a general presentation about his views of the world and how he regretted that he did not have the opportunity in the second reading debate to close the debate. Well, that was your own colleague who did that, Senator Birmingham, and there were indeed other senators who would have taken the opportunity to make a second reading contribution. And I think, by virtue of senator Cormann's conduct, you will find that those same senators have some issues that they want to address in this committee-stage consideration. So I would not anticipate that you will be getting to dealing with amendments in detail for a little while yet.
You were denied the opportunity to make a contribution, as were a number of other senators. You brought on this debate in a way that you had not given the Senate notice of. You commenced this bill as the first bill this morning rather than as it has had been advertised, as the second for the day. Other senators had commitments. Indeed, if I recall correctly, Senator McKenzie did not get here to speak at the allocated time on the running sheet. She did not get here, because she had another commitment. Well, indeed, several of my colleagues did as well.
So, you will need to understand that we will not be moving from the general discussion in the committee stage phase until we are ready. When we are ready—it is not obstinacy, but when we are ready—I will be able to give you an understanding of what clusters we are happy to proceed with, and we will move through this committee stage consideration in an orderly manner. But we are not going to be rushed. We are not going to be hoodwinked. We are not going to be presented with more fantasy figures that you cannot justify. We will hold this government to account, and we will challenge you when you are trying to pull the wool over any particular senator's eyes. We will ensure that your moratorium is exposed if it is not the full monty. We will ensure that the other arrangements of your agreements stand up to scrutiny. You can go behind closed doors. You can fail to provide the information that you should, consistently, time and time again. You can hoodwink the crossbench into agreeing to an inadequate legislation inquiry that is rushed when it does not need to be, that is pushed through this Senate in a fashion that should not occur. You can—sometimes—get away with those things. But at the end of the day you need to come into this chamber and face the opposition.
So no, we will not be rushed. Yes, we will look closely at these amendments that you have only just circulated. We will match them against the selective leaking of stories in the media that has occurred over the last couple of days. We will challenge those senators who believe they have a particular deal, that the deal actually does stand up to scrutiny. And I am sure the Greens will do the same. They know what this government has been offering in their discussions better than we do, and I am sure they will be taking some considerable time to ensure that what we are dealing with here are the facts. So no, Senator Birmingham. We will not be moving to a discussion about the detail of your first amendment until all of those other issues have been addressed and indeed until we have more adequate answers to the general questions that I have already asked and that I am sure many of my colleagues will want to ask, too.
I do not think I could articulate the arguments from our side any better than Senator Collins, but I do have some questions, because I have been inundated with calls and emails from concerned parents and teachers around Tasmania and around the country. And they are not just from Catholic schools, as was asserted earlier today when I was making a contribution, but also from the state school system and from the Anglican schools. People are very concerned, because so many mixed messages have been sent out by this government. But we do know—there is one thing that is very clear, as far as we know, standing here right now—that this government plans to take away $22 billion from Australian children.
But I do think it is important to actually try to gather some information, because during question time today the minister was saying things about those on this side who were asking questions—that it is why we need to put more emphasis on education, because we on this side cannot add up. Well, quite frankly, it is not us that are having the problem with the figures; it is this government and this minister. We have already established, through question time today, that Lauriston Girls' School in Melbourne, which has fees for its primary school of up to $27,000, is now set to get seven times the funding increase of other primary schools. One in particular that was mentioned today was Anula Primary School in Darwin. I ask the minister: how is that fair?
I also want to talk about some schools that I visited in Tasmania, and I will get to that in a moment. But first I want to ask you, Minister, because you were very diligent in avoiding answering the question when it was raised by Senator Brown, about the cut in funding for children with disabilities who get assistance through our Tasmanian education system: how can a cut not be a cut? Also, can you provide the figure for the funding they currently receive and the funding they will receive through this bill, if it gets passed.
If it gets passed it will be because of the dirty deals you have done with those people on the crossbenches. You have done a deal with Senator Hanson, who made outrageous comments in relation to children with disabilities in our state primary and high schools throughout this country. Senator Hanson is the senator from Queensland who will never stand up for a school like the Holy Spirit Catholic School in Townsville, which does a fantastic job. Yet, you, as the education minister, are sidling up to Pauline Hanson and her party to get your dirty deal through at the cost of children with disabilities in this country, despite her outrageous comments. I find that grossly offensive. I think you will find, if you look in the media—if you go on any social media site—that your reputation has been greatly tarnished by that issue alone.
What is the impact on Tasmanian schools as a whole? How many children are going to be impacted by these savage cuts? Can you explain to the Senate what this government's modelling is based on, so that I can go back to my constituents and try to explain to them. How many classrooms are going to lose valuable resources? Can you tell me, if we break it down into Catholic schools in Tasmania, what the actual cut to the Catholic schools will be, because I want to know whether or not their figures match up with yours.
We know that you have not even been able to provide accurate data to your own caucus, and that you are telling some members of your caucus one thing and something quite different to others. Who knows what you have been telling the crossbenchers in trying to get their support for your grubby deal! How do Tasmanian schools fair in comparison with the King's School in Sydney? The King's School is a private school, which from the figures we have seen is going to have their funding increased dramatically. I want you to be able to explain to me why Tasmanian children are going to have to pay the price so that you can look after your friends in the top end of town.
I also want to look at some specific schools that I have visited. I know about the great work that they are doing at some of the most disadvantaged schools in our community. Can you please tell me what the impact on the Youngtown Primary School will be. That school does wonderful things. I am not sure if Senator Bushby, who is here, has even bothered to visit any schools in Launceston. I know he is supposedly moving his office to Launceston, but we have not heard him make any contribution at all in this debate. So I want you to explain to me, so that Senator Bushby can understand, what the impact is going to be on the Youngtown Primary School.
Mayfield Primary School has been recognised nationally over the years for the wonderful work that they have done in an area of great disadvantage. Their teachers have been acknowledged at a national level. They believe this change is going to have a huge impact on their ability to look after their community. Can you explain to me how much extra money they are going to get? Then there is Port Dalrymple School down in George Town. Can you explain to me if their funding is going to increase, and, if so, by how much, or why those children, who are from families who need all the support they can get to ensure their children have a good education, are going to be disadvantaged and their teachers lose money and resources?
The Friends' School in Hobart—that's right, it is one of your favourite ones; it is a private school—are going to significantly increase their money. Can you please explain to me and justify why The Friends' School will get more money? I do not have a problem with private schools at all; it should be about choice. Many families do make a choice to invest in their children's education. It is just very unfortunate that this government sees education as a cost rather than an investment. Minister, can you explain to the chamber why The Friends' School in Hobart, a well-funded private school that provides a good education, gets an increase when Norwood Primary School, Sacred Heart Primary School, West Launceston Primary School, Mayfield Primary School, Youngtown Primary School and East Launceston Primary School are going to lose out in this education bill?
I was wondering too if you can tell me what the impact will be on the Launceston Preparatory School, a small private school in Launceston that does an absolutely wonderful job for its students. Can you explain it to me and give us the figures? After all, Minister, you are the one who was saying that we in the opposition have not been able to add up. I think you said 'we should all go back to school' or something; I do not want to verbal you, but you made some trite comment. I would be most interested in the figures. I just do not get it. You have met with various sections within the education sector and they have asked you to go back to the drawing board and ensure that there is real fairness in this bill. We on this side have urged you to withdraw and redraft the bill so that it can get support. But you have failed to do that. You are hell-bent on moving forward—and who knows what dirty deals you have done. Perhaps you can now let us know.
I have not had the opportunity to see the amendments that are being proposed, but I am really interested. I know that my constituency of Tasmania wants to know—whether it is the public schools, the Anglican schools or the Catholic schools—what is fair in this bill that is going to ensure that Tasmanian schools are not going to be worse off. We know Tasmania has the second-lowest amount of funding in the country. At the same time, Senator Bushby, Senator Duniam and the President, Senator Parry, are not saying anything about the impact of this bill and the cuts to Tasmania. The only senator on the government side who has raised concerns is Senator Abetz. Unfortunately, for personal reasons, he cannot be here this week. But he has spoken up. Not one of the others has spoken up. Is this punishment for the Tasmanian community because they voted the incompetent Liberal House of Representatives members for Bass, Lyons and Braddon out of parliament? Is this another attempt by Mr Turnbull and this government to punish Tasmania? That is what it seems like to me. And it is not just me who thinks that way. The Tasmanian community are fed up with this government. Ever since 2 July, when they got rid of those three amigos out of Tasmania—mind you, they have all landed plum jobs provided by this government—they have known; and this piece of legislation is just another move by this government to show how arrogant you are, how out of touch you are and that you just do not understand the word 'fairness'.
Minister, I am looking forward to your explanation so that I can go to my community and try and explain to them the dirty deals you have done. Perhaps you could enlighten us—I think you have the obligation to do that in this place—of the deals you have done and put in place with people like the Pauline Hanson party. We would like to know what it is that you have promised them. Have you got something in writing for them? Is Senator Back going to ride off into retirement and be happy? Have you actually done a deal for the Catholic Education Commission in this country? We want to know, and we have a right to know. From what I have been hearing around this building over the last couple of days, there are all sorts of rumours going around. What have you done to make sure that people like Mr Abbott do not undermine the Prime Minister yet again in the media. If I were him, I would use this, because he knows, like I know, that the parents of Australian kids, whether those kids are in a state school, a private school or a Catholic school, are not going to forget the way they have been treated. You have taken them for granted.
What is it when the Catholic Education Commission meets with the Prime Minister and the Minister for Education and Training? What a badge of honour that would be: to say that you are the worst minister for education in five decades and a Prime Minister who has failed to consult with his minister, the one charged with this responsibility. This is a huge investment from any government into education and the government has failed to consult and talk to those people who deliver more than just education in their communities. As I have said before in this place, Catholic parishes set up schools where they are needed to provide not only education but also support for the entire family. This government is so arrogant—and who knows what else is going on in the civil war in the dysfunctional government that this is.
Minister, I will draw you back to the schools that I would like some answers about tonight—that is, the Tasmanian schools and the overall lack of funding that is in this bill for them. They are not going to be any better off. Some of that money will never reach the schools which you have alluded to over the course of this week. I would like you tell us what the impact is going to be on Tasmanian schools, broken down into public schools, Catholic, schools, Anglican schools and those private schools I have mentioned. I, along with many people who will be listening to this broadcast, will be very interested to see how you try and justify the sort of dirty deal that you have obviously done during the course of the last 48 hours.
I am happy to inform the senator that, in relation to the Tasmanian school systems, funding for the government system in Tasmania is estimated to be $183 million in 2017. That will steadily grow under the proposal put forward by the government each and every year to $261 million by 2027. That, of course, is funding that would be used to fund a number of the schools that you referenced in your remarks.
