Monday, 3 June 2013
Australian Education Bill 2012; Second Reading
As parliamentarians we all have pressing issues facing our electorates, which our constituents expect and demand we will address. As the member for a large and diverse electorate, that makes the challenge especially onerous and interesting. Irrespective of which electorates we represent, the top two concerns which affect us all are health and education. They are the two great enablers. Everyone desires to be well and have the best frontline, primary and allied health services and professionals. Likewise, education is a top priority.
In The Weekend Australian there was a section entitled 'Your school'. It was a most interesting read. In fact, the Prime Minister had an op-ed piece, which was headed: 'Let's ensure that no child is left behind'. I quote the Prime Minister:
Every Australian school should be a great school.
No argument with the Prime Minister there. She continues:
That is the goal our teachers and parents seek every day.
The supplement included page upon page of the nation's top 50, least expensive, most expensive, top-performing schools, breaking all the criteria down into the best private, best public primary and secondary schools based on the national average score in the NAPLAN tests for years 7 and 9. But, interestingly, on the second page, in the piece entitled 'Literacy, numeracy foundation stones', Justine Ferrari writes:
Using test data to identify the gaps in students' knowledge and better target teaching to lift students to the next level is still a new skill for many teachers, and some schools have adopted the practice more quickly and successfully than others: schools such as Ballarat Clarendon College in rural Victoria, the only non-metropolitan school in the nation's top 50.
It is very disappointing to think that only one regional school made the nation's top 50. That is why this debate is especially important, because we cannot leave our schools and thereby our teachers and, most importantly, our students behind.
My state of New South Wales has signed up to the Gonski reforms. That has come at considerable criticism of Premier Barry O'Farrell and certainly the education minister, Adrian Piccoli, who is also the state member for Murrumbidgee, an area which is almost entirely in the federal electorate of the Riverina. Mr Piccoli is a good man. He wants what is best for his electorate and he wants what is best for his coalition in New South Wales. And, most importantly, he wants what is best for his schools within the electorate. When you really drill down, he wants what is best for the Murrumbidgee. I have had many and detailed talks with Mr Piccoli about the Australian Education Bill 2012 and about the Gonski reforms.
As the Prime Minister said in this section, he has got the deal of a lifetime. Indeed, New South Wales probably has. Certainly New South Wales was the first state to sign up. The Australian Capital Territory followed suit last week. When I look through the benefits of the school funding reform report, which Mr Piccoli provided me with, with respect to the additional Commonwealth funding for states and territories, I see that New South Wales tops the list, at $3.3 billion. Victoria has $2.6 billion, Queensland has $2.5 billion, South Australia has $390 million, Tasmania has $260 million, Western Australia has $195 million, the same amount goes to the Northern Territory, and the ACT has $65 million. That is on top of higher indexation and the national partnerships rolled into the base.
I asked Mr Piccoli at length why he had signed up and what made New South Wales jump so early. I note that it has caused considerable debate within this chamber. Unfortunately, it has been politicised to the extent where the Prime Minister has praised the New South Wales Premier, Barry O'Farrell, and, at the same time, attacked the opposition leader. That is unfortunate. Certainly, this has become quite a wedge issue between the New South Wales coalition, having signed an early deal, and the Abbott-led opposition, which is seeking to win government on 14 September. It has also created a good deal of comment both in metropolitan and regional electorates. In response to my queries as to why he had signed so early, Mr Piccoli demonstrated four points under a heading 'Why is the current funding model broken?' Funding does not follow the students with the highest level of educational need; funding models are inconsistent between government and non-government schools; Commonwealth and state funding models are also inconsistent; and the level of funding is not sufficient to keep our schooling system internationally competitive. And we do want the best for our children. When we have a great school system—a great public school system, in particular—we have great kids.
