House debates

Wednesday, 4 March 2020


Australian Education Amendment (Direct Measure of Income) Bill 2020; Second Reading

4:12 pm

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

I rise to support this bill, because every child has the right to a great education and every parent has the right to make a choice about where their child attends school. This bill seeks to enable funding that is fair and transparent and allocated according to the needs of the school community and the child. Independent and faith based schools have always provided a choice for parents to pay for their child's education rather than attend a publicly funded state school. They should be able to continue to do so. Like our two-tiered health system, the Australian school system provides a safety net for some and choice for those who are willing to pay.

The point of this bill is that for the very first time the bill will enable government funding to be directly assessed on a needs basis. By 2029 students with the same need in the same sector will attract the same level of support from the Commonwealth, regardless of the state or territory where they live or their background. Through this bill the Australian government is introducing a more accurate methodology to calculate the capacity of a non-government school community to contribute to the cost of schooling. By creating a more targeted and directed measure of income, schools will be able to receive a fairer proportion of the funding pool and we can ensure that funding goes to the school and children who need it most.

The new method follows the recommendations made in June 2018 by the National School Resourcing Board review into the socioeconomic score, or SES, that funding is based on. This board was made up of members nominated by government, Catholic and independent sectors.

Previously, the SES was calculated using certain indicators, including the average income and other characteristics, collected by the Australian Bureau of Statistics in the area where the student lived. This was based on the SA1 subsection of the statistical area of the ABS. This meant that the indicators were averaged using data that was not necessarily representative of the families of the children that went to the school but, rather, representative of the geographical area in which the school resided. By using a geographic area, the indicators did not build an accurate description of a specific family's ability to contribute to school fees when enrolled at an independent or faith based school.

By contrast, this bill will link the funding model for non-government schools to the parental income of the families of students at each individual school under the new direct-measure-of-income score, making use of income data and other data held by the ABS. This is very important because it will enable funding to be targeted and appropriate. But the Morrison government will not just set and forget this funding model. We have put in place a number of measures to ensure that there's a transition process for schools to this new setting—and this is important. I know this because I have been chair of a faith based school council. I know how important it is, with regard to a funding model, that there is surety and that there is a transparent process so that schools can have their business plan argued out for the future.

This record funding that will be distributed for the new direct-measure-of-income approach will consist of an extra $0.2 billion in 2018 and 2019 for schools in the lead-up to the change, and the establishment of a $1.2 billion Choice and Affordability Fund from 2020 to 2029 to assist schools with the transition. This is good policy, this is worthwhile policy, and I fully support and endorse it.

4:16 pm

Photo of Milton DickMilton Dick (Oxley, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

We know that education is the backbone of the future of Australia, and I want to make sure that we have legislation that looks after all of our students in this country so that they can get the quality education they need and deserve. So Labor will not be opposing this bill, the Australian Education Amendment (Direct Measure of Income) Bill 2020, in the House of Representatives. But I do want to put some remarks on the Hansard today about the importance of quality education and, even more important, quality education funding. I want to make sure that families feel completely supported and that they actually have the support they need so that their kids, whether they be in public, private or independent schools, have all options available to them.

This bill makes funding changes to private schools and completely ignores our public schools. I just want to read from the second reading amendment that the shadow minister for education and training moved this morning:

… "whilst not declining to give the bill a second reading, the House notes that the Government has damaged Australia’s schooling system by:

(1) neglecting public education;

(2) allowing student results to fall in reading, maths and science; and

(3) failing to develop a long-term education policy for the nation and the economy'.

I'll come back to that amendment in a moment. The bill itself, as we've just heard from the member for Higgins, seeks to introduce a new method of calculating a family's capacity to contribute to the cost of their child's private education, altering the way non-government school funding is allocated. This will calculate the capacity to contribute, or CTC, based on a direct measure of the income of families of students at the school, rather than on the average SES of the neighbourhood students live in. The proposed direct measure of income is a targeted, more accurate approach and should ensure funding flows to the non-government schools that need it the most.

We've had a lot of lectures from those opposite about their record amount of education funding. They believe that they should be congratulated by the community for increasing funding year on year. What the government never admit or acknowledge is that they've never matched Labor's commitment to funding schools properly in this country.

I reiterate that Labor will not be opposing this bill today. In principle, we do support the move to a more accurate and robust direct measure of school communities' capacity to contribute to the cost of education at non-government schools. I'm pleased that this bill was referred to a Senate committee—which I understand will be releasing its report shortly—so that this bill, which makes significant changes to the education sector, receives the scrutiny appropriate for such legislation.