In relation to the Catholic education system in Tasmania, their forecast funding in 2017 is $149 million. That is estimated to grow to $226 million by 2027. In relation to independent schools or independent school systems within Tasmania, under the government's proposal they are forecast to receive $76 million in 2017 and that is forecast and estimated to steadily grow to $107 million by 2027. All of them by 2027, under the legislation for the bill before the parliament, would have their share of funding calculated according to the same consistent needs based formula as any other either government school system in the country or non-government school authority in the country. It will be applied in an entirely consistent manner.
If we are not going to proceed in an orderly way, as is the normal custom of the committee, and instead we are going to be subjected to stalling tactics and filibustering speeches, then I shall—
Senator Polley interjecting—
I did just answer the questions. I move request (2) on sheet GX167:
This is a technical request that ensures that there is no ambiguity in relation to the calculation of the starting Commonwealth share for schools and that the amounts of funding, both in base terms and in loading terms, accurately and clear reflect the notional application of the needs based funding model in 2018 and in 2017 dollar terms to provide for accurate funding.
I would draw the minister back to the question. If you are talking about a collective of the funding going to Tasmania, I clearly asked you to explain to the Senate, so I can explain to my constituents, why they are getting cuts. They are not getting the resources that they want, as opposed to somewhere like Kings College. Why is there more money going to the Friends' School in Hobart than what there is for the schools that are highly in need of these resources? In fact, they need additional money in places like Mayfield, Youngtown and Norwood Primary School. Why can't you provide those figures for us here tonight? If you are really serious about wanting to have support, you should be able to come in here and justify the allocation of funds that are being taken away from Tasmanian kids to give to the top end of town.
Chair, I just provided very clearly for the senator the growth rates in estimated funding for each of the different systems in Tasmania, demonstrating, that contrary to her claims, there are no cuts. There is in fact growth across each of those different parts of the school system in Tasmania. Of course, the senator knows full well that the history in relation to school funding in Australia is that public schools are largely funded by the state government, as is their constitutional responsibility and history; and that non-government schools have historically be largely funded by the Commonwealth government.
A result of the proposals that the Turnbull government is putting in place is that public education, government schools in the state system, will receive a record level of support from the Commonwealth government. We will ensure that 20 per cent of the schooling costs across all of those different systems will be funded by the Commonwealth government. That is an increase from the current estimate of around 17 per cent. You do not have to go back too many years to get down to 13 per cent—in fact just around the time that this government was elected—and not too many years prior to that you will find that it was in single digit territory. So there will be record levels of support for government schools in Tasmania, as there will be record levels of support for government schools across every jurisdiction. It will be calculated according to the same consistent needs based formula across all of those different jurisdictions, ensuring that, regardless of state boundaries, we do not play favourites to one state over another and that we actually have an application of a fair, consistent funding model.
Minister, there are a number of questions that have already been raised by my colleagues on this side of the chamber with regard to the special deals that you said you were not going to make that you are going to make, and the deals that you said were not happening that are happening. We still do not have any clear answer from you in response to the first set of questions that were asked by Senator Collins. They went to the heart of matters of great concern in the community, which is to do with the system weighted average. Minister, I am sure that you have had significant lobbying from genuinely concerned parents across the country in every single sector. In fact, one thing I would count as an achievement is that you have managed to upset everybody in the government school system, everybody in the Catholic school system and a whole lot of people in the independent school system as well. One of the things that you have failed to answer is anything of detail that will give people any confidence at all that you might be telling them something approaching the truth.
The questions that Senator Collins asked earlier I will reiterate in perhaps a less eloquent way. I have to emphasise the importance of the need for you to answer these questions in this general debate before we can possibly move to a more detailed discussion of the very important papers that have landed here in the Senate this evening but have not landed until the twelfth hour, so much is your disdain for making yourself available for the proper scrutiny of this Senate. I think you are even more concerned about getting out of here with this bill under your belt, because you do not want the scrutiny of the community at all, particularly those who are educated.
Minister, I draw your attention to Senator Collin's questions for very clear explanations about the nature of the so-called moratorium that is some part of a stitched up deal that I do not think is anywhere in writing because nobody has been to be able provide it. There have been plenty of requests being sent around the country—all over the place: what is going on? What is the moratorium? What does it look like? People are asking these questions around the country this afternoon and tonight, and this is our chance to get a decent answer from you. Minister, if you have a bit of information on a bit of paper, that would be lovely. We are happy to receive pieces of paper at the last minute, clearly, or we would not be dealing with this process in this way. Just give us the bit of paper that explains your supposed deal that is the moratorium. What we want to know is, in this moratorium, what are you actually doing with the system weighted average that is going to impact on every single school in a system? What is the status of your response to the concerns about the capacity to contribute? When and in what way are you going to implement this moratorium around those two critical factors? Does the moratorium remove the capacity to contribute the dilemma that absolutely exists? It has been very well articulated by the Catholic system.
We could have avoided getting to this place, if, before you had made your big announcement with the fanfare on that Monday, you had actually taken phone calls from peak representative groups that wanted to discuss these details with you. They approached in good faith. I do not know what would make them think that that was a reasonable thing to do, but they did approach you in good faith, seeking the opportunity to share their deep, rich and long understanding of their system, to share their deep commitment to the education of children in systems. They wanted to have you understand that, and they were ready to talk to you. But you completely ignored that, Minister. Now there is this hasty retreat of some sort that is as yet unknown to us and that is being attempted to be stitched up perhaps as we speak.
I am going to give Senator Back some congratulations on his efforts to stand up for the Catholic system. Because I did not make a contribution during the valedictory speeches yesterday, I want to acknowledge now that the time I spent on the education committee in the last parliament with Senator Back was a time when I absolutely could understand his commitment to education. He was in defence mode for the Abbott government, which said that there should be absolutely no money going to schools. So he had a difficult job to do. But when we went to Western Australia and to Perth for a day of hearings, I could tell the integrity that he had in his dealings with people in that state. People who came to put their concerns about that version of the legislation said that Senator Back had served particularly Catholic education in Western Australia very, very well and that he had a deep and rich understanding of that sector. So my hopes and the hopes of 25 per cent of the children who attend schools around this country in the Catholic education system—25 per cent in the nation—all hang on whether or not Senator Back has in his departure from the Senate been able to save the country from the worst excesses of a deal that has been described as the worst in 50 years.
So what has Senator Back actually got out of this greedy government—this government that acts with such disdain—for the expertise of education authorities around this country? What did he get out in terms of the funds and the impact on the SRS? What has actually been achieved with regard to that?
I am delighted that I get to ask one particular question, and I genuinely hope for an answer. Instead of accepting Gonski's recommendations that the sectarian wars that have led to so much inequity across our schools should end, that both state and federal governments should in partnership take responsibility for the excellent education of all students in all systems, instead of looking towards that vision of a fair sharing of resources between state and federal governments to make sure all Australians get their opportunity to learn, this government has gone in a direction that takes us away from unity, it has gone in a direction that takes us away from shared responsibility and it has taken us away from a focus on ensuring equal opportunity for children who are born into different states and into families who are choosing different systems. So why, Minister, instead of accepting that shared responsibility, which was so much a part of the report delivered by David Gonski, have you moved to an arbitrary decision to give SRS support of 80 per cent to Catholic and independent schools and only 20 per cent to children in government schools?
One thing that I absolutely know and I think is completely indisputable is that children do not choose their parents. They arrive, and they do not have any choice about where their parents are going to send them to school. I do not think it is unreasonable to believe that every child born in Australia today should be able in six years time to walk through the gate of any school in the country, whether it is Catholic, independent or government, or city regional, rural or remote—anywhere in the country. We have had the opportunity to deliver funding that would have allowed equitable experience of education, but instead, Minister, you have chosen this 80-20 model.
Where is the research? Where is the background documentation that says that that is the way to go forward? It is certainly nowhere in the recommendations of the Gonski panel. We can call it Gonski 1.0, 2.0, 3.0, 4.0 or 5.0, and with greater numeracy education I suppose we can go on to infinity; we can call it whatever number we like—but it is not truthful, it is not fair and it is not responsible for delivering equitable education access for every Australian. For people who are listening to this debate and going. 'Oh, my God, it is just so confusing', it is confusing, as Senator Collins says—it is very confusing. It is actually so confusing that I think Stephen Elder, from the Catholic Education Commission in Victoria, has had members of the coalition ring him up asking him to explain to them what is going on.
This government have made an absolute mishmash of this. Gonski 2.0 is not what they are trying to make it out to be. It is a tool for delivering sector-entrenching discriminatory education experiences for Australian children. I am a senator for New South Wales and I am very concerned about my state—and I will have some questions about that—but Minister tell me I am wrong, prove to me I am wrong, when I say that students in the Northern Territory in government schools who are already behind are going to stay behind. They going to stay behind because you are not addressing the reality that that government school system needs an awful lot more than the 20 per cent of the SRS that you are going to offer to give those children a chance. Minister, explain to me and all the teachers of this country, explain to me and all the parents of children in this country, how it is fair to give the same proportion to states and overlook the fact that there are incredibly differentiating needs amongst those children in the states.
Australians who elected those opposite in 2013 were sold a message that there would be a funding match dollar for dollar. They were misled then. And the lie that was on those blue-and-white-striped posters that everybody saw as they walked in was so disingenuous that it did not even have a little asterisk at the bottom that said, 'But we won't be giving you years 5 and 6.' It did not even say that. So at this juncture, four years down the track, why should the Australian people trust you now, when you failed so badly then? Why should senators on this side, who absolutely believe in equitable access to funding for all children in all systems, believe that the legislation that you are pushing through this house with unseemly haste is actually going to address any of those inequities that were in fact the driver of the research that was undertaken by Mr David Gonski and his team?
Prove it to me, Minister. Show me the figures. Help me understand. Answer the questions. Where did 80-20 come from? What is the deal that you have done—hopefully, well negotiated by Senator Back but still unseen by anybody in the sector that I have been in touch with? Show us the paper. Show us the money! Show the 25 per cent of Australian students in Catholic schools that they are not going to get done over in the next 12 months by this little deal that you have stitched up in the last day.
The reason we ended up with the report that we got from Mr Gonski, and the recommendation that he and his team put together—which was fair funding for every child in every single school, with additional loadings on top of that SRS evening out for disability, for indigeneity, for small and country schools, for low SES and non-English-speaking backgrounds—is that their experience of seeing Australian schools across this country was eye opening. I remember reading reports saying they could not believe that they had gone to schools where the resourcing was so totally inadequate that they were surprised that any learning at all could happen.
At the heart of all of this, it is not a game of politics. It is about the capacity to create an environment in which the young people of our country, whom I consider to be our greatest asset, can learn—where teachers do not have to ask the P&F to fundraise to be able to buy $10,000 worth of school readers so that children in kindergarten and first class can have a book that is not dog-eared and falling apart, and actually learn to read. That is the kind of resourcing that I want for schools. I do not want primary school teachers to have to choose two, out of six kids who need Reading Recovery, because that is all they can afford, damning the other four to lost opportunities for learning.
