Monday, 3 June 2013
Australian Education Bill 2012; Second Reading
When the debate was adjourned earlier today I was referring to an article by John Hattie concerning the question of how much of a difference experienced and expert teachers make. He identified that, of all the influences that account for the variance in achievement of students, obviously the largest one, at 50 per cent, is the qualities and abilities of the student himself or herself. But the next largest factor, at 30 per cent, in the variance in achievement was due to the quality of the teacher. He makes the point—and this is a point we have made repeatedly from this side of the House—that we have to direct attention to higher quality teaching. Simply throwing money at the system, campaigning for smaller class sizes, regarding the teachers unions' industrial objectives as being consistent with good educational outcomes—that is all very misconceived. The focus has to be on the quality of the teachers.
This was brought home to us yet again in February last year when the Grattan Institute published a report following its conference that examined four high-performing school systems in our region—in Korea, Hong Kong, Shanghai and Singapore—all of which were overtaking us to varying degrees. I quote from Ben Jensen's report where he says:
Today's centre of high performance in school education is East Asia. Four of the world's five highest-performing systems are Hong Kong, Korea, Shanghai and Singapore ... in Shanghai, the average 15-year old mathematics student is performing at a level two to three years above his or her counterpart in Australia, the USA, the UK and Europe. In recent years, many OECD countries have substantially increased education expenditure, often with disappointing results. Between 2000 and 2008, average expenditure per student rose by 34% across the OECD. Large increases in expenditure have also occurred in Australia, yet student performance has fallen.
He goes on to say:
Success in high-performing education systems in East Asia is not always the result of spending more money. Korea, for example, spends less per student than the OECD average.
I think we all know this from our own experience. I remember being a very poor student of Greek in year 9. I think I got six per cent in the annual exam, which I assume was awarded to me for spelling my name—probably only in English! And then the next year, due to a remarkable and charismatic teacher—John Sheldon, who I pay tribute to today, to his charisma and knowledge—I was so inspired to improve my performance that 12 months later I did very well and, in fact, came fourth in the state. We have all had experiences like this, where it is the outstanding teacher who makes the difference.
This is where, when the previous speaker, the member for Newcastle, was referring to the school halls program of the Rudd government and saying what a fabulous program that was, the real tragedy was, of course, that this was not directed at teachers at all. The truth is that the Gonski proposals—the so-called Gonski reforms—were simply about financial resourcing, and it is a very valuable piece of work by a very outstanding Australian. But what the government has not done is to put genuinely new money on the table, or additional money on the table. As I said earlier: it is taking with one hand and giving with the other. But, above all, it is not providing any detail as to what this money is actually going to be used for.
There is talk about giving schools more money, but how is it going to be used? The one thing that we know for sure is that just putting more money into the education system will not, in and of itself, produce better educational outcomes. The focus has to be very keenly on the quality of the teachers, rewarding teachers—good teachers—more generously and encouraging them to stay in the classroom. One of the characteristics of the Australian education system that comes up in the OECD's PISA studies—and these are the big studies on school performance and student performance across all the OECD countries—is that Australia has the narrowest range in teacher remuneration for classroom teachers between the starting salary and the highest salary you can earn while remaining in the classroom. That means that all too often the outstanding classroom teacher goes on to an administrative job—becomes a principal or a deputy principal—gets out of the classroom in order to earn more or, indeed, leaves teaching altogether.
We have to recognise that a good teacher—a really effective teacher—is very intelligent, is well educated—particularly if they are in science or mathematics; they have quantitative skills which are in enormous demand—and, above all, is an engaging and compelling communicator. Those are skills which are immensely valuable in just about every other part of the economy.
I do not think that anyone becomes a schoolteacher in order to get rich, or because the income is attractive. But, equally, we have to recognise that teachers have husbands, wives, children and obligations, and that unless the best teachers are better rewarded there will be a continual loss of them either to non-teaching roles within the educational system or, indeed, to the rest of the economy.
The most concerning thing, therefore, about the government's program is that it has this word, 'Gonski'—and my old friend, as I said earlier, has become not just a proper noun but a verb as well—but where is the detail? None of the states are yet aware of the precise funding details. What are the precise requirements? What does it really mean? The Prime Minister is seeking to get the states to sign up to what is effectively a press release. This issue is too important to be politicised in such a transparently crass way.
We have to get down to the specifics: how is this program that the government is proposing actually going to put more money into schools? Is it going to be a net increase in funding? And what is the outcome going to be for each and every teacher in the system? How is this funding going to change the quality of the teaching in the classroom? Until the government can do that, this will be seen as yet another reminder of Kevin Rudd's great campaign on health: all hype, all headlines, all press releases without the detail that is so critical to our children's future.
I thank the Deputy Speaker for that. On indulgence, I may say that David Gonski is just rising up the scales of grammatical achievement! He is a noun, he is a verb, he is a gerund! It is extraordinary—better than an AC!
I welcome the opportunity to speak on the Australian Education Bill 2012. I am not familiar with the data used to make comparisons with education outcomes in other countries; and, whilst I have heard some commentary about education standards in this country slipping, I nevertheless believe that Australia has a pretty good education system. Of course it could always be better, and that is what we all should be striving for.
For as long as I can remember, at each election education has been an election issue. That indicates to me two things: firstly, that the importance of education is well understood by the Australian people and by the educators we have throughout all of the schools in this country. And secondly, and perhaps more pertinently, that we still do not have the education system right, and the education system that we as a nation are striving for. So 40 years after the last major funding review was commissioned, we again have the opportunity to reassess what works, what does not and what is needed to improve education standards across Australia.
For our children, education is a continuous journey from infancy and preschool right through to adulthood and university. Each stage links to the previous one. The process cannot be changed along the way. You need a whole-of-education-life process to get it right, because one thing leads to the other, and the one it leads to is dependent on the right education being applied by the previous sector. That is why we need to get it right. Doing so will enable schools to plan for the future with a degree of confidence. This bill is not about the funding; it is about establishing a framework and some of the guiding principles that are fundamental to putting in place a good education system for all schools, both public and private.
When I visit schools in my electorate, as I often do, I have nothing but praise for the staff I meet and for their commitment to their students. I also commend each of the schools for the way they adapt and respond to the individual characteristics of their school community and for the range of opportunities schools provide to their students—opportunities in areas including sport, the arts and even humanitarian projects and the like, all of which complement academic education and better prepare students for life after school. Despite my view that Australia has a good education system, there are still too many students who either do not even complete secondary school level or, if they do, exit without the educational standards that will give them the best chance in life. In fact, according to one commentator, one in five public school students will leave school without the skills and knowledge to participate in society. That is of particular concern in today's society, when we live in a global environment. Competition for young people's future comes not only from within their own neighbourhood, state and country but from right across the world.
What is equally concerning is that many of those people whom the education system fails inevitably fall into a cycle of hardship and poverty which then flows on to their own children. Those children in turn become the children with poor educational outcomes—not because they do not have the ability or the intelligence but because they do not have the home life support that is also so important to achieving a good education. Educational outcomes are as much about home life as they are about school life. Our current education system fails those children, not because it is responsible for the problems at home but because schools are inadequately equipped to deal with problems arising at home. The National School Chaplaincy and Student Welfare Program is a commendable program which provides a level of support, but other measures are also required. Conversely, a good education system is the nation's best strategy for overcoming the cycle of poverty and the associated social problems that inevitably flow.
This bill articulates a process by which Australia's national education system will be improved. Funding will always be a consideration. However, funding without an agreed process about how the funding will be allocated is irresponsible. The process is required because Australia's education system has become a shared responsibility between the federal government, the eight separate states and territories, and parents, many of whom choose to additionally fund their children's education by enrolling them in private schools. For a policy to ensure that every child is treated equally and fairly under those circumstances requires an agreed framework based on guiding principles. This legislation sets out those guiding principles. The first step is to reach agreement on those principles between all the parties who have a stake in this matter. Those principles were clearly spelt out by the Prime Minister in her second reading speech. For the record, I will restate them. Principle 1 is a new citizenship entitlement. Principle 2 is new goals for Australian education by 2025. Principle 3 is a new national plan for school improvement. Principle 4 is new principles for school funding. Principle 5 is a new link between school funding and school improvement.
These principles and the framework that this legislation establishes build on earlier educational reforms implemented by the government since coming to office in 2007, reforms which were matched by significant funding allocations. In our first four years, this government invested over $65 billion in schools, almost double the $32.9 billion spent over the last four years of the Howard government. We are also investing a record $23.2 billion in early childhood education and care over the next four years. This government implemented the largest school modernisation program in the nation's history, with 24,000 projects in around 9½ thousand schools, including around 3,000 libraries being funded—a program applauded and appreciated by every principal of a school in my electorate whom I have spoken with and applauded by the leaders of the Lutheran, Catholic and independent schools sectors in South Australia in their discussions with me. It is funding that has enabled schools to provide much-needed modern facilities that would otherwise not have been possible in the foreseeable future and which will make a difference for the better for the students who attend those schools. In addition to the school modernisation program, to date the government has approved $1.2 billion for more than 370 trade training centres, which will benefit about 1,070 schools; and more than 967,000 computers have been delivered to schools around Australia. Other reforms include the implementation of the National Assessment Program—Literacy and Numeracy, the My School website, the National Partnership Agreement on Improving Teacher Quality and the National Partnership Agreement on Literacy and Numeracy.
The amendments from the opposition are nothing more than an attempt to defer consideration of this bill because the opposition have no policy response of their own to the Gonski report. This bill was referred to the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Education and Employment. That committee has now reported back. Other than some minor amendments—I believe there are four of them—the committee has recommended that this legislation be passed. I am encouraged by that, because this is an important matter. Having the committee look at the legislation was quite appropriate, but it is interesting to note that the committee has now recommended that it be passed.
Statements made by members opposite about the importance of education are not commitments. What we have not seen from members opposite, to date, is their own commitment to education in this country. We have heard plenty of criticism about the fact that this bill does not have any details with respect to funding. Well, rather than move the amendments that they have done, why didn't they move amendments which included specific amounts of funding? They could have made their position absolutely clear if they wanted to simply by doing that, but they did not. When it comes to funding, we know what the track record of the coalition is with respect to education, because in the 2010 election the coalition were prepared to cut $2.8 billion of education funding.
The Australian people quite rightly have a right to know what the coalition policy is with respect to the response to the Gonski report. The coalition have had some six years in opposition to develop their policy. They have had almost 18 months since the Gonski report was handed down in December 2011 to come to a policy decision on it, yet to date they have made no comment at all other than to oppose this bill. From what I understand, what they are proposing to do if elected in September this year is to engage in further discussions with the education sectors across this country. One of the urgent things about all of this is that the schools need to have certainty of funding with respect to 2014 and onwards. What the coalition is effectively saying to schools is: 'We will not make any commitments with respect to that, and you will have to wait till after September of this year to know what funding you are likely to get if we are elected. In the meantime, we may continue with the current funding model.' Frankly, that is unacceptable and it certainly does not give any confidence to the schools around the country as to what level of funding they might get from 2014 onwards.
The government's position with respect to funding, however, is clear. The minister and the Prime Minister have made it absolutely perfectly clear. There will be $9.8 billion of funding over the next six years. That will be $9.8 billion of additional funding. Under the agreements being negotiated with the states and territories, for every $2 of federal funding there will be an additional $1 of state or territory government funding, bringing the total additional education funding that schools across Australia can expect to over $14 billion over the next six years. That is the certainty that this government is committing to. Yes, there are ongoing negotiations and discussions still taking place between the government and the various state and territory governments. I am pleased to see that the New South Wales and ACT governments have already agreed to the new funding model, and I have no doubt that other states will also come on board once the negotiations have been completed. I recall an answer in question time only last week from the minister for education that there are also ongoing discussions and negotiations between the government and the Catholic and independent school sectors, and it is quite appropriate that those discussions take place. But, at the end of the discussions, the bottom line is that there will be an additional $14 billion over the next six years if all of the parties agree to the reforms that this government is committing to, and this government is committing to $9.8 billion of those funds.
What I would say to those states that are still negotiating is: by all means you have the right to negotiate, but this is an opportunity to reform education funding in your state and across Australia—a reform that is now 40 years overdue since the last time we had a good look at education funding and the education needs of this country. We have had a report brought back to us by Mr David Gonski. There has been plenty of time for that report to be debated and considered across Australia. Most of the schools that I have gone to and discussed it with are keen to ensure that the general principles outlined in the Gonski reforms come to be, and this government has committed to ensuring that that will happen and is trying to do all it can to make sure not only that we reform the system as a system but that we support those reforms with the necessary funding. What I say to those states that are still negotiating is: support these reforms, because if you do not then what you are doing is denying the students and young people in your state the opportunity for a better future that they will get if we can have a nationally consistent and properly funded education system right across Australia.
It has come to this: our national parliament debating a 1,400-word pamphlet at five minutes to midnight. The government has had six years to get this right, and we find that at the last minute we are presented with figures that nobody believes—not state governments, not the school sector and not my constituents. Masquerading as an education bill is a pamphlet that pretends to set out a plan for education for all children, pretends to make schooling more equitable—whatever that should mean—and pretends to return Australia to the top five nations in the world while, under the watch of this government, it has actually gone the other way. At five minutes to midnight, we are being asked to believe a federal government that has run out of ideas on every other policy front and, in this parliament today, sets out what purports to be a plan for the future of Australia's education. It is a government that has failed to index early childhood education and ripped billions out of university education yet, straight-faced, talks to the Australian people and complains that it cannot get a bill through that can guarantee the educational future of this country.
The Australian Education Bill 2012 is a pamphlet devoid of any detail. It is a pamphlet claiming that it can make Australia the world's best, from a government that does not have a plan for five minutes from now, let alone five years or a decade. We in this great country always wanted a government that planned for the future, but never at any moment did we want a government that abdicated the more important role of governing for today at the same time. We have a government quite capable of reeling off massive figures in the billions of dollars on the pretext that first you need to vote for it again both this year and in three years time. But what is its plan for the next three years? Well, you need to go to the budget papers and see that all of the estimates that were accurate last year about indexation of education have been quickly Tipp-Exed out and replaced with new estimates for what the average government increase in recurrent education will be. It used to be much higher than it is now claimed to be. We cannot find where those numbers come from. No, they are simply new numbers, designed to make the Gonski plan on offer better than it actually is.
All the money that is promised around the country of $16.2 billion is derived from three basic facts. First, they assume that everyone signs up and the states—who already have stressed budgets with no chance to increase their tax base—will put in a two for one offer which states are saying is nigh impossible. Second, we know overall that there is a $4.7 billion cut through clever budget manipulation of the indexation of education funding. It was all happening until the most recent budget when that was basically expropriated away. Then, third, there is a vague promise of $9.8 billion—more money than anyone in this gallery can even dream of—flowing into education, not this term and not the next election term but the term after that. We are wondering who in this chamber will even be here to keep those promises.
What we need is a government so committed to education that they can save, get their budget spending under control and run the economy so that, like every government before them, they can save the money to invest in education. But that concept is long gone. The notion that one saves in order to spend has long been destroyed and now we have vague and mostly irrelevant promises. The $2.8 billion that is even meant to go into schools in the next four years sounds like a reasonable figure until you take out the $2.1 billion that has been removed. The discontinued national partnerships are gone, the reward payments for teachers are gone, the cash bonuses for schools are gone, literacy and numeracy funding are gone. That is all removed with the other hand as Peter is busily robbing Paul. These are all discontinued programs which have not in any way been explained by the government and there is simply no detail on what this fund really sets out to do.
It is a good time to read out the 10 essential principles that the coalition commits to in running an education system and which every Australian deserves to know. Families must have a right to choose where and how they meet their education needs, values and beliefs. All children must have the opportunity to secure a quality education wherever they are. Student funding must be based on fair, objective and, most importantly, transparent criteria. Every school deserves to know if it is better or worse off. Students with similar needs must be treated comparably wherever they are and never should we be satisfied that large numbers of students do not attend school in this great nation. Decisions, wherever possible, must be made by local parents and school communities wherever that can be achieved and every Australian student is absolutely entitled to a basic grant for their education from the Commonwealth, after all the Commonwealth is the main collector of a range of national taxes. Schools and parents need a high degree of certainty. After six years and for all the claims from the government—and people have not yet seen a coalition policy—this Labor government now, and even before in opposition, has never given a clear signal that it will protect schools and that no school will be worse off. We are yet to hear that commitment made. Schools should not be penalised, not for their efforts in fund raising nor for encouraging private investment in education. Lastly, funding arrangements must be simple enough so that schools can direct that funding where they wish to education outcomes or to increase productivity and quality in their schools.
What we have in this pamphlet before us is a definitional problem because still while it is being debated in this chamber there is not a clear supplemental definition about what comprises a systemic or a non-systemic school. We know that Catholic education sits in the systemic column but there clearly is not information about how that funding can flow from a Commonwealth to non-government systems. I can understand that is a massive concern for schools in my electorate, many of whom are highly efficient, highly successful, low-fee independent schools.
Everyone in Australia does know there is now a 30 June deadline, but states are increasingly finding it a highly unsatisfactory arrangement dealing with this Prime Minister: (a) because the numbers do not add up, (b) because she is not negotiating constructively, (c) because there is a sense of panic in this government and we are not quite sure what they are going to do next and (d) because in my great state alone, where there are 2,000 schools across that largely decentralised population, up to 300 schools have no idea if they will be better or worse off. There is no commitment to those 300 schools and I would argue that any reform of education begins from the simple proposition that the current funding enjoyed by every school is secured and any of the indexation is guaranteed. But in fact that is not the case at the moment.
In my electorate I have some of the largest and finest state schools and also, as I have said, some great low-fee independent schools. Not one of those school communities would brook a cut to their funding but, as long as there are 300 schools in Queensland, it is a reasonable proposition—given that I cover about one-thirtieth of Queensland—that a number of schools in the electorate of Bowman are under threat. I am not being histrionic or alarmist, but until you can rule it out we cannot have a basic and honest conversation about how we can index and increase funding. That basic starting point must be absolutely settled and that the funding they currently enjoy will not be cut.
If you look at the debate that is occurring at the moment and the increasing sense of panic from a Commonwealth government that effectively at five minutes to midnight is trying to strike an education deal that they have had six months to put together, it is quite clear that there is very little bargaining in good faith. I know that we have seen a majority of mainland states still not agreeing. There are three basic numbers that we cannot get an answer on from this government. This debate is the right time to come forward and be completely frank about three things. The first one is that despite the claims in the next budget estimates—this is where a government puts skin in the game and promises what they commit to for the next four years—precisely what is the state of education investment? On our side of politics we claim a $325 million cut. That is because of all of the changes to national partnership agreements and the backloading by a government that up until 12 months ago actually held onto that almost ephemeral dream that they could still create a budget surplus. But no, it is a government that after five attempts has had five failures. You would have to go back decades to find a Labor government that can actually raise the money that they also promise with the other hand.
With that in mind, there is absolutely no sign of where this money will come from. So when you hear a Labor politician around the country promising money that ends in the word 'billions' you have to ask this very simple question: from where does the money come?
It is a government that is quite prepared to backload its promises so that most of the money you will hear them promising is appearing not after this election but after the next one. This is a government that has barely been able to predict exactly what is going to happen with terms of trade, the mining boom and the costs of their own programs, but again at five minutes to midnight they want us to believe their education promises for 2017.
I for one—and I know there are many people out there listening—would just ask a simple question of this government: can you balance a budget? No. Do you have fiscal spending under control? No. There is very little disagreement from any economic analyst about those factors. So long as those basic antecedents cannot be mastered by this government, nothing they promise about education can work. It is a government fighting over the crumbs. It is a government unable to grow the cake. It is a government unable to budget for the future. It is a government that fundamentally cannot be trusted on education.
The recommendations for sweeping reform of education in Australia proposed by David Gonski provide the blueprint for necessary and affordable reform and must be adopted. Like the National Disability Insurance Scheme, the so-called Gonski reforms are genuinely nation changing and just the sort of strategic reforms that the federal parliament should be working to achieve. They have my support.
To me, the great attraction of Gonski is not just the promise of a big increase in spending on education in Australia, as attractive as that obviously is. Even more important is the promise to finally get over the divisive public-versus-private dispute and instead to focus on the funding of education based on need.
And need there certainly is. Despite Australia being one of the richest and most fortunate countries in the world, education remains seriously underfunded, and this is increasingly being reflected in any number of indicators. For instance, according to the Australian Education Union, students in disadvantaged areas are up to three years behind those of the same age who live in wealthy areas and one in seven 15-year-old students in Australia does not have basic reading skills. Moreover, according to the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development's Program for International Student Assessment, by the age of 15 more than one-third of Australia's Indigenous students 'do not have the adequate skills and knowledge in reading literacy to meet real-life challenges and may well be disadvantaged in their lives beyond school'. No wonder Australian Education Union Federal President, Angelo Gavrielatos, has said the NAPLAN national report, by highlighting the achievement gap, confirms the urgent need for reform of the way our schools are funded.
The statistical evidence in support of implementing the Gonski reforms is sizeable and persuasive. For instance, the OECD reports that the bottom 10 per cent of maths students in Shanghai perform at a level that is 21 months ahead of the bottom 10 per cent of students in Australia. The OECD has also found that between 2000 and 2009 Korea's mean reading score improved by 15 points, which is equivalent to nearly five months learning, while Australia's fell by almost the same amount. Moreover, the Grattan Institute has consistently reported that, even where funding has been increased under the current scheme, educational outcomes have stagnated. In other words, Australia is being left behind—left behind by our economic competitors at that—the result being that not only are our students increasingly ill-prepared for their futures; but Australia as a nation is increasingly ill-prepared to compete in the future global economy.
One of the single biggest impediments to turning this situation around is that for decades now the vitally important area of education policy has been a public-versus-private, have-versus-have-not battleground. But David Gonski has given us a pathway through this by detailing a needs based funding arrangement where all students, regardless of where they are schooled—public, independent or Catholic; it doesn't matter—are treated as equal, with those in special need being given the extra support they need. This is, I suggest, a fundamentally fairer approach and one that removes the ideological stumbling block that has limited funding to a school-centric model for so long.
Despite my support for the Gonski reforms, I do feel that it is important to ring some alarm bells here. For instance, this legislation is flimsy and hardly the sort of detailed material we were all expecting, especially considering the time the government has taken to prepare the bill and the nation-changing scope of it. Another concern I have is that the government is inclined to tinker with Gonski's recommendations. Already some of the settings the Independent Schools Council of Australia, among others, were happy enough with look set to change, the result being a diminishing support for the reforms among non-government schools.
The government really must tread very carefully here because, if the spirit of Gonski's recommendations is lost, then so too will be lost the spirit of goodwill which existed across much of the education sector when Gonski's recommendations were first announced. Frankly, I cannot emphasise this point strongly enough. Unless and until the focus is genuinely on funding all students consistently regardless of where they are schooled and on funding disadvantaged students and schools to fully address that disadvantage regardless of whether or not they are public or private students or schools, we will keep coming back to the bun fight over public versus private and it will be the students more than anyone else who will suffer.
School funding must be according to need. Regrettably, that very essence of Gonski is at real risk of being watered down, and already the public-versus-private debate has crept back into the conversation. This must be stopped in its tracks, and that would be achieved if the government clearly explained how this reform is to be fully funded so corners do not need to be cut or funding priorities introduced. The reforms would also be greatly helped if the opposition stopped politicising the issue and reverting to type on the whole private school issue.
As far as the funding goes let us get one thing straight. By some estimates Australia spends $1 billion a week on education—yes, that is right: $1 billion a week—so what Gonski is asking for here, an additional $6.5 billion a year, as much as that sounds and in fact is, is still only a little more than a 10 per cent increase in education funding, or in other words an additional six weeks worth. Surely, in one of the richest and most fortunate countries in the world, with an annual federal budget of maybe $350,000 million, we can find the money for such a significant and nation-changing reform. If we cannot find such a relatively small amount of money for such an important purpose, then what on earth is public money for?
I said David Gonski recommended an increase in spending of $6.5 billion a year—that is, in fact, the indexed amount; his original recommendation being $5 billion a year, or $30 billion over six years—but the government's proposal is less than half of that and a significant slice comes from tertiary education. That disappoints me greatly because it means that in reality the government is seeking to roll out a much diminished version of what David Gonski expertly judged to be needed if we are to properly fund education in this country. I know money is tight and that means some important areas of government spending must be cut back, but surely we can find the cash to properly fund education. Surely it is just about priorities—the regrettable reality being that the Gonski reforms, being so loudly trumpeted by the government, is but a fraction of what is really needed and what could in fact be funded if there were the political will to do so.
That money should not come from the tertiary sector. The government's decision to strip $2.8 billion from the universities and their students is an appalling error of judgement. For heaven's sake what a truly dumb idea to cut education funding to boost education funding. No wonder the sector is up in arms, and I say power to the arms of the National Tertiary Education Union's campaign to have this cut overturned. In my home state of Tasmania this cut to the tertiary sector will translate into 150 job losses at the University of Tasmania at a time when UTAS is more important than ever for the way it is underpinning a sagging economy. Then there are the University of Tasmania's students, many of whom are disadvantaged and who will be hit especially hard by these cuts.
I note the Greens have suggested an amendment to the bill that would give priority to the most disadvantaged schools in the event funding overall falls short. I see the sense in that and will likely support their amendment but, frankly, it should not be necessary to be considering such a sandbagging of Gonski. The fact that we are, seriously points to the alarming realisation that these reforms are at risk of collapsing or at least being seriously diminished. If Gonski does not go ahead in any credible way the opposition will also have some explaining to do, not just for any refusal to support it in this place but also because of the behaviour of at least some of the Liberal-held states that would much rather play politics with our children's education than work cooperatively with Canberra.
Frankly, I do not care much for who pays for Gonski just so long as the job gets done. I do note that the reform is designed to be paid for by both the federal and state governments, which seems perfectly reasonable to me given the longstanding joint responsibility for education implementation and funding. However, here we are with Western Australia and Queensland in particular carrying on like pork chops, more interested it seems in the Liberal-Labor, state-federal contest than in any sort of meaningful improvement to school funding. Where all this ends up remains to be seen, especially when any number of points of detail are still to be properly addressed. For instance, what is to be done about the non-government schools that are currently deemed to be over-funded but protected by historic promises of never being worse off? This thorny issue is set to become even more problematic as the new funding model is implemented.
In closing, there is no reason whatsoever why Australia cannot have the best schools in the world, populated by the best teachers in the world, producing the best students in the world. The raw truth of the matter is that we do not and in fact we are going backwards compared to many countries. Please let us get behind Gonski and start to turn this around. Our kids need it.
I rise to speak on the Australian Education Bill 2012. I start with the statement that we all want better school outcomes, but this bill before the House does not deliver those better outcomes. It is simply not good enough that in Australia today a 15-year-old student has fallen behind their Chinese, Hong Kong, Singaporean, Korean and Japanese counterparts in reading, maths and science—in some cases by more than two years.
This government thinks that if it can say the word 'Gonski' often enough people will think it is doing something for education. The answer is it is not. 'Gonski' has become this government's byword for inaction and this bill, the Australian Education Bill, is symptomatic of a broader problem. There are simply no details or funding, merely aspirational goals. The Prime Minister said that this was the most important bill of the year when she first introduced it, but it is just nine pages and 1,400 words long
It promises that the Australian schooling system will be highly equitable, provide excellent educational outcomes and see Australia placed in the top five countries for reading, science and maths by 2025. Who could disagree with such noble goals, for education is, after all, what Thomas Jefferson once described as the first defence of the nation.
But the weakness of this bill before us today is that it provides no details. What is more, the weakness of the government's position is that it has a track record of cutting government funding to schools. Just look at the last federal budget: $325 million less for schools over the forward estimates compared to what they forecast in 2012-13. The so-called new money promised to schools falls beyond the forward estimates, from 2017 onwards—another three elections away. Just look at the impact that their funding cuts have had: discontinuing the national partnership funding for low socioeconomic status schools, lowering reward payments to teachers and cash-bonus payments for schools, and literacy and numeracy funding cuts to the tune of over $2 billion. Indeed, if one looks at education funding overall, taking into account higher education and vocational education and training as well as schools, there will be $4.7 billion less over the four years to 2016. No wonder Fred Hilmer, the Vice-Chancellor of the University of New South Wales and a nonpartisan figure, said of the government's cuts to higher education:
With these cuts coming we will have to slow down hiring and slow down our investment in technology. How you reconcile that with the Asian century ambition is just a joke.
On Gonski, the Prime Minister's tactics and package is a lesson in how not to win the agreement of the states and territories. The Victorian Minister for Education, Martin Dixon, has criticised the government saying, 'They should be working with us, not holding us to ransom', while his Premier, Dennis Napthine, has criticised the Prime Minister's cuts to other educational areas saying, 'This is very disappointing that the Prime Minister is seeking to rob Peter to pay Paul.' The Western Australia Premier, Colin Barnett, has said of Gonski:
I would have to be nuts to sign up to something like that … I think it's a disgraceful and shameful pretence by a Prime Minister who is not genuinely looking at education improvement, is simply playing divisive politics.
He went on to say it shows 'a disdain for Western Australia and for Western Australian children'. Queensland Premier Campbell Newman has said he has 'serious concerns' about the government's proposal making it 'impossible' for him to meet the 30 June deadline:
I just get the feeling it's a great big mirage in an election year.
There will be no deal on Gonski. The model is a flawed model. It takes too much money out of higher education. It puts the Northern Territory government in a very poor financial position.
The National Catholic Education Commission 'strongly expressed' its concern over the government's funding approach, referring to the 'unsatisfactory situation that still drags on and now threatens to become a political football for several more months'. The Independent Schools Council of Australia said there is a:
… reduction in Australian government funding for schools rather than the increases to school funding that the government indicated would flow to disadvantaged students … without an appropriate level of replacement funding … independent schools will not be in a position to adequately support their disadvantaged students.
Effectively, the government is asking these states and these important peak bodies to throw their support behind the government's unfunded, unclear and unexplained proposal for the education sector. Trust what Labor does, not what Labor says. We in the opposition are simply not prepared to do that. As the member for Kooyong, with 30,000 school students in my electorate attending 52 schools, 30 of which are non-government, I am simply not prepared to trust this government. The government does not deserve the benefit of the doubt. Given this government's track record with waste and mismanagement in the Building the Education Revolution, computers in schools, Schoolkids Bonus and, most of all, in declining school education standards relative to our competitor nations, we cannot simply give it the benefit of the doubt.
In contrast, we on the coalition side have a different approach. As effectively articulated by our irrepressible shadow minister for education, the member for Sturt, we have outlined 10 broad principles that guide our approach to school funding and reform. This is the subject of our amendment to the bill. Families must have the right to choose a school that meets their needs, values and beliefs. As I said in my maiden speech in this place, there is bipartisan agreement with Sir Robert Menzies' proposition that 'lack of money must be no impediment to bright minds'—but it is at this point the ideological battle begins.
On this side of the chamber, we believe that parents have a fundamental right to choose the type of school they send their child to. It is a fundamental tenet of Liberal philosophy. It does not matter if it is a government or non-government school—it is their choice and it should be supported by government. In fact, to do otherwise is to deny parents, as taxpayers, equal government support for a non-government school. This in itself is inequitable. Those on the other side of the House must understand that parents who send their children to non-government schools often do so at great personal expense, but they prioritise their tight budgets to choose a school with the right culture and values for their child. And despite the financial constraints, we are seeing an increasing number of parents having to pay more and more for their child's education at non-government schools. Of the nearly 3.5 million Australian school students, 34 per cent attend non-government schools—a figure which reaches as high as 42 per cent in years 11 and 12. In the light of these numbers at non-government schools it is more important than ever that we ensure that this government's ideological approach to education does not see any student short-changed and any school lose funding under a new funding model.
The second principle of our amendment is that all children must have the opportunity to secure a quality education. The third principle is that student funding needs to be based on fair, objective and transparent criteria, and distributed according to socioeconomic need. Currently, there is no detail in this bill as to whether the government's proposed funding model stacks up against this principle. The fourth principle is that students with similar needs must be treated comparably throughout the course of their schooling. The Gonski report did find that students with a disability were funded in an unfair and inequitable manner. This needs to be addressed and we continue to wait for further details from this government. The fifth principle is that as many decisions as possible should be made locally by the school community, including parents, principals and teachers. There is in this bill a reference to a new National Plan for School Improvement, which refers to 'empowering school leadership,' but there is little else. This is a really critical area of reform and one which the coalition has consistently advocated for.
The sixth principle is that school sectors and school systems must be accountable to their community, families and students. Again, the bill makes reference to schools becoming more accountable to the community but little else is provided. The seventh principle is that every Australian school student must be entitled to a basic grant from the Commonwealth government. As mentioned earlier, as taxpayers, all parents have equal rights to government support whether their child is at a government or non-government school. In fact, by sending their children to non-government schools, those parents are cross-subsidising the public education system in the vicinity of $6,000 per child per year.
The eighth principle is that schools and parents must have a high degree of certainty about school funding so they can effectively plan for the future. This bill provides no certainty in this regard and is an issue that needs to be urgently addressed by the government, with more detail. The ninth principle is that parents who wish to make a private contribution towards the cost of their child's education should not be penalised, nor should schools in their efforts to fundraise and encourage private investment. Schools should be encouraged to raise private investment, not penalised for it, as the Greens would like us to do. The government, with its record of school hit lists based on accumulated assets, needs to come clean about its intentions in this important area.
Finally, the 10th principle is that funding arrangements must be simple so that schools are able to direct funding towards education outcomes, minimise administration costs, and increase productivity and quality. Again, there is little detail in the bill to counter the impression among many stakeholders in the schooling system that the government's new proposals will substantially increase the administrative burden.
In addition, our amendment as to definitions in the bill will also provide for a proper definition of both a systemic school and a non-systemic school. That is important because, in the main, Catholic schools are funded by the Australian government through the state or territory Catholic Education Commission, which then distribute the funding among Catholic schools on a needs basis, whereas with the independent schools system, they are non-systemic and funding is provided by the Australian government directly to the school.
Through our amendment, the coalition also calls on the government to give certainty to schools by extending the current funding arrangements for another two years. With the current funding agreement for schools expiring at the end of the year, there is a lot of anxiety in the system with schools unable to appropriately plan for the year ahead and to guarantee teaching places.
In conclusion, education is just so important to the state of our nation's wellbeing and to our level of prosperity, harmony and security for tomorrow. The coalition recognise how important education is. In the event that there is no national agreement, all schools can be assured that a federal coalition government will see schools receive at least the same quantum of Commonwealth funding as they currently receive, indexed to meet the rising costs. We will also continue to empower school leadership, giving principals more autonomy, and increase the focus on standards and accountability.
The Australian people demand that we in this place get the school funding model right. I have over 50 schools in my electorate, with more than 30,000 students attending some of the best government and non-government schools that can be found anywhere in this country. It is my duty to them to uphold good policy, to advocate for good values and to ensure that they, the next leaders of our country, are provided with the best education possible. We deserve much more than what the government has produced for us today: merely pious aspirations with little detail and that is not good enough. I will do all that I can, not just in promoting our amendment to the Australian Education Bill but in all my efforts in this place to ensure that the leaders of tomorrow, the children of today, receive the best education possible, based on their parents' own personal choice.
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.
It is a little strange standing up here this evening and talking about this Australian Education Bill 2012. We do not really have any idea what it is about. It is a bit strange. It contains nine pages and 1,400 words and sets out aspirational goals. The three suggested goals that the Prime Minister is aiming for are: for Australian schooling to provide an excellent education for all students; for Australian schooling to be highly equitable; and for Australia to be placed in the top five countries in reading, science and mathematics. Quality, equity and recognition in international testing by 2025—those aspirations are hard to disagree with.
We on this side would like all Australian schools to be the best in the world, but what we need is some detail. We need to know how the government is going to do this. If there is one thing we—especially the Australian people—have had to learn the hard way it is that you cannot trust this government to implement anything. The idea that on a whim we would just say, 'Yes, Prime Minister, we will pass this education bill and trust you with all the detail,' borders on the absurd. It is a bit like being asked to buy a house but not being allowed to look inside the house: how many rooms it has, what are the quality of those rooms, whether they are carpeted, whether there is a kitchen, whether there are bathrooms. We are being asked to say: 'Yes, Prime Minister, off you go. We trust you. We know that you will deliver on behalf of the Australian education system.' Sadly, we are not in a position to do this.
As a matter of fact, what we would like is some questions answered as to what the detail would be. Those questions are along the following lines. First, where will the at least $6.5 billion per year which the government has touted come from? Where is the money? We have no idea where the money is. All we know is the government is going to find the majority of the money in three elections' time. That is when the money is going to magically appear.
Another question is: how much will the Commonwealth contribute and how much are the states expected to find? All we know about this aspect is that this is still under negotiation, and the government is struggling. Because we have read the papers today, we know that Queensland do not seem to be very happy with the current arrangements that the Commonwealth are putting to them. We know that Victoria has the same problem. We know that Western Australia has the same issue. As a matter of fact, it seems that the government went all out to get one state on board. Given that the government have done that, there might not be much left for the other states. As the Prime Minister has set a deadline of 30 June for this to be completed and as yet she only has one state and one territory on board, it would seem that where the money is going to come from with regard to state governments is still very uncertain.
The third question that we want answered is: what programs will be cut and what taxes will the government increase to pay for this? Sadly, it seems we will have to wait for the detail on that, if the government is re-elected. Personally speaking, I hope for the benefit of the country, the government are not re-elected on 14 September. We also have questions on the leaked Gonski modelling. The only thing we have seen on what Gonski means with regard to modelling is the leaked document. The government has not transparently come out and said: 'Here is the modelling which will sit behind this bill, and this is what Gonski, in the government's form, would mean for individual schools.' The leaked modelling had 3,254 schools worse off. Which schools are worse off? Which states are they in? That is what we need to know. Is the government going to come out and say, 'We've changed the leaked modelling, and this is what it looks like now and what it would mean for individual schools'? Is the government going to be transparent with the Australian people on this issue?
Sadly, I do not think that is going to be the case, because what we are hearing behind the scenes is not only will there not be transparency but there are gag orders being put on various consultations occurring, whereby those the government take into confidence are not allowed to publicly release the detail of those discussions. We are actually seeing the reverse of proper transparency. We are seeing people being gagged, which does not mean that we can look with great faith at what the government is proposing and think that there will not be problems in the process. Once you start moving away from transparency, it usually shows that there are flaws in your approach.
When will the modelling showing the impact of this funding for each school be available? When are we going to see what the individual impact on each school will be as a result of the approach that the government says it is going to take? I say 'says it is going to take' because we have not seen the approach detailed in any form. We want to hear from the Prime Minister a guarantee that no school will increase school fees as a result of her changes. Is she going to come out and give a guarantee that some schools will not be worse off and will not have to lift fees? I look forward to hearing that from the Prime Minister. Where is the detailed response to the 41 recommendations in the Gonski review? When are we going to see the detail? The devil is in the detail, and you would have thought that this government would have learnt that by now.
How much indexation will each school and school sector receive? What will be the benchmark funding per primary and secondary school student? How much funding per student will be allocated for students with a disability? We saw some movement on this from the government today, but still questions need to be answered. Will this funding be portable between the government and non-government sectors? This is a very important point. What type of competition are we going to see brought into the school system as a result of these changes? What, if any, future capital funding arrangements will be provided for schools? We have heard that there are schools that will not move to develop extra parts of their schools. We have particular sectors in the education system which will not build new schools while they are waiting for the government to get its act together on this.
What new reporting requirements and other conditions will schools have to meet in order to qualify for government funding? Once again, we are in the dark with regard to this issue. As a matter of fact, we are hearing that the government, especially when it comes to the Catholic sector and the independent sector, wants to put more regulation in place so that how the independent and Catholic schools want to spend their money will be regulated. We hear they will need to get permission from the federal department before they can make decisions with regard to allocating funding which, in the normal course of events, they would make themselves. Those are the questions that we need answered. We need them answered soon because, if the artificial deadline of 30 June which the Prime Minister has set is to be believed, then you would think that the government would allow the public system, the independent system and the Catholic system time to look at this model and to decide whether it is in the interests of all Australians.
What will the coalition do if we are elected to government? We have our own set of principles which outline our values for schooling. These values are seen in the amendments that we have put forward to this bill. We believe that families must have the right to choose the school that meets their needs, values and beliefs. All children must have the opportunity to secure a quality education. Student funding needs to be based on fair, objective and transparent criteria, distributed according to socioeconomic need. Students with similar needs must be treated comparably throughout the course of their schooling. As many decisions as possible should be made locally by parents, communities, principals, teachers, schools and school systems.
Schools, school sectors and school systems must be accountable to their communities, families and students. It is a very important point, because if they are accountable locally that means the schools know that their community is judging their performance. And there is no greater judge of your performance than your peers, and especially when it comes to local and country communities that is absolutely the case.
Every Australian student must be entitled to a basic grant from the Commonwealth government. Schools and parents must have a high degree of certainty about school funding so they can effectively plan for the future. Parents who wish to make a private contribution towards the cost of their child's education should not be penalised, nor should schools in their efforts to fundraise and encourage private investment. Funding arrangements must be simple so schools are able to direct funding towards education outcomes, minimising administration costs and increasing productivity and quality.
They are the principles that will guide us. They are the principles that have guided the amendments to this bill that we have put forward. Until we see the detail, they are the amendments we are going to base our approach on to this bill. I would like to commend our shadow minister because he has had the sense to give the government a chance to come in and provide the detail. He has also provided a way for the government to be able to say: 'We're really not competent enough to do this. Everything like this that we have done we have failed on.' What we are putting forward is a way out for the government—a way for the government to say, 'Yes, you're right, this is too big a reform for us to handle.' So let's postpone it for a couple of years. Let's cement the existing funding arrangement to keep it in place and then, hopefully, we can get a competent government in place that can do the reform that is necessary. That is what our shadow education minister has put in place, and I think it is a pretty reasonable compromise. It understands the incompetence of the other side and reflects the need for us to get some certainty into the funding arrangement in the next couple of years and then for a competent government to come along and do the necessary reform.
I would like to congratulate our shadow minister for that very sensible and reasonable approach he has adopted on this bill. He has acted in extreme good faith in the approach that he has taken and given the government a very good way out on this bill. As I explained at the start, it is very difficult to come in here and talk about a bill on education funding and talk about reform of those education funding arrangements without any detail. I understand the government is negotiating, or trying to negotiate, in good faith with the states. The fact that they have left it to the eleventh hour, the fact that they have not got their act together, the fact that we have Queensland coming out today and saying, 'Sorry, we don't trust your government and what you are putting towards us,' show that this is lacking in credibility. So I think the best thing is for the government to admit, 'Yep, too hard, too difficult, we're not competent enough,' and for us to roll over the existing funding for a couple of years and put reform of education in competent hands. Hopefully, the Australian people will recognise that the competent hands will be on this side, if they see fit to vote us into office come 14 September.
I am really pleased to be able to talk on education, having been involved in education for some 25 years of my previous working life. I would like to comment on some of the statements made by my friend the member for Wannon—and he would expect this. What we have on this side is a plan which involves funding, certainty of funding, and expectations and improvements related to this funding for both public and non-public schooling by state and territory governments along with the federal government.
What we got from the other side is, firstly, a desperate attempt to try and defend the opposition spokesperson on education, who thinks educational policy is a racehorse, because that is as close as he would ever get in reality to it. Secondly, what we got from every member who has spoken so far, with the templated answers they are provided with, is a set of values. So we have got a plan versus a set of values. I ask all of those listening to this debate to weigh up what they believe is the substance in both these approaches. I do not think they will take very long to work out that one side indeed has a plan and is working assiduously to see that plan reach fulfilment in a very, very important sector of public policy and in socioeconomic outcomes for this country, and the other side is effectively saying no.
I think everyone observing this debate or participating in it respects the Gonski review. One of the fundamental statements of the Gonski review was that we have a broken funding system and we need to give that funding system certitude and assurance into the future no matter where you are educated—both in the school and in the state and nationally. Some of the factors that affect and are affected by the school funding debate are the outcomes of our schooling system. We really do have some challenges we all have to face. It is no good passing the buck. We have got to deal with it
Part and parcel of that is about resourcing; part and parcel of that is about giving certitude to funding into the future; and part and parcel of that is also having expectations and outcomes from this funding, which we want applied nationally.
For instance, year 9 students from lower socioeconomic backgrounds can be up to three years behind better-off peers. That is a disgrace. The international tests have showed that our year 4s have performed the worst in reading and literacy out of all English-speaking countries. That is disgraceful! And on average, Indigenous students are two to three years behind non-Indigenous students in reading and numeracy.
What do we do about this, apart from wring our hands, huff and puff and carry on like pork chops in this place? The government is seeking a plan in three parts. First: fix the school funding system that the independent Gonski review found is leaving too many students behind. The intent of this plan and the funding behind it, irrespective of what is said opposite—and by some states at this stage, doing their argy-bargy, which you expect in this Federation and when they do their argy-bargy discussions—is to fund all Australian schools under the same approach—all Australian schools—with a set amount per student and extra funding to tackle disadvantage.
When we look at this extra funding to tackle disadvantage we have, first and foremost, this Schooling Resource Standard which we talk about, recommended by the Gonski review. It is widely endorsed by teaching and education experts. So we have this fundamental benchmark of funding for all students. I am no educational economist nor, indeed, a statistician et cetera, but it is based on that standard which we believe provides the best of outcomes in the best of schools for those students.
On top of that, this is in order to overcome need—and we all agree in this place that surely, the basis of our funding should be a needs-based funding system, no matter where that student is. This is the hardest thing for people to comprehend, no matter where those students are and in what sector or what state or territory. What are some of these 'extra' areas, or 'loadings', as we call them, on top of this benchmark, which will all determine the best outcome for students?
Here are some of these extra loadings that students and schools need for more support. First and foremost is a low socioeconomic status loading. Just to fill listeners in, this ranges from $695 per primary student and $914 per secondary student, to $4,635 per primary student and $6,996 per secondary student. This is a loading where there is need based on low socioeconomic status. There is an Indigenous loading, where it is appropriate, and this will range from $1,854 per primary student and $2,439 per secondary student, to $11,000 per primary student and $14,000-plus per secondary student. Again, these are based on the levels of need.
Students with limited English skills are set at 10 per cent of the per student amount. There is a location loading applied to each school's per student Schooling Resource Standard amounts, plus any school size amount. There is a size loading as well and there is a loading for students with disabilities, intended to be phased in from 2015 once a nationally consistent data collection on students with disabilities has been established.
We need to ensure that every school has the money it needs to do a great job. I do not think that any of us disagree with that. We need to ensure that funding is there every year, hence the certainty of funding: not just funding by itself but certainty of funding into the future. To ensure certainty, states and territories are offered $9.4 billion across the next six years under a two-for-one funding deal that, if fully implemented, will see an extra $14.5 billion invested in school education across that time and across all sectors.
To give effect to this, the Commonwealth will increase its school education budget by 4.7 per cent every year, and we are asking the states and territories to commit to three per cent growth in return. So this is a genuine funding-guaranteed partnership, not just on the total amounts but giving certainty into the future—something we have never had before. What will this mean? There will be enough funding for every school to get, as a bare minimum, its current funding—I say that again: every school to get its current funding—plus indexation of three per cent. The vast majority of schools currently below their Schooling Resource Standard will get more. I will return to the more specific implications of this possibility and/or its rejection a little bit later, if I have time.
The third part of our plan is really important because it is no good just relying on funding. We have to have outcomes, we have to have benchmarks and we have to have expectations across the nation, no matter what school you go to. None of us, I believe would disagree with that. To ensure that this investment in schools is coupled with wide-ranging school improvement reforms is an absolute necessity. So the plan is more than allocating moneys; it involves benchmarking. I would like to have a look at some of those, if I can, and just share with you some of the expectations.
There are higher entry standards for teachers and a requirement that new teachers be in the top 30 per cent of the population for literacy and numeracy before they can graduate. We rely most heavily and most significantly on our teachers—and I was proud to be one. I do not think you can invest in anything more important, apart from students, but in those who influence the most, and that is in our teachers. It should be one of the highest remunerated and highest status professions in this country. I think we all would agree with that, and I think we could do a hell of a lot more to ensure that that happens.
That has something to do with standards. Not only is it related to standards for entry into the teaching profession; it is also about support and funding for the professional development of teachers who are now in the system—all the way through. And maybe it is also about looking at resourcing different streams of support for teachers and their careers inside the teaching profession. Rather than having to move over to administration, they could remain in our classrooms, in our teaching and learning environments, and bring that fantastic expertise that they have.
There should be more support for new teachers. There is nothing more daunting than facing your first class or two. It is really important that we properly resource our schools in order to reduce their workload and to mentor them, particularly in the first couple of years. It is really important. It can mean so many more teachers staying in our system, being absolutely comfortable with our system, and being supported doing that. It is about ongoing professional training for all teachers and principals, so their skills remain up to date and students benefit from the best teaching methods.
There are annual performance reviews for every teacher. I know people get touchy about annual reviews—I suppose we have them every three years—but it is part and parcel of the modern workforce and the modern workplace; and nothing keeps you more on your toes and on your mettle than to actually be reviewed. Importantly, you are doing this to improve your skills; not to worry about the negative side of it. There is extra training for teachers in managing disruptive behaviour and dealing with bullying—we cannot deny that it is going on in all our schools—so every child in the classroom gets a chance to learn in a safe environment.
There are personalised learning plans for students who need extra help; more power for principals, like hiring staff and controlling the budget; better information on the My School website; a school improvement plan for every school; extra help for students that need to improve their results, and successful schools will share their ideas and strategies with others; access to learning an Asian language for all students from their first day at school; the Australian curriculum being implemented in every school and in every subject; an early years reading blitz for foundation to year 3 students to provide early intervention to students who need it; expansion of NAPLAN to cover science literacy; an annual state of our schools report to help track student performance; and so on it goes.
We are effectively saying that we need to guarantee funding, and that funding is benchmarked to a particular resource standard that gives the best of education to our students. Above and beyond that, there is a loading and that may involve Indigeneity, low socioeconomic status, location and place—in terms of remoteness—and so forth. On top of that, we need to give certainty to this resource funding. That means into the future and it means guaranteed indexation; it means that every school will be better off than they are. We need to be able to do this into the future. Importantly, there are expectations of outcomes that we as a nation believe are fair and reasonable.
At the heart of this is a system that is currently not working. I do not care what school you go to; people of reasonable intelligence and good will know that we can do a lot more. We need to raise the standard of those who are involved in teaching our students. We need to encourage them, support them and give them the training they need, both before they go teaching and during. We need to resource our schools the best that we can, so that teaching, learning and decision making on the ground can be enhanced. We also need to guarantee funding for our schools into the future. That is what Labor offers. Those on the other side offer little more than a set of values which they are using to defend the opposition spokesman for education. (Time expired)
Thank you, Deputy Speaker, for the opportunity to speak on the Australian Education Bill 2012. I take the member for Braddon at his word. He is a very good man. It is just a pity that none of what he says is actually in the bill. As a matter of fact, on Sky News on Australian Agenda on the Sunday morning just a couple of weeks ago, Minister Garrett was asked by Paul Kelly, the journalist, if he could guarantee funding, or what was the funding model for schools next year, and he simply cannot answer.
It is interesting to note also that the explanatory memorandum is actually a larger document than the bill itself. The explanatory memorandum is chock-a-block full of phrases such as 'an excellent education', 'quality teaching', 'quality learning', 'empowered school leadership' and the like. This bill is supposed to be the framework to lay the foundations onto which we put the dressing which will make up the future of the education system of the nation. Now, correct me if I am wrong, but the framework to a structure, or the laying of foundations, should be rock solid. It should be the rigid formwork onto which layers of detail can be laid, whilst keeping the shape and the structure and the integrity intact, as it was intended. This bill does none of that. It is chronically open to interpretation. Reading this bill and the explanatory memorandum is a bit like watching that classic Australian film The Castle. What the minister is trying to get across here is the 'feel' or the 'vibe' of education, and it fails at any level to give any real direction.
This government came to office in 2007 with our current Prime Minister as the education minister. She promised an education revolution. We now have a glossary of terms such as 'an excellent education' and the like. They have had since 2007 to get something up, and here we are in June 2013 with less than three sitting weeks to go before the parliament rises, and we have a bill before us which is nine pages long, including front and back covers. We have a bill which is only 1,400 words long in its entirety, which is shorter than this speech I am about to give. We have a bill which is a brochure for education. What we do not have is a blueprint for education reform. What we do not have is a bunch of state education ministers standing there saying, 'We have had our input to this, and we truly believe that it is in the best interests of our nation that this is the way we go.' We do not have a collective of private, Catholic and Christian schools standing there saying, 'We understand what the minister is saying because we have worked with him. We have had our input. We know why he has gone this way. We know he values what we bring to the table, and we will be better off and better able to provide for our students under this scheme.' It does not happen. It is not there.
On the plus side, this bill lays out aspirational goals. Its three main goals are for Australian schools to provide an excellent education for all students, and as the member for Braddon said, who would disagree with that; for Australian schooling to be highly equitable, which again is highly commendable; and for Australia to be placed among the top five countries in reading, science and mathematics, quality and equity, recognised in international testing by 2025. All these are worthy and just. What this minister and government haves done, though, is go out of their way to not include the people who will have to deliver on these promises in the discussions and the arrangements. It is the states and the private and Catholic schools which will actually have to deliver on these things.
I have an issue when it comes to how this government deals with the states, and not just on education but on health, disability and anything else where the lines of funding are blurred between state and federal governments. While not wanting to use this bill or this speech as a platform for constitutional reform, the time has surely come when the federal government cannot continue to belt the states about the head with funding conditions tied to outcome conditions without any real consultation. If we are serious about educational reform, surely we must start with the states and the other education providers by finding out what they think. Wouldn't that be a good way to start, a great starting point? To agree to this funding model takes a huge leap of faith from state governments, or there are things being said behind closed doors about which we are not aware.
For a start, one of the tenets of the explanatory memorandum is quality teaching. This government makes the statement but then cuts funding—no, how does the minister say it, 'pauses payment'—to the university sector. This is the sector charged with providing the quality teachers. The cutting or pausing of payments to the tune of $2.8 billion from the university sector must be the greatest piece of irony from this government, which is fast becoming a cross between Yes, Minister and a Monty Python sketch. State governments will have to be convinced that they will be guaranteed funding which is, in the main, coming after three more elections. I would think that those states are so trusting on this that they should go down to the bank and get a loan now for future funding and then pay it back when this government comes good after 2017. Now, that would be a courageous decision, Minister.
Let me outline for the record what the coalition is putting on the table for the education sector:
1. Families must have the right to choose a school that meets their needs, values and beliefs;
2. All children must have the opportunity to secure a quality education;
3. Student funding needs to be based on fair, objective, and transparent criteria distributed according to socio-economic need;
4. Students with similar needs must be treated comparably throughout the course of their schooling.
5. As many decisions as possible should be made locally by parents, communities, principals, teachers, schools and school systems.
6. Schools, school sectors and school systems must be accountable to their community, families and students.
7. Every Australian student must be entitled to a basic grant from the Commonwealth government.
8. Schools and parents must have a high degree of certainty about school funding so they can effectively plan for the future.
9. Parents who wish to make a private contribution toward the cost of their child’s education should not be penalised, nor should schools in their efforts to fundraise and encourage private investment.
10. Funding arrangements must be simple so schools are able to direct funding toward education outcomes, minimise administration costs and increase productivity and quality.
Those are also aspirational statements. The major difference between these coalition statements and the goals of the government is that most of ours are already in place and being paid for. States, as well as other providers, have funding certainty under the current system. We are asking an awful lot of organisations to make this change for which the government is asking in the period of time in which they are being asked to do so. They have been left in the dark as to funding for next year, let alone in 2017, when the big bucks start rolling in.
I want to provide some insight into what I see as the areas where we can get better outcomes. I must declare an interest here, in that my wife is an early childhood teacher. But, to balance that, I went to state and private schools for my education, my children have been educated in the Catholic system and my brother has been a state school teacher as well as a primary and secondary school principal in the state system. Our conversations are quite often heated but always have the interests of the child at their centre.
This is the point of differentiation between where the debate should be and where the debate is currently held by this government. This government is and always has been more concerned with the politics of the matter rather than the matter at hand. They have made the Gonski reforms this all-powerful panacea for education. They have allowed this to become: 'No matter what you want, Gonski will provide.' They have allowed the branding of themselves as 'education revolutionaries' to override the outcome of the education debate. Remember, Gonski said that there would be an additional $6 billion per year spent on educational funding. That would be an additional $24 billion over the forward estimates. The government talk a good game, but while they are talking that game they are actually delivering a cut of $325 million over the forward estimates. If we did not change a thing and held to the current funding model, there would be $4.7 billion more spent on education up to 2016 than this big-talking government will deliver under the proposed legislation.
The government dispute both those figures—and, with the world's greatest accountants, you can make any set of figures work—but they cannot dispute that what Gonski has said should be done is a far cry from what they are delivering. My younger brother, Stewart, sent me a photo of his grade 3 class from Texas State School. It was 1970, and some of the kids had shoes on. There were 33 kids in the class. The teacher, Miss Baker, was a very stern looking young woman dressed in a white minidress to the right-hand side of the photo; there was no teacher's aide or carer—yet every student in that class could read, write, add up, subtract and divide. When I started grade 1, we were still using slates and damp sponges! We were the lucky ones who got the brand-new Cuisenaire rods to help us with maths. This was something my older brother, just two years before me, did not get. Everyone in my class, taught by Mrs Whitaker, could read, write, add up, subtract and divide. Where did we go so wrong that we are dropping down the list of education rankings? Children today are every bit as smart as we were, if not smarter. So it cannot be the children.
In my discussions with educators and parents in Townsville, we lament the lack of risks in children's lives. I am not trying to glamorise my childhood, but there was a certain recklessness to life that we do not have now. We were expected to fall off our bikes. Everyone broke a bone sooner or later. In that photo of my brother's class in 1970, there are bare feet and scabbed knees. We used to fall over, we used to climb trees and we used to spin around until we fell over. We disappeared as soon as we got home in the afternoon and on weekends, and did not come home until it was dark. We children would organise our own games and referee them ourselves. Now, all sport is organised and all activities are padded. We are seeing more and more children in schools with motor skill problems. They can get to level 117 on Call of Duty or whatever but they are not allowed to do a cartwheel.
I speak to school principals and teachers from all schools in Townsville regularly. Their concerns are the same. More and more we are asking our teachers to do more than teach. I cannot remember Mrs Whittaker ever being involved in what we did at little lunch or big lunch; her job was in the classroom. It seems our teachers are not allowed to tell a parent that their child is struggling or cannot do the work. It is simply untenable that they should suggest that a child should repeat a grade. It simply would not be acceptable to us parents. It seems the good of the child has slipped here and it may be more about how they will feel rather than their personal pride and self-esteem that they actually learn to do the work. When I speak to year 12 students about the end of school days, I wish them failure. I go on to explain that if they fail they have tried. If they keep on trying they will succeed. Like a football team, you learn far more about yourself and your mates from a loss than you ever will from a win. We learn far more in life from scabbed knees than we ever will from walking across soft grass.
I will make a sweeping generalisation: push that non-risk-taker attitude to its logical end. When you have children leaving school and going to university, they naturally want to feel safe. Many choose a degree in education because they have not done anything else than school. They see their teacher as someone they can trust and they follow into education. We are currently seeing in Queensland a drop-off rate of nearly 30 per cent between the first-year and fourth-year teachers. That is not in university but in the workplace. Suddenly they find themselves confronted with just how hard you have to work when you are a teacher. Suddenly you are not just teaching a classroom; you are wiping backsides of children who are not properly toilet-trained when they come to school; you are a marriage counsellor, a confessor and keeper of secrets; you are dealing with child abuse and suspected child abuse; you are dealing with parents' expectations; you are a social worker; you are the guidance officer for children who leave home—all this while trying to work in a national curriculum, while teaching to the test for NAPLAN and trying to bring a lot of reading and its importance in life into the classroom.
We need to do more for our children to get music, art, drama and sport into their lives. They all play their part in the development of the whole child. We need teachers to teach. I believe that good and great teachers are in the system now. I do not believe that the entry level to teaching should be raised or made more difficult, because I believe that teachers exist naturally. The ability to get an idea across in a way that the recipient gets it is the gift a good teacher has. The ability to get students to try is the gift that the good teacher has in spades. Teaching is not a job; teaching is calling or trade like nursing. You can have the skills naturally; you can pick up the skills if you are prepared to work at it. Some do not and move on to another career. Others do not and stay there, to the detriment of the child. We have to back our educators to do the right thing. That may mean that some principals have to sit down with a few teachers and have that hard chat. Every business and organisation deals with this; education is no different.
I was at a speech night for Ignatius Park College in Townsville. The principal, Michael Connor, addressed the audience. The thing that struck me about his address was his absolute belief in the youth of today and that we must address the issue of engagement in education. He implored parents to be involved in their child's education but to recognise that their child may not be perfect. His words were that sometimes learning is just plain hard work and the sooner we face up to that fact the better off we will be. We are all in this together: the states, the communities, the federal government are all in this together, and the sooner we start working together and trying to do this in a collaborative approach instead of coming in with an idea and forcing it on the states the better off we will all be in the long run.
I had taken down my posters campaigning for equity in education, particularly in regional education. I thought, certainly from a New South Wales representative's perspective, that this issue was over and that we had been successful in getting a sensible funding agreement for the future that recognises the problem and finds a shared solution between the state and the Commonwealth, across party lines, to the benefit of students and schools, where the particular loadings of regionality, rurality, Aboriginality and low SES were directly funded in the new five-year funding formula.
But that was only the battle; we still look to have the war. It is with an element of sadness that I record that there are members in this chamber who, at so many levels, say so many things and say they believe in so many things—including that education is important, that regional Australia is important and that state sovereignty is important—who now want to get in the way of all three. I will be damned if my children are going to be left with a funding model that has been clearly proven to lead to intolerable outcomes in the education data, which show about a 30 per cent gap. I will be damned as a parent, let alone as an MP, that, as a collective, the students of my communities are being told that it is some kind of normality that there is a 30 per cent gap in education data and that there is an intolerable link between that education data and the funding formula itself.
If we, as a chamber, are to accept that business as usual in the funding formula is the future then we are also accepting the education data that says Aboriginal students are coming in 30 per cent lower in performance, that rural and regional students are coming in 30 per cent lower in performance and that low-SES families—poorer families—are coming in 30 per cent lower in performance. This chamber should not accept that as some kind of normality, yet that is the position we are now seeing from the shadow education minister, from the Leader of the Opposition, from the National Party and from those who say, over and over again, that they believe in regional Australia and that they believe in education as part of the answer.
When it comes to the crunch on the principle of equity and when it comes to the crunch on exposing either a link that exists or one that is intolerable—and that is what we have got to get to the bottom of—some people are folding their tents behind political expedience and just wanting to take out a Prime Minister and a government and build some sort of campaign that this is waste and mismanagement.
What rot! We have data from the New South Wales education department and the federal education department that is clear. The education data shows that we are failing students in regional New South Wales and Australia, that we are failing Aboriginal students and that we are failing students from lower SES families. The crisis is not in education. The crisis is not in regional Australia, Aboriginal Australia or poor Australia. The crisis is in this chamber—that we are even having a political fight over this.
I plead: where are the shared solutions to the shared and clear problems that have been identified? An argument and a threat are being presented politically—despite state colleagues getting the issue; despite state colleagues in New South Wales signing up to it—that we have to accept as normal that collectively the performance of regional kids is about 30 per cent less than metropolitan kids, for no other reason—it is an apples with apples comparison—than that they are regional kids as compared to metropolitan kids.
So, yes, we can all fire up the barbecues and have lots of beers while talking about teacher performance. Yes, we can all say that students should turn up. Yes, we can all say, 'In my day kids got grazes on their knees,' as the earlier speaker contributed. Yes, we can all muse about the failings of the moment across Australia in education. But when we compare apples with apples, when we segregate this issue, why would anyone sit around a barbecue and say that, based purely on location—a student in one school in a metropolitan area versus a student in a school in a regional area—there should be a 30 per cent difference in education outcomes? You cannot win that argument around a barbecue and you should not be allowed to get away with that argument in this chamber.
It is a disgrace that we are even debating this as some sort of controversy when the data is clear. The whole point of the expert panel led by David Gonski, but also with people like Ken Boston who worked with both sides of politics, and the Kathryn Greiners of the world who are hardly aligned to the hip of Julia Gillard—these are people who say, 'We've got a problem'—was that we have got an incredibly segregated outcome in certain categories that needs to be addressed. The way to address it is to put in place specific loadings where that segregation exists: loadings for regional students; loadings for Aboriginal students; loadings for low SES students. It ain't hard. We either accept it or we accept the normal that we are going to have arguably the most segregated education data around the world, let alone in Australia and in Australian history. We will arguably entrench an education system that favours some and not others.
This chamber is not about that. No political party that I am aware of is about that. Yet I am floored that my colleagues from the Nationals in particular—those who advocate for regional Australia, supposedly—are now taking a position of arguing against regional and remote students. That is the only logical position they can take. They are arguing a case that they feel comfortable with. They think it is normal. They think it is all okay that regional and rural students and their schools are going to come in roughly 30 per cent less as per the education data.
I am somewhat saddened that this is not a bill that has the broad support of all sides in this House as it does have the broad support of the Commonwealth and certainly the state of New South Wales. I am also disappointed that more effort has not been made by some to recognise that there are one-offs in national partnership agreements, that this debate has been very cleverly reframed as one around 'the Prime Minister's got to get the majority of states in the bag or the whole thing goes boom!'
There are one-offs in national partnership agreements. Anyone from Queensland who has dealt with floods knows that, so why cannot New South Wales be protected by those who in their budget-in-reply talked about the importance of state sovereignty? Why cannot we just be left alone to actually get on with what the New South Wales National Party education minister and the New South Wales Liberal Party Premier understand—that is, the failing in the education data and the right course of action to address it? That, if it comes to that, is certainly all I request. Sure, it would make a lot of sense for other states to sign up for logic, common sense and student interests, but if they want to play their politics first, or if they find some other reason, they can knock themselves out. But this national partnership agreement between the Commonwealth and New South Wales must stand. It must be left alone because this matters to many schools that I represent. If there is honour in the words about state sovereignty from the Leader of the Opposition, then this is his first and greatest test at the moment.
I strongly support this legislation. I support it based on the evidence provided by the New South Wales government. I support it based on the word of the New South Wales education minister who said:
It is extremely clear that what we signed up to is better than the existing model and better than what the federal opposition is suggesting.
That is the New South Wales National Party education minister. He is not playing politics; he is looking after students and kids. He gets the shared problem, the failure in certain categories and that there needs to be a particular loading built into the funding model to address that. If we do not, we assign failure as normal. I would hope Chris Pyne, Julia Gillard, Tony Abbott and Peter Garrett are not wanting to assign failure as normal.
Therefore, it is not up to government to explain why they are going down this path of particular loadings based on the education data that has come from the education departments state and federal and of following the expert panel report. It is up to the opposition to say why they are ignoring all that and why for some unknown reason they are choosing to assign regional students to education data that proves failure. Why do they accept as some sort of normal a message that says regional students are 30 per cent dumber than those from metropolitan areas? Because that is what you are saying by saying 'business as usual' in the funding formula. I disagree with that strongly. I think it is disgusting that we are actually having this debate in the parliament. I congratulate both Barry O'Farrell and Julia Gillard for getting on with the job based on the evidence and based on the facts. I hope this legislation can get through.
It is always interesting to follow the member for Lyne. I rise to speak on the Australian Education Bill 2012. When I looked at this bill, it was nine pages and 1,400 words and all I found was a series of motherhood statements. In the bill, the Prime Minister suggested there should be three goals for education: (1) for Australian schooling to provide an excellent education for students; (2) for Australian schooling to be highly equitable; and (3) for Australia to be placed in the top five countries in the reading, science, mathematics recognised in international testing by 2015.
They are simply motherhood statements which everyone in this parliament agrees with. But where is the detail? How are these goals meant to be achieved? When we go through the bill, we find that this bill contains no detail whatsoever of how much money will be available. It provides no detail on which level of government will be required to stump up this additional funding. There are no details at all on how the new funding model will operate. There are no details on how much each individual school will receive. There are no details of how this funding will be calculated. And there are no details of what other obligations will be placed upon the sector. In fact, this bill is nothing more than spin, a simple marketing statement full of motherhood statements, meaningless motherhood statements.
This idea of spin is not always seen from this government when it comes to education. As I walk around the corridors of this place I see in many of the windows of our offices these lovely lime green signs that say 'I give a Gonski'. The statement of 'I give a Gonski' seems to resonate throughout the community and is being said over and over again by so many members of this House and by so much of the media. But what does 'I give a Gonski' actually mean? I asked a teacher on the weekend when she came up to me and asked, 'Do you give a Gonski?' I said, 'That is all very nice but what does that mean?' She ummed and ahhed for about five minutes and admitted she had no idea except that it would create more money for schools. We know that the term 'I give a Gonski' is simply marketing. It is a marketing slogan like 'Things go better with Coke' or, as Peter Costello noted, 'Lucky you're with AAMI'. It simply has little substance. But we know it is a very clever marketing scheme. We see T-shirts with 'I give a Gonski', we see hats with 'I give a Gonski', we see stickers and lapel buttons, banners and posters and corflutes all spread around with 'I give a Gonski' but very little detail. At least it is teaching our kids something about marketing, if nothing else.
If we look at 'I give a Gonski', we are told that it will provide more money for schools. In fact, the Gonski report calls for additional funding of $6.5 billion a year for schools. So if we are told that everyone on the other side of the chamber supports 'I give a Gonski', let us look at the budget papers to see how close they have gone to getting this $6.5 billion of new money for schools. When we look at the numbers, yes, we see a little bit of new money for next financial year and 2014, 2015 and 2016, but during those years we also see many cuts to existing programs. There is a $174 million cut from the redirection of the national partnership's low socioeconomic communities program. There was also, in total over that period, a $412 million cut through the redirection of the national partnership empowering local schools. The list goes on. This Labor government, this 'I give a Gonski', will see cuts of $405 million, again through redirection of the national partnership literacy and numeracy funds. It goes on. On the great rewards for teachers, the redirection again of the national partnership over the next four years will see this government cut $665 million from education. Another $203 million cut from education also goes through the redirection of the national partnership's reward for school improvements.
In fact, when we had all this up, over the next three years alone—we must be very clear about this—this government's plans with their so-called 'I give a Gonski' spending will see $889 million cut from school education. And we have members of this House running around the place telling all and sundry about the great investments they are going to make when the truth is that they going to cut $889 million from education over the next three years. This is what they are expecting us to believe, but: 'Don't worry about that. Look on to 2017, 2018 and 2019. That is when the money will flow.' So what the government is asking us to believe is that their idea of giving us more money for education is to cut those hundreds of millions of dollars in the next three years but sometime in years 5 and 6 the money will start flowing.
This government is saying: 'Trust us. Elect us at this next election, and then elect us in the election after that, and then we will deliver this extra money.' Does this government take the public for fools? This is the same government that went to the last election saying: 'Trust us. There will be no carbon tax under the government that we lead.' For the last 12 months we have time after time heard something like 300 promises of: 'Trust us. The budget will be returning to surplus come hell or high water. Trust us.' This is the government that told the member for Denison: 'Trust us. We will deliver your poker machine reforms.' We have heard from this government: 'Trust us. We will not cut back on private health insurance.' And now it is saying: 'Trust us. In five years time we will deliver you more education funding,' and in the meantime it is going to rip out $889 million for education over the next three years. This is an absolute farce.
The other speakers from our side have set out the coalition's approach
We do not want to see one school worse off. That is something those on the other side have not been able to guarantee. But if we are going to improve, if we look at the Gonski reforms, we know they are asking for $6.5 billion in new money. Over four years those Gonski reforms if implemented should deliver $39 billion. Instead of getting that $39 billion extra funding, we are seeing this government cut funds to education.
We know where that $39 billion has gone. It has gone to repay Labor's debt. We know from the budget papers that when this government was elected to office they were receiving, from the combined surpluses that the Howard and Costello government had left them, over $1,000 million in interest repayments. That works out more than $6 million for every electorate. Every member of parliament could have had $6 million every single year to spend on community programs in their own electorates. But that has been cut. The money that was set aside has all been spent. We have run up the debt. So rather than that $39 billion that should have gone into education over the next four years, the Australian population, the Australian taxpayers will be asked to pay $34½ billion simply on the interest on the debt that this Labor government has racked up. Is it any wonder that that $39 billion that David Gonski called to be invested in education is not there and instead we see cut after cut?
What should we be doing in our education system? We need to teach our kids and let them develop an entrepreneurial culture. We need to create a willingness to learn and a want to learn. We need to create an education system where they enjoy going to school. But when it comes to creating an entrepreneurial culture, again, we have seen the exact opposite from this government. We have seen the Treasurer especially guilty of this with his attacks in this parliament on some of our mining entrepreneurs. We should be telling their story in our schools to inspire our kids to go out and to take risks and to do great things. Instead, we have heard attack and demonisation.
I would also like to express my concern about the so-called NAPLAN testing. If we know one thing of socialist and totalitarian governments throughout history, they do like to keep very good records of things. The concern I have about NAPLAN is that it only measures a very small part of a child's education—maths, science and English. But that is not what a full education is about. If we are looking to improve our kids' education we need to look at their education in totality, not just determine how well they went in maths and English and tell them that is the result of the school.
My concern is if that is how we are making our judgement of our schools I am sure many of our headmasters and teachers, instead of teaching creative skills, instead of teaching an entrepreneurial culture, instead of teaching kids about music, art, sport and drama and spending time on developing those things and giving our kids the rounded education that turns them into great citizens and lets them make a great contribution to our society once they leave school, are drilling them to learn for the test. That will only end up in tragic results.
The coalition does not oppose this bill because this bill, as we said, is simply motherhood statements. There are several questions on education which this government has yet to answer following the handing down of the Gonski report. Where will this extra $6.5 billion a year that the government needs come from? What programs will the government cut and what taxes will the government increase to pay for it? We have already seen that there will be large cuts to the education sector over the next three years, before we even include the cuts to higher education. We will be seeing billions taken out of our higher education sector—again a completely backward and detrimental move.
The leaked Gonski modelling shows no fewer than 3,254 schools worse off. How much extra is it going to cost those schools to receive that funding that our Prime Minister has promised? How much funding per student is going to be allocated to children with disabilities? This bill gives us none of the answers. How will the funding for kids with disabilities be portable between government and non-government schools? These are the answers that the community wants. This government has had close to six years to give us those answers, and yet here we are in the dying days of this parliament, with less than two weeks to go, and all this government can come up with is an education bill which is no more than motherhood statements—no detail, no plan, all spin, all marketing. This bill and the way it is presented—the spin and marketing behind it—simply sum up why this government has had its time and it must go.
My old man has only ever done one job, and that is being a welder. He has done that since he arrived here in 1966. His schooling was to the equivalent of our year 10. Mum was the same. In our family, you could pretty much count on one hand the number of people who went on to university. Even though my parents had not been through university, through formal education, in our household the thing that was valued the most was getting a good education. It was drummed into us every time we had to hand in our school reports, wondering what type of reaction we would get round the kitchen table. It did not matter that my parents had not been to university; they just knew. In dad's case, being a welder and being in the manufacturing industry, he always got hit by the booms and busts. So, for my parents, getting long-term secure employment was pretty much the priority.
I was the beneficiary of public education. If you have been in public education, you will always feel very strongly about it—as you will with whatever system you go through. There will be people on all sides of the chamber who have been through public education or through private education and feel that that system is the best way to go. Since having the honour of being elected as a member of parliament, I have been particularly strident in promoting public education. I feel very strongly about it. But one of the great things about being a member of parliament is that you get to see all aspects of your community. I have been able to see all schools, government and non-government, in my area. I have seen the great work being done at Evans High School and Doonside Technology High School, particularly with their trade training centres. I have seen some fantastic stuff at Good Shepherd Primary School, Plumpton, and at Loyola Senior High School, where they also have a trade training centre. I have visited Richard Johnson Anglican School. The schools in our area have fostered in me a determination that, regardless of the system, they all need support, particularly when it comes to helping and recognising need in our area—and certainly in our area there are neighbourhoods of great need. As Mark Burnard, the principal of the Bidwill campus of Chifley College, said publicly, it is not about the system; it is about the student. That is why I am a big supporter of what we are doing in these reforms.
For many years now, we have debated as a nation how best to fund the education of our children but also allow choice for parents as to what schooling system they think fits their needs. Different formulae have existed over those years to distribute funding to the public, Catholic and independent school systems, not without some degree of disagreement about the equity of these arrangements. Many of the changes in the past have been merely tinkering around the edges of a funding model whose time, frankly, has well and truly passed.
Recognising the shortcomings of the current model, this government undertook a once-in-a-generation review of funding for schooling, chaired by businessman and philanthropist David Gonski. I would like the record to reflect my personal appreciation—and, I have no doubt, the appreciation of the entire nation—for the work undertaken by Mr Gonski and his colleagues Ken Boston, Kathryn Greiner, Carmen Lawrence, Bill Scales and Peter Tannock. The report they handed down helped lay out the recommendations underpinning our National Plan for School Improvement, a plan that will establish a framework to ensure that by 2025 Australia's schooling system will be in the top five international performers in the key areas of reading, science and mathematics. Do not get me wrong; we have got great schools in Australia, but we can always do better, especially when it comes to making sure every student in every classroom gets the best education possible and reaches their full potential.
The results from NAPLAN reveal the challenges before us and underscore the motivation for our National Plan for School Improvement. In recent years, results have shown that one in 12 of our kids are not meeting minimum standards in reading, writing and maths. These kids are in danger of leaving school without the skills they need to hold down good long-term jobs and function effectively in society. It genuinely troubles me that about 150,000 young Australians aged between 15 and 24 have not attained year 12 or certificate III or above and are not in the labour force and/or studying in full-time education. That is about five per cent of all 15- to 24-year-olds.
The schools in the Chifley electorate, as I indicated earlier, for many years have been among the most disadvantaged in New South Wales. High school completion rates over the past decade—and this troubles me—have remained stubbornly lower than the national average, despite trends elsewhere in the state for kids to stay on at school longer. When we crunch those numbers on past NAPLAN results, we uncover the real case for implementing our National Plan for School Improvement.
For instance, the national gap in literacy between disadvantaged and advantaged students is equivalent to almost three years of schooling, and 89 per cent of disadvantaged year 3 students are below average in reading by year 9, compared to 13 per cent of advantaged students. Just as troubling, if not more so, is how Australian students' performance has slipped in international rankings. For example, in the OECD PISA tests, Australia has slipped from equal second to equal seventh in reading, from equal fifth to equal 13th in maths and from equal fourth to equal seventh in science. In our first Progress in International Reading Literacy Study test, Australian year 4 students were significantly outperformed by 21 of the 45 other countries taking part. There is a massive challenge there.
This bill not only articulates our aspiration for lifting students' performance but outlines five core reform directions of the national plan: first, to deliver better schools that will give every child the individual help they need to reach their potential; second, to lift teaching standards so the best and brightest are in charge of our schools and classrooms; third, to provide more information about schools to parents and the community; fourth, to deliver fair funding to help schools pay for the things they need, like specialist staff and modern resources; and, fifth, to help Australia remain strong and prosperous by equipping kids to get great jobs. Over the past two years, I have quite enjoyed talking with the schools in Chifley about what they were hoping for from this review, hearing from them their enthusiasm to see a response to the Gonski report and hearing what they wanted from the government's response. I have long supported in our education system the work that our local schools do in order to support and develop students. I have seen the difference that is made to the culture of schools through the quality of the senior leadership of those schools. I have seen with my own eyes at schools overseas, for instance, how a focus on teacher training and mentoring can have an impact on education outcomes.
It was certainly eye-opening to learn of the different challenges faced by different school systems in our area, as well as the common challenges that unite them. For instance, last month I met with David Fyfe, CEO of Christian Education Ministries, which operates the Australian Christian College at Marsden Park as well as in other locations around Australia. A number of the Australian Christian College campuses offer distance education as a delivery option to students in remote areas. David was keen to illustrate for me the disparity in funding provided for non-government distance education compared with other forms of education delivery. He put forward a very strong argument that students in non-government distance education were the least resourced students in Australia. Among the impacts that he highlighted to me were significantly fewer teachers than regular schools, the highest teacher-to-student ratios in the country, minimal teacher-student contact, minimal education resourcing including access to ICT, increased workload for teachers, minimal curriculum development opportunities and limited opportunities for career advancement. If our plan is to have the desired outcomes of achieving equity and meeting the needs of every student, there will need to be further discussion with this sector in order to address their needs, and I hope to pursue that further.
I am heartened that in my home state of New South Wales agreement has been reached that will deliver our national reforms. New South Wales Premier Barry O'Farrell has signed up to the National Plan for School Improvement, meaning schools in my state will benefit from an additional $5 billion over the next six years. Two weeks ago, I attended a ceremony at Chifley College Mount Druitt Campus which celebrated the reaching of that agreement. The fact that federal Labor and New South Wales Liberals have embraced vision beyond politics to deliver something concrete for school reform is exactly what brought teachers together at Mount Druitt. This bipartisan agreement between our governments will deliver an average of $1.6 million for every school and $4,400 for every student across the state. We have committed that for every dollar that the New South Wales government is prepared to invest, the federal government will pay two.
But, if we are to avoid having further generations of haves and have-nots, we need all the states and territories to get on board for this once-in-a-generation opportunity to lift resourcing and standards and to put money where it is needed instead of having the situation at the moment where we are being white-anted under our own eyes by the federal coalition. Just in the past week, the member for Sturt has been engaged in a very public stoush with his New South Wales LNP counterpart, Adrian Piccoli, over Mr O'Farrell's agreement with the Commonwealth. The coalition has confirmed it will tear up the agreement with the New South Wales government if it forms government in September. So on the one hand, if it is to protect the minerals of the states, the federal coalition is all for states' rights, but on the other hand, if it comes to maintaining and honouring agreements that will improve the chance of future generations of Australians to progress, it says it will basically tear up those agreements with state governments. Unbelievable!
It is a shame, as the member for Bass says. On 27 February this year, the member for Sturt told Radio National:
The current funding model does work, it's not a broken model.
He must be the only person in the country who thinks that. In his budget reply speech, the Leader of the Opposition made it clear:
We won't back a so-called national education system—
The member for Sturt wrote to state premiers and territory leaders to dissuade them from reaching agreement, saying:
Under the Gillard Government’s plan this means that those could receive a much lower rate of Commonwealth indexation in the future, when the average indexation rate over the last ten years has been 5.6 per cent
Those claims that indexation will return to 5.6 per cent defy logic. Current state budget decisions and estimates show that, next year and in future, indexation will fall to around three per cent. That is less money from the Commonwealth for all schools.
The Liberal Party continue to peddle untruths about the current levels of funding for schools. They are falsely claiming that our government is cutting $326 million from school funding. But the truth is that our funding is a direct match of funding provided by the states so any reduction in Commonwealth funding for schools in my state is a direct result of a reduction in school funding by the state government. New South Wales education minister Adrian Piccoli is quite clear where he stands on the issue of how schools should be funded. He says:
The status quo would see NSW worse off, and what essentially the federal Coalition is saying is the status quo.
I listened earlier to the contribution on this debate by the member for Kooyong, and I have to agree with him on one point. He said that people should judge Labor on what it does rather than what it says. When it comes to school funding, Labor is the party that has runs on the board. The other side of politics is interested in just taking us back to the Howard years or softening us up to such things as larger class sizes, as the member for Sturt has been on the public record doing. I am more than happy to put our record up against those opposite and let others decide who they trust to provide the best outcomes for their kids—our students.
This financial year, our government will invest $13.6 billion in our schools in stark contrast to the $8.5 billion spent in the last financial year of the Howard government. In our first four years of government we invested over $65 billion in schools while the Howard government spent only $32.9 billion in its last four years of office. To keep people in jobs, this government built or upgraded school facilities across the country—almost 24,000 projects in 9,500 schools including 3,000 libraries. In Chifley alone, that equates to $140 million spent in 67 schools.
Those on the other side of the chamber opposed the stimulus measures, which included the investment in the Building the Education Revolution program and helped save the country from recession. In government they built 3,000 flagpoles. That was their contribution to school improvement. But they then have the audacity to say that there is no detail to our National Plan for School Improvement. Reflecting on the coalition's record, it is clear their lack of care or detail then clouds their ability to see detail now. We had the member for Wentworth, the member for Bowman and the member for Kooyong all claim there is a lack of detail with our plan. I ask them to answer this one point: are you suggesting the New South Wales government signed up to this massive reform on the basis of no detail?
Premier Barry O'Farrell went on TV and basically indicated that Tony Abbott had made clear his view to Barry O'Farrell that the system was not broken, that the agreement should not be entered into, but Barry O'Farrell made clear 'what the cabinet would do in New South Wales'—that is, the cabinet had examined and determined this was the best thing for New South Wales. They are happy and have always have been happy with the current regime because it fuels an 'us versus them' mentality. This reform is far too important to let it slip through our fingers and it represents the collective hopes of schools, parents, teachers, students and all those in the industry.
I rise to speak about the Australian Education Bill 2013. As the member for Chifley has rightly said, the bill sets out the apparent aspirational goals of this government. However, they are aspirations. There is evidence in the budget that indicates that these aspirations are unlikely to ever be achieved.
Let me just note for the purpose of the public record what the aspirations are. They are that Australian schooling will provide an excellent education for all students. All of us would agree that that is what is needed, that a focus ought to be on the students and them achieving their fullest potential. Another aspiration identified in the bill is for Australian schooling to be highly equitable. Of course, a third aspiration is for Australia to be placed in the top five countries in reading, science and mathematics, quality and equity recognised in international testing by 2025. All of us would agree that these are highly commendable aspirations.
Unfortunately, this bill stops short of providing any real substance or way forward in any detail for Australian schools and for their students. I am not here today to deny the fact that we want education in Australia to be among the best in the world. We do. We do want a thriving educational system where children are afforded every opportunity to learn, develop and grow to their fullest potential. Having two children, one who has completed school and another who is studying for her HSC, I am more than aware of the importance of a healthy education and the way that it can shape an individual and their future.
This parliament has a responsibility to provide the best framework possible to support and fund all schools in Australia. The bill, however, does nothing to address the real issues currently facing our education system. The future funding of schools is relying on a risky, confusing set of figures underlying the government's approach. The federal budget handed down in May revealed that Labor will be spending $325 million less on schools over the forward estimates than was forecast in the 2012-13 budget. Labor and their figures simply cannot be trusted.
We have calculated there are over $3.1 billion in cuts and redirections from the schools budget being replaced with only $2.8 billion in extra spending over the forward estimates. There is no new money from federal Labor. It is clear that over the forward estimates the only new or additional money for education will come from state and territory governments who agree to Labor's proposal and not the Commonwealth itself. It not be until the years beyond the forward estimates that the new proposed additional money claims will be spent on the National Plan for School Improvement.
This is evidence that Labor's school funding model remains in reality a promise unlikely to ever materialise and is not a solid financial commitment as they claim it to be. It is also important to point out that under the current existing model, no school would actually be worse off. Yes, indexation goes up and down, but it has on average delivered 5.6 per cent over the last decade in additional funding. This 5.6 per cent indexation over the past decade is confirmed in the government's own 2012 mid-year economic statement.
Further adding to the mockery Labor are making of the education system is that they are discontinuing national partnership funding for low socioeconomic schooling which over the four years would have been worth $258.5 million. Reward payments to teachers, cash bonus payments for schools, literacy and numeracy programs are also gone. This all equates to funding to the value of $2.1 billion. Under this government, the funding structure has actually gone backwards. There is simply no detail as to how the new funding system is proposed to operate in this bill as it stands before the parliament. There is almost no detail available about the government's funding model for schools to examine. We are also still waiting for the legislation before the parliament to be updated with new information with additional amendments. What we are seeing are empty promises and billion dollar amounts when the reality is all of these promises have strings attached to them. Labor's rhetoric is not matched with evidence in real dollars.
The key to better schools is in providing the highest quality teachers and empowering them to do their jobs well. High levels of community engagement and more principal autonomy are equally as important. The coalition also have our own set of principles that outline what is important for schooling. These values would underline everything we would do should we be in government and the policies which we believe will best suit our children's future. We have moved these principles in our amendment to the bill, and I would like to highlight them.
First, families must have the right to choose a school that meets their needs, their values and their beliefs. Second, all children must have the opportunity to secure a quality education. Third, student funding needs to be based on fair, objective and transparent criteria distributed according to socioeconomic need. Fourth, students with similar needs must be treated comparably throughout the course of their schooling. Fifth, as many decisions as possible should be made locally by parents, communities, principals, teachers, schools and school systems. Sixth, schools, school sectors and school systems must be accountable to their community, families and students. Seventh, every Australian student must be entitled to a basic grant from the Commonwealth government. Eighth, schools and parents must have a high degree of certainty about school funding so they can effectively plan for the future. Ninth, parents who wish to make a private contribution toward the cost of their child's education should not be penalised, nor should schools in their efforts to fundraise and encourage private investment. The final value is that funding arrangements must be simple so that schools are able to direct funding toward education outcomes, minimise administration costs and increase productivity and quality.
I would like to highlight another critical factor to our amendment: We have moved in our amendment that the definitions in this bill should be supplemented to define both a systemic school and a non-systemic school. I am sure other members would agree with me that electorates are made up of both government and non-government schools, each playing a pivotal role in education. The diversity of the non-government school sector is seen across our electorates—Catholic schools, independent schools, Christian schools and Steiner schools. No two schools are the same, and there are many more options available for parents today. These differences need to be recognised in the way non-government schools are funded. For example, under the current funding arrangements, Catholic schools are mostly systemically funded by the Australian government in recognition that they share a common ethos. This means that the funding they attract is provided by the Australian government to the state or territory Catholic education commission for local needs-based distribution between Catholic systemic schools. Other schools are non-systemic, which means that Australian government funding is currently provided to the school directly.
The government must explicitly recognise and define the difference between a systemic and non-systemic school in a way that would later allow funding to flow from the Commonwealth to non-government system authorities if they are systemic or direct to the school if they are not systemic. It must be clear that future funding from the Australian government will flow through to non-government schools or non-government school systems through a direct legislative relationship—which was highlighted, I note, in the Gonski report.
Through the last part of our amendment we are calling on the government to extend the current funding arrangements for a further two years should this be required. Like with any portfolio that affects everyday Australians, they need certainty and stability. Unfortunately, these two attributes are remiss in this government. Parents and schools need funding certainty. Principals want to ensure teaching positions and resources well in advance. Planning for budgets for next year requires certainty as soon as possible.
The truth is that many schools are struggling to raise the extra funds needed. It is no surprise to the coalition that schools are struggling. Because of the introduction of the carbon tax, school utilities prices have gone through the roof. An article published in the Herald Sun last week reported that school power bills have surged as much as 80 per cent in the last year. This has created chaos for schools that are trying to manage their budgets and pay their bills. Schools are becoming increasingly anxious about their future funding arrangements as the current funding agreement for schools is due to expire at the end of this year. State governments have also said they have been left in the dark and are still none the wiser about the full ramifications of the Gonski report. As such, the coalition has given assurances that, should we win government, they could count on the coalition's support to extend the current funding arrangements, including the same quantum of funds, for a further two years so that schools could start to plan with certainty.
As mentioned, this government has a proposed school funding model which is not yet contained in this bill. For this proposed funding model to work, it needs the support of every state and territory and the non-government sector. The government's deadline to achieve a national agreement is looming; 30 June is the deadline. It is very unclear if there will be a national agreement; six out of eight jurisdictions have not agreed. I am sure we have all seen the comments by Premier Newman, who has virtually ruled out signing onto the deal, saying the Prime Minister is making 'misleading statements to the public' and 'does not understand state funding arrangements'.
However, we must not forget that the Gillard government's record on education is one that breaks promises. Labor broke its promises on trades training centres, school laptops, performance pay for teachers and additional funds for improving schools. The bottom line is Labor cannot be trusted when it comes to education funding. Should there be no national agreement then all schools can rest assured that under a federal coalition government they will receive at least the same quantum of Commonwealth funds that they do now indexed each year to meet rising costs. We believe that the current quantum of funds for every school and indexation must be the basic starting point arising from any new funding model. Let me be clear: no school will lose funding.
At the core of education are these factors: excellence in quality teaching, quality learning, empowered school leadership, transparency and accountability, and needs-based funding. As well as ensuring that schools receive immediate funding certainty, a coalition government would also take a number of important steps, including: ensuring that any agreement on a common per-student funding benchmark takes into account the fiscal capacity of each state and territory to ensure that those governments who have a history of strong schools investment are not punished while concurrently allowing others to reach a benchmark as and when their circumstances allow, ensuring that schools are not punished for taking their own steps to obtain alternative sources of funding; ensuring that schools do not lose money and that levels of funding are maintained in real terms, working cooperatively with those states seeking to allow their schools greater autonomy and parental engagement, and ensuring that the non-government sector remains and maintains appropriately autonomy from the Commonwealth with regard to the management of their financial affairs.
At the end of the day we need funding and reform that will directly help every student. We can never forget that each school represents a company of students and each student represents a life and a future—a future we can help shape. To deliver hope, reward and opportunity to every schoolchild is what we plan to do.
I rise to speak on the Australian Education Bill 2012. Within the Australian psyche Labor owns the education portfolio. That is one of their cornerstones. The great reformist of education was Whitlam with free universities. They have a track record on education. With the bill before the House tonight, which is no more than nine pages and 1,400 words long, oh how the mighty have fallen.
The bill sets out a set of aspirational outcomes with no funding associated with it. The coalition's strength is our capacity to manage the economy. We are all businessmen and we basically cut our teeth on reading balance sheets and making tough decisions to bring businesses back to profitability. This bill is an aspirational statement. In the context of the Gonski environment that surrounds our nation at the moment it would appear there are more unknowns about Gonski than there are knowns to the point where you now have two conflicting parts of the community: those who avidly support Gonski and those who scratch their heads and say, 'How is this going to be paid for?' Those who avidly support Gonski would have you think that those who do not support it do not love their kids—if you do not support Gonski, you are so far right of doing the right thing for tomorrow's kids.
This bill is devoid of any real detail and must be updated with new information. Until then there is very little that can be said about how the proposed funding formula might impact on schools in my electorate. I am so blessed to represent the electorate that I do. In my electorate there are schools from as small as 28 kids with one teacher and sometimes with a couple of teacher aides through to schools with over 1,000 kids. I have spent time with the teachers and teaching staff in those schools and we need to acknowledge at every turn the outstanding work that our educators do with the challenges that face them on a daily basis. It changes, it is systematically different, as you move through the electorate. In some areas they may be dealing with under-resourcing and in the larger schools it is not uncommon for deputy principals to spend the first couple of hours of their day not dealing with student truancy but staff who did not show up. But those are not issues that concern the federal government or the House here at the moment.
There is a belief in the House at the moment that Tony Abbott, the leader of the coalition, the leader of the LNP, is somehow strongarming the states to not sign up to the Gonski education reform in the current bill, but that is the furthest thing from the truth. States have to make a decision on whether they bounce onto it. In my home state of Queensland I regret to say my state colleagues were left with a terribly enormous debt given their state's GDP and there is a long road ahead. The debate up there at the moment is about selling state electricity assets to try to clear some debt, to try to reduce their overall debt level, and get a cheaper interest rate so that their interest bill does not start at $30 million a week. So a lot of the decisions are based on finances.
The federal budget handed down this month reveals that Labor will spend $325 million less on schools over the forward estimates than was forecast in 2012-13. I heard a previous speaker say that that was not true. Overall in education, including higher education and vocational education and training, they will spend $4.7 billion less in the four years to 2016 than was budgeted. My words will go into Hansard, so to assist those on the other side to find where I am getting that $4.7 billion less from, I draw their attention to their budget papers. These were circulated by the Hon. Wayne Swan and Senator the Hon. Penny Wong, so these are not Treasury's figures; these figures belong to the Australian Labor Party.
What we do is get the 2013-14 papers and compare them to 2014. We go to table 7 in both of these books. To make it easy for Hansard, one table 7 is at 6.17 and the other table 7, in the 2013-14 edition, is at 6.20. If you look at those estimates from last year against what was proposed this year, 2012-13, last year they were forecasting that it was going to be $29,572,000,000. What was actually spent? Twenty-eight billion, four hundred and eleven million—a difference of $1.161 billion. The difference in the next year's actual to estimated expenditure was a $187 million shortfall; for 2014-15, a nearly $1.3 billion shortfall; and in the following years, 2015-16, a just on $2 billion shortfall. That makes a total shortfall of $4.7 billion between what they forecast last year and what they forecast this year. Mr Deputy Speaker, do not dare let anyone come into this House and say that these numbers are being made up. These numbers come from the Treasurer's and the finance minister's own workings.
When it comes to the integrity of these guys, you cannot question them because they are honourable men and women; they would not mislead the parliament. But when it comes to the Treasurer's credibility, there was that little throwaway line—it was absolutely hysterical—that somehow we are moving towards a carbon tax. More recently, when we were speaking about the write-downs, they were $7.5 billion; a couple of days later the Prime Minister had to come out and say: 'Oh no, Wayne got it wrong. I think the write-downs are going to be $8 or $8.5 billion'. Then Senator Wong had to come out a couple of days after that and say, 'Oh no, all those figures are wrong; the write-downs in revenue are going to be closer to $12 billion'—and that was within a period of three weeks. These forecasts and aspirations—that go out as far as 2025, may I add—are somewhat farcical in an era when Australia is falling behind our competitors on international standards.
So, with the amount of money we have spent on education in recent years, we must pose ourselves an ideological question. Of course, no-one will forget the education revolution that we had—I think it was $6.4 billion that was going to enhance education outcomes and do wonderful things. When you measure us against other nations around the world we went backwards as a result of that investment, purely from an economic benefit point of view. I have seen the benefit of some of those outcomes in the classroom and, to give credit where credit is due, some of the learning aids are substantial and will make a difference into the future. But, rather than debate about aspirational visions, on behalf of the teachers and parents in our electorates when we leave Canberra and go back there, why are we not having the debate as to what has gone wrong with our education system? We all want the same thing. There is a Tally-ho paper of difference, really, between the aspirational vision of the Labor Party and our vision. Families must have the right to choose the school that meets their needs, values and beliefs. All children must have the opportunity to secure a quality education. Student funding needs to be based on fair, objective and transparent criteria and distributed according to socioeconomic needs. We all have the motherhood statements, but why are we debating education without going back and understanding where it was in our communities that education started to not get the desired results?
We have seen such a transformation in this country. My grandfather will sit there and tell you the story of how he used to ride his horse to school and in the middle of winter he used to have to get off with no shoes and stand in a cow patty to keep his feet warm. I would love a dollar for every time Pop gave me that one. Then there was Mother, with her stories of writing on a slate with a chalk. She would say, 'I used to ride my pushbike 230 kilometres to school every morning, so stop whinging and keep walking.' The reality is that over time our school standards have improved and we are a stronger nation for that, but there is such a race for us not to drop the ball on this.
Are we to have a debate about how we are not reaching our outcomes because of the quality of our teachers? I do not think that is so, but let us be brave and bold enough to have that debate; and if we need more money to raise the standards of professionalism there, let us have that debate. Are our kids not reaching the international PISA standards because their household environments have changed? Is it a social issue? My father died when I was in grade 8. When I went to school, I was the odd kid out because I did not have a dad. Now it would appear, when I travel through the electorate, the odd kid out is the kid who still has two parents and the same surname as their parents.
In summary, I do not believe in throwing money after money—and this bill does not speak of money. This particular bill before the House today does not speak of money because, when you go to the explanatory memorandum, at page 4, to try to assess the financial impact statement, the page is blank other than the line: 'There is no financial impact associated with this bill.'
In closing, as the coalition have owned wholeheartedly the management of the economy of this nation for many years, where we have continually paid down Labor's debt, we will continue to own this space. With respect to Labor's ownership of education, with the reforms that have come before the House over many years, and when I read such a document as this bill, can I just say, ashamedly: how the mighty have fallen!
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—
I just finished saying that our teachers are very good. They are lacking resources. They are sometimes lacking help. They have to provide everything, from a good education to paying for the resources on their own, to being a counsellor, a father or mother figure—there are so many kids going to school without a breakfast. The demand on schools is very high. If there is anything we can do to help those kids and those teachers to better prepare our students for a challenging world then we ought to be looking at it very seriously.
I commend Mr Piccoli for detailing the Gonski reforms. I know he feels as though he has got a deal that was too good to refuse. At this stage, only two jurisdictions have signed up to it, but it will be interesting in the weeks and months ahead to see how many more sign up to the deal.
I rise to speak on the Australian Education Bill 2012. I have lost count of the number of bills from this government that I have spoken on which outline its hopes and dreams for the future, yet again today we are contributing to the debate on the future of Australian education. This bill, in just 1,400 words and nine pages, purports to revolutionise Australian schools. Packed within this document the Prime Minister outlines three goals, which are: for Australian schooling to provide an excellent education for all students; for Australian schooling to be highly equitable; and for Australia to be placed in the top five countries in reading, science and mathematics, with quality and equity recognised by international testing by 2025.
One would be right to ask whether in just 1,400 words all has been revealed. Right? No. This bill is devoid of any detail and must be updated with new information to reflect the actual outcomes. We have seen that again today, with comments by the minister that further amendments will need to be made to introduce the funding model. I thought the funding model formula would have been the key to this whole bill, but it is not in the bill currently before the House.
This is the height of arrogance, with a 'take-it-or-leave-it' attitude. The question is: did the government learn nothing from the debate on the media laws? Without this detail and the proposed further amendments, I am unable to see how the funding formula in particular will have a positive impact on the schools in Forde. There are some very serious pieces of the puzzle missing here. The federal budget handed down last month reveals that the government will be spending $325 million less on schools over the forward estimates than was forecast in the 2012-13 budget. Add to this the money that has been ripped out of higher education and vocational education and training and we see this government will give a grand total of $4.7 billion less in the four years to 2016 than was budgeted for last year.
After making these cuts, the government promised new money to the tune of $9.8 billion for schools, but almost all of this money falls beyond the forward estimates. This means there will not be any of the promised school funding in my electorate or anywhere else around the country until at least 2017. The Prime Minister must be very confident of being around in two elections time to give the money to these schools.
Furthermore, anyone who believes that this promised funding will be delivered in 2017 must be living under a rock because, for the most part, what we have seen from this government is a lot of promises that have been broken. How could you trust the government to deliver on something two elections away when we were promised there would be no carbon tax, no changes to private health insurance rebates and, on more than 500 occasions, that there would be a surplus? We were promised that Labor would be conservative economic managers, and ended up with record debt costing us over $7.8 billion a year in interest alone. Families were promised that they would get an increase to family tax benefit part A. Labor promised 500,000 new jobs within two years, but we have unemployment growth falling to its slowest pace in over 15 years. The Prime Minister promised an automatic tax deduction of 1,000 for workers. We were promised our borders would be protected, yet we see that 35,000 people or more have turned up since the election. We were promised that superannuation would not be touched; instead there has been $8 billion in new Labor super taxes or changes. We were promised 2,650 trades training centres in schools, but only got 241. This is a short list of 10 broken promises from this government, and there are many more. Given that we are looking at results and not just at aspirations or goals, how could anyone believe that our schools would be better off under a Labor government?
Under this government school performance has gone backwards. Historically, Australia's education system has performed relatively well and, according to the OECD's Programme for International Student Assessment 2009 results, of the 65 assessed school systems Australia was ranked 9th in reading, 10th in science and 15th in mathematics. These results were significantly above the OECD average on all three measures, and ranked us clearly above nations like the US, the UK, Germany and France. It is sad to say that between 2000 and 2009 Australia was one of only four countries to record a statistically significant decline in student reading performance. Yet this decline occurred despite education spending over that period increasing in real terms by some 44 per cent.
For the last five years, we have heard the constant refrain from this current federal government about the education revolution. But instead of a revolution, we have seen a master class in wasteful spending and appalling mismanagement, all without any tangible impact on what actually matters: improving how and what teachers are teaching so student outcomes can be improved. Suffice to say this has not been the thriving revolution that was promised by the Prime Minister and this government. The plans to improve basic literacy and numeracy have failed despite some $540 million being spent in this area over the past five years. The independent performance audit concluded that the literacy and numeracy program was yet to make a statistically significant improvement to literacy and numeracy in any state.
Sometimes it is instructive to get a reflection from people outside this place. Greg Sheridan, foreign editor for The Australian, wrote on 18 April:
Education more generally demonstrates our almost complete divorce from our Asian neighbours.
He was writing this in the context of the Asian white paper.
We are about to waste a colossal amount of money on this Gonski madness. This money will have no measurable effect on our educational quality.
One thing we certainly won't do is learn from our successful Asian neighbours. I have spent a lot of time in schoolrooms in Japan, South Korea and Taiwan. Almost without exception, these schoolrooms are physically less well endowed than their Australian counterparts. The class sizes are bigger, the grounds smaller, the buildings tackier. But the instruction is traditional, the teacher is boss, the school day and year are much longer, kids have to learn and remember a huge amount of content.
The result? The outcomes are vastly better than Australia's. This is a lesson official Australia never wants to learn. Asian migrants are now bringing this wisdom to Australia, which is why Asian kids do so disproportionately well in our schools. Our society is well engaged with Asia, but at most policy levels our government hasn't a clue.
The key to better schools is better teachers, better teaching, higher academic standards, more community engagement and more principal autonomy. That is what we will work with the states to deliver.
On the topic of school improvement and more principal autonomy, I would like to share an article from the Weekend Australian regarding two schools in Innisfail that were considered as some of Australia's most disadvantaged schools. The article states that at Innisfail East State School it was not unusual for students to refuse to take their feet off the desks, and that most parents sent their kids to school to get them off the streets rather than to learn. Nowadays the school, along with the neighbouring Goondi State School, is one of a handful of Australia's most disadvantaged schools whose students are scoring in the top half of the nation's results in numeracy and literacy.
I think a good question to ask is: what changed? The principal of Goondi State School has spent two decades overseeing the school where the academic results are high despite hardships faced by its students and families. The reason? The principal set the bar high for his students and teachers and refused to accept excuses. The article said that one of the secrets of the school's success comes from encouraging passionate teachers not to waste a moment of classroom time on needless 'busy work'. They have set schedules that they must adhere to and they have shifted the focus of their teaching back to the basics of literacy and numeracy. The school is now recognised as a benchmark for excellence in this area.
Whilst the coalition does not oppose this bill in its current form, we would like to make a point of highlighting our own set of principles that outline our values for schooling. We believe that families must have the right to choose a school that meets their needs, values and beliefs. All children must have the opportunity to secure a quality education. Student funding needs to be based on fair, objective and transparent criteria distributed according to socioeconomic need. Students with similar needs must be treated comparably throughout the course of their schooling. As many decisions as possible should be made locally by parents, communities, principals, teachers, schools and school systems. Schools, school sectors and school systems must be accountable to their communities, families and students. Every Australian student must be entitled to a basic grant from the Commonwealth government. Schools and principals must have a high degree of certainty about school funding so they can effectively plan for the future. Parents who wish to make a private contribution to the cost of their child's education should not be penalised, nor should schools in their efforts to fundraise and encourage private investment. Finally, funding arrangements must be simple, so schools are able to direct funding towards educational outcomes, minimise administration costs and increase productivity and quality.
Overall, there are four main areas at the top of our school agenda for school education. I wish to finish on these points. We will relentlessly focus on reforms to improve teacher quality. That is not to say that our teachers are doing a bad job but, as always, all of us can improve or do things differently to get better outcomes. We will work with the states to introduce real principal and school autonomy to the government school system. We will encourage more parental and community engagement, and will continue implementing a robust national curriculum.
One of the choices Australians will have on 14 September is a choice between two different systems to achieve an educational outcome for their children. We would say to the Australian people that the coalition has a positive plan for the Australian school education system. It will not just be full of hot air, or full of promises and aspirations. It will be designed to deliver true, practical and beneficial outcomes for all involved.