House debates

Wednesday, 11 September 2019


Appropriation Bill (No. 1) 2019-2020, Appropriation Bill (No. 2) 2019-2020, Appropriation (Parliamentary Departments) Bill (No. 1) 2019-2020; Consideration in Detail

4:00 pm

Photo of Trent ZimmermanTrent Zimmerman (North Sydney, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

In accordance with standing order 149, the Federation Chamber will first consider the schedule of the bill. I would like to remind all members of the purpose of the consideration in detail stage and outline the way it is expected to proceed. Shortly, the chamber will be asked to agree to a proposed schedule for the times for consideration of portfolios. This may need to be varied, but it is a useful guide to assist ministers and members to arrange their commitments. Chairs will not be seeking to enforce this arrangement strictly.

Consideration in detail is a debate, and the call will be alternated between the government and non-government sides, as always. Even though this debate sometimes takes the format of questions and answers, this is not question time. Ministers and government backbench members both will be considered as speakers on the government side and should bear this in mind when they seek the call. All speakers are required to be relevant to whichever portfolio is being examined, but there is no requirement of direct relevance in respect of any responses. It might be practical for ministers to respond to more than one speaker when they seek the call. I note that this general arrangement applied last year and seemed to allow maximum participation in this stage of debate.

Each minister and member will have up to five minutes to speak each time they are called, but they may wish to speak for a shorter time. Ministers may wish to make an introductory statement when debate on their portfolio begins, but, as they are not moving amendments, that is a matter for them to decide.

4:01 pm

Photo of Dan TehanDan Tehan (Wannon, Liberal Party, Minister for Education) Share this | | Hansard source

May I suggest that it might suit the convenience of the Federation Chamber to consider the items of proposed expenditure in the order shown in the schedule which has been circulated to honourable members. I also take the opportunity to indicate to the Federation Chamber that the proposed order for consideration of portfolio estimates has been discussed with the opposition and there has been no objection to what is proposed.

The schedule read as follows—



Employment, Skills, Small and Family Business

Environment and Energy

Foreign Affairs and Trade


Communications and the Arts



Social Services

Social Services—National Disability Insurance Scheme



Infrastructure, Transport, Cities and Regional Development

Home Affairs

Industry, Innovation and Science

Prime Minister and Cabinet

Prime Minister and Cabinet—National Indigenous Australians Agency

Photo of Trent ZimmermanTrent Zimmerman (North Sydney, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Is it the wish of the House to consider the items of proposed expenditure in the order suggested by the minister? There being no objection, it is so ordered.

Education Portfolio

Proposed expenditure, $653,034,000

4:02 pm

Photo of Dan TehanDan Tehan (Wannon, Liberal Party, Minister for Education) Share this | | Hansard source

The government is committed to delivering education services that provide opportunities for all Australians, no matter their background or where they live, maximising opportunity and prosperity through national leadership on education and training, through national policy and programs that create and strengthen access to quality early childhood education and child care, preschool education, schooling, higher education, research and international education.

We are, as a government, delivering more affordable child care, with out-of-pocket costs down 8.9 per cent since our childcare package began. We are investing in the early years by funding preschool to support 15 hours per week in the year before school. We are improving school student outcomes by providing record and guaranteed needs based school funding, an extra $37.7 billion—an increase, on average, of 62 per cent per student—and securing the agreement of every state and territory to our plan to lift student results. We are supporting students with a disability through record and growing funding. This includes a contribution to help schools meet the cost of educational adjustments provided to students with a disability for their learning needs. From 2018 to 2029, the government will invest an estimated $28.8 billion for the students with a disability loading. On average, funding for students with a disability will grow by 5.1 per cent each year over this period.

We are making a record investment in higher education—more than $17 billion each year—with a renewed focus on regional Australia. We are creating more than 80,000 new apprenticeships and investing more than $3 billion in annual funding for vocational education.

The major elements of the government's childcare reform commenced on 2 July 2018 with the new childcare subsidy, which is providing an estimated $8.3 billion in 2019-20 and an estimated $35.7 billion over four years from 2019-20 to support approximately one million families to balance their work, training and caring responsibilities. Our childcare reforms have made child care more affordable, with nearly one million families reaping the benefits. We abolished the annual subsidy cap for more than 80 per cent of families, allowing them to work as many days as they choose without losing their childcare subsidy when they hit the cap. If a parent can work and wants to work, we want to make it easier for them to access child care.

We are continuing to support state and territory governments to provide children with universal access to 15 hours of preschool a week for children in the year before school, with a further $453.1 million to extend the national partnership on universal access to early childhood education until the end of 2020, including undertaking the national early childhood education and care collection. This will benefit approximately 350,000 children and builds on the previous decision to provide Commonwealth support for preschool until the end of 2019.

A further $1.4 million over two years, from 2019-20, will be invested to fund work by The Smith Family to work with state and territory governments and disadvantaged communities to develop strategies to further improve preschool participation.

The Quality Schools package will see a total of $310.3 billion provided to all schools—an extra $14.9 billion from 2017 to 2029. The Quality Schools reforms provide consistent, transparent and needs based school funding arrangements with a focus on targeting supporting education where it is needed most, through reforms that help ensure schools funding is invested in programs that have the biggest impact on improving educational outcomes for students.

Additional priorities to support quality schooling in 2019-20 include $30.2 million for the Local Schools Community Fund to assist students through the provision of equipment, upgrades or programs at the local school level, and a further $15 million over three years, from 2019-20, for Teach for Australia to train high-achieving teachers who will become high-quality school leaders in rural, remote or disadvantaged schools. I will continue as the process takes place.

4:07 pm

Photo of Tanya PlibersekTanya Plibersek (Sydney, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Minister for Education and Training) Share this | | Hansard source

Of course, this is another disappointing budget when it comes to education, particularly in the way that it locks in cuts to public schooling. The government has restored funding to Catholic and independent schools and we on this side have welcomed that restoration of funding. What's critically missing from this budget, though, is the restoration of funding cuts from public schools. So, while 99 per cent of private schools will reach or exceed 100 per cent of the schooling resource standard under this formula, public schools in seven states and territories will never, never reach their fair funding level. On average, this means that states will miss out on about $6,500 per student by the end of this parliament.

Since 2017 there's been no Commonwealth funding for capital improvements to public schools despite enrolments in public schools increasing by about 150,000 students in the last five years. The minister was boasting about a $30 million fund for school projects. On this side, at the last election we committed $260 million for school upgrades across Australia, including projects like the science labs at Mount Eliza Secondary College in the electorate of Dunkley.

An ABC report just recently showed that, between 2013 and 2017, the four richest schools in the country—the four richest schools in the country!—spent more on facilities and renovations than the poorest 1,800 schools combined.

Disability funding for students went backwards in five states and territories—the ACT, the Northern Territory, WA, South Australia and Tasmania—between 2017 and 2018, while, of course, in contrast, Labor would have invested an extra $300 million. In the six years that this government has been in office—enough time for a student to start and finish high school—NAPLAN results have been going backwards in many areas. We have seen falling scores in international tests as well—literacy, numeracy and science tests. On some measures Russia, Estonia, Vietnam and many other countries have overtaken us. Combined with the fact that the mark you need to get into initial teacher education continues to fall it is not a pretty picture. Countries such as Singapore and Finland, with highly successful education systems, aim to take their teachers from the top 30 per cent of academic achievers. We see them consistently performing better than Australian students in many of these international tests because they are attracting and retaining high-performing students into teaching. That shows how important the work is. It shows how much we respect and value our teachers when we target the best students to draw them into teaching so they can teach the next generation.

We need to have a proper evidence based approach to make sure we're using international best practice. And 18 months since the so-called Gonski 2.0 review, where the previous education minister said he was prepared to accept all of the recommendations of the review, it is very difficult to see where those improvements have happened. One of the improvements that has been consistently argued for, not just in the Gonski 2.0 review but by Labor and many others in the education sector, is to have an evidence institute for schools. We know, for example, that we use evidence all the time in our health system to improve clinical outcomes for patients. Patients who are on a clinical trial do better than other patients because they are closely observed, closely monitored and getting the best and newest state-of-the-art intervention. Why aren't we doing the same for our schools?

I'd like to ask the minister why he has not yet allocated any funding for an evidence institute. In contrast, Labor allocated $280 million for an evidence institute for schools. The government have said they support the initiative. If they genuinely do support the initiative, it would be terrific to see some of the funding provided for it.

4:12 pm

Photo of Julian LeeserJulian Leeser (Berowra, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Few investments we make are more important than the investments we make in education. We have a responsibility to ensure that we're passing on the best of our knowledge to younger generations and that we're equipping them for whatever endeavours they'll undertake and also to contribute in meaningful ways to the life of the Australia we know and love.

There are two matters that I want to raise today. One area that should concern those of us in this building particularly is education relating to civics and citizenship. This is about more than just teaching people how to vote; it's about helping people understand how Australia was founded and the rules and framework around how we're governed. Too many Australians don't know we have a constitution, let alone what the Constitution contains. We should be concerned by the results in the latest National Assessment Program for Civics and Citizenship released in 2017. Just 38 per cent of year 10 students were at a proficient standard in their civics and citizenship knowledge. For a country that has compulsory voting this is very concerning. If citizens do not know what their citizenship confers and what rules guide, shape and limit the power of our parliament, their ability to make well-informed decisions and uphold that constitution into the future is weakened.

This is tragic because the Constitution belongs not to lawyers or academics or any other group, but to all Australians. The Australian Constitution sets the rules about how we're governed. No Prime Minister and no government can rewrite those rules without the permission of the people. The way we have organised our political life takes the wisdom of other democracies formed before us, but it is a uniquely Australian document that gives us a safe and stable form of government.

The second matter I want to raise as an area of concern is phonics education for our young Australians who are learning to read. Again, our standardised testing in Australia has shown that literacy standards are not what they should be. There's a large amount of well-established research that's shown this over the years: a person needs to be immersed in oral language, they need to be read or spoken to, but they also need to crack the code for how letters and sounds work together.

As Georgina Perry, executive officer of SPELD NSW, said: 'Learning to read is like learning to ride a bike or learning to swim. Students need explicit instructions and lots of opportunities for practice. Learning phonics skills is an essential part of students learning to read.' Some children will crack the code for themselves. They'll piece together how sounds, language and letters work without having it explicitly taught to them, but many will not. It's important that we're able to identify early on those children who are not grasping those steps and for whom reading is therefore becoming an obstacle instead of a gateway.