Explain to me, Minister, what you are doing and how it is going to work, because, frankly, I do not have any confidence in the numbers that you speak about, and neither the Catholic sector nor the government sector has any. Indeed, no-one who has interacted with you in this process actually believes you. Prove to it me, Minister. I would love to have some answers to my questions.
Senator O'Neill asked a few questions in relation to funding for the Northern Territory, which I did address during question time today. Very quickly, funding for the Northern Territory government school system is projected to grow from $191 million this year to $261 million by 2027. The senator asked a range of questions about the particularly high need in the Northern Territory, a fact which I acknowledged in question time today and a fact which is of course borne out by the fact that per-student funding in the Northern Territory is today the highest in the nation, at around $8,360, on average, per student. That will grow to around $11,870 per student by 2027. That is far and away the highest per-student funding in the country. In fact, it will be around 55 per cent more per student by 2027 than it will be in any other jurisdiction, reflective of their particular need.
The senator also asked about the original Gonski report and the views of the original Gonski panel on this legislation. I would draw the attention of the senator to the words of a number of individuals. Mr David Gonski said:
… I'm very pleased to hear that the Turnbull government has accepted the fundamental recommendations of our 2011 report, and particularly regarding a needs based situation … I'm very pleased that there is substantial additional money, even over indexation and in the foreseeable future.
Fellow panel member Dr Ken Boston describes the legislation as 'a new deal of historic national importance' and says:
There are no grounds for opposition to the schools funding bill in principle … It will be a tragedy if the school funding bill is voted down in the Senate.
I would also highlight the comments of Ms Kathryn Greiner, another member of the Gonski panel, who says of the legislation and the policy:
… I think they're on the moral ground. I think the decisions were right, I think the decisions are just.
She also says:
Gonski 2.0 delivers what the Gonski report wanted: an accountable, transparent, equitable, sector-blind funding formula.
Concerning responsibility for government school systems, I would highlight, Senator O'Neill, my response earlier to your colleague from Tasmania, where I identified that the Commonwealth share of funding to government school systems will indeed grow to a record level under these reforms, more than twice what it was not that many years ago.
I cannot let the minister's verballing continue in the way it has. I remind senators and others listening to this debate that the Gonski review panel involved two other members, and the minister has made no reference to their concerns with respect to this legislation. But the verballing of Mr David Gonski continues. Rather than stress the ways in which this minister has done that, I will segue into a press release from this evening, on which I will make another point in a moment. If we take it from the Nick Xenophon Team:
This is the REAL Gonski and we have three members of the original Gonski panel, including David Gonski himself, saying unambiguously it would be a disaster for Australian education if this package didn't pass.
David Gonski has never said that. David Gonski has said, with relief, that this government has accepted a principle of needs based funding, but Mr David Gonski has never endorsed the 80-20 approach or the Commonwealth-only approach to needs based funding, and to suggest otherwise is a blatant lie.
There are two other matters that I would like to deal with in this general discussion. The first of those, which I have raised I think now twice today, is the Senate's order for production of documents. The minister said to me after question time that he had submitted a letter in response to that order. Unfortunately, because the government has changed the arrangement for hours today, the tabling of that letter did not occur. Worse than that, the normal courtesy that would apply in a matter such as this—that the minister would furnish a copy of that material or correspondence to the senator who had originated that request—has not occurred. For this minister to come in here and claim that the opposition is being obstinate is just outrageous. He has not even followed basic courtesies of the Senate in relation to an order of the Senate for production of documents. This is not just the opposition; the whole Senate insisted that this minister provide that material by the end of yesterday, and he has not done so.
I can only second-guess at this stage what that letter might say. It might say, as some other colleagues have suggested to me, that there are no such documents. If that is the case, that raises very serious questions about the quality of the discussions that have occurred with the crossbenchers here. If the crossbenchers have not even seen modelling about moving forward from a ten-year transition and what that might really mean, that highlights what a farce has been occurring.
The other option, of course, is for the minister to argue that it is not in the public interest for that information to be made available. Maybe he has done that. We do not know that yet. We do not know what his answer to the Senate order has been, and, until such time as we do, it is not being obstinate to suggest that the minister should be answering reasonable questions and providing information to the Senate before we proceed into a detailed consideration of the amendments that we are indeed still digesting.
Beyond the order for production, though, I have to reflect again on this press release and its sheer audacity. It seems that by press release from the Nick Xenophon Team we can understand more about this package than the minister is telling us here and now. So let me inform the Senate what the Nick Xenophon Team tells us is 'the real Gonski win for Aussie schools'. Remember: they are anticipating a vote that has not even occurred yet. According to the Nick Xenophon Team, 'the real Gonski win for Aussie schools' is that the Nick Xenophon Team successfully advocated for:
Australian schools to receive $23.5 billion over the next 10 years ($4.9 billion above the Government's original plan)
So where is the modelling about what that will actually do? I hope the Nick Xenophon Team has actually seen it, because I would like to understand what that additional funding is going to do and what the impact of it will be. If the impact of it will be that schools like Kings get even more then we have got big problems. But let's wait and see. This debate might shed some further light on some of these issues.
The second dot point in this press release is:
Under-funded schools to reach funding targets in six years instead of 10.
Is that all of them? Is that some of them? What are the differences across states? Which ones? Hopefully, maybe, the Nick Xenophon Team can come in and tell us some of this, because the minister is not answering these questions.
The next dot point is:
National Schools Resourcing Board to be set up to review and improve the school funding methodology.
Hear, hear to that. I think that the Senate is united on that one, and the reason that the Senate is united on that one once we see the detail of what is being proposed here—hopefully, I can digest the detail in the government's amendments soon—is that we will know if it will save us from the school funding estimator debacle. We will not have a department politicised by you putting out material that is blatantly false. If we have an independent school resources board that can be responsible for the quality of the data that is circulated as it is on My School, for instance, and there is some independence in that process, given the way this minister has conducted himself, that will be a good thing. I have never seen as outrageous an exercise as the minister pretending to Australian parents that there will not be pressure on their school fees, because he has diddled his figures. He has diddled the figures for 2017. He has adjusted them to pretend that his new formula applies when it will never apply to 2017 to fool parents into believing that they get increases between 2017 and 2018 and to cover up the pressure for parents to pay school fees that he is introducing in this bill and as far as I can see still remain in this bill.
Worse than that: he then went out and said Catholic education were basically rent-seekers, that they had a special case and they were only squawking because they were potentially going to lose their special deal. That is what this minister did, and he is still doing it if those capacity-to-contribute arrangements still exist in this bill.
But let's move on to the next point the Nick Xenophon Team tells us about:
There will be benchmarks for state and territory governments so that they pay their share of education funding.
Benchmarks for state government. Senator Back, in your valedictory speech you made a particular comment that I noted. I cannot remember the exact phrase but it was basically that a carrot is better than a stick. Gonski 1 involved a carrot for state governments. The carrot for state governments was that they would get an additional two Commonwealth dollars for each additional one state dollar to get all schools to a common Student Resource Standard. Now, this potential stick method will be debated for an awful long time in here because we are a long way from being satisfied that you have any reasonable capacity to deliver benchmarks for state and territory governments, so that they pay their share of education funding. You have already deferred these issues to COAG mid next year, so how you might have managed to hoodwink some relatively new members and senators into thinking you have got a better capacity will be very interesting to hear.
We already have the Nick Xenophon Team anticipating the vote and claiming they have a real Gonski win for Aussie schools. In reading this press release we can see that they are simply swallowing your verballing of a number of people in this debate. The verballing of David Gonski himself, I think, is the most outrageous. Now that that disease has spread from yourselves to the Nick Xenophon Team, it really does need to be called out.
I could go on through the two pages of this win that the Nick Xenophon Team is anticipating, but let me go to the more critical issue here, because there is one dot point they do not have, which is in an article written by Paul Osborne in The Australian this afternoon—I think it is online. It refers to a $50 million transition fund. Does that mean that we have four transition funds now. During the inquiry into the legislation we were told that there were three transition funds, but now, at least in the press but not in the Nick Xenophon Team win, we hear about this $50 million transition fund and it is described as being 'for Catholic and independent schools over 12 months'. So, is there a new $50 million transition fund? If so, where is it provided for? Is it in the amendments or is it provided for in some other way that we need to source? If there is such a fund, what are the terms of access to that fund? What is this $50 million meant to cover? Is it the 'partial-monty moratorium'; it is certainly not the 'full-monty moratorium'.
We have already read in the press today that Catholic Education, for instance, and probably the independent sector as well, have no confidence in this minister. So why would they have confidence about this $50 million transition fund, if it indeed exists? We should not really be having to ask these questions. The minister should have presented the full details of what is involved here. But if there is this fund, what are the terms for access to it?
I would like to use the opportunity of this committee-stage consideration to be very clear about this. We know from the legislation inquiry that there is already contention about independent schools and Catholic schools accessing the Students First Fund. We understand that, originally, the minister naively committed to independent schools that that would continue as it has been. Subsequently he told them, 'No, actually. We are going to go to a proportional break-up for access to that fund, because we are taking the system weighted average benefits away from systemic schools. So, no, you will not have the preferred arrangement that might previously have existed.' The independent sector, before the legislation inquiry, argued a very different story. They said that that fund was meant to help them deal with the fact that they do not have the benefits of operating as a system and that they should be able to preserve their existing arrangements for accessing it, which is roughly, I think, 60-40. Which is it, Minister?
This really is a moving feast. It is a dog's breakfast. We will wait to hear from you whether there is a $50 million transition fund. Is access to that fund going to be proportionate? Is it really only with respect to systems, is there some broader purpose for it or have you just rebadged the existing transition funds? What is the detail of what transition funds are going to be available? Surely you understand, coming in here today, Minister, that you need to add to what was covered in the legislation inquiry about the existing transition funds—the general one, the one for the ACT and the one for the Northern Territory—and tell us what this other transition fund for Catholic or independent schools might be and what it is meant to cover. I can see that the minister is not even listening to this very important question, which is very sad because it means that he thinks he has a done deal. (Time expired)
I am very, very keen to contribute to this debate. Can I start out by saying that my interest is in the education of children across the nation. In 2011 I instigated, with the authority of the Senate, a select committee inquiry into teaching and learning in Australia. On that committee, of course, was Senator Marshall, Senator Penny Wright and Senator McKenzie. This was at the time Gonski was being examined, and it was not an inquiry into the high-level Gonski macro. It was an inquiry into: why aren't teachers teaching and why aren't children learning?
We did a lot of good work on the selection of people going into teacher training; the quality of teacher training programs; the amount of practicum that they had in there; whether they were classed as ready, because we learnt that more than 50 per cent of new teachers were not ready; what the levels of mentoring were; what the involvement of parents was from the youngest age; professional development, of course; and teachers who were being asked to teach out of their level of expertise et cetera. Discipline was an incredibly important position.
