Monday, 3 June 2013
Australian Education Bill 2012; Second Reading
Today I am very proud to be speaking on the Australian Education Bill 2012. The purposes of the bill are numerous. I am very pleased to be speaking on an issue that is very important to us in the Labor Party, which of course is education. The purposes of the bill are to articulate and acknowledge the government's aspirations for school education and to set goals for Australian schooling that address these aspirations. Also, to commit to a national plan for improving school performance and student outcomes and to itemise the reform directions for a national plan that will achieve the government's aspirations and goals. And, finally, make agreement to implement a national plan by education authorities a prerequisite for receiving Australian government funding for schools with grants based on the outlined principles.
The bill before us lays down the cornerstone of a legislative framework that puts an excellent education for every child at the very core and centre of how Australia will deliver school funding into the future. So it is vitally important for our nation's future. We have done this because the federal Labor government understands the important role of education. We understand that it is through education that people gain the skills to be able to thrive in the world, and it is through education that people gain the knowledge and abilities to expand on those skills which will set them up for their future. Every child has the fundamental right to obtain a quality education, to reach their full capabilities and potential. It is the Labor government that has had the vision to be able to improve education throughout Australia, because we know that in the 21st century access to modern, quality schools is absolutely vital for our children, to provide that quality education.
The bill reflects our understanding that we need school-based reform for the development of our national plan for school improvement. Of course, as we know, the bill was introduced as a result of the findings of the Gonski report and, as we also know, the report found that the current funding arrangements were just not getting the best results for our students. The current arrangements are very complicated and lack transparency, so we needed to have a change. The report also showed that funding is one reason that our nation is not giving every child a great education. So there certainly was a major challenge that needed to be faced and a challenge that needed to be corrected. As I have said, we know our prosperity as a nation rests on having schools that can really compete with the best in the world, and I certainly want to make sure that every school is of a world-class standard, and that is why I definitely support this bill today.
The bill's ultimate purpose is to enable Australian schools to achieve the three fundamental and basic goals for Australian schooling. The three goals are: for Australian schooling to provide an excellent education for all students, for Australian education to be highly equitable, and for our nation to be placed in the top five countries in reading, science and mathematics by 2025. To achieve these goals, the federal government has committed itself to working with state and territory governments and the non-government sector in a bipartisan approach to bring about the full implementation of the National Plan for School Improvement. I certainly call upon those states that have not yet signed up to do so, to make sure that we can work together to get a great result for our kids across the nation.
The bill will also introduce five specific new measures to make Australian schools smarter and fairer. The first measure is a new citizenship entitlement. As the Prime Minister said in the introduction of this bill, an education for an Australian child will no longer be a privilege extended by the state from time to time; it will be an entitlement arising from their common citizenship in our nation. The second measure is new goals for Australian education. Australia must strive to be ranked in the top five countries in the world in terms of reading, science and mathematics by 2025, and I believe that, through the introduction of this bill, and if we have everyone signing up to it and being committed to it, we will see our country working towards that really important goal that we should all be working towards. The third measure is a new national plan for school improvement, and the bill will set in legislation that agreement between Commonwealth, states and territories and Catholic and independent school authorities to implement the plan in full. Our fourth measure is new principles for school funding. The bill ultimately provides a new funding standard based on what it does in fact cost to educate a student. And the fifth measure is the new link between our schools' funding and school improvement. This bill will take into account each state's and territory's individual strengths, needs and weaknesses in terms of provision for education in each varying jurisdiction. This approach will ensure that all schools are fully supported in the undertaking of such vitally important reform.
In achieving these aims, these reforms are based soundly on five fundamental directions. The directions are: quality teaching, quality learning, empowered school leadership, transparency and accountability, and meeting student need. By focusing on delivering quality teaching, we are making it essential that the teachers of our children will have the skills and support they need to deliver a high quality education. By focusing on delivering quality learning, we are ensuring that students have the opportunity to reach their full potential through a relevant and high-quality curriculum that will assist them in that process. By following a path that empowers school leadership, we are recognising that all school principals and teachers can be leaders at a local level. The reform will also make solid moves to enhance the transparency and accountability of our school funding models. This will provide data on schools and students to track performance and continue to create paths for success for our young people in their schools. Finally, by focusing on meeting student needs, we recognise that providing a quality education is not just about meeting preset criteria but about providing students with the skills that they require. Students need to be provided with the necessary skills and knowledge that they need to develop as individuals to reach their full potential, and that really is the cornerstone direction of this bill.
Even before the introduction of this bill, schools right across the nation have really seen the difference that the Labor government's commitment to education has made—in fact our doubling of investment in education over those past few years and our record on education are things that I, for one, am very proud of, particularly when I look at the improvements within my electorate. We, on this side of the House, as I say, know the importance of education and have continually worked to improve those outcomes and those particular situations for our children.