I've heard of too many stories of young people who reach high school in Australia having somehow missed learning one of the most important things they should have grasped in their early years of schooling. They've turned up to school each day and cleverly copied other students or hidden their inability to read. They reach late high school often having behavioural problems or a high level of anxiety because their whole learning has been compromised by missing out on those tools in their earliest years. We need to identify early on the students who are not acquiring the reading tools they need so that it can be remedied before the consequences for that person become severe.

In England the phonics screening check has been in place since 2011. The screening test allows teachers to identify the children who might need some extra support in learning to read. It's a non-threatening, simple test that gives important information to schools. The phonics check in England has been coupled with mandatory phonics teaching in schools, and the results show that over a three-year period the proportion of students reaching the expected standard has increased from 58 per cent to 77 per cent.

In 2017 the South Australian government trialled a year 1 phonics test, and the evaluation showed some important things. Firstly, the trial showed that students in that state are not learning phonics adequately. Only 15 per cent of the children in the South Australian trial reached the level of competence that 81 per cent of children in the UK reached. In the evaluation of that trial, teachers and school leaders said that students did more poorly than expected. This is helpful information for teachers to know what they need to focus more time on in their classrooms. It was encouraging to discover that students were positive about and engaged in the tests. They weren't anxious or stressed out. Similarly, teachers were largely positive, finding the data useful and the resources very helpful. I'll quote again from Georgina Perry: 'The phonics check is a valuable tool as it helps teachers confirm their students are learning essential phonics skills and may help identify those students who are having difficulty learning to read.'

Minister, given the importance of civics and phonics education and the room for improvement we have in both of these areas, can you outline how the government is investing in improving civics and phonics education in this year's federal budget?

4:17 pm

Photo of Ged KearneyGed Kearney (Cooper, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Assistant Minister for Skills) Share this | | Hansard source

I welcome the opportunity to question the government on their education spending. For a party who loves to say, 'If you have a go, you will get a go,' this budget does so little to give our kids a go. There's no more crucial role for government than delivering an education system which acts as the greatest social equaliser and offers the best chance at opportunities for anyone who wants to take it. On that measure, the budget gets a big F for fail.

In my electorate of Cooper, education is the No. 1 issue raised with me. Labor's policy of offering free kinder to three- and four-year-olds would have been life-changing, parents told me. Yet here the minister sings the government's praises of their policy. We know that they're only funding preschool on a year-by-year basis, which leaves little hope for the teachers, parents and kids in that sector that there's any future for it. Labor wants to see real needs based, sector-blind funding for all schools so that all kids at every school get a great education, but that premise fails when you fail to properly fund schools and public schools in particular.

The Liberals have ripped $14 billion from public-school funding, so nine in 10 schools across the country will never reach their fair funding level. Little wonder we see our results in the basics—reading, writing and maths—going backwards in every state and territory. That is why we are angry that this budget and the election of another Liberal government locks in an inequitable funding formula. Let's be clear: this is for the schools that teach two-thirds of Australian children, the majority of children in remote and rural areas, the majority of Indigenous children, the majority of children with a disability and the majority of children from a CALD background. These kids are missing out under this Liberal government. How are the kids at these schools supposed to have a go when their government systematically underfunds them?

Labor had a plan to fix this. Labor would have restored the $14 billion, especially for public schools who have had that money ripped away from them under the Liberals. With this money, and increased autonomy for principals, public schools would have been able to deliver smaller class sizes, more teachers and more one-to-one attention. But, perhaps more crucially for schools in my electorate, this boost in funding could have been used to deliver additional supports like speech pathologists, social workers and family liaison officers as well as smaller class sizes and additional teachers. Without additional supports, our teachers are more stretched than ever, and it's showing in our declining education results. To support our students, we need to let teachers teach and we need to provide enough funding to ensure schools have wraparound services.

The other key issue for schools in my electorate is the dire need for building works. Many public schools are quite simply falling down. This budget contains a measly $30.2 million from which every public, independent and Catholic school in Australia has to compete for one-off grants of between $1,000 and $20,000. Compare this to Labor's commitment of $260 million in local school commitments to give schools in every electorate the upgrades they need.

Worse, this government has a special fund, called the Capital Grants Program, that's for private schools, and that will deliver $1.9 billion in grants from 2018 to 2027. There's no equivalent fund for public schools. In the last two years alone, more than $311 million has already been allocated to 314 private schools. A recent ABC investigation revealed the stark and shocking disparity in the levels of capital expenditure in Australian schools. Between 2013 and 2017 the four richest schools in the country spent more on facilities and renovations than the poorest 1,800 schools combined.

Those opposite see this portfolio as a place holder—something to cut and somewhere to find savings. We on this side of the chamber understand the value of education. We see this portfolio as a way of building aspiration and productivity and of unlocking creativity and potential in the future of our nation.

When we announced Labor's funding, I spoke to Thornbury High School's principal, Michael Keenan. He told me that such a substantial funding increase would make a difference to Thornbury High School in helping them achieve their twin goals of equity and excellence. All students would have benefited. Every student, no matter where they are in their learning journey, deserves an outstanding, fully-resourced education—that was the principal of Thornbury High School in my electorate. They have two goals: equity and excellence—goals this budget so badly fails. After six years, how can the Australian people expect good or improved results if this budget locks in inequities through funding?

4:22 pm

Photo of Dan TehanDan Tehan (Wannon, Liberal Party, Minister for Education) Share this | | Hansard source

Can I continue to outline the additional money we're putting into education—and I know the previous member on this side, the member for Berowra, will be very pleased by this. It includes $10.8 million over three years from 2019-20 to provide a year 1 voluntary phonics health check so parents and teachers can ensure their children are not falling behind. South Australia has introduced a phonics check for grade 1, and it's something that we're encouraging every other state and territory to follow suit on. If children and parents can get an assessment at that age about where they're at when it comes to their literacy, you can give the support and the help that they need to make sure those students don't fall behind. As we know, literacy and numeracy are absolutely fundamental foundations of a child's education.

There is also $9.5 million over four years from 2019-20 for online teaching and learning courses to strengthen the capacity of teachers across Australia to teach mathematics and phonics through freely-available nationally-coordinated high-quality professional learning and resources. We want teachers to have the tools to be able to educate children when it comes to literacy and numeracy. Other initiatives include a further $5 million over three years from 2019-20 for Life Education to develop a new range of free training resources to help teachers better support the social and emotional needs of school students. There is also $4 million in 2019 to provide support for North Queensland flood-affected schools to help them address unforeseen challenges and remain financially viable as they provide support to students, families and teachers.

I announced these funding outcomes with the member for Herbert at an event in Townsville on 7 June 2019. I'm pleased that we were able to assist 25 school communities—15 independent schools and 10 Catholic schools—to recover from the floods. And I was also able to work cooperatively with the Queensland minister who also made sure that government schools received the funding that they need. They did the government schools; we looked after the non-government sector.

I know the member will also be pleased, because he is a strong supporter of this, about $2 million over two years from 2019-20 for the Australian Constitution Centre to support the establishment of a wide-reaching educational outreach program which will enable more Australian school students to obtain a greater understanding of Australia's constitutional framework. Can I commend you for the work that you did in promoting this. I think it is an excellent initiative and, when it is combined—and this hasn't been funded in the budget but it is something that we are funding—with the changes to the PACER program, it will mean more students will be able to afford to come from remote, rural and regional areas to Canberra as part of that program. These are two initiatives in that civic space which I think will make a big difference.

I don't want to go on about what the opposition says when it comes to what we are doing with regard to school funding, but I think it is incredibly important that we just put the facts on the table. In 2018 we provided $7.38 billion to government schools. In 2019 that goes to $7.98 billion; 2020, $8.66 billion; 2021, $9.31 billion; 2022, $10.1 billion; and 2023, $10.74 billion. Funding for government schools in every year that we have been in office has gone up, and we are providing an increase of 62 per cent per student. And, for all members, the government spending is growing fastest for state schools at around 6.4 per cent per student each year from 2019 to 2023. I'll just repeat that: government spending is growing fastest for state schools at around 6.4 per cent per student each year from 2019 to 2023. I thought we had put this issue to bed, but if the opposition wants to keep raising it we'll keep providing the facts.

4:27 pm

Photo of Graham PerrettGraham Perrett (Moreton, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Assistant Minister for Education and Training) Share this | | Hansard source

My question is obviously to the education minister. In the context of his previous comments, obviously when he came to office the kids that were in prep are now coming up to the end of their time in primary school. The kids that started high school are now out in the workforce or at university learning or earning. I know that when the coalition started in office there was a certain number of school students. Now, in 2019, there are more school students. I taught English for 11 years, not maths, so I'm a little bit shaky on this, but I think if there are more school students there'll be more money connected with educating those students. So, whilst I appreciate his ability to teach grade 1 maths, I think he needs to go back to the core promise. Because I remember the then opposition leader Tony Abbott saying before he was elected, 'You can vote Labor. You can vote Liberal. Not a dollar difference to education.' I think it was at Panthers leagues club he made that statement—the former Prime Minister in the progression of prime ministers we've had.

Then what happened? One of the first acts of the coalition government—under Treasurer Morrison, in fact—was they cut $30 billion over the decade from projected school funding, and it showed up in their budget papers. And they have fundamentally failed to restore cuts. They keep saying there are more kids in schools so we give more money but they actually never addressed that fundamental broken promise. I look forward to the minister addressing that response. We know that by not investing in our students they are failing our future. They're not only failing our children; they're failing our future—the people that will have to look after us.

Let's look at some of the great legacy of this coalition government now that it's in its seventh year—and I take the member for Cooper's comment that it's getting an F. Personally I would have given it an E minus, but I'm happy to talk—

Government Member:

A government member interjecting

Photo of Graham PerrettGraham Perrett (Moreton, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Assistant Minister for Education and Training) Share this | | Hansard source

Come in, spinner! Let's have a talk about NAPLAN results in reading, writing and maths. In nearly every state, in years 7 and 9, the average results have gone—

A government member interjecting

If you don't want to govern, you can feel free to leave the parliament. You're paid to actually govern. Obviously that means looking after our literacy and numeracy results. The results have gone back. The best we can say is that they've essentially flatlined. For eighth grade maths scores on the TIMSS international test, Australia is ranked 18th. Russia is seventh. So we're now more than 10 places behind Russia. For reading literacy in fourth grade, PIRLS has Russia ranked first and Australia trailing in 14th place.