At the same time, we visited China. We met with them in Beijing, Shanghai and Chengdu. Of course, I am familiar with the situation in Singapore and Finland. In each of those three jurisdictions student discipline in classrooms is not an issue, because the children are disciplined and the teachers teach. What was very interesting at that time was that, whilst money was important, we had doubled the expenditure of funds in our education system, yet our standards had gone down. I said to them in Shanghai, 'Maybe it's the nature of the international comparator that is being used.' They said, 'It was developed in Melbourne, so, if you're not happy with it, go back and have a look at it yourselves.'
I put on the record that I have a vital interest in the education of all children in this country. Also, I will just comment on the government-funding sector. I have no difficulty with the amendments as I have seen them in the legislation, because under the Constitution the teaching of children in government schools is a state responsibility. If, indeed, the minister is going to move to a commonality over time whereby the federal government contributes 20 per cent and the states contribute 80 per cent—and I can see that in the amendments there are provisions to make sure, whether it be government schools support or private schools support, that the state and territory governments continue to commit at least to that level—then I applaud that.
I now want to go to discussions relating to the Catholic education system, about which I have most experience. Also, in my time in this place, I have been particularly interested in the independent schools system and their contribution. I was on the Catholic Education Commission for nine years in the mid-eighties to the mid-nineties. I was on a country school board when this so-called concept of co-responsibility was first mooted. Of course, being from the bush, I immediately thought, 'This is a grab by the rich city schools against the country schools.' I then went to see the then head of Catholic Education, Dr Peter Tannock, whose name will come up again in a few minutes, and Mr Mike Beacham. I jumped up and down and carried on such treat that they said to me, 'The only way to shut you up and to have you understand that co-responsibility is about the wealthier schools supporting the poorer schools is to put you on the commission, and then you yourself can be the overall auditor.' So I became the parent member of the commission. I have even had somebody in email traffic to me in the last couple of days saying that I have a conflict of interest and I have been corrupt. How a parent member of the commission, who is there at a totally voluntary capacity, can be corrupt, I do not know. What I did come to learn, of course, was that the co-responsibility concept and the funding became critical.
I then moved to the board of Santa Maria College, where both my wife and daughter had been at school. I was about to call them 'old girls' but, as Senator Moore knows very well, you would never call them old girls—you would call them past students. Why I had to go onto the Santa Maria board, and not Linda, I will never know. Anyhow, there were only three schools that did not come aboard initially. One was Aquinas College, a Christian Brothers college, where I had been at school. The other one was Santa Maria, where I was on the board, and the third was John XXIII, which had been the Jesuits' St Louis and Loreto. I guess I had a bit of influence in those colleges coming on board.
What has been very interesting over time has been the absolute strength—I can speak with a lot of authority about Western Australia—I cannot speak much, although I have engaged in this process, as others know, in terms of the Senate inquiry, and I made it my business to spend a lot of time recently with the South Australians to understand it. There are a couple of points that I want people who might be listening to this conversation this evening to understand. I understand that my colleague Senator Hinch the other day said that I ought to get on my bike and leave because the only funding that ever should come from governments is to government schools. I want to comment on that.
The first point I want to make is—and maybe the independents are included in this—the cost of educating a child in a Catholic school in Australia is 90 per cent of that of educating a child in a government school. Remember that—90 per cent. The second point is that the Catholic system enjoys, as a benefit from the Commonwealth, which is vitally important, about the cost of the teachers' salaries. That is about the contribution that the Commonwealth pays to Catholic schools. But it is the parents, through fees and the co-responsibility system, that actually meet the balance of those costs. The day-to-day costs of running the school—the water, the electricity, the maintenance and all those other costs—are met by parents' fees. The next point I want to make is that where a child in a government school walks into a new school, that has been totally funded by the taxpayers of Australia, of whom many are the parents of Catholic children—remembering that 30 per cent of children in Catholic schools are not Catholic. That government school has been fully funded by government, whether it is state or federal. By contrast, 95 per cent of the capital cost of building Catholic schools in this country is paid by the parents. So Senator Hinch, if that is what you did say, be very pleased that Catholic parents and independent parents are paying up, because for everyone who is in a Catholic or independent school that capital cost of building the school, that extra 10 per cent of the cost of running the school and educating the child has been met by that Catholic or independent parent on top of paying their taxes.
When you think about the passion of it, think that in some of those schools, like St Benedict's in Applecross, where my children went to school, it is only last year that the last of the classrooms that were built by the parents in the 1950s under the direction of the builder Cyril Wildy were knocked down and replaced. So when I talk about a bit of passion, I remember bottle drives as a kid in Bunbury, I remember planting the lawn on the oval at the Marist Brothers in Bunbury on Saturdays and Sundays on our hands and knees. We were not praying and we were not getting any indulgences from upstairs, but I can tell you that if we wanted an oval we planted that oval.
I want to make the point that that is how critically important all of this is. Co-responsibility supports poorer schools. You have heard these allegations that it is just a grab by the rich schools against the poor schools. In my state, under the current system weighted average every child in a Catholic school has a grading of 103, and more than 50 per cent of the funding supporting kids below the 103 comes from the kids above the 103.
Just a couple of small things. Rent in Karratha went to $2,400 a week. When it came to the state school, the state government just paid for the extra rent in rent support. When it came to the Catholic school, how do you keep the teachers in the schools in Karratha?
The co-responsibility fund pays for it. At Roxby, in South Australia, they had to provide a home for the principal. It cost them a million bucks. Could they go back to government and say, 'Look, it has cost us a million'? In South Australia, when electricity and water costs went up in recent times, the state schools were supported; but the Catholic education system pays for the middle. In the north of WA, in the Kimberley; in the Northern Territory, as Senator McCarthy would know; and in North Queensland there are many small communities where the only school is the Catholic school. If you close it, there is not a school. And who has the challenge then?
In Australia, choice has always been an element. One of the fears that I have—and it has been put to me—is that the very essence of the Catholic school system in this country has been the education of poor children. Mary MacKillop started in Penola. The Mercys came to Fremantle in January 1846, having come out of Tipperary in Ireland to the stinking January heat. Within 20 days, they were not only opening a school for girls but the first ever school for Aboriginal girls in Australia. That is the quality of the Catholic education system and that has to be preserved.
The last point I want to make before I go to specific questions is about transparency. We in this place, as lawmakers, need to know that every last dollar of taxpayers' money has been accounted for and has been spent on the purpose for which, quite rightly, the taxpayers of Australia have given it. I just want to make the point very strongly that that is an element that must continue.
I now want to come to the concept of the system weighted average. As you all know, I have jumped up and down publicly about it and said please continue it for at least one year. I will tell you why. I will quote a letter from Dr Peter Tannock. He was head of Catholic Education originally and then he became Vice-Chancellor at Notre Dame. He is a very active member of Gonski. In a letter just the other day he said: 'The government should ameliorate the concerns of Catholic systems and should reinstate the longstanding mechanism for Commonwealth funding of Catholic and other non-government systems—for example, Lutherans—and it should be based on the enrolment weighted average of all schools.' He refers to a recommendation at page 171 of the original Gonski report. He goes on to say: 'This funding mechanism was strongly and unanimously endorsed by Gonski'—and that should make it very acceptable. I understand that Professor Farish was asked to examine and create what was supposedly to be the new SES model—and even Farish has said it is not working. The Grattan Institute, as has been said earlier this evening, has also come out and said the same thing. That is the reason why I have pushed very hard for there to be a pause, for there to be a continuation of the system weighted average for a 12-month period, including an examination of the funding for students with disabilities—because that is a real area of concern right across the board, as the minister well knows. And, during that time, maybe it might be led by Professor Farish.
I can imagine a situation where that review is chaired by the person who was the original architect of the new SES model. It would have tax office people on board. It would have census and statistics people—a representation of the systems—so they can have a good long hard look based on capacity to pay. That might be through the tax file numbers of the parents in the schools. I am sure that, with modern technology, we can crossmatch those. The simple fact is that, if you do not earn $18,800 a year, you do not pay tax. So the possibility of examining it through tax returns might or might not work. We need something or other that can be examined. Minister, can you point to what you have in mind to allow the continuation of the system weighted average? What do you have in mind in terms of how that review will be undertaken? Can I have an undertaking from you that disability will be included in that particular process?
Naturally, at the conclusion of that review, since I will not be here, I want to be absolutely sure that my colleagues across the chamber will be able to know what it was that the review panel determined. If, indeed, it is one of your requirements that consensus be reached, well, send them all on a long drive to Darwin, because by the time they get there they will as sure as hell have consensus. I really do want to know what mechanism will be in place, whatever the determination the review panel make and whatever the recommendation they make to you as the minister, and how that will find its way into our processes. Of course, as has been quite rightly asked by Senator Collins: is there some indicative costing, additional costing, that you believe would be required to give effect to this so that there can be a level of satisfaction across systems, it is understood and we can go forward into 2018.
We cannot leave it any longer, colleagues. There are those who say, 'Can we put this off until August or September?' However, those of us who have been on school boards know that by now you have normally done your budgets. You know what your enrolments are for next year. You know whether there are going to be more teachers or fewer teachers. You are trying to work out what the fee structures are going to be. June is late enough. For those of us who know the system, who know how school boards run, know that to delay the determination until August or September is far too late for 2018. Anybody associated with budgeting is screaming now. They are the questions I want answered. The minister knows that, if I can be satisfied, of course I can support it.
Senator Back, thank you for your contribution. I would just at the outset reflect on a couple of the broader comments that you made about the value of nongovernment education—the Catholic systemic schools, other school systems outside of the government systems, as well as standalone independent schools across Australia. I note particularly your comments that rightly acknowledge the hard work of parents and families who choose to invest in their child's education. You rightly acknowledge that such parents do make savings to other taxpayers in choosing to do so, particularly savings to states and territories in terms of costs that they would otherwise wear were those students to be in the equally high quality government school systems around the country.
I also acknowledge that in those nongovernment schools, as in government schools, we see principals, teachers and the entire school community work hard in voluntary ways to raise additional funds to provide additional resources, as well as, of course, the resources that are provided in terms of the fees. I acknowledge the fact that many in the Catholic education system and in the other school systems work in ways to try to provide access to their schools for people who may not be able to pay all of the fees or indeed any of the fees in some instances and that they do so in a sense in a spirit of charity and access. In a handful of locations around the country, they do so where there may not even be a government school option readily available to those students. It is that choice and that right of people to choose an education, including a faith based education, for their children that is at the heart of Commonwealth funding of education historically. It is that choice that we seek to ensure continues into the future under the type of school funding models that are available.
