House debates

Monday, 17 June 2013


Australian Education (Consequential and Transitional Provisions) Bill 2013; Second Reading

6:37 pm

Photo of Dennis JensenDennis Jensen (Tangney, Liberal Party) Share this | Hansard source

This Australian Education (Consequential and Transitional Provisions) Bill will put in place a framework for the implementation of David Gonski's review of school funding. I wish to draw the attention of the House to one illuminating experience from the past year in my electorate of Tangney. The petitions committee of which I am a member made the historic trip to Perth in Western Australia. It made the trip to engage with students at Santa Maria College in Applecross. It was my opinion and that of all the members of the committee that the girls who gave evidence and opinion to the committee were rational and intelligent and inimitably the epitome of a good education. So if the girls of year 12 in Applecross were so good and so enlightening, what is so wrong with education? Why would any government try to endanger the quality of education at Santa Maria that Santa Maria can offer these girls and the many other girls of Applecross today and into the future?

The situation this bill will initiate will be that many private schools in my electorate will have a future of uncertainty and relative disadvantage. Put simply, the message that this bill sends out is clear: we want to increase the average level of schooling but we want to do this by bringing down the tallest poppy by hitting over the head the brightest and best-performing independent schools. Let us not legislate tall poppyism into our future. Tall poppyism should have no future. Why do we act on this today? We act because we know that the empires of the futures are the empires of the mind. Good education reform is important. The Productivity Commission states that reform in this area could add 1.2 per cent gain to labour productivity and gains from human capital of four times other microeconomic reforms.

The coalition will not subscribe to any plan that will negatively impact on faith in our private schools. We know that choice is the key. That is what parents want and that is what they deserve—a better way forward. Focus should be put more on the quality of teachers, parental engagement and school autonomy, so the SES or socioeconomic status is the Liberal stance on funding of education. And it is working. Let us build on this, not tear it down. A better way forward for the education bill would be to use vouchers to address preprimary and primary funding and getting real with what business models illustrate and demand cost-benefit analysis of what capital employed would indicate.

By moving to implement this bill, the Labor recipe for education has a bitter lemon aftertaste in scrapping tax refunds in favour of cash payments. Problematically, because of the fungibility issue, how is one to guarantee that the money has actually been spent on education? Also, if it is means tested as stated, then there are administration costs and so it becomes inefficient and less equitable.

Additionally troublesome are the amounts of cash bonus. Labor appear to have got the emphasis all mixed up. Large amounts of capital should be directed at the primary level as opposed to the secondary level. The plan outlined by Labor gives $820 to secondary school students and $410 to primary students. This is nonsense as the costs associated with primary are higher and also get a better return for investment in the long run than secondary. The sense of primary investment and early intervention are backed up by the work of Blauer, Posner and Becker, noted economists of long-standing and international distinction. They have literally written books on good education and economic policy.

Investing early and often has many positive prosocial externalities. The spillovers are many and are compounded over time by a multiplication effect. Examples are in the area of crime and democratic participation et cetera. Per dollar return on investment is greatest at the earliest stages. You have an issue otherwise of diminishing utility. This is where mandatory preschool, as in WA from 2013, has a role. Finance could be found from ceasing to commit to overreductions in class size—and I repeat that 'overreductions in class size '. Reductions in class size do not pass the cost benefit of the capital-employed test and it is subject to unjustifiably high diminishing marginal utility. We must show a brave originality to break free of orthodoxy and heuristic reasoning. It is a message that is fed by the dominant teachers unions. While no-one can doubt the good work of teachers that the teachers of this nation do every single day, this is not about teachers. It is about the children.

So how can Liberals get smart education policy that fits with the Asian century? PISA has found that it is not the volume of money spent but the way we spend it—vouchers. Liberals believe in empowering parents through the market mechanism, expanding freedom and incentive through a Friedman-style voucher system. Performing schools will then be rewarded and incentive created. This formed part of the Liberal 2010 manifesto. We see Labor recognise this in how the NDIS will operate. Vouchers in education must also be linked with reform in personal taxation such that an earned income tax credit would recognise the value of work over welfare. Cash incentives for grades work. Fryer, Sadoff and Levitt—prominent, pioneering and visionary economic policy leaders—have shown them to do so.

Let's not waste time talking about radical change; let's just do it. We need bold ideas to tackle the declining number of students undertaking secondary studies in the hard sciences and maths and the flow-on effects this is having on the Australian economy. At present, students in years 11 and 12 are dropping physics, chemistry and maths in favour of easier humanities subjects such as history and politics to boost their entrance scores. A lack of interest in physics, maths and chemistry sees fewer enrolments at university, and this has a knock-on effect on Australia's research and development capabilities. Fostering an appreciation for the fundamentals of science will prosper a culture of excellence and create a strong base to ensure long-term economic growth. I firmly believe science and maths should be core subjects for every student right up to year 12. But the government then took two steps back, dismantling the Australian Learning and Teaching Council, which was a vital cog driving research in universities. This is a major blow to our research and development capabilities and will have economic flow-on effects.

China has made the seemingly obvious connection between investment in the sciences and maths and the multiplier effect on GDP growth. It is now reaping economic and technological rewards. More than half of all Chinese students graduate in the hard sciences and engineering, compared with a world average of 27 per cent and only 17 per cent in the US—and it is even lower here. During the period 1993 to 2003, China's R&D expenditures grew faster than those of any other nation, pushing its share of world R&D investment from 3.6 per cent to 9.5 per cent. During the same period, the European Union's share declined from 28.5 per cent to 25 per cent. Australia's R&D expenditure as a proportion of GDP remains lower than the OECD average—shameful—although it has increased in recent years. This is a terrible indictment of a nation as prosperous as ours. Given our economic and social position, our R&D expenditure should track the upper end of OECD nations. We should be in a race for the top, not for the bottom. In January 2006, China initiated a 15-year medium-to-long-term plan for the development of science and technology. The nation aims to become an innovation-oriented society by 2020 and a world leader in science and technology by 2050. Under the plan, China wants to develop indigenous innovation capabilities and leapfrog into leading new industries by increasing R&D expenditures to 2.5 per cent of GDP by 2020.

Australia needs to set ambitious goals and commit funding to the long term. This is our space race moment. We need teachers trained in these areas of expertise. Paying these teachers as professionals while acknowledging the need to pay them more than other teachers and giving these subjects more weight when it comes to university entrance exams are just two measures to encourage more students to study maths and science. I congratulate the University of Western Australia, which has begun to give greater weight to these subjects. Hopefully this will help address the slide against maths and science based subjects.

Teaching, learning and advancements in research and development are at the core of ensuring Australia has a prosperous economic future. But it all starts with the basics—science and maths being a central cog in our children's learning machine. This education bill has nothing to say on this. Given the positive link between education and the economic multiplier, we have to ask ourselves what kind of economy we, the coalition, are hoping to shape through educational advancement.

I have one question for the Gillard government. It is the one question I am asked every single day in my electorate of Tangney. Young and old alike ask me: if education reform is really so important to Labor, why are they not putting any money into the Gonski review's recommendations until—get this—2022? There is no money until 2022—nearly 10 years over three governments. What hubris. What trickery. And where is this money going to come from? What a shame.


Natalie Davis
Posted on 20 Jun 2013 1:46 pm

Thank you Mr Jensen - you are absolutely correct. May I also add that that as Senior students can only study 5 or 6 subjects, the Government needs to decide on what the real priority is - is it for more students to engage in the hard sciences or is it for students to study Asian languages? Our future R&D depends on how seriously we consider this issue. If we get this right then our future exports with Asia will look very bright - if we get it wrong, well...

I'm also glad you made your point regarding the costs and importance of Primary education - it's all too late once students hit Secondary school; the difference is made in the Primary years.

Natalie Davis