Let's have a look at some of the reasons for that. I particularly want to acknowledge the great work that teachers and teaching support staff do to run schools—and I know we've got former teachers on this side of the chamber. The member for Lalor has run schools as a principal. But we know that they're being asked to do more with less under this government. There are more demands on their time. Teachers are spending so much of their time doing admin, collecting data on kids with disabilities and the like. It is a very stressful time for teachers and the other staff at the moment. It's actually driving good teachers away. We're getting fewer high achievers choosing teaching as a career path, particularly when compared to other OECD nations.

Surely we can all agree that we want the best people, the best educators, teaching our children—my children, your children and those in years to come. Look at Singapore, Finland and other countries. They're recruiting top teaching graduates. We should recruit from that top third of student cohorts to educate our students. Currently it is not good enough. The quality of our teachers is obviously a serious issue. A principal sets the tone, but the teachers are at the chalkface, so to speak. The only plan the coalition government have to improve teaching standards is basically online training for teachers. They need to look at adopting some of our policies. So my big question to the minister is: can the minister confirm that, in the time the Liberals have been in office, NAPLAN reading, writing and maths results have decreased across all age groups, in every state and territory? As education experts and industry have panned your education policies as window-dressing, why, after six years, do this government have no long-term plan for education in Australia?

Photo of Trent ZimmermanTrent Zimmerman (North Sydney, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I call the member for Bowman.

4:32 pm

Photo of Andrew LamingAndrew Laming (Bowman, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Thank you very much, Deputy Speaker. You're very generous in your interpretation of the standing orders.

Photo of Trent ZimmermanTrent Zimmerman (North Sydney, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

It is correct interpretation of the standing orders. You should be paying attention.

Photo of Andrew LamingAndrew Laming (Bowman, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Thank you. I want to mention the unique student identifier and, in particular, the progress that is being achieved with the USI. Since 1 January 2015 we've had the USI in place, particularly in vocational education, for international students, for Australian students studying overseas and for New Zealand students studying here in Australia. I for one was really encouraged by Gonski 2.0 and their recommendation that we move more broadly to a USI. I understand that's the intention of government and has bipartisan support, which is important. I want to go through some of the big opportunities that come with the USI and some of the forgone opportunities in a policy sense, in a quality sense, of not having one and encourage us to move in this direction.

A USI offers opportunities as early, potentially, as the early education phase. There has been lots of commitment on both sides of the House in the zero to eight years and, more specifically, the 18 months to five years stage. With the jurisdictional challenge of talking here in Canberra but ultimately not actually directly running a school, we want to see that students are absolutely ready to go when they hit prep. We know there are slightly different rules about access to preschool in each of the jurisdictions, but what is lacking is the ability to track a student from early education all the way through to prep and then onwards through to either a vocation or a higher education path.

Why is it costing us at the moment in the early education space? Quite simply, in many cases we don't yet have effective cooperation to identify, at an early stage, struggling and vulnerable students prior to their arriving at prep. We've got to take pressure off teachers. As has been pointed out, there's plenty of experience on the other side, with teachers who now serve in this place. You'd well know just how much impact struggling students in prep can have. The AEDI points that out. In most parts of Australia, even relatively wealthy parts of Australia, up to 15 per cent of students in prep, from that sample done in the AED Census, are deemed as vulnerable in at least one of those five domains. So it's a serious business, and we know that the earlier we intervene the better.

We've had significant overseas models considered here in Australia. There's always a temptation to develop your own models. But Abecedarian, which has come out of the University of North Carolina, is probably the largest enhanced reading and early intervention model in the world and has been culturally tested in every corner. It has been picked up by Queensland and the Northern Territory. Congratulations to them. Initially, it went out of the University of Melbourne. But the then Newman LNP government in Queensland invested, and Labor, right on their tail, continued these regional coordinators to try to identify students that were falling behind in that early education space. Actually, it's not just about therapy; it's not just about doctors and therapists. It's enhanced education as well, and that's not just a matter of sitting kids in circles and reading to a group; it's one to one. That kind of intervention, I hope, will yield dividends in Queensland.

What's the problem and how is it related to the USI? Well, the issue is—to take one example—that a Catholic Centrecare childcare centre still can't provide data on the progress of students to the prep class over the fence in the Catholic primary school. I think that's completely unacceptable. There have been repeated conversations with Catholic Education about this issue. They continue to cite privacy and lack of consent from parents as a reason not to do so much as send their prep teacher down to talk with Centrecare about the kids over the fence. This is unbelievable. This is absolutely unacceptable in a developed economy, and I'll keep saying it to Catholic Education. They need to work together. These children are on a continuum. It's not good enough to say, 'We're going to go and have a little chat a few months before they come into prep.' You've got to start when those children arrive in early learning. You've got to raise the capacity of your early learning workers to identify children who are vulnerable. And you need parental consent when you enrol in the Centrecare preschool so that if there is a problem you can actually pull in allied heath workers. At the moment, that is something that needs to happen.

The fundamental element of the USI, and this is more relevant to ministries like employment, is the skilling initiatives of the current government. Over $500 million is being invested. They recognise that in the absence of a USI you can't adequately track a student all the way through the vocational pathway. The student effectively falls into a blind dustbin of vocational education where it's a tick—you pass or fail—and we don't know if foundation skills are improving. You can't have a nation at the cutting edge of the world's economies if you're not pushing the foundation skills of literacy and numeracy in your vocational cohort. They're either getting a certificate or they're not. It's not good enough. I hope the USI will be a way of changing that. Minister, I'd really appreciate understanding and knowing the progress that we're achieving with the USI.

4:37 pm

Photo of Joanne RyanJoanne Ryan (Lalor, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I know the room will be surprised, but I absolutely agree with the previous speaker about the unique student identifier and the need for it not only nationally but also inside our sectors in the states. In Victoria, of course, we've changed that slightly, but it is still ridiculous that an auditor can tell a principal in Victoria that they can't say that a child isn't attending school because they might be attending the Catholic sector school around the corner. This means that we've got children who are lost to the system, and the impetus and the funding to follow them up is also needed. I can only imagine that happening more and more across the country, so I do support those notions and we encourage the minister to take on board those thoughts and, perhaps, some research around the fundamental need for this and the value of anything that has a cost to put it into place.

Obviously, we're doing NAPLAN testing and other testing, but without the systems to ensure that we can track student performance and provide the levels of support that families and teachers need we're working in circles. That brings me to this year's budget. I've been here for six years. I've said a thousand times since I walked through the door that the original Gonski research showed clearly—as does the research conducted around PISA and the OECD—that student outcomes have a direct link to inequality. You can't get around it. You can't jump over it. It's a fact. We have decades of data that demonstrate exactly that. So when those opposite start screaming, 'We're spending more, we're spending more,' having capped what will be spent in state schools to 20 per cent of the Commonwealth spend, they are continuing to feed the inequity that will have a negative impact on our student outcomes nationally. It is really that simple. And this government refuses to hear it. They refuse to hear it in the original Gonski research. They used the Gonski label again to bring in what is now an abomination of a great idea. It really is as simple as that.

I have specific questions that link to my electorate, in this specific area. Minister, I want to know why Westbourne Grammar School receives three times more from the Commonwealth than Werribee Secondary College. It's a really simple question. I want to know why a private school with an ICSEA of 1,147 receives three times as much money from the Commonwealth as a local state school—that, I might add, is performing better and does all sorts of things well—is receiving from the Commonwealth. You can say it's a state school as many times as you like, but the fact of the matter is that the Commonwealth budget is being focused to independent and private schools and adding to inequity. I think you missed the opening point. This inequity will lead to the detriment of this country. This is an economic issue. We're talking about making sure that we have a positive, vibrant economy. Education isn't a cost. It is a value.

I have some other questions for the minister. Under his arrangements, state schools in my electorate have failed to meet the SRS standard without the equity loadings. But there are a couple that are already above it. They might be at 21 per cent. Minister, will they lose that one per cent, with your cap at 20 per cent? Will they lose that one per cent they've got, because of the loading, or is the loading outside that 20 per cent cap? And when will the government make the changes needed to ensure quality teacher training? For six years we've been aware that this is an issue. It's time for action. How can the Commonwealth justify outlaying 80 per cent of SRS to private and independent Catholic schools while only doing 20 per cent—when it is clear on any measure that 75 per cent of students are educated in the state sector?

I have a final point that I think is really important, Minister, and I haven't raised it with you before. There are currently 229,000 people here on bridging visas. How do we get those kids into schools? There are lots of them. At the moment, their parents can't afford education and they are locked out of our state system.

4:42 pm

Photo of Dan TehanDan Tehan (Wannon, Liberal Party, Minister for Education) Share this | | Hansard source

Before I go on detailing all the extra investment we're putting into our education system, I'd like to address the member for Bowman's question and the show of bipartisanship on the other side, which is greatly appreciated, around the unique student identifier. As part of the national reform initiatives, there are three initiatives that the Commonwealth is taking the lead on. One is the unique student identifier. This is, I think, one of the most important initiatives of the whole national reform process. By taking the lead, we're making sure we're driving outcomes, when it comes to states and territories, pushing for the introduction of the USI. This will be on the agenda when I meet with state and territory education ministers on Friday, and when we meet again in Alice Springs at the end of the year we hope to have a lot of detail to put out there as to how the USI will work.

Interestingly enough—I know the member for Bowman will be interested in this and I think other members will be as well—as part of the 2019-20 budget the Australian government is investing $15.8 million, over four years, to extend the unique student identifier from vocational education and training to higher education. From 2021 new domestic and onshore international higher education students will receive a USI, and by 2023 all higher education students, including those who commence prior to 2021, will have been issued with a USI.

What we will be able to do, from school through to vocational or higher education, is track the performance of students right through the system. I think this is an incredibly important initiative and it's one that the Commonwealth is also driving when it comes to the national reform initiatives. We want to make sure that progression happens to every student across primary and secondary schools, so for every year of learning they get 12 months of progression. This is something that the Commonwealth is going to drive, as well as the last thing that we've taken the key responsibility on, and that's the evidence institute.

So far we have put $12.4 million to these initiatives. But, once we've got detailed frameworks worked out, once we've agreed how all this work will be done in conjunction with state and territory government ministers, then we will look at how we will continue to expand on that investment, because this is incredibly important work. I think all of us on this side realise that the record investment that we are putting into education now has to translate into record results and outcomes. There has to be a focus on that and we're seeing that right across the board.

I will continue because there are so many lengthy initiatives of additional funding that we're putting into education. I want to try and get through a few more of these so every member understands what we are doing. We're also providing $2 million over three years, from 2019-20, to expand the Country Education Partnership's successful Rural Inspire program, which aims to raise the aspirations of students in rural and remote schools, develop their motivation and increase their ability to choose and achieve positive career, life and learning goals. I know the member to my left will absolutely support me in this—making sure that there is the aspiration, especially when it comes to regional and rural students, low-socioeconomic students and Indigenous students, which is absolutely key. That's why we put $2 million into this important initiative—

Hon. Members:

Honourable members interjecting

Photo of Dan TehanDan Tehan (Wannon, Liberal Party, Minister for Education) Share this | | Hansard source

Well, it is absolutely important. I would say to those members who are being a little bit cynical about this: go and meet with Country Education Partnership and see the wonderful work they are doing. What this will do is enable them to expand this incredibly important initiative nationally. The good thing about that organisation is that they didn't want some X large amount of money. They want to do it within a budget which they think is realistic and will achieve results. That is what informs our approach to education.

4:47 pm

Photo of Libby CokerLibby Coker (Corangamite, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

This government has no plan and no answers to the education and skills crisis besetting this country. This latest budget does nothing to rectify the inadequacies in vocational education and training—inadequacies created exclusively by this government. The proposed Skills Package of $525 million in the budget has been picked over by Senate estimates and, not surprisingly, they found that only $55.4 million is actually new money. No wonder the business groups are starting to become restless.

It started in August with Innes Willox, CEO of the Australian Industry Group, pleading with the Prime Minister to fix the skills crisis. Mr Willox is right to be concerned because the pipeline of infrastructure work over the next few years is slated to be bigger than the mining boom of 2012 to 2015. On 8 August, The Australian quoted recent research by Ai Group, which found:

... 75 per cent of employers were having difficulty recruiting qualified or skilled workers to fill vacancies. The biggest shortages were among technicians and trades workers.

Further, the article says:

Apprenticeship and traineeships numbers have fallen from 446,000 in 2012 to 259,385 last year, which Mr Willox blamed on a number of policy changes, including the removal or reduction of many employer incentives.

No wonder that, of the 1,259 businesses who responded to the New South Wales business workshop skills survey, 55 per cent said they were experiencing a skills shortage. New South Wales business CEO Stephen Cartwright said in the Sydney Morning Herald on 26 August:

More must be done to train the next generation to ensure the economy has the requisite skills to sustain existing and future economic activity.

…   …   …

Doing what we've always done isn't working—we have a 'perfect storm' of stubbornly high levels of youth unemployment, but businesses are crying out for staff.

But it's not just the drop in commencement rates that is worrying. Recent data from the National Council of Vocational Education and Research reveals the completion rates for apprentices and trainees in all occupations has decreased to 56.7 per cent and to 54.5 per cent in trade occupations.

The coalition has had six years to improve the skills system but has failed to take action at every turn. Instead, they have taken $3 billion dollars out of the system and reduced commencements by over 150,000 since 2013. If one can't believe the employers, then how about the CSIRO? In their June Australian national outlook 2019, CSIRO said:

Technological change, such as artificial intelligence, automation and advances in biotechnology are transforming existing industries and changing the skills required for high-quality jobs. Unless Australia can reverse its recent declines in educational performance, its future workforce could be poorly prepared for the jobs of tomorrow.

This is all the end result of cuts to school funding, a lack of focus on vocational pathways, closing TAFE campuses and allowing dodgy for-profit employers to gouge the system. Yet the minister, Senator Cash, boasted in a speech on 11 July: 'Our agenda is ambitious.' Ambitious for what? The elements of the budget package, even where they have merit, will hardly make a dent in the crisis we face. Ten new regional training hubs are important as a link between school and technical education, but 10 across Australia? That is just over one per state and territory.

The minister lauds the creation of 400 VET scholarships and the doubling of the Australian Apprentice Wage Subsidy trial to 3,200 places. But, Minister, what about the drop of 150,000 commencements in six years? When you step back and consider the massive cuts to this sector and the massive needs of industry over the next five years, these feeble initiatives neither prepare the damage done or address the challenges ahead. So, my question to the government is: what is the government doing to invest in schools and encourage students to undertake VET? We hear so many platitudes about the importance of technical and trade training, but the Commonwealth invests very little in creating the pathways of the future for young people. (Time expired)

4:52 pm

Photo of Barnaby JoyceBarnaby Joyce (New England, National Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I'd like to rise to endorse the actions of the government in making sure that we look after people in regional areas. The first thing I would like to say, if I may, is there's nothing more annoying than the misleading statement that total government funding between state and federal governments is more to independent schools than it is to state schools. It's not. Total government funding between state and federal level is vastly more weighted towards state schools. They are called state schools—unsurprisingly—because they are financed by the state. And, if we didn't have federal government funding for independent schools and other schools, Catholic schools, then about 30 per cent of the student body throughout Australia would have nowhere to go. And, of course, if you think about it logically, if these people were to go to state schools and require the finance and the resources of the state, then the overall call on access to funds per student would be less. Let us always be honest because, every time you're dishonest and start making this assumption that federal government funding to state schools is less than independent schools, you should always put in the addition: but of course states finance state schools. That's why they're called state schools, not federal schools.

Opposition Members:

Opposition members interjecting

Photo of Barnaby JoyceBarnaby Joyce (New England, National Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Of course, if you want to be dishonest or if the purpose of winning an argument is to be dishonest, knock yourself out. Anyway, we'll judge you as such.

I'll tell you what I like about this. We have to make sure that we reach out to people in regional and remote areas to give them the advantage of an education. There are so many areas where not only is it unlikely that you will get tertiary education but, especially in the drought, it is also unlikely that you will get secondary education, because the only way to access secondary school facilities is to board and that is highly expensive. We need to understand that. That's why we have to make sure that all people across our nation, no matter where they live, have capacity to access university, which of course they can't do unless they get through secondary school. Tertiary education itself is such a financial burden. For many families it's like sending the kids to boarding school. The costs are immense. There are people who have to understand that they can't go to university, not because they are not capable but because they can't pay for it.

This is what I like about this. The minister, in his diligent work in the Expenditure Review Committee and as a member of cabinet, has got $93.7 million to assist with scholarships—in fact, scholarships of $15,000 each to 4,720 people. This is so important for the people of Brewarrina, Eromanga, Birdsville, Emmaville and the towns that seem to be so often outside the remit of my colleagues on the other side of the chamber. In fact, they are very rarely mentioned.

Then there was the ridicule of the $2 million over three years to expand country education partnerships. I commend the minister for making sure that people have a greater sense of the opportunities that lie before them. It is always this side of the political spectrum—the coalition; the government—reaching out to these people to further assist them. I acknowledge that in this drought one of the saddest things is to see kids being taken out of boarding school—whether it's in country areas, such as Tamworth and Armidale, or the capital cities—and going home. There may be a whole range of reasons given, but the real reason is that there's no money. Therefore, their education has concluded. You may say that they should go to a state school, but in many areas there's not a state school—they just don't exist—or the state school does not have the capacity to deliver the curriculum to get them to university.

Honourable members interjecting

If you believe that they should do more, you should apply to your colleagues in the state parliament to put more funds towards the schools that they are responsible for. The other thing is that other parts of the world pay vastly less per student but get vastly greater results. Why is our standard of teaching not able to provide the results that other countries can achieve for less money?

4:57 pm

Photo of Sharon ClaydonSharon Claydon (Newcastle, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

This budget is exactly what we've come to expect from an out-of-touch, out-to-lunch third-term government when it comes to education. There is no agenda and no vision on moving the country forward. Everyone in this country knows that you just can't trust this government when it comes to properly funding education—from early childhood education through to our TAFEs and universities.

Today though I want to focus on the early childhood education and childcare sector. The science is settled. If we fail to invest in education, we pay for it in the long run. The earlier you start the greater the economic benefits that flow. The preschool years are critical to giving children the very best start in life. During the election campaign I was proud to campaign with Labor's policy of universal access to preschool for all three-year-old and four-year-old Australian children. Labor initiated universal access for preschools for four-year-olds and it has been a great success. With 90 per cent of a child's development occurring in the first five years of life, investment in these critical years pays dividends throughout the entirety of someone's life.

That's great news for children, who will get the best start in life to ensure that they reach their full potential. It's great news for families, who will get relief from the ever-mounting costs of child care. And it's great news to have a smarter and more engaged cohort of younger Australians as we take our stake in a global knowledge economy. This is all borne out by a recent EU study that showed that, for the three years, every dollar spent on early childhood education returns $4 to the economy.

As Australia heads into a period of increased global tensions and uncertainty, it's more important than ever that we create an economic agenda that extends beyond the short term. The Treasurer frequently asserts that the economic fundamentals are strong, but this government has done nothing for six years now. How can the Treasurer believe his own rhetoric when we're faced with a downturn in terms of trade, historically low wages growth, and chronic underemployment and youth unemployment? We need to capitalise on the economic benefits of investing in education and kickstart the productivity that's missing from our economy.

That's why this budget is so disappointing. One of the most disheartening measures, especially in my electorate of Newcastle, is the cynical attitude to the funding of child care for four-year-olds. I call on the minister to go back to the cabinet and fight for real funding that our early childhood educators, our parents and our children can count on. But this shouldn't come as a surprise. The Liberals just don't get the importance of education. They never have. They see education as a line item in the budget, ripe for slashing, rather than as an investment in our national prosperity. They've cut billions from schools, they've cut billions from universities and TAFE, and now they won't even guarantee preschool funding. They've also made it harder for regional and remote early learning centres to stay open. It's very interesting that the National Party stood by while the budget based services in their electorates were demolished by this government.