An important element of that over time has been especially the work undertaken in the Howard era, building on years of increased involvement of the Commonwealth government in school funding, particularly nongovernment school funding, to ensure that there was some methodology that allowed for governments of the day to provide greater support to nongovernment schools in communities of lower economic means or capabilities in their capacity to contribute to those school fees. This was essentially ensure there were some means that empowered school choice around Australia for those who may not be able to afford significant fees in their schools. I note that well before that there were many schools who, thanks to charitable contributions, church contributions, parish contributions and other ways, were already making such offerings available at little or no fee, regardless of government funding. But, as time has gone by, government funding has become more and more important, and it is important that the funding model we have does ensure that the greatest level of support goes to those school communities and to families in those school communities who are otherwise the least able to access that choice, relative to those who might be better off.
Senator Back, I want to thank you for that contribution and for your consistent advocacy in terms of school choice. Indeed, as this is your second-last sitting day—it would certainly be, technically, your second last sitting day, even if we are here beyond Thursday!—I acknowledge that that is not just a contribution you have made in the Senate but, as you rightly acknowledged, it is a contribution you have made in other ways through voluntary undertakings, like so many parents and community workers do as volunteers on school boards and on school authorities in roles that help to make schools work.
Senator Back, in this debate you have engaged with me and you have done so advocating for your constituents and others with whom you are engaged who have concerns about some elements of the funding model, and you have made quite reasonable requests in doing so. As you identified in your contribution then, funding for the system weighted average that applies currently and that is proposed to be removed under the legislation before the chamber should continue next year while the review of the SES methodology, the socioeconomic status methodology, is undertaken.
Senator Jacinta Collins interjecting—
Where is the amendment for the review, Senator?
We will come to it, Senator Collins. So I am pleased to confirm, Senator Back, that the government have made a determination that, using section 69A of the Australian Education Act, we would provide for additional funding equivalent to the system weighted average determination for all relevant school systems across Australia. I emphasise 'relevant' because it is important to highlight that this is not just a matter relevant to Catholic education systems; it also applies to a number of other, generally smaller education systems around Australia.
The fiscal impact of that for the first calendar year is estimated to be $46.5 million, of which some $38.2 million would be estimated to be paid to each of the eight state and territory Catholic Education Commissions across Australia, and some $8.3 million would be paid to the different non-government education systems that are not in the Catholic system, over the next 12 months.
Senator Back, that funding is applying the same system averaging methodology—in terms of the averaging-out of scores—as is currently the case. They are of course estimates. Should there be more student enrolments or other variations in that sense, then they would be adjusted accordingly.
In addition to that commitment to provide that funding certainty, we are committing to a review of the SES methodology and we are committing to establishing a permanent vehicle by which such enhancements and improvements to the school funding model could take place. I refer the Senate to proposed amendment (7) on sheet GX817, which deals with establishing a National School Resourcing Board.
I emphasise that that board will require representation and membership from the states and territories, from the representative body for Catholic systemic schools and from the representative body for independent schools, ensuring that all relevant parties will be at the table in terms of the board's operation and work. It will be tasked with conducting reviews periodically, and the government intends that the very first review that it be tasked with is a review in relation to the SES measure and the parental-capacity-to-contribute settings for non-government schools. This will allow for independent analysis of the suitability of the current arrangements and ensure that the concerns raised by non-government schools, including Catholic education system authorities, about the SES measure are fully and properly examined. Our intention is that this review will take place and be completed before the middle of next year. In doing so, that will of course then provide recommendations that the government's intention will be to act upon, noting, of course, any particular budgetary circumstances that need to be addressed in that regard.
I highlight to the Senate—and hopefully we would have moved this amendment by now—that there are particular measures in terms of the structure of this that will ensure that there must be consultation around the terms of reference for such a review with all of the relevant stakeholders in terms of ensuring that the findings of such a review will be made public; tabled in this place; provided to relevant stakeholders, including, of course, the different representative bodies in the states and territories; and, once having undertaken the SES and capacity-to-contribute review, we would anticipate and commit that the next body of work that this review would look at would be in relation to student-with-disability loadings to ensure the appropriate application of those loadings.
Senator Back, thank you again for your constructive engagement and advocacy in this regard. It helps to ensure that as we work through these processes we get even better outcomes. As I have highlighted time and time again in this place, the funding proposals that the government has put forward do ensure growth in funding in a range of different ways, and I note that your advocacy in this matter has not been about the quantum of funding so much as the co-responsibility arrangements that you highlight across systems and the way in which they work. I commend you for the way in which you put those arguments forward and worked with us in this way.
I have said to Senator Back that I will explain how the concern is not so much what Simon says but what Simon does not say. You might recall—I am not really being glib here—that it was the state ministers who came out of their last ministerial council saying it was 'all Simon says'. In other words, the outcome of any Commonwealth-state partnership in this area has deteriorated so badly that he would front one ministerial council with just two case studies. That is the only prior consideration or airing of this sole Commonwealth funding approach, and the only other area we have been directed to as informing this shift has been the cabinet consideration. He could not even draw the Grattan Institute into an informed discussion about why we should move to 80-20. There has been no informed discussion about moving to 80-20. As I said, that is the issue about public schools that I have been accused of not being concerned about, so let's leave that on the table.
Senator Back, on the issues that you are concerned about: it is what Simon does not say which highlights—
Certainly I will. Thank you. It is what the minister does not say that is the issue here. Senator Back, I refer you to page 11 of the bill. Page 11 of the bill sets out the changes to the capacity-to-contribute arrangements under the SES. This is the area that the government amendments do not address. This is the area where the minister is deliberately refusing to pause, and the reason that the minister is deliberately refusing to pause—and we have heard different arguments about that, and I am sure we will get to the detail of those, because he convinced with very weak arguments all sorts of people that the justification for the existing capacity-to-contribute arrangement was tenuous. But it is connected to the SES arrangements and for him to suggest that he is pausing the arrangements under this model for systemic schools, and then not address these provisions in the bill, is simply disingenuous. Let me explain the reason, Senator Back: it is because the two factors work together.
I recall the decisions that were made under the Gillard government around how to follow the Gonski recommendations, and I want to take the Senate very carefully through that. I have done this a couple of times, but hopefully now that we are very focused on the issue I can do it again. I think you mentioned that Dr Tannock referred to page 177 of the Gonski review. I am now going to refer to a related part, which is on page 178. On that page the panel recommended that government should apply careful attention to the 'the shape of the anticipated private contribution' between two points in the model as to what level of contribution should be expected of parents. Under the Gillard government we did that. We modelled it. We looked at the sort of modelling that the minister is refusing to provide at the moment under our order for the production of documents. Under that modelling, at the time we were convinced—and we have had more recent data now from the ABS that highlights this point—that parents who have children at primary school level have a different capacity to contribute than, in general terms, parents who have children at secondary school level. The more recent ABS data reinforces that point. It is well-known that families with younger children are more likely to have one full-time income earner and then maybe only a part-time income earner, or not a second income earner, within their households. That is reflected in the ABS family income figures provided to me by the Australian Bureau of Statistics. That is why we, under the Gillard government, framed the curve as it currently is in the act for primary school students.
We are also mindful of the fact that the highest proportion of students in non-government schools are in local parish Catholic primary schools. Unlike the independent sector, there is usually a smaller proportion of students at primary level and a much higher proportion of students at secondary level, and they can balance out that distribution more effectively. In Catholic schools they are commonly local parish Catholic primary schools—the ones you would be familiar with. Their argument was that not only does the SES model not measure very well the nature of our student population and their families but also their capacity to contribute is different when you have primary school aged students as opposed to secondary school aged students.
On that basis and on the basis of advice we received at the time, we structured the curve in a way that reflected that and took on board the Gonski review recommendation that we needed to do this in a fashion that would not compromise the delivery of the different types of non-government schools. One of those different types of non-government schools is the low-fee systemic Catholic primary school. I do not focus just on Catholics here, because that is why the Anglicans are in systems and the Lutherans are in systems. They run some very similar low-fee accessible schools. What the minister has yet to circulate—I would like to be wrong here but I have not yet been able to find this—is an amendment that withdraws the changes that I directed you to in the current bill, or at least provides a 12-month moratorium on those provisions. If they do not do that they are not providing the full-monty moratorium. Let me highlight why that is definitely the case, now that the minister has provided us with the anticipated figures. Because, Senator Back, the anticipated figures he has provided for this next financial year are nowhere near the anticipated figures we addressed in government. It is five-odd years since 2013, but my recollection is that the system weighted average factor at that point in time was worth roughly $60 million. So there is only one way the minister could be presenting the figure that he gave us today—the $46.5 million figure—and that is if he has done it on the basis of his changes to the parental capacity to contribute. That is the only way he could come up with that estimate.
So there are two issues, Senator Back, that relate to assurances that you may have been given. The first of those is that it is not a full pause unless the government removes the changes to the capacity-to-contribute arrangements for non-government primary schools. If they do not remove the provisions that I have directed you to on page 11 of the bill—and we have amendments designed to do that—they are just simply not being genuine. It is a very difficult element to explain, but what people need to understand is the system weighted average factor works in partnership with the capacity-to-contribute measure. The two work together. So if the minister is only responding to one element of it, that is why you are getting figures that are well below the figures we addressed when we were in government.
But what is more concerning is that the minister is being disingenuous in how he is addressing this. These are issues that have been taken to the minister time and time again, so for him to be here now deliberately skimming over that factor is disrespectful. It is disrespectful to you. I am more than happy for him to be disrespectful to me, and almost everybody in this debate has been. I have pretty thick skin; it does not bother me in the slightest. But, Senator Back, for you, for the minister to not cover that issue is disrespectful.
A genuine pause would involve at least a pause on the operation of the provisions on page 11 of the bill. Find me the amendment that the government is moving that does that—prove me wrong, please, but I cannot find it, and my advisers have not been able to find it in the limited time that we have had—or the minister can make an assurance that he will put it in. But if he does not then I suggest to you, Senator Back, and to other senators who are concerned about these issues, to support our amendment that does, because any suggestion that there is a moratorium on these issues, without dealing with the unilateral changes to capacity to contribute that this minister has put into this bill, is not adequate.
The complexity of all of this is what has allowed this minister to maintain the charade. Had this minister had his way we would have trotted in here this evening and we would have started systematically moving through his amendments, and he might have conned the Senate as a whole as well. But fortunately our parliamentary processes ensure—and you, Senator Back, know full well why—he cannot just do that. I think, Senator Back, the question you should be asking the minister is: what is he going to do about these capacity-to-contribute changes that he has unilaterally introduced into the bill?