This legislation once again shows that the coalition government, led by Prime Minister Scott Morrison, really has turned its back on every public school parent and child in Australia by refusing to properly fund public schools. The government is happy to spend $3.4 billion to deliver targeted—and this is the key word—needs-based funding to private schools, but it refuses to provide a single extra dollar for underfunded public schools. The Prime Minister thinks that the students who go to public schools and their parents don't matter. There are around 2½ million public school students—two out of three of all students in this country. Public schools teach 82 per cent of the poorest kids in Australia, 84 per cent of Indigenous kids and 74 per cent of kids with disabilities.

I want to focus on the second reading amendment and particularly highlight to the House that we're seeing results falling in reading, maths and science. My view is that a good education in a properly funded school is the right of every single student in Australia. You should have quality education no matter if your parents choose to send you to a fee-paying school or to the local public school. We're seeing time and time again more pressures on teachers. The narrative coming out of government is that somehow it's not about funding. If you turn on Sky After Dark, you'll hear the same commentators go on about how funding isn't the answer; it's about quality and the teachers. We heard the member for Bowman say that it's all the fault of the teachers.

My sister is a state school educator in Queensland. I'm very proud of her being an educator. She has been an educator for over 30 years. She has taught in schools in far western Queensland—she began her teaching career in Cloncurry—she has taught in the United Kingdom and she currently teaches year 4 at a southside Brisbane school. She absolutely loves being a teacher, and she is an amazing teacher. She's an amazing sister as well, but she really is a terrific teacher. I've obviously spoken to her for many years about her role as an educator. Like probably every other state school teacher in the nation, she knows that our schools are not being properly funded.

I talk to educators in my own electorate of Oxley. This morning we heard the shadow minister for education and training, the member for Sydney, explain to the House that by 2023 we will see funding inadequately distributed between public schools and non-government schools. The divide is growing. On Friday the 27th I'll be attending a farewell for a much-loved deputy principal in my community—Mrs Tracey Slingsby. I want to spend a little time in my speech today wishing Mrs Slingsby all the best. I know that she would be very proud of me speaking about funding for public schools. She is a proud public teacher who has changed the lives of literally thousands of students. Her husband, Errol, was a principal at Oxley State School. He has retired. I know all members of this House wish any teacher retiring after a distinguished career a long and happy retirement. They've earnt it. I place on the record today that the teachers I've met in my electorate—through my family, friends and the work I've done—are really concerned about the future funding of our national education system.

Let's look at some of the education results, which I said I would do. In the 2018 Program for International Student Assessment, Australia recorded its worst results in reading, maths and science since international testing began. Our students are facing a long-term decline.

I went through the report. It says:

The Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) is a triennial survey of 15-year-old students that assesses the extent to which they have acquired the key knowledge and skills essential for full participation in society. The assessment focuses on proficiency in reading, mathematics, science and an innovative domain (in 2018, the innovative domain was global competence), and on students' well-being.

The PISA survey is held every three years to test how well students in their final years of school apply their knowledge to real-life challenges. In 2018 it was sat by more than 14,000 15-year-old Australians from 740 schools, joining 600,000 students from 79 countries. In maths, 15-year-olds performed more than a year below those in 2003; in reading, a year lower than those in 2000; and in science a year worse than those in 2006. By these measures we are currently preparing a future workforce less equipped than it was 20 years ago.

The decline in school performance has worrying implications for long-term economic growth, with a 1 per cent change in literacy associated with a 2.5 per cent change in labour productivity. I encourage all members of the House to support the second reading amendment to show to our public school sector that we understand their need and, more importantly, that this House recognises that we are seeing slippage and a fall in results in reading, maths and science, and we are failing to develop a long-term education policy for the nation's economy.

The data speaks for itself. On 4 December, when these results were mentioned, The Sydney Morning Herald said:

Australia ranked a lowly 70th out of 77 participating nations in the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development's 2018 index of disciplinary climate, released on Wednesday.

We have slipped in a serious way. Australia is one of the minority of countries where it has deteriorated. That's an important part of the conversation: on the world stage, our ranking and the data that we're finding are going backwards. This should be a wake-up call to all members. Since 2003 maths performance has declined further than any other country except Finland.