I cannot think of one better example when I reflect upon my electorate than the Building the Education Revolution. The BER and the belief in the power and transformative nature of education really was the key motivator behind our Building the Education Revolution. I have seen firsthand in my electorate of Richmond that it has been an amazing benefit for local children, parents and local communities. We have had great new halls, libraries, classrooms, science labs and so many other facilities delivered by this Labor government. And it is not just the schools that have had the benefit. The wider community have embraced many of those facilities—particularly the school halls—and I am often hearing feedback on what a vital part they have become in many smaller communities in my electorate. So I am very proud to have seen 205 projects completed over the 90 schools in Richmond, and this investment saw more than $115 million injected locally into our schools and, indeed, into the local economy.
And of course, it was not just about providing those great school improvements but also about providing very, very important local jobs as part of our economic stimulus package which, can I say, within my electorate, made a huge difference—and not just with the schools funding. In particular, our economic stimulus package was used to upgrade the Pacific Highway as well, providing necessary infrastructure and jobs in regional areas, which was vitally important at that time.
Just going back to the Building the Education Revolution: let us look at it nationally and look at what it provided. We had over $16 billion being delivered Australia-wide, through more than 24,000 projects in 9,000 schools. It truly is remarkable when you look at the major difference that it has made. Indeed, families and children in my electorate have also benefited from many other education initiatives, particularly ones such as the Schoolkids Bonus and also the MySchool website. Of course, local families have benefited from the Schoolkids Bonus. In fact, in January this year the Schoolkids Bonus gave families $205 for each child attending primary school and $410 for each child attending high school. Families will receive this again in July, bringing totals to $410 for each primary school child and $820 for each secondary school child. That means 9½ thousand local families in my electorate of Richmond have benefited from the Schoolkids Bonus since those payments commenced. It really has made a big difference to many families in terms of those costs associated with education, particularly for things like uniforms and books and all those requirements that kids need.
It really is a great insult to locals when we see the opposition—and in my area in particular the National Party are opposed to it—wanting to take away the Schoolkids Bonus, to take away something that is helping parents get their kids to school. It really is quite shameful behaviour on their behalf that they continue to oppose what is such a great initiative for helping families. When I talk about 9½ thousand families, that is a significant number of people who desperately need to be able to access that funding.
We also have the My School website; it has helped families nationally and in my electorate by providing new information, including financial data for more than 9,000 schools across Australia and information on changes in student performance. My School displays student performance over the past three years, comparing the gains made by students who were in the same school in previous years. The new information on My School will also help us to see at a local level which schools are performing well and will better inform discussion about improving school performance. Many parents in my electorate have been very pleased by the difference that My School has made in terms of them accessing information.
It is really only the federal Labor government which has consistently shown how much we value a quality education, and the education bill falls soundly within this tradition. It shows how much we are committed to making sure we can improve those educational standards. I really hope these reforms will be supported by those opposite and by state governments. I commend both the New South Wales and ACT governments, which have committed to that, and I call upon those other states to commit to the future of our children.
I particularly acknowledge the fact that in New South Wales we have Premier Barry O'Farrell and education minister Piccoli. It is not often in this place that I commend and acknowledge the role of a National Party member, but in this case I put on the record that Minister Piccoli, the education minister in New South Wales, has shown how concerned he is about kids right throughout New South Wales and kids in my area of the north coast of New South Wales—he wants to see them able to access that quality education. I sincerely hope we see the other states realising the importance and value of signing up, not using it as a political football but recognising that this is a great opportunity to be embraced for the formulation of our education system for generations to come.
I do not think we can afford to miss this opportunity to make sure we can put in place what really is a transformative approach to making sure we can improve education. We must always remember that, without a doubt, one of the most important things that governments can do is deliver future prosperity. Governments must always commit to giving that helping hand to the citizens of tomorrow, and the provision of a high-quality education is at the very cornerstone of that commitment. It is the Labor government that makes so many major reforms to shape our nation for the future and to provide for generations to come. We have recently spoken about the National Disability Insurance Scheme; we have seen what a strong commitment that is, and it is Labor governments that have committed to those many reforms over the years, whether they be in heath or education. This bill is part and parcel of that in terms of our future views and shaping the nation, and it is at the cornerstone of that.
In conclusion, it has taken the Labor government to bring this forward and legislate for this major prosperity and for our nation's future. I call upon those other states that have not signed up to do so. I reflect on what it may mean for regional students. This whole package will make such a big deal, particularly for people in regional areas, in terms of extra funding and extra loading that can be provided, and recognising the extra resources that are required for them. There are extra challenges that we have in rural areas that we do not have in the metropolitan areas. We really need to keep a focus on that. Indeed, everything we are doing to transform our education system makes massive improvements for rural and regional Australia.
I commend the bill to the House.