I had Ashmont Public School come in this morning, and they were great kids—very enthusiastic; very hopeful of the future. And, you know, there is nothing to stop any of those kids, as their teacher pointed out, becoming a parliamentarian; becoming, perhaps, a future member for Riverina—indeed, becoming, perhaps, the Prime Minister. That is the great thing about Australia: anyone, from any school, can become a scientist, can become a top-class sports man or woman, can become the next great inventor, can become the Prime Minister. It is why we are the lucky country.
And this debate is all about providing schools with more money. But at what point do we stop and ask ourselves, 'Is this creeping federalism?' Government schools were always referred to as 'state schools'. That is because the state provided the money for the public schools and the federal government chipped in to help fund private schools. The thought of private schools conjures up images of the rich metropolitan schools with their ovals upon ovals, wonderful gymnasiums and magnificent science laboratories. But private schools in my electorate are not that well off. They are doing it tough, not helped by the everyday costs of living.
Certainly many benefited from the Building the Education Revolution, because they were able to actually manage their own building projects. Their principals and school boards, the state Catholic organisations within each district, were able to utilise those funds to maximum benefit, unlike the public school system where it was a one-size-fits-all approach: if you had so many students you were able to get so big a school hall, based on a formula. And it did not work. So, subsequently, in Plunkett Drive in Wagga Wagga, I have one of the piece-de-resistance school halls, which was built by Mater Dei, a Catholic primary school. Yet at Ungarie, another village in my electorate, they also got a sizeable amount of money but ended up with far less in return. That is because the private schools, the Catholic schools, were able to build their own projects and the public schools were not. Unfortunately, that also provided a class divide.
But, as far as the Gonski model was concerned, it does, as Adrian Piccoli pointed out to me, provide benefits for many of the schools in the Riverina. It provides benefits for those low-fee-paying independent schools, including the Catholic schools—and, as to the Catholic schools, I might add that I mentioned, in my inaugural speech to this House, that I would certainly represent and stick up for their funding from the Commonwealth into the future—the socioeconomic status schools which do it very, very tough; schools with a high Indigenous population; those remote and very remote schools which figure, unfortunately, in the lower end of the results for the NAPLAN tests and in the lower end of the results as far as the resources and the money that they have available to give those children a better education. Those are the schools which have additional needs and which will benefit from this Gonski model which, at the moment, has only one territory and one state signed up for its reform. The Prime Minister is hoping that, by 30 June, she will have all the states and territories signed up. But Queensland has come out to say today, through its premier, Campbell Newman, that they would want a lot better deal on the table. Western Australia is also yet to sign up to the National Disability Insurance Scheme, and it looks as though Western Australia will not sign up to this deal.
What are the financial benefits for New South Wales? There are four that Mr Piccoli has put forward. There is an additional $3.3 billion from the Commonwealth over six years. National partnership funding from 2011 has been rolled into the base funding, permanently. Commonwealth indexation will be at 4.7 per cent from 2015 onwards instead of around three per cent per annum for schools below the school resource standard. There is additional funding for government, Catholic and independent schools. That has put the New South Wales minister at odds with the shadow education minister. It has put him at odds with the federal coalition. But he was good enough to come to Canberra and detail his ideas on Gonski to the Nationals party room; that was last Tuesday. I know he met, later in the morning, with the shadow education minister, Christopher Pyne. So he has been prepared to come and lay his cards on the table. He has what he thinks is a good deal.
It is creeping federalism. It is going to put the onus on the federal government to fund schools into the future, whereas that requirement was always in the state jurisdiction in the past. But, at the end of the day, what we want from this place and from any parliament in Australia is better qualified students to meet the challenges of an uncertain world, to meet vocational expectations which are becoming more difficult by the day, and certainly to be able to get the sorts of results that we would expect and demand.
I note with interest some of the criticisms of the opposition's lack of faith in the Gonski model. Some of the schoolteachers who have written to me have, unfortunately, had some spelling errors in their emails. You have to actually worry sometimes, as the member who spoke previously, the member for Wright, said about how our kids are being prepared to meet those great expectations and challenges. I know our teachers are very good—those few spelling mistakes aside, and we have all been guilty of that. But I know our teachers are very good—