When the current Australian education minister was asked about this, he is quoted as saying that this should be ringing alarm bells for the government. That is interesting, because he is the government, the government responsible for education policy in this country. I expected that we would have seen a direct response to this. For the first time ever, performance in maths was no better than the global average. In maths, which is clearly a key area of education, we're seeing a reduction in performance and outcomes. I don't know about anyone else in this House, but I am deeply concerned about the education plan that we are seeing delivered now by this government in its sixth year, working towards its seventh year. We're seeing real results going backwards. The PISA national project manager, Sue Thomson, described the results as 'a wake-up call'. She said, 'We're not giving them the skills they need in maths, or in reading, or in science. We're not giving them the same level of skills as they are in other countries. This is a concern, particularly in a global economy where our kids will compete with kids all over the world.'

We can analyse results in black and white till the cows come home, and they are all there for the world to see. What I'm calling for by supporting the second reading amendment today—the government seems happy to spend $3.4 billion to deliver targeted needs based funding to private schools, but they aren't delivering an extra dollar for underfunded schools. That doesn't sit easily with me. It doesn't sit easily with the educators that I have been meeting with since I was re-elected as the member for Oxley.

I was at two remarkable schools in the break. I visited the mighty Woodcrest State College. One of the greatest things we have to do as members of parliament is to be part of leadership ceremonies and watch students step up and take on the role as leaders in their school and community. I often say, 'I don't know who is more proud: the parents of the students who are receiving these great leadership roles or the teachers.' That is particularly so at secondary level. Pat Murphy, the principal of Woodcrest secondary college, was telling me how a number of his students had started from Camira State School, which is nearby the secondary college, and gone right through. So he's watched their education journey. That sums it all up: when you're seeing teachers as proud as parents it means they want the best for their kids, as we all want for kids in our community. But, time and time again, you're seeing a government not investing enough in education for under-resourced schools. I've got some great schools, such as the Kruger State School, where I attended a leadership ceremony as well. Those kids are kicking goals. The Kruger Crocs are going from strength to strength. The teachers are giving them their all and the principal is providing school leadership, but what we're not seeing is proper funding for under-resourced schools.

That's why I entered this debate today. As I said, Labor won't be opposing this piece of legislation. Of course we want funding for all schools. But we're calling on the government and ensuring that, whilst their priority today in this bill is to deliver $3.4 billion for needs based funding to private schools, they simply follow that procedure for under-resourced schools in this country as well. We want to turn those results around. I haven't yet heard one government speaker talk about the failing results in reading, maths and science, which are there for everyone to see. What the teachers, students and parents in Australia are calling for is more funding, more action and better results.

(Quorum formed)

4:35 pm

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

I rise to speak in favour of the Australian Education Amendment (Direct Measure of Income) Bill 2020, which completes reforms this government has made over the past few years to ensure all of Australia's school students—

Photo of Linda BurneyLinda Burney (Barton, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Minister for Families and Social Services) Share this | | Hansard source

I move:

That the Member be no longer heard.

Photo of Tony SmithTony Smith (Speaker) Share this | | Hansard source

The question is the member be no further heard.

4:42 pm

Photo of Tony SmithTony Smith (Speaker) Share this | | Hansard source

With respect to quorums, I need the attention of the member for Gorton. I need to ask whether, in the last quorum, you left the House after it had been called.

Photo of Brian MitchellBrian Mitchell (Lyons, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I may have walked in and turned around.

Photo of Tony SmithTony Smith (Speaker) Share this | | Hansard source

Okay. I want to make clear to members while you're all here—

Government members interjecting

I'll be the one making it clear, not those interjecting. If a quorum is called and you're in the House, you must stay. If you walk in, you must stay. Practice makes it clear it's highly disorderly to leave. On many occasions, the precedent is that you're named and suspended for 24 hours. I'm not going to do that on this occasion, but I'm making it clear while everyone is here: if a quorum is called and you're in the House or you come into the House, you must stay. The more recent precedent is to give the warning I've given. That wasn't what happened in the 1950s. I'm not about to go straight back to it. Having now communicated that clearly to everyone—I think the member for Gorton would be wise to keep listening and ignore the member for Newcastle for a while. Having now told everybody, I'm making it very clear: if that occurs again, a naming will occur.

4:44 pm

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

The Labor Party have shut me down in this debate because they do not like what I have to say about education policy because it doesn't accord with the views of their paymasters in the Australian Education Union. Let me say, we on our side of the House will not be dictated to by the Australian Education Union, which are a handbrake on good education policy in this country. The Australian Education Union has opposed every good piece of education reform in this country. It absolutely amazes me that, despite the fact that there is low union density in construction and mining, we still see union density of about 45 per cent in the education sector.

This bill brings to a close an issