Thursday, 2 October 2014
Australian Education Amendment Bill 2014; Second Reading
As I mentioned earlier, ensuring that Aboriginal kids receive education is one of the important planks of the Abbott government's approach to improving the lives of Aboriginal people. In many cases, that education will be available locally. At other times, the best possible educational opportunity is an independent boarding school.
The $6.8 million will meet an identified resourcing shortfall for boarding schools with a large number of Indigenous students. Regulations will determine school eligibility and amounts of funding under the Indigenous Boarding Initiative announced in the 2014-15 budget.
It has been my absolute pleasure to highlight the good work being undertaken by schools with large Aboriginal boarding populations and I reiterate my support for the Australian Education Amendment Bill 2014.
I rise to speak on the Australian Education Amendment Bill 2014. I come from a state where the Indigenous component of this bill probably is not so relevant. But what particularly took my attention was the provisions there for students with disabilities. Much of my contribution today will focus on that aspect of the bill.
There are a number of amendments in the bill that effectively are about correcting errors and impacts of the funding for 2015 in respect of the transition arrangements for special schools and special assistance schools. This corrects an anomaly where the adjustments only applied to government schools and did not apply to independent schools. As I said, that will be the focus of my contribution today, and rightly so.
When it comes to the school resource standard—or the SRS—funding component of education it should indeed be absolutely sector blind. It should not favour one type of school over another school or where a parent would choose—for a whole range of reasons—to send their children. In other words, wherever you go to school, every child should have the same loading—in particular, for disabilities.
Indeed, at the beautiful and picturesque town of Deloraine in the northern part of my Lyons electorate there is such an independent school. Giant Steps is an independent autism specific school run by a community-based board. It has had tremendous results in the past nearly 20 years. A group of parents with autistic children did what you could describe as the 'hard yards' more than two decades ago to set up Giant Steps at Deloraine. It is centrally located. For those of you who do know my home state, my electorate goes from the north coast to the south coast, and Deloraine is in the central north of Tasmania. Deloraine was chosen deliberately so that it could be accessible to like-minded parents desperately, in many cases, trying to find an alternative to mainstream schools for their children on the autism spectrum.
I have visited the facility a number of times and it truly is always an inspiring place to go to. It has a very skilled team of four teachers, led by the principal, Tim Chugg; speech pathologist, Amon Alas; and an occupational therapist, Siaren Lacanan. They run education programs for 26 full-time and part-time students at Giant Steps, as well as another 15 children involved in early intervention programs and a further eight adult clients with their own particular tailored programs.
I cannot not mention the teachers because they do wonderful work: Anita Quinn, Jelly Van Den Bergand Vanessa Harvey. It is a very small school. It is, in very many senses, the heartbeat of Deloraine in so many ways. It expresses so many good things about the town and the people in that town. The is also the administration staff, Pip Schmidt and Karina Johnstone, along with numerous other teachers assistants, many of whom volunteer their time to support the professional educators who are at that facility. Tim and his team take students from as far away as Launceston, Georgetown in the north, Devonport on the north-west coast, and of course from the surrounding Meander Valley. But equally, because of the quality of the service that is provided there and the attention and the focus on the children who attend this facility, there have been many families over many years who have moved from other parts of Australia to come to Deloraine. Even if not for Giant Steps, there would be many other reasons why one might choose to come and live in Deloraine. It is a beautiful part of Tasmania.
Our funding support also comes from many community organisations, including the team at Rotary Deloraine, led by President Michael Horne, Rob van der Elst, Roy Axelsen, Bev Ritchie and Isabelle Vescovo. In recent years the Rotary Club of Deloraine, along with the Variety club of Tasmania, have provided substantial amounts of funding to replace and upgrade school buses for the students to come to school and to return home.
Giant Steps is a special independent school, and the reforms proposed in the government's Australian Education Amendment Bill will indeed support it. The transition arrangements for special schools, and for special assistance schools in particular, will provide regulatory certainty and make sure impacted schools are not financially disadvantaged. For any facility such as this, it is the uncertainties around funding that often provide the biggest challenges for the administrative staff and the principal. But these sorts of facilities and these sorts of very special schools do also enhance the education system overall. Indeed, there are many other schools that would struggle with the particular challenges that some of these students have. The financial cost to the community alone would be enormous for state schools, including sourcing the necessary funding to look after the, in some cases, very high needs of these children at other locations around the state. Of course the human cost for parents and young people with autism would also be tremendous.
Giant Steps educates its students in such a way, teaching them life skills as well as subjects on the curriculum to such an extent that many of them are able to go back into mainstream schools either part time or full time. These can be students who sometimes have had disciplinary issues within the schools that they previously attended and facilities such as Giant Steps provide a really important role to get these kids back on track and help them reintegrate into the broader education system.
Indeed, the government's education reforms will have a great and positive impact on the regional primary schools and district high schools in my largely rural electorate. Students in the electorate Lyons have more than 54 state primary and district high schools and independent and special schools that will all benefit from the increased funding to the Tasmanian education system more broadly under this government. In fact, this government has restored the $1.2 billion that the previous government had taken out of the forward estimates more broadly for school funding. Total federal funding to all Tasmanian schools over the next four years will increase by $110.9 million—a 37.2 per cent increase from 2013-14 to 2017-18. Federal funding to government schools in my state will grow by $56.9 million by 2017-18—a 46 per cent increase from 2013-14 to 2017-18—while the non-government sector will grow by only 30.8 per cent in the same period.
Funding for education is important. It is one of the vital components to ensuring that young people get a start. The special assistance schools and the support that students with disabilities, and the loadings that apply to those students, are a very important part of the funding package that the federal government commits—albeit that it is a relatively small part of the overall funding envelope. Only 15 per cent—