It has been a very disappointing time, especially given what we're seeing for the future of Australia's preschoolers. There was an opportunity for the government to commit to Australian preschool funding, to recognise that the two years before school are really important and to invest in them, but, as is so often the case with this lacklustre government, we have a minister who sees the portfolio only as a means to find some cuts and bide his time until he gets a portfolio he really cares about. The UK, China, New Zealand, France and Ireland have all expanded their early childhood education programs to include three-year-olds. It's time we caught up. Australian kids deserve better, Australian families deserve better, and our country deserves nothing less.

I ask the minister: when will funding for the universal access to the early childhood education agreement expire? Will the government extend the agreement? Has the agreement for the 2020 preschool year been signed by the states and territories? I ask him to come to my electorate of Newcastle and explain to new parents and early childhood educators why their children and students don't deserve funding security, and why centres like Samaritans Early Learning Centre in Newcastle, which I visited last week, don't deserve secure funding. While he's there, he might like to explain to the families of Stockton why he's letting the Stockton Early Learning Centre literally slip into the ocean, leaving the community with zero access to early learning.

5:03 pm

Photo of Celia HammondCelia Hammond (Curtin, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

As someone who's been involved in higher education over the last two decades, and as someone with a personal investment in school education, I'm passionate about the education of our children and our youth. I want all of our children, all of our young people, to have access to excellent educational offerings wherever they are in this country and for this education to provide them with the knowledge, the skills and the personal characteristics to be able to find and pursue their passion in life, rise to their individual potential and contribute to society.

In my electorate of Curtin there are 54 schools with almost 30,000 children enrolled in them. There's one world-class university, the University of Western Australia, and a number of other higher education providers. Thirty-four per cent of people in Curtin engage in some form of education. Education matters in Curtin, and education matters to our government. We are demonstrating that through this year's budget, with a record $21.4 billion in funding for state schools, Catholic schools and independent schools for the 2020 school year—an increase in funding of $8.5 billion since 2013. There are two initiatives in this particular budget that I commend the minister on and which I wish to highlight.

The first of these relates to a particular passion area of mine, and that is children and education in remote areas of the country. I grew up in a town called Northam in regional Western Australia. My parents, a lawyer and a teacher, had moved there as newlyweds to find work. My mum, an English teacher, taught in the local high school, alongside many other gifted and wonderful teachers who worked in the country as part of a return-to-service program. My mum, like many others, ended up outstaying any and all requirements of the return-to-service program. She and my father ended up staying in Northam for 17 years in total. Excellent education depends on excellent teaching staff, and it depends on consistency of teachers. Turnover of teaching staff can thwart any achievements made on a year-by-year basis.

Having worked with university students for so long, I know that there are many reasons university graduates do not think about relocating to remote areas to work—isolation, fear of the unknown and the financial impost, to name a few. But I also know that many of them fall in love with these areas when they do pursue the opportunity, and they end up becoming firmly embedded in that community. What we need to do is encourage our graduates and newly graduated teachers to put aside hesitations about moving to remote areas for work. That is what this government's initiative does, remitting the debt incurred of graduate teachers who teach for a minimum of four years in remote schools, and it is an excellent initiative.

The other initiative I want to highlight relates to the arts. I'm not an active contributor to the arts. I have no artistic talent whatsoever. But I'm a passionate supporter of the arts and I believe that the arts must be embedded within our education system. If we want to ensure that our young people fully engage with education, that they learn to think creatively, that they learn to see the world through different eyes, that they learn about the world in which they live, like almost nothing else the arts have the ability to challenge, to engage and to inspire.

There are many fantastic events and initiatives in my electorate of Curtin that offer young people the opportunity to actively engage with the arts. Indeed, I recently attended a Bell Shakespeare program in my electorate, with year 11 and year 12 girls from St Hilda's Anglican School for Girls, and it was a sensational experience. Reading Shakespeare is wonderful in and of itself, but seeing a live production can be truly transformative. Our government gets it. We get the importance of arts in education. In this budget there is a $5.7 million commitment over five years to fund the delivery of arts programs, through Music Australia and Bell Shakespeare, across Australia. It won't be the hills that are alive but it will be this vast sunburnt country of ours.

As I finish, I ask the education minister—and I commend him on all the work that he's done and continues to do in education—to further outline some of the initiatives being introduced by the government in this budget.

5:08 pm

Photo of Julian HillJulian Hill (Bruce, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I want to draw attention to what I'd call the orphan child of the minister's portfolio, which is international education, and decry the complete lack of focus in the budget—the budget papers and the budget initiatives, with the exception of two—to Australia's third most valuable export sector.

International education, on the latest figures, is worth $38 billion to this country, third only to coal and iron ore, yet it's forgotten by the government. We've seen an increase in tourism because of it, and that's a category. We've seen an increase in students. There are 630,000 students, at present, studying in Australia and over 700,000 enrolments. This covers universities, higher education providers, TAFEs, private VET and English language courses. None of those figures include the offshore benefits from our providers delivering offshore curriculum training and so on.

It's of enormous long-term strategic importance to this nation. Literally, over a million alumni from some of the wealthiest leadership in South-East Asia, and every part of the world, have studied and spent their formative years here. It's critical to underpinning future trade and economic relationships, and the internationalisation benefits for our curriculum and the experiences for our students, domestically, at all levels. It is disappointing, therefore, that the budget papers are almost silent. There are two small initiatives: pages 9 and 64 in Budget Paper No. 2. That's it. That's all the Parliamentary Library could find, in all that stack of papers, for Australia's third-largest export industry. The government, as you can tell from their comments, sees this sector as a cash cow—nothing more, nothing less. The minister himself, when trying to defend the capping of higher education places and the $2.2 billion cut, said, 'Well, you can go and recruit more international students.' The Prime Minister then blames international students for congestion—not his failure to invest in infrastructure. It's the fault of international students that you can't sit on the train.

Our success is a wonderful thing for this country. We should treasure it. It should be a bipartisan endeavour, and I hope in the future it will remain so, in broad terms. But the government is becoming complacent. The question concerns the sustainability of growth, and there is little to nothing in this budget, except for the two admittedly worthy regional initiatives, that actually underpins the future of the sector. We have risks of a bubble. No sector should think that double-digit growth—10 per cent, 12 per cent, 12 per cent, 16 per cent—will continue. We saw this movie back in 2007. There was a whole range of reasons why we had the bubble pricked, and it was devastating to the economy and the sector. The risks are growing.

Market diversification—source countries—and also market diversification and distribution between the states. What I'd call the two most important factors that underpin future sustainable growth—we have to be ruthless on these—are positive student experience and ruthless enforcement of quality. We are high cost as an international provider and we will remain so, so we have to have the highest-quality product.

We are seeing examples of workplace exploitation, which are not addressed in the budget. The budget has nothing in it to address the crisis in workplace exploitation. Also, isolation of students and overconcentration of students in many courses are ruining the experience for domestic students. The minister has claimed publicly that quality is protected by our regulators, but that is rubbish. Everyone in the sector knows it is rubbish—especially, I'd call out not the high end but the lower end of the private vocational market. The periodic ASQA reviews are not working. At the low end, those courses have become a visa factory for people who are not attending classes. We have called out before that the minimum of 20 hours of attendance at VET courses is abolished. So, you can come to a low-cost provider in this country and not attend any classes. You can do that under the current regulations. This has been a known problem, and I will say that it was the Labor government that changed that rule. It was a mistake. But you've been in government for six years. There's nothing in the budget that addresses these problems. There should be mention of it. There's no new funding for ASQA whatsoever. It's clear and it's obvious if you talk to the sector that the high-quality providers would welcome your doing something about the bottom feeders in the market. They are the ones that hang outside their colleges and take their students. They would welcome your taking their concerns seriously, but the budget is silent on these issues.

It's also silent on the fact that 75 per cent of students coming to this country come through education agents. If you're a dodgy financial advisor, a dodgy real estate agent or a dodgy childcare provider, you get kicked out of the sector. There is nothing like that in international education. There is a bunch of sharks that we know keep phoenixing their businesses, ripping off students and risking the sustainability of the sector in the future.

I say to the minister: you really need to pay more attention. I never thought I'd say this, but it's almost like 'Bring back Richard Colbeck', because he was the world's first and only minister for international education. I think you may need some assistance to get some focus. You now have two minutes to inspire us as to how you're going to take this sector seriously and actually deal with the problems.

5:13 pm

Photo of Dan TehanDan Tehan (Wannon, Liberal Party, Minister for Education) Share this | | Hansard source

I'd like to thank the member for Bruce for his contribution. It gives me time to address a part of our budget that I haven't addressed until this stage, and that's our record investment in higher education. I commend all members on this debate. Once again, if I could just highlight that what we've seen demonstrated by the government through this debate is our record funding across all sectors for education, and in particular higher education—over $17 billion, and the sector will continue to grow. One of the things I've been very closely working on with the sector is performance based funding. That will see a further $230 million provided to universities in 2023. That will be focused on making sure that we have employment-ready graduates. The sector has worked cooperatively with the government on this. I think it's an incredibly important initiative.

I would say to the member for Bruce that one thing that he forgot to mention, and it's quite a sizable outcome from the budget, is the $93.7 million over four years, from 2019-20, to establish a new scholarship program, Destination Australia, to increase the number of domestic and international students studying in regional locations, to provide students with opportunities to live and study in a regional community and help share the economic and other benefits of Australia's tertiary education sector among more regional communities. It's an important initiative, because one of the things we have to do is make sure that we're spreading the economic benefit that Australia gets from international education.

The member for Bruce is right. This is an incredibly important sector to our nation. It's why it's been a key focus of the government not only in the Destination Australia program but also on what we're ensuring to do to make sure that it continues to be sustainable into the future.

The commitments that we're looking to embark on, especially in making sure that we have students coming from all round the globe, are to look at other markets to make sure we're getting the balance right. India is one of the key priority markets that we're looking at in that regard. But we do have to make sure that we are getting students from overseas and that they are going to all parts of Australia and we're seeing the benefits of that.

This isn't a budget initiative, but another initiative that I worked on very closely with the minister for immigration is around work rights and extending an extra year of work rights for those who go and study in regional and rural areas. We're already seeing a benefit from that change to work rights. We will continue to push other changes which make sure that we spread that over $35 billion record that we're getting from international education right across the nation.

I want to briefly mention a couple of other things in winding up. As part of the government's commitment to Closing the Gap, the government will remit higher education loan, HELP, debts for teachers in very remote areas of Australia. The member for Curtin was right to acknowledge this incredibly important program. This recognises the geographic, social, cultural and economic challenges that are unique to delivering education in such locations, as well as the much higher level of relative need. This program will make a huge difference in making sure that we're getting teachers into remote areas and that they're staying there.

Another thing that we are doing is increasing the combined HELP loan limit to $150,000 for students undertaking eligible aviation courses at a VET student loan approved provider, or a higher education provider, from 1 January 2020. This increase will improve the accessibility to courses to better support students and the commercial aviation sector.

And $5 million over two years, from 2018-19, will go to the University of Melbourne to commence construction of the Stawell underground physics laboratory. As the only such facility in the Southern Hemisphere, the Stawell laboratory will be part of a global research effort to try and discover what the DNA of dark matter is—an incredibly important initiative which will put us at the forefront of global research. I finish by thanking everyone for their contribution to this debate.

Proposed expenditure agreed to.

5:19 pm

Photo of Christian PorterChristian Porter (Pearce, Liberal Party, Attorney-General) Share this | | Hansard source

The summary is correct. It is obviously a sobering matter to reflect on the previous portfolio of social services, where there was a budget in excess of $100 billion, and how important every dollar in the Attorney-General's portfolio is.

I thought I'd begin by summarising a number of new initiatives in the previous budget and how they relate to the total figure that you, Mr Deputy Speaker, have just noted. The total appropriations for the Attorney-General's Department will now include $379.1 million over the next five years to support the work of the Royal Commission into Violence, Abuse, Neglect and Exploitation of People with Disability.

It's also the case that a national mechanism will be created for Commonwealth legal assistance funding. In the recent budget there was the provision of an extra $114.3 million in extra funding to allow for that national mechanism to occur, which is distributed through Legal Aid and community legal centres.

It's also the case that in the previous budget the Commonwealth Integrity Commission had been budgeted for. That has $106.7 million of new money allocated to it over the forward estimates. That figure of $106.7 million excludes the $40.7 million that is already appropriated to the Australian Commission for Law Enforcement Integrity. That is a very significant appropriation over the forward estimates for the new body, the Commonwealth Integrity Commission.

In the previous budget it's also the case that $38.6 million is to be provided from 2019-20 to fund additional judges for the Federal Court of Australia, including to expand its jurisdiction to include corporate misconduct, ensuring the courts can cope with the current and future case load. Obviously much of that is earmarked in anticipation of further prosecutions emanating out of the banking royal commission. It is also the case that during the 2019 federal election the government announced additional funding of $12 million over the forward estimates.

On to other matters in my portfolio. There is $10 million going to the National Archives of Australia to digitise World War II records. In the context of the overall budget, that's a modest application, but it's an incredibly important project. It's something all Australians will benefit from, in due course. There's also $2 million in the election commitments for the Office of the Commonwealth Ombudsman to monitor the NDIS Participant Service Guarantee.

Preventing violence against women and children is obviously a top priority for our government. Since 2013, over $840 million in new money has been invested in that area. That of course includes $328 million under the Fourth Action Plan on the National Plan to Reduce Violence against Women and their Children. As part of the 2018 Women's Economic Security Package, the government has provided ongoing funding initially of $7 million over three years to establish the Family Violence and Cross-examination of Parties Scheme. Under the scheme the Legal Aid commissions are being funded to legally represent parties so that victims of family violence are not subjected to cross-examination by their abuser, which was made law by legislation previously moved through this parliament.

It's also the case that in the 2018-20 budget there was an additional $7.8 million committed over three years for dedicated men's support workers to be engaged in all the family advocacy and service locations. Speaking with many of the judges who have been experiencing that, they see this as a very good initiative and that it is working and providing great assistance to litigants and the court. That $7.8 million builds on the previous investment and puts the men's support workers in the existing family and advocacy support services location.

Finally, I note the Morrison government is taking action to prevent vulnerable workers. On the other side of the portfolio, with respect to industrial relations, it's the case that in the previous budget we provided $10.8 million to enhance the Fair Work Ombudsman's capacity to conduct investigations and to improve migrant workers' understandings of their workplace rights. It's also the case that we have allocated $16 million to establish a National Labour Hire Registration Scheme, which was in response to the Migrant Workers' Taskforce recommendation. That work is underway. With that brief summary, I invite contribution from members.

5:23 pm

Photo of Mark DreyfusMark Dreyfus (Isaacs, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Attorney General) Share this | | Hansard source

Is it correct that the Morrison government hates the idea of being held accountable for its actions? I've got a few questions for the Attorney-General, which all concern the National Integrity Commission proposal that the government announced with incredible fanfare, perhaps sensing an election was coming on, in December last year. We have heard precisely nothing about this since the press conference by the Attorney-General and the Prime Minister in that December. Is it because the Morrison government hates the idea of being held accountable for its actions? Is that why the Morrison government has been slithering around on the issue of establishing a National Integrity Commission, trying to avoid any real commitments despite having said in December last year that they had been working on this since January of last year? That's a pretty extraordinary proposition given that 20 months have now lapsed since January of last year, when the government said it started working on this, and, perhaps one could add, despite public comments on the proposal that the government put forward in December, closing on 1 February of this year.

For years we heard from this Attorney-General that he saw no persuasive evidence that a National Integrity Commission was needed. Then he changed his tune and said that he was open-minded on the subject. But that doesn't quite square with the Prime Minister having called the National Integrity Commission a 'fringe issue' late last year—in fact, almost up to when he stood up with the Attorney-General and announced on 13 December that a National Integrity Commission was needed after all.

When the Attorney-General answers, or tries to answer, some of these questions, he might also like to answer this question: Why did the proposal that the government put forward in December last year amount to a sham of an integrity commission? That's not my description; that's a description that's been provided by a number of commentators—people who have studied, worked and provided legal advice on this subject for years. They think what the government put forward in December last year is a sham. It's a sham, of course, that it was only proposed by the Morrison government after they were dragged kicking and screaming to support a National Integrity Commission. They can't, of course, bring themselves to call it a National Integrity Commission because that's Labor's name, and it would never do for this government to adopt anything that the Labor Party had suggested.

The Morrison government has to wake up to reality on this subject. The Australian people want a National Integrity Commission. Absolutely, our country will benefit from having one, and when the Morrison government eventually gets around to legislating on this subject—there's no sign of it at the moment, because the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet, in its legislation listed to be introduced in this parliament through to the end of 2019, has not listed the National Integrity Commission as the subject of legislation—it needs to understand that the Australian people want a real National Integrity Commission, a commission which has the independence, powers and resources that are needed to stamp out corruption and serious misconduct in government and in the federal public sector. The Australian public want a watchdog with real teeth rather than some kind of obedient lapdog of the government, which seems to be what Mr Morrison and his team want.

The sorry fact is that trust in politics and politicians is at historic lows. It's made worse every day by the chaos and cover-ups that have become the hallmark of this government. What is the government doing about that? Why is it that the Morrison government is pretending—as it does on so many issues of vital importance to this nation, from the economy to climate change and the ever-rising cost of living—that there's no problem to deal with and that a slogan will do in place of a policy? Perhaps when the Attorney-General is answering some questions about when we're actually going to get, in some kind of form, a concrete proposal for a National Integrity Commission, he'll be able to explain how the National Integrity Commission might be able to help in dealing with some examples of questionable conduct, such as the au pair controversy involving the Minister for Home Affairs, the recent Crown Casino allegations or the Paladin and Canstruct contracts, both of which were issued by the Department of Home Affairs in closed tender arrangements. While he's explaining, he might also explain how his model in any way satisfies the demands that have been made for a real integrity commission.

5:29 pm

Photo of Katie AllenKatie Allen (Higgins, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I wish to take the opportunity to ask the Attorney-General what the Morrison government is doing to assist women and their children who are facing, or who may be at risk of finding themselves in, domestic violence situations. As a doctor, I have seen the damage caused to victims and their families by this violence. The extended health effects are devastating and often persist long after the violence ceases. However, my experience also leads me to strongly believe in the powerful effects of early intervention and treatment.

Over the last 10 years our knowledge about family violence, and in particular violence and abuse against women and their children, has increased. Our society has come to understand that abuse is not always physical and that emotional and financial abuse is just as prevalent. We now understand that abuse is a complex issue that requires a coordinated response from government agencies and the community. That is why we need integrated legal and social support assistance for women and their children when faced with a domestic violence situation. Often women do not have the resources to navigate the legal processes themselves.

I have four interrelated questions for the Attorney-General. Firstly, can the Attorney-General please outline what measures the government is taking to provide legal support for women and their children, including how the 2018 Women's Economic Security Package, delivered by the government, will directly impact women who are experiencing family violence? The former member for Higgins, Kelly O'Dwyer, as Minister for Women, was instrumental in ensuring the National Action Plan, and keeping women and children safe remains one of the Morrison government's top priorities. As the current member for Higgins, I'm pleased to stand in this place and take up the mantle and build on her good work.

I note that the Fourth Action Plan of the National Plan to Reduce Violence against Women and their Children has seen the government invest $328 million in real and tangible initiatives to address violence against women and children. We know that domestic violence can be a vicious cycle, that it can be intergenerational and that those who offend have often been offended against. To fully eradicate violence against women and their children and, indeed, violence against men, we must stop the cycle and provide a holistic approach to family violence that treats the whole family unit.

Secondly, can the Attorney-General please outline what programs the Morrison government is implementing to prevent the occurrence of domestic violence? It is also vitally important we have a coordinated response when dealing with specific domestic violence situations. For too long, offenders and perpetrators have been able to fly under the radar due to a lack of information-sharing between states and territories, courts and agendas. We must work towards a technological solution to provide real-time information to all involved parties.

Thirdly, can the Attorney-General tell us how the $11 million provided under the Fourth Action Plan of the National Plan to Reduce Violence against Women and their Children will be used to provide a prompt and coordinated response to family safety? Unfortunately, it is often women and their children who fall victim to this surge in family violence. Currently, in Australia, every two minutes, police are called to a domestic and family violence matter. Every day 12 women are hospitalised due to domestic and family violence. Every nine days a woman is killed by a current or former partner.

Fourthly, it is with this heartbreaking knowledge that I ask the Attorney-General to outline how the government is working to eradicate domestic violence, particularly through family advocacy and support services, enhanced information-sharing and changes to cross-examination. Thank you.

5:33 pm

Photo of Fiona PhillipsFiona Phillips (Gilmore, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

In my electorate of Gilmore on the South Coast of New South Wales, we have a youth unemployment rate of 18.7 per cent. That is the highest rate in New South Wales and the third-highest in the country. Under this government, we have the lowest workforce participation rate in Australia at just 47 per cent. Our numbers of part-time workers are above the national average and the number of full-time workers is below it.

The median weekly income for people is just $535 a week. I am always hearing from members of my community who tell me how they are struggling with bills, with food, with medical bills—people who have all but given up. But this government is not doing anything to address this. When the government voted to slash Sunday and public holiday penalty rates in 2017, hitting the back pockets of 11,934 people in Gilmore, my predecessor Ann Sudmalis, told young people it was a gift. She told young people who were losing out that the cuts to penalty rates wouldn't cut wages but, rather, would open the door to more jobs. She told those in my electorate who were struggling to pay their bills and giving up time with their families on a Sunday that the cut to their penalty rates was 'a gift for our young people to get a foot in the door of employment'. This is what this government has been saying, but we know now that this has been no gift.

After that first cut came a second, in July 2018, for those in the retail and hospitality industries. We were told that that would lead to an expansion in employment. We were told it would mean new jobs and longer hours for those people who were underemployed. Two years on, the Australia Institute has found that employment growth in retail and hospitality has been far slower than in other parts of the economy where penalty rates remain constant. It found that job growth in these two sectors actually slowed by more than half after penalty rates began to fall. That is some gift!

According to the Australia Institute, all of the new jobs created in the retail and broad hospitality sector were part-time. In fact, both sectors reduced the amount of full-time work after this government's penalty rate cuts. At a time when the people of the South Coast are struggling—with wage growth stagnating, with the rate of Newstart so low that the cost of looking for work is higher, with rampant wage theft and with a stagnant economy—we are seeing job creation in these two sectors deteriorate.

Even the Reserve Bank has been trying to tell this government that we need increased wages. Only last month Reserve Bank Governor Philip Lowe said that we need to increase public and private sector wages. We need higher wages, not lower wages, to encourage increased consumer spending to stimulate the economy and to help our local shops. Instead, the government want to make more cuts. This time they are attacking the lowest-paid tradies in the country—hairstylists. This will mean a $90.80 per week loss for many of the 332 hairstylists in Gilmore. This is a cut they simply cannot afford. Many local people in my electorate have no choice but to go to work on public holidays and weekends. They have to so that they can put food on the table and pay their bills. They deserve their penalty rates.

At the recent election Labor wanted to reverse those cuts. We wanted to invest in workers and support them to look for and keep work. I'm committed to make sure that my local community have the support that they need. I have been listening to their stories of hardship and struggle. I call on this government to do more to improve the conditions for Australian workers. Workers desperately need a wage increase to kickstart the economy. This government needs to develop a comprehensive plan to boost wages and improve job security, and it should start by restoring penalty rates. The government needs to stop this latest attack on hairdressers. It needs to stand up for workers across Australia. I will always stand up for workers on the South Coast.

There is nothing in the budget that will address these issues and help the people of the South Coast who are struggling. There is nothing to address wage theft and there is nothing to address wage growth. I ask the Attorney-General: what are you doing to address these issues? What will you do to lift the workforce participation rate for people in Batemans Bay? How do you plan to address the youth unemployment rate in Nowra? What will you do to make sure that people in Moruya can get a job? We need a plan now.

5:38 pm

Photo of Christian PorterChristian Porter (Pearce, Liberal Party, Attorney-General) Share this | | Hansard source

I thank each member for their contribution—the member for Higgins on domestic violence, the member for Gilmore on the Fair Work Commission's decision on penalty rates and employment, and the member for Isaacs on the Commonwealth Integrity Commission. In this contribution I will focus on the Integrity Commission, but I note for the member for Gilmore that, of course, it was the case that the decision with respect to penalty rates was made by the independent Fair Work Commission, which was established by Labor, according to all the rules of engagement and consideration. That was not a decision of the government; that was a decision of a body created by your side of politics.

With respect to the anticorruption body, I am becoming very aware of the member for Isaacs's views. There is a range of different models that you could determine upon. There's great detail that needs to be determined in each of those broad models. I understand the member for Isaacs's views. In fact, they are eerily similar to those echoed in an article by Nick O'Malley recounting some statements made by Stephen Charles as a former judge from Victoria. Stephen Charles said:

The Coalition's proposed Commonwealth Integrity Commission is a fraudulent nonsense, designed to protect ministers, parliamentarians and their aides from investigation and exposure.

That does sound very conspiratorial. The headline for that article was: 'Coalition's anti-corruption body "a sham", retired judge says'. This article is eerily similar to the submissions made by the shadow Attorney-General today.

It was interesting to note before the election that there were some sage remarks from the President of the Law Council about that statement from Stephen Charles, the retired Victorian judge. The President of the Law Council of Australia, Arthur Moses, felt strongly enough to issue a statement about those words used by Stephen Charles. He said:

I don't think it is appropriate or correct to refer to the model proposed by Attorney-General Porter of a national integrity commission as fraudulent or designed to avoid scrutiny of ministers.

It was a very serious assertion which should not have been made …

He went on to say:

I hope and expect any debate after the election on this important step to combat corruption, no matter who is in power, will be conducted respectfully with the rule of law at the front of the mind of everyone.

He went on further:

Nobody should throw allegations around like confetti in order to impugn the motives of those who disagree with their model. We should all focus on the issues, not rhetoric.

I think that is exceptionally good advice. The shadow Attorney-General and I will have a great deal of work to do together over the coming months on this body—work which will go out in a full legislative draft for public consultation, which no doubt then will go to committee. It will be a very complicated and long piece of legislation.

There was some rhetoric. I will answer the rhetoric as best I can. Have we determined upon the particular model that was set out in our December 2018 discussion paper entitled A Commonwealth integrity commission—proposed reforms because we hate the idea of accountability? Not unsurprisingly, you will figure the answer to that is no. Having watched and learnt from the particular shortcomings that have clearly been exhibited in state bodies of this type, we've determined upon the particular model that was set out in considerable detail in that paper in December 2018 because we think, firstly, that represents the best parts of the state models and drops off the worst parts and, secondly, the Commonwealth integrity environment is very different from and, dare I say it, far more complicated than the state integrity environment. Looking at the Greens' bill that was put through the Senate in the last few days, and the Independent bill from the former member for Indi that was put into parliament in the previous parliament, which are very, very similar—in fact, almost identical in every serious material respect—one of the difficulties with those models, among many others, is that they fail to take into account any consideration or propose proper rules as to how that new body would interact with the very complicated environment that we're in where there are a number of existing bodies. How do you avoid duplication, overlap and wasting of resources? How would these things work in terms of each other's jurisdiction?

5:43 pm

Photo of Ged KearneyGed Kearney (Cooper, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Assistant Minister for Skills) Share this | | Hansard source

When it comes to industrial relations and helping workers, this government is all talk and no action. We live at a time of great uncertainty for the workforce. With five per cent unemployment and another eight per cent underemployed, almost one in six Australian workers is actually poor. For those in work, insecurity is at an all-time high. More than 40 per cent of the workforce is in casual, contract or gig-economy style work. We now have many people working multiple jobs. Tragically, 16 per cent of Australians now have to work three or more jobs just to make ends meet. Worse still, sham contracting is rife. We all know the example of the cleaner employed to clean floors of a multistorey building one day and then forced to become an independent contractor to clean the same floors the next. They have the same job, the same hours, the same employer, but now they have less pay and have to assume the costs of running their own business. It's a sham. And the law ought to change to ensure that it is seen as such. Like the wolf in sheep's clothing, this government cosies up to workers, saying, 'I'm here to help.' But the reality is they do nothing to change the law to make work more permanent, or to give casuals the right to convert to permanent work after six months, or to end sham contracting. All they ever do is undermine the existing supports that workers have. The two supports for workers' rights are strong laws, and rigorous enforcement, and their trade unions.

On both counts, this government is missing in action. Apart from union action to recover wages, it is the Fair Work Ombudsman that is the main point of advice, guidance and prosecution in the system. Yet the first action of an incoming Liberal government in 2013 was to slash the Commonwealth contributions to the Fair Work Ombudsman's budget by more than 10 per cent. Since then, revelations of wage theft have become widespread. From 7-Eleven to famous restaurateurs, our papers are filled daily with examples of employer abuse. The Fair Work Ombudsman prosecutes some of the most egregious cases, but these are very few in number and usually because United Voice or another union has gained media exposure. Usually, there are repayment agreements and consent orders, but businesses are not prosecuted. No wonder wage theft continues unabated.

Just like the financial sector, light-touch regulation has failed our workers. The plethora of media cases seems to have finally had an impact on the government. In July, the Prime Minister said in question time that the Attorney-General was drafting laws to deal with criminalising worker exploitation. But where are those laws? And where are the additional resources that would be needed to lodge more civil cases against employers and to prepare for criminal cases should the government ever get around to putting the promised laws to parliament?

This 2019-20 budget shows a miserly increase in resources for the Fair Work Ombudsman. Where are the additional resources for workplace inspections? Where are the additional facilities to assist workers at the doors of the small claims court? On the other hand, this government continues to pour resources into the Australian Building and Construction Commission—more than $77 million for a punitive watchdog in an industry employing just eight per cent of the national workforce and less than three per cent of commercial building. The ABCC doesn't give a flying toss about underpayment of workers or subbies or not being paid by principal contractors, or occupational health and safety issues.

Compare the ABCC budget to the total $184 million Commonwealth contribution towards the Fair Work Ombudsman and the Registered Organisations Commission for 2019 and 2020. The ombudsman looks after the interests of all workers across all industries but especially the most vulnerable workers, young workers, those on visas and from non-English-speaking backgrounds, who we know are ruthlessly exploited, those in hospitality and retail and those in the regions. Yet this government refuses to properly resource the Fair Work Ombudsman. The Fair Work Commission budget has increased by less than inflation. The budget will be stretched to breaking point, with the appointment late last year of six of the government's employer mates as deputy presidents at $460,000 each year. Those six appointments cost $3 million. They were totally unnecessary. It was simply a government, thinking they would lose the election, trying to desperately stack the commission. The $3 million would have gone a long way to helping employ inspectors or giving a lot more information to workers. Instead, we got the government's political mates stacked into the commission.

My question is: when will the government properly resource the Fair Work Ombudsman, and when will they start funding the real needs of workers, who are being exploited in their thousands, rather than the punitive watchdogs like the ROC and the ABCC?

5:48 pm

Photo of Celia HammondCelia Hammond (Curtin, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I would like to take this opportunity to raise a number of issues with the Attorney-General regarding fraud and corruption against the Commonwealth and, in particular, how the government is planning on strengthening how we prevent, detect and combat both corruption and fraud. The people of Australia rightly expect that our government and all of its agencies act in good faith, act with transparency and act with complete integrity. I believe that the vast majority of people working in and for the government act in accordance with these rightful expectations and requirements. At the same time, we also know that there will always be some who do not act with integrity. There will always be some people who look to exploit the system for their own benefit. We don't know the size or the scale of the fraud against the Commonwealth, but we do know that fraud has serious consequences. It negatively impacts upon public resources—money and resources that should be directed to our essential services in health, education and infrastructure. It impacts upon the integrity of government and its capacity to do things efficiently and effectively and it impacts upon people's trust in government.

We here in parliament, as servants of the people, must take steps to combat fraud against the government. After all, this is fraud against all of us and all of those whom we represent. At the same time, we must ensure that our steps are appropriate and balanced. We do not want innocent, decent and good people to get caught up in frivolous, vexatious actions or allegations. Nor do we want to unnecessarily interfere with the efficient and effective operating of government and its agencies. I know that this is a matter of grave concern and serious interest to the Attorney-General. I also know it's a matter of grave concern to our government, and it is being addressed in this budget. In relation to fraud, I note that we are committing $14.4 million over two years to set up a pilot program with a number of initiatives to holistically combat fraud. The pilot program includes initiatives like the establishment of a Commonwealth fraud prevention centre and the strengthening of whole-of-government efforts to detect, disrupt and respond to serious and complex fraud by providing the AFP with significant additional funding to establish a multiagency fraud task force.

Attorney, I was going to ask you about the Commonwealth Integrity Commission but I note that you have already spoken on that today. What I would say with respect to the Commonwealth Integrity Commission is that I commend you and the government on the approach taken. As you pointed out, and as those of us in Western Australia and several other states know, when these bodies are not set up properly they can be very, very dangerous. We must stamp out corruption and we need to establish a body that stamps out corruption, but we must make sure that such a body doesn't end up as a foot on the throats of innocent people, slowly and often publicly choking them to death. Attorney, given our government's commitment to ensuring integrity and encouraging public confidence in our government and its agencies, I ask you—through you, Mr Deputy Speaker Gillespie—to outline how the government is strengthening our current multifaceted approach to combating corruption and providing the funds necessary to enhance national integrity arrangements across the federal public sector.

5:53 pm

Photo of Mark DreyfusMark Dreyfus (Isaacs, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Attorney General) Share this | | Hansard source

All Australians were shocked in June, just a couple of weeks after the election, to see the police raiding journalists for doing their jobs. This is a matter that the Attorney-General has spoken about, and I'd start by asking him: why did the Australian Federal Police, on consecutive days, raid the home of a News Corp journalist and the Sydney office of the Australian Broadcasting Corporation?

The government has repeatedly claimed that it respects press freedom and that it wants to protect journalists. The government has claimed that it understands the vital role that the media plays in the health of our democracy. But those words ring hollow in the face of those raids having been conducted. The words ring hollow in the face of the statements that have been made by the Prime Minister and the Minister for Home Affairs, who's the minister now responsible for the Australian Federal Police, in the weeks and months since those raids took place. They say things like 'nobody is above the law'. That's one of the favourite statements of the Minister for Home Affairs, and similar statements have come from the Prime Minister. But I'd ask the Attorney-General whether he agrees with the proposition that the police should not be raiding journalists just because they are doing their job.

Can the Attorney-General confirm, while he's answering these questions about press freedom, that the Federal Police raids were carried out in response to possible breaches of section 79 of the Crimes Act? Can the Attorney-General confirm that before these raids being conducted in June 2019 no journalist or media organisation had ever been prosecuted under section 79? Can the Attorney-General perhaps explain why he, alone, in the 104-year history of this law thinks it's appropriate to use the criminal law, specifically section 79 of the Crimes Act, to target journalists for doing their jobs?

Jonathan Holmes, a former Media Watch broadcaster, writing in the Sydney Morning Herald just last month on 27 August drew attention to these questions, and they're questions that need to be answered. It might be that the Attorney-General has said that he would be—his words—'seriously disinclined' to authorise the prosecution of journalists just for doing their jobs. Well, he needs to answer the question of why these raids went ahead in the first place, and how it is that the Commonwealth government, apparently for the first time ever, is not just using section 79 but now is having searches conducted with warrants that alleged that the journalists concerned might in fact be charged with the offence of theft—something which has never been considered before. But it might mean that in future, any journalist who receives any information that's not authorised from a Commonwealth officer—whether it's harmful or not, it might be completely innocuous, whether it's already been published or been binned—risks, apparently, prosecution for stolen property with a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison. The chilling effect, the intimidatory effect on journalists, on the media, in this country can only be contemplated.

Does the Attorney-General agree that a strong and independent media is vital to holding governments to account? And, if so, what plans does the Attorney-General—and anyone in this government—have to strengthen press freedom and ensure that there is no repeat of the raids we saw in June? It is a matter for the government. It's not a matter which the government can simply wash its hands of and say, 'Oh, that's a matter for the police.' It's the government which, as, in effect, the complainant, determines that a referral takes place. It's the government which is complaining about the matter of particular leaks, because this government's very selective—they don't care about some leaks when it suits their cause, but they care about other leaks when they are embarrassed by them—and it's this government that is ultimately responsible for the way in which the media in this country are being treated.

Can the Attorney-General confirm that as of this minute there is still a prospect that Annika Smethurst and journalists at the ABC could be prosecuted or even go to jail? An official told us that this was still the case at a hearing of the intelligence committee last month. Can the Attorney-General rule that out as well? Can he show some concern about media freedom?

5:58 pm

Photo of Christian PorterChristian Porter (Pearce, Liberal Party, Attorney-General) Share this | | Hansard source

The shadow Attorney-General just complained about a form of words that has been used that journalists are not above the law, which is very strange to complain about on a day where the shadow Attorney-General said this:

It shouldn't be the case that simply being a card-carrying member of the Media Entertainment and Arts Alliance exempts you from all legal sanction.

Literally today the shadow Attorney-General said the same thing that he's complaining about here. It's absolutely remarkable! You might forgive one's memory for being short over the course of a week, but not an afternoon! It's just absolutely remarkable.

Heading back to these memory lapses, amongst earlier questions with respect to the Commonwealth Integrity Commission like 'Does it amount to a sham?' and 'Do we hate the idea of accountability?' was this scholarly question: 'Why would you call it the Commonwealth Integrity Commission and not the national integrity commission?' That is a hard-hitting question, isn't it?

He answered his own question by saying, 'Because Labor came up with the name "National Integrity Commission"'. It's like the Monty Python skit with the Judean People's Front and the People's Front of Judea. It is just absurd. Then the shadow Attorney-General asked me why I had changed my view on an integrity commission—something I've never done. I've always said I have an open mind to it. It would have to be designed properly, but I have never changed my view. The shadow Attorney-General, when asked specifically about the need for a National Integrity Commission in 2013, said:

I'm not convinced that there is a need for yet another integrity officer …

I'm not the one who's changed views here. The Integrity Commission simply needs to be designed correctly, properly and cautiously, which is what's going to happen.

The next question the shadow Attorney-General asked was: 'When is it going to happen?' Labor proposed that, if they came into government, they'd take 12 months of consultation before they even had a draft. I can inform the shadow Attorney-General that, since announcing our commitments and a detailed model in December 2018, the drafting is going very well. It's been noted in the course of my consultations around the religious discrimination bill, which is about 50 pages, that that is a complicated exercise. The preliminary draft that I'm working on for the Commonwealth Integrity Commission is in excess of 300 pages. This is an immensely complicated set of circumstances, particularly in trying to ensure that the new body, the Commonwealth Integrity Commission, which would have two halves to it—one being the law enforcement integrity half and the other being the public sector integrity half—fits in to the very layered framework that already exists between the Australian Federal Police, the Ombudsman, the Australian Securities and Investments Commission, the Inspector-General of Intelligence and Security, the Inspector-General of Taxation, the parliamentary committees, the Australian Public Service Commission and the Parliamentary Service Commission. All of these bodies need to be part of the overall design so that you have the proper system of referrals. These could have been questions that could have been put today and dealt with in a sensible manner, but, instead, we get the question, 'Why have you changed your view?' which isn't correct. As to the question of when, I expect that we will have a full draft out for public consultation in the not-too-distant future. I'd expect that that would be before the end of the year. I'd expect that consultations on a 300-page draft will take some time, as will the committee process.

There are probably few organisations more important in the recent history of the Commonwealth to get right than this one. For a person who's been involved in justice for as long as the shadow Attorney-General has, it surprises me that he has so little eye at the moment to some of the awful things that have happened at a state level under these bodies. I mean, innocent peoples' lives and careers were destroyed by the overreach of executive power. It seems to be precisely the same thing that you seem to be concerned about in the context of AFP raids. My answer to you on those is that it is of course my role, as Attorney-General, to stay completely out of the AFP's investigations, which are their own. So, when you ask me questions like, 'Why did they do it?' it is asking for me to intercede in some kind of evidentiary assessment on the judgement of the Australian Federal Police commissioner, which is precisely the thing that I'm stopped from doing in the proper conduct of my role. It's absurd grandstanding, and we all know it is. Getting this Commonwealth Integrity Commission right is very, very important. Making rhetorical statements about some lack of care is ridiculous. We will do it properly. (Time expired)

Proposed expenditure agreed to.