As I have said to you, I have seen submissions from independent schools, and they were the only ones that you could glean any policy rationale from in relation to these changes. When we challenged people like Christians Schools to please tell us, 'Where has this come from? Why has the curve been adjusted this way? Do you really understand the impact?' the answers we got were quite alarming. Catholic Education has been accused of scaremongering. The truth is Catholic Education is really probably the only organisation that has the organisational capacity to use the funding estimator tool and understand fairly easily and fairly quickly what the implications are. When they spoke to the Lutherans, they put in a submission to the legislation committee inquiry, and said, 'No, we don't like this—don't do this to us.' Then we had the Anglicans, and it was much the same. Indeed, you will note that Senator Birmingham has not responded to my question about the Anglican system that sought to be recognised as a system almost 12 months ago, that he failed to act upon. Will they, at least, get some access to this partial Monty? Or will they get nothing? That is the problem here.
So it is going to be a long night, because the assurances that Senator Birmingham might be giving you now will be challenged to time and time again. But unless he stalls his capacity to contribute changes, there is no more moratorium. The figures are as represented, for instance, in my local parish school. I was a bit reluctant to talk about it until I received a letter from one of my fellow parishioners. It is probably about the first time as a senator that I have ever been able to respond almost immediately and say, 'Actually, there are a few other people you should be lobbying rather than me.' Consider the impact on that school, unless this capacity to contribute payment or, as described in the Gonski review report, the anticipated private contribution, because that is what this minister is unilaterally changing—the anticipated private contribution.
He has said wonderful things about Catholic Education here tonight, but reflect on what he has said at other times. Catholic Education was supposedly scaremongering, yet his colleagues, like Senator Bridget McKenzie—if you look at her press release from 2013, she was way more out there in terms of suggesting that there would be fee rises within Catholic schools. No—Catholic Education has looked at these changes to the anticipated private contribution—page 11 in the bill—and they have been able to tell us quite clearly what will be anticipated from parents in Catholic schools from 2018, with no transition. There is no six or 10 years working these changes through the system—this cliff happens in 2018. Unless this is removed from the bill, there is no moratorium.
Just quickly, because Senator Collins has raised it a couple of times, I have managed to get some information in relation to what I think is the Anglican school system that she has queried about. My understanding is that on 8 February the system contacted the department seeking to have consideration of it for system weighted average application. They were advised two days later that the first step for that to apply was that there had to be a collection of the addresses of each child in the system. The 2017 collection was to take place over the period up to 31 May—there has been an extension provided in relation to provision of such addresses—but that once such addresses were collected in the system it would be possible to calculate a system weighted average. Whilst the department is not aware of that system having been in contact with the department again, if it is their wish with the updated data that they be treated in the same way as any of the others that have been included or naturally captured in the commitments I have given to Senator Back tonight, I would be happy for that to occur.
There is just one problem with that answer, which is that there are provisions in the bill that remove the minister's discretion to treat a system that way. So unless his amendments deal with removing that discretion, there can be no new systems. This is why I raised this case. It may have not have been 12 months—as I said, I am quite prepared to accept that people who convey this information to us might not have their information completely accurate. But thank you—we now know, even though I have asked this question before, and we have not received comprehensive answers to the questions that were asked in the legislation inquiry. But I now know that there is an Anglican system—as I said, I cannot recall which state it was, so we still do not know that. There are a number of Anglican systems in other states that already have that status. But there is one system sitting out there, outstanding. They commenced the process on 5 February. This bill removes the minister's capacity to treat them in such a fashion, unless we see another amendment. And so they cannot be treated in the same way, Minister, unless this suggested $50 million transition fund is some discretionary ministerial bucket. If so, you have yet to describe to us the circumstances and conditions under which people would have access to it.
If the system in question meets all of the other, usual preconditions for system status—as we would anticipate—and the address collection has occurred, then the same provisions for prescribed circumstances payments under section 69A of the act would allow us to be able to ensure that they were treated in the same equitable terms as any of those others that were identified in the response to Senator Back.
More than 40 per cent of students in Northern Territory schools are Indigenous. Most of them are more likely to attend government schools, and many of these students are high-needs students, often because of issues of disadvantage and poverty. Studies have found nearly 90 per cent of Indigenous students in Northern Territory schools suffer from hearing loss, which affects language development and impacts on learning. So imagine sitting at school as a student with hearing loss and English as your second language. Sadly, that is the case for almost half of our Indigenous students at any given time, yet we wonder why these children are not learning. As a government, you wonder why the gap is not closing, Minister, but how do you learn when you cannot hear the teacher?
Let me give you some more facts about the reality of Northern Territory schools and students. The Northern Territory has the largest proportion of children aged nought to eight years of any state or territory in Australia—14.1 per cent compared to 11.5 per cent nationally. The Territory also has the largest proportion of Indigenous children—42 per cent compared to 6 per cent nationally. Geographically, 48 per cent of all children aged nought to 12 in the Territory live in remote areas, compared to three per cent nationally, and over 37 per cent of NT government schools have a language background other than English. Very remote students live in relatively small, highly dispersed communities and homelands, where families choose to remain living close to country and culture. In these areas there is limited infrastructure, little or no economy and populations that do not use English as a first language.
Minister, I have a number of questions in relation to the Northern Territory that I would like to put to you. Just before I do, I also have a letter here that I wish to table. It is a letter from the education minister, Eva Lawler, who is urging the Senate to delay this bill to allow time to negotiate arrangements that are more favourable to Australia's most disadvantaged and vulnerable children. Essentially, the key message is that jurisdictions have different capacities to fund their schools, and, while it does not seem like much, it is important to the Northern Territory. So I seek leave to table this document.
Chair, for Senator McCarthy, the normal convention with tabling a document would be to share it with the parties before tabling. However, on this occasion, given the description Senator McCarthy has given, I am happy to grant leave.
The TEMPORARY CHAIR: Thank you, Minister. Leave is granted.
Minister, I have a number of questions that I would like to put to you in terms of the Northern Territory. Although the Commonwealth has announced additional funding from 2018 to 2021 to assist Northern Territory government schools' transition to the new school-funding arrangements, the Territory's educational landscape and complexities will continue beyond 2021, where additional funding will be needed to assist students with the highest needs. Minister, how will this bill allow for review and continuous improvement in the funding model to consider changes in evidence and context?
I do refer Senator McCarthy in particular to proposed amendment (7) on sheet GX167 as it does provide a very clear mechanism for states and territories as well as other sectors to be represented in a national school resourcing body, and it will have particular tasks in relation to continued improvement of the funding model.
Minister, under proposed section 22A of the bill it states that states and territories will be required to at least maintain their current level of per-student funding in accordance with the regulations detailing how funding must be maintained for both government and non-government schools. It is understood the proposed penalty for failure to meet maintenance-of-effort requirements will result in a further reduction of Commonwealth funding being applied to public schools. Is this the case?
There is no reduction to public schools, but under the government's proposals there is indeed a provision contained to ensure that, as the Commonwealth provides additional funding, the states and territories do not simply take out their funding, leaving no net improvement. That is intended as an accountability mechanism to ensure the states and territories do that, noting the reality that the Commonwealth does not directly fund government schools in the Northern Territory or anywhere else around the country. So this is a provision designed to ensure that we do not give with one hand and see any state or territory government take and pocket it with the other but that actually additional funding equates to real additionality in schools.
The intention is that the one lever we have over states and territories is the funding we provide to those states and territories. So if a state or territory is not going to provide a full pass-through of Commonwealth funding to increase contributions to their state and territory schools then the Commonwealth would have a power in the mechanism to be able to withhold some future level of funding from that state or territory in the hope that that would incentivise the state or territory to ensure that extra funding means extra funding rather than extra Commonwealth funding simply being a cost-shift from the state onto the Commonwealth.
Minister, the Commonwealth will also transition a calculation of loadings for students with a disability to be based on the nationally consistent collection of data, the NCCD, on school students with disability. This data collection is in its infancy and inconsistencies between jurisdictions are a key concern. Does the bill allow for improvements to data accuracy prior to linking adjustment classifications to funding?
There is a joint working group that brings together the states and territories, the non-government schooling sector and the Commonwealth for continued enhancement of data accuracy and to work with all of those in collection authorities to ensure improvements in that data accuracy.
As I think I told the Senate yesterday, the ratings are essentially demand driven. So if the collection of data in the Northern Territory were to validly result in more students with disability being identified and/or students with disability being identified at higher levels of adjustment need that would result in additional funding flowing. So our determination is that there will be continued work done across the states and territories around data accuracy. That is why we have commissioned over a period of time an independent report into the collections that have been taking place over recent years. That is informing continuous enhancements in the moderation of data activity to give confidence around the NCCD.
Minister, you said today in question time that funding for the Northern Territory was about growth in the Northern Territory, and your figures were that it would be going up from $191 million to $261 million, equating to around $8,362 per student and $11,370 per student. The concern that the Northern Territory has is that the funding proposal will see federal funds cut to 20 per cent of the school resourcing standard, and currently Northern Territory government schools received 23 per cent of the school resourcing standard. How did you arrive at those figures?
The government have been fairly clear that, whilst the 20 per cent figure will be applied to all of the other states and territories, we note the unique circumstances of the Northern Territory and therefore have provided for some additional funding in the Territory to ensure that there is a continued level of growth in funding and support for Northern Territory schools, which is included in the figures that I quoted in question time today.
Minister, I am just trying to understand, though, what that means for remote schools—for example, Mutitjulu, Yuendemu, Maningrida, Yirrkala and Borroloola. Can you explain just what it will look like for those particular schools?
I will explain it in a couple of ways. One, as I highlighted before, is that what it looks like for those schools will be a matter for the Northern Territory minister, whose letter you tabled before, as she has full autonomy—or the Territory government have full autonomy in terms of how they distribute the funding across Territory schools. However, the quantum of funding that the Territory government receives is well and truly, as I highlighted in response to your earlier questions, the highest in the nation on a per-student basis, and that is because of the particular need there.
Of course, a loadings model like this one, which provides additional loadings for Indigenous students, students of socio-educational disadvantage, for students from learning backgrounds other than English and for students with a disability, does provide, ultimately, the largest level of funding per student in the Northern Territory, rightly reflecting the very particular needs of the Territory.
So, in terms of the remote schools that you identified, while I do not offhand know the circumstances of each of those schools, I imagine that, in terms of the funding that the Territory government receives, each of them would be attracting significant levels of Indigenous student loadings; significant levels of loadings in relation to socio-educational disadvantage; significant loadings, potentially, in relation to language backgrounds other than English; possibly, significant loadings in relation to student with disability; certainly, in terms of them being remote schools, the regional schools loading; and probably the small schools loadings as well.
The Turnbull government puts significant resources into the Remote School Attendance Strategy. On the one hand, there have been significant funds going into that—you are putting resources into trying to get kids to schools in remote communities—but, on the other hand, there is an understanding about cuts to schools, like local teachers, Indigenous education workers and investment in resources. There is a major imbalance here. Can you respond to that?
Certainly, Senator. Just to highlight support for Indigenous students, I draw your attention to the fact sheets that the department has published in this regard. Loading support for Indigenous students is estimated to increase from around $962.6 million that was provided over the previous four years—2014 to 2017 inclusive—and increasing to some $1.4 billion in loading support over the period 2018 to 2021. That is an increase in support of around 46 per cent. A significant level of those loadings, certainly on a per population basis or ratio, is the highest level in the country and naturally goes to the Northern Territory.
This is where it is just not adding up, Minister, because, on the one hand, you are giving extraordinary figures in terms of the investment, yet the outcome for students and the resourcing do not reflect that. The letter from the education minister in the Northern Territory also reflects those concerns.
There are extraordinary sums of money involved in school education. We estimate that around 213,504 students in 2018 will identify as Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander students and therefore will attract a loading, depending on the intensity of the Indigenous population in the schools that they attend. Because of the scale of the number of students and schools, they end up being very significant numbers. But, importantly, there is also clear growth and clear application of needs based principles. As identified before, I gave the figures in relation to the growth rates across Northern Territory government schools that are estimated to shift from $191 million in funding in 2017 up to $261 million by 2027, as well as highlighting in particular the additional funding and budget resourcing that the government is committed to, in essence, outside of the model to provide some $35.6 million in the Northern Territory. This specifically recognises the unique circumstances there, including the uniquely high starting share of the schooling resource standard.
Minister, you refer to the 'unique circumstances', and I did mention earlier issues like hearing problems, which contribute quite significantly to some of the learning difficulties in terms of not only health but also language. Many different languages are spoken across the Northern Territory. Can you point me to where in your figures there is a focus on—I am not sure whether it is in the disability area—providing support so that there is a guarantee that there is support for students with those sorts of learning difficulties?
Senator, as I went through some of the areas of loadings that are applicable before, language backgrounds other than English are one area of those loadings, which, as I indicated, may be applicable in certain remote communities in the Northern Territory, in addition to all of the other loadings which we spoke about. I would also highlight in relation to the first question you asked in the string of questions about the Nationally Consistent Collection of Data on School Students with Disability that the intent behind that is to provide for appropriate levels of support that genuinely reflect the adjustment assistance that students need. Obviously, issues in relation to hearing that may have impaired a student's learning over a period of time are real challenges. In terms of identification of hearing loss and hearing difficulties, I am advised that the Department of Health funds and supports a number of programs in terms of hearing checks. They provide valuable assistance towards identifying students who may be able to have hearing problems rectified, as well as identifying students who may attract additional support under the students with disability funding.
The Commonwealth government had provided an earlier commitment to fund all states and territories alike from 2018 onwards. Is that statement correct?
I am not sure quite what Senator Pratt is referencing, but certainly the commitment the Turnbull government has given through the model that is before the parliament is indeed to provide additional support to all states and territories, but to ensure it is done consistently, ensuring that the state of Western Australia, where Senator Pratt hails from, does ultimately receive equal levels of federal support for its students based on their need, as does every other state or territory, unlike anything that would ever be achieved for the state of Western Australia were existing provisions left to continue.
Thank you. Is it not true, however, that the Commonwealth government had provided that commitment earlier, that that commitment to fund schools equally would start from 2018?
In other words, no. Is the statement true that you have previously made that commitment but you have deviated from the commitment because you are not applying it until the outlying years? The 2016-17 federal budget papers certainly indicated that this commitment was to take place from 2018 onwards and provided no indication of deferment funding through a long-term transition period as is before us in this legislation, so, Minister, what funding was allocated to Western Australian state schools in the 2017-18, 2018-19 and 2019-20 years in the 2016-17 federal budget?
I can inform Senator Pratt that, whilst I do not have it in front of me, I am very much aware that the budget papers last year made it very clear that the proposed distribution of funding, that I am pretty sure no other Labor senator will come in here and suggest should have been adhered to, was indicative only and was to be the subject of the development of future funding models. I challenge Senator Pratt to find anywhere where I quoted those figures, or used those figures, or where the government promoted those figures anywhere, without the very strong caveats that were contained in those budget papers. But I do emphasise to Senator Pratt that Western Australian government schools do, under the proposal that the Turnbull government has brought forward, receive far and away the greatest growth for government schools anywhere in the country—some 7.3 per cent per student growth over the next four years under the government's proposal; growth that is well in excess of anywhere else and reflective of the fact that Western Australia got such a raw deal under the Gillard government proposals and that we are committed over the transition period proposed in our bill to catch Western Australia up to all other jurisdictions.
How are state governments supposed to manage their budgets if you make up figures in your budget papers that are blatantly untrue for 2017-18, 2018-19 and 2019-20, the three following years? How are they supposed to function in any meaningful way whatsoever if you cannot or refuse to give them reliable figures on which to manage their education budgets?
Senator Pratt has an outstanding opportunity tonight to fix the concerns she just expressed by locking into legislation the funding formulas for state and territory governments into the future in a far more certain way than the different deals done by the Gillard government did.
So what is Western Australia supposed to do with the $400 million deficit that you have left them in their education budget over the next three years?
Far from a deficit for Western Australia, as I indicated before, the growth rates are in fact the strongest in the country. As I have done for a number of jurisdictions, I will highlight for Western Australia that in 2017 WA government schools will receive some $616 million of Commonwealth funding. That will increase to an estimated $677 million in 2018 and, as the model continues to the 2027 endpoint, some $1.489 billion being paid to the Western Australian government to support Western Australia government schools—a more than doubling of existing funding in relation to WA.
It is because of a couple of things. The baseline is, of course, what they actually receive in 2017, and it grows each and every year into the future. As I indicated in my first question, the footnotes were very clear in last year's budget papers that, as state allocations for some programs were yet to be determined, relevant payments are not included in state totals. Consequently, total payments may not equal the sum of state totals. They further went on that it includes financial assistance grants for local government in some instances and then noted that state allocations from the 2018 school year onwards are indicative only and final allocations are subject to formal negotiations with Commonwealth, the states and the non-government schools sector. Of course, in those final allocations for 2018 onwards we propose to remove all ambiguity or uncertainty and to actually ensure that they are locked into legislation under a far fairer arrangement than the deal that absolutely dudded Western Australia that the Gillard government put on the table.
Is it not true that, as previously indicated in the budget papers, there was $744 million for Western Australian schools in 2017-18, $884 million in 2018-19 and $928 million in 2019-20, which represents some $400 million more than what you are proposing in the legislation before us?
As I indicated before, the indicative figures in last year's budget were clearly specific as indicative only. Were, of course, I to accept the premise of your question, that would make a mockery of the claims each and every one of your colleagues seem to make. They do not want to use last year's budget as the basis upon which to acknowledge there is growth everywhere else across the country. Indeed, it seems as if you want to pick one set of figures completely different from the set of figures all of your other colleagues want to use. I highlight here that Western Australia is the biggest winner out of these reforms with the fastest rate of growth. Unlike anything that would ever have been achieved under the Gillard government deals, we are guaranteeing that Western Australia will receive a fair share of funding for its school students rather than being penalised for the fact that Western Australian governments have invested more in their schools than some in other states do.
I, too, want to ask some questions regarding WA. Before I do that, Minister, we know that you have been in negotiations with some of the crossbenchers in here and, indeed, before that with the Australian Greens. I note that today Senator Hanson made comments about children with disability in a speech that she made during the education bill debate, stating that, if there are too many children with disability in a classroom, it affects the learning of children without disability—according to Senator Hanson—and that these children should go into a special classroom. Was that raised at any point by the Pauline Hanson's One Nation team as a negotiating point with government to get their support for the bill?
No. And, of course, the point of having the students-with-disability loading applied on differentiated levels according to the nationally consistent collection of data for students with disability is to ensure that there is the type of support available to schools in the classrooms that reflects the type of adjustment assistance relevant students need to ensure their participation in classroom education and in school education consistent with the national standards for disabilities and particularly their application in relation to school education.
Sorry, Minister, perhaps I was not clear. I asked what negotiations you may have had with the WA government. Have you directly contacted the WA government or indeed have officers from your department contacted either the WA Department of Education or Minister Ellery's office in relation to funding on offer to WA?
In relation to your questions, no, and, not that I am aware, though of course I have met with Minister Ellery both at the ministerial council and privately since the government's policy was released.
Minister Ellery was on radio today saying that from the date of the original bill there now appears to be increased money on offer, but unfortunately the minister had to refer to comments that were made in here by Senator Xenophon. From the original bill to today, what has changed for WA?
I have one short question I hope the minister might be able to give me a decent answer to. One of the things that concerns the local community is how trustworthy the information is that the government has provided. As a former teacher, I have to say that people's interaction with the My School website has led to a degree of trust in the veracity of information they can access from a government about the facts relating to their school. So I think the government's decision on the back of that sense of trust that people have in the digital connection they have with governments about their school was actually an asset on which the government drew when they were trying to convince the Australian public that they were actually going to be doing something decent in terms of education.
But, in the context of all of that, there was the establishment of the school funding estimator. With discussion around the bill, and certainly at estimates, there were very many questions about the veracity of the detail embedded in that funding estimator. Parents right across the country and across New South Wales are communicating with me and they are very concerned about how much they can trust that. For some of them, their initial concern was simply because, like me, they really do not trust too much what this government says on education, particularly after they were told they were going to get dollar-for-dollar funding that would match Labor's commitment. They want to know how now they should interpret the school funding estimator given that the Secretary of the New South Wales Department of Education, Mark Scott, has said that the information on the federal government's school funding estimator is not to be relied upon. And that is a direction that has been given to New South Wales school principals with regard to school funding. So, Minister, with regard to what has now been declared by a state entity, the government sector in New South Wales, through Mr Mark Scott, what is your intention with regard to directions about removing incorrect factual data from the school funding estimator website?
The senator asked a couple of questions relating to the My School website and the school funding estimator. Of course, the My School website provides details of the Commonwealth funding that a state or territory system authority, Catholic school system authority or other school system says it provides to a particular school. It is not necessarily an accurate reflection on the My School website what the federal funding provided to that system authority for the school is; it is simply a reflection of what the system authority, out of their pooled grant of federal funding, provides to that school. I note that historical data on My School also includes other sources of federal funding outside of the direct recurrent school funding arrangements. In relation to the estimator, it has sought to provide the nominal allocation of funding that goes from the Commonwealth to a school or a school system. I note that, in relation to a school system such as the New South Wales government system, the school funding estimator does make clear that, if your school is part of a system—Commonwealth funding is paid to the system as a block—the system will determine the amount your school receives. That, of course, has been the case historically and it continues to be the case.
Just to be clear for people who thought they did not have to worry about the funding of their schools and education for their children, for people who have taken the government at its word and certainly accepted the fanfare on the day of the announcement—'the school funding estimator is going to tell you how great life is for your child'—the reality is that it is a nominal allocation. That means it is not an accurate number, it is nominal; it is something like it, but it is not the accurate number.
Minister, if your school is part of the Catholic school system, which is 25 per cent of the schools across the country—and all of the government schools as part of government systems—because parents of those school systems are looking up materials, there is not only a nominal allocation; the other variable is that the other numbers there do not actually reflect what is happening with the system through which the money is coming. Basically, they are very, very inaccurate numbers. Is that correct, Minister? They are not to be relied on?
I do not accept that statement or assessment. I do note that all of these matters were covered fairly extensively at Senate estimates and, I suspect, in the Senate inquiry. I again refer the senator to my previous answer: if you accurately want to know how much federal government funding a school system provided to their individual schools, then ultimately you need to refer to the My School website when that data is finally reported.
Minister, will you take any action to remove the incorrect data that is misrepresenting to parents—and accepted, apparently, by you—about what is happening in their schools? Will you give any direction for the data to be removed? Will you give any direction, through the media, to help parents understand that the figures that you are directing them to on the school funding estimator are, in fact, very misleading?
I want to go to some further concerns of the Western Australian state government. I will quote from their submission to the Senate Education and Employment Legislation Committee. The Western Australian government noted that, through this legislation, the Commonwealth is 'seeking to strengthen the linkage between Commonwealth financial assistance and the implementation of evidence-based reforms to improve student outcomes'. As the Western Australian state government characterises it, the bill is seeking to stipulate conditions of financial assistance on the states and territories that is conditional on the implementation of national policy initiatives and that those jurisdictions maintain their 2017 levels of schools funding. Given that, why have you not provided the states the detail about how the funding will be tied to reforms, how maintenance of effort will be calculated and measured and how noncompliance will be managed?
The Turnbull government makes no apologies for wanting to ensure that record and growing levels of school funding are used in evidence-based ways to lift student outcomes and student performance. That is essential given the relative flatlining, and indeed decline, in some areas of performance across Australian schools over recent years. It is essential, particularly given that that has occurred in the context of increased funding growth, especially from Commonwealth governments into Australian school systems.
We want to make sure that, this time, in committing increased funding, that funding delivers results across Australian schools, which is why we are very pleased that David Gonski has agreed to do a further piece of work which will be undertaken over the duration of this year and which will receive evidence and opinions from educational experts around the country to identify how it is that our additional record growing levels of funding can most effectively be used to lift educational outcomes and achieve educational excellence. We look forward to states and territories working with us through that review process, signing on to reform agreements and being held accountable for the implementation of those reforms so that we actually do achieve the lift in student outcomes that that investment is set and meant to achieve.
Minister, how can you claim that there will be an evidence base to these reforms in terms of calculating and measuring maintenance of effort and the like if you have not yet provided us the details of how you are going to do that?
The Western Australian government has previously contended that the Commonwealth government did not provide the education council with sufficient detail to undertake a thorough impact assessment in relation to making changes to regulations that impact on its education system and schools. Although the bill states that the amendment will now say 'consult and have regard to any relevant decisions of the ministerial council', will you give state governments an assurance that the regulations on how this will be undertaken will be explicit? What is your intention with these regulations?
I am actually referring to the Western Australian submission to the Education and Employment Legislation Committee. They are quoting from the legislation. The government has purportedly said that you will amend the bill to state that you will now 'consult and have regard to any relevant decisions of the ministerial council'. Is that not correct?
Yes, I believe there is a provision in the bill and a commitment to consult with the ministerial council in relation to decisions or provisions that are of relevance to the ministerial council and their policies.
Senator Pratt, for your reference, you are referring to and asking questions about page 37 of the bill. Measure 175 says the minister must consult in relation to the making of regulations and have regard to the decisions of the ministerial council. Those relate to conditions of financial assistance matters as well as ongoing policy requirements and ongoing funding requirements. Indeed, the standard practice is that the minister of the day does write out to all of the jurisdictions to provide them with notice of and an opportunity to comment on or respond to proposed decisions or regulations that the minister is making.
As I understand it, the state government of Western Australia has sought assurance that the regulations themselves will be explicit on how consultation with the ministerial council is undertaken. But I think you talked about consultation about the creation of regulations, and that was not my question.
The purpose of this clause is not to set regulations about how consultation occurs but to ensure that, where regulations are being set, there is a requirement that consultation occurs. I refer the senator to page 34 of the EM, which makes clear:
This item will ensure that where proposed regulations will affect the ongoing policy or funding requirements of approved authorities for government schools, or conditions imposed under sections 22, 22A and 24 of the Act on states and territories for financial assistance received under the Act, the Minister must not only consult with the Ministerial Council, but must also have regard to decisions of the Council prior to the Governor-General making those regulations.
The consultation arrangements, in terms of how that consultation actually occurs, would remain as per past practice.
The consultation arrangements would remain as per past practice, which will be that states are provided with notice and given an opportunity to provide comment in relation to regulations before they are formalised by the Governor-General.
I and other senators, and I think Greens senators, still have some general questions. To facilitate the progress of dealing with amendments it would be useful if the minister, or with the assistance of the department, were able to address a couple of questions in relation to amendment (2), which the minister has moved. How do the amounts specified in GX1672, which detail different SRS funding amounts for 2017, impact upon different groups of schools? How does it increase expenditure?
The financial impact of these measures is already part of the budget estimations, as I understand it. For clarity: these measures give effect to some of the changes the government had already announced. As I think has been explored previously, there is a slight updating in relation to the base funding amount for primary school students and secondary school students, reflecting more current data about the level of expenditure of those schools captured in the modelling who meet the educational standards for the setting of the base funding. That is what these measures seek to give effect to, as I outlined in introducing this amendment, ensuring that the commencement funding calculations accurately reflect funding in the appropriate terms for the appropriate year, indexed off the base, from when they were calculated.
Minister, what we are seeking to understand at the moment is what has been circulated from the Parliamentary Counsel in relation to this amendment. It indicates that this amendment will 'change the basis for calculating funding for certain schools under the Australian Education Act 2013, having the effect of increasing expenditure under the act'. Do the comments you have just made in relation to those calculations deal with that issue?
Indeed, the bill presented by the government does involve increasing funding under the act. The way in which that funding is calculated is why these provisions are shaped in the form of a request. They are not an area of additional funding—and there are some of those in the form of further amendments that will be dealt with—but they do relate to the additional funding already provided for in the bill in that they impact the way it is all calculated. In terms of application to certain schools, obviously the primary school base amount relates to primary schools and the secondary school base amount relates to secondary schools—and I am sure you do not need me to go through the others in terms of size loadings and so on. Yes, the language is 'certain schools' but that is only because each of the factors relates to the schools to which it is relevant.
While we are on this issue of additional funding, and picking up on the minister's earlier comments in relation to the provisions in the act under 69A, which he would use to deal with any new systems that might get access to funding for the 12-month period in relation to applying a system-weighted average, he indicated earlier that his estimate for the cost of that is $46.5 million, $38.2 million of which is for Catholic schools with the remainder presumably for independent schools. Minister, what other arrangements have you reached with respect to independent schools? I mentioned earlier—and you have not responded to the comments I made in relation to Students First—that the independent school sector said quite clearly to the legislation inquiry that they were hopeful that you would reconsider the position that you gave at Senate estimates about how that would apply into the future. My question is: what other calls will there be for those seeking accommodations that you might utilise section 69A of the act for?
I am happy to see if we can identify if there are any other particular elements under which that provision is utilised. There probably are at present, but we will have to double-check on that for the senator.
The minister, again, has not responded to my question in relation to Students First. He assured Senate estimates that that fund in the future would be applied on a proportional basis. Will that continue to be done?
The government will consider the estimator and make sure that, if there are amendments required as a result of the passage of the bill, we consider the appropriate way to present that information using the estimator or what other means are necessary.
It is my understanding that the problem with the school funding estimator has been identified to you by a number of peak bodies. Do you recall making any commitments about corrections to the website—changes to the school funding estimator—particularly with regard to system funding?
Not that I recall, or at least not in any detail. But I am aware of some of the concerns, and they are concerns that I would be very mindful of if we were making any changes to the estimator.
I find it hard to understand how anybody at this point could trust your word. My understanding is very clear. You made a number of commitments, including to the director of schools for the Broken Bay diocese, that you would consider altering the school funding website to reflect the funding allocation by systems so as to more accurately reflect the funding realities. Have you changed your mind about that commitment that you made to the director of schools, or was it just something that you said to get out of a tricky situation and did not mean at the time?
Senator Birmingham interjecting—
Senator Birmingham seems to think that that is a question that is not worthy of an answer, but I want to put on the record that I am a parishioner in the Diocese of Broken Bay and know many teachers in that sector. I know that three very powerful women have taken action in the last week to come down here to Canberra—to leave their small children behind—as advocates for that sector. They have been walking the halls of the parliament, making sure that those on the government benches understand the devastation of the proposed cuts to funding and the failure to deal with the system-weighted average and capacity-to-pay measures that have been the subject of some considerable questioning from our side—still without adequate answers from the other. Those parents from the Broken Bay diocese have been here very alarmed about the impact of government decision-making on their capacity to continue to send their children to the school of their choice.
Those women describe what I think is a very common phenomenon for many Australians around the country who are right now waking up to the disaster of what this funding model that you are proposing is. It has been around just long enough for them to notice the filthy smell of what it is that you are attempting to push through the parliament under the cover of darkness. People are just figuring out that something smells really bad about this. As described to me by these wonderful advocates for 25 per cent of the school population across the country—these three women came in and said, 'We thought at first maybe it was a slight overreaction.' They went to check the facts on the school funding estimator. They actually had faith in the government to put accurate data on the website in the government's name. What a terrible mistake they made. They went to the government website that was being constructed by your department on your watch, Minister. They went and they looked. They thought they could trust those figures, but bit by bit they found out how inaccurate they were, as the systems did and as the systems have gone to you and asked you, Minister, to correct the misinformation that is on those. You have just ignored that. You have made commitments you cannot even remember, it would seem, or are going to deny. Either way, the fact is that those calculators are still incorrect, and parents who are relying on information from you have suddenly started to figure out that they simply cannot trust any of the numbers that you are producing. It is like there is an asterisk and a few more little asterisks and a few more little asterisks. If you sit there and you read all the tiny asterisks—including the ones that you forgot to put in there—you might actually somewhere approximate something near the truth. But people cannot get a straight answer. They cannot get the truth from the school funding estimator and they are not getting the truth from this government in this place tonight.
Mothers who would perhaps normally be ready to put their feet up after a hard day of looking after their families, balancing their work-life and their commitment to their community have asked me to ask you these questions. 'Why does the senator want to pass a bill where it has been proven that the SES model is fundamentally flawed? Why doesn't he fix the modelling first and then present the bill?' What an insightful question from a mother who probably just a few weeks ago did not realise that she would have to sit down and spend hours and hours trawling through the misrepresentations that have been put out into the public place in the government's own school funding calculator? How many mothers of young children sit down and have to trawl their way through this data?
The Senate trans cript was published up to 22:30 . The remainder of the transcript will be published progressively as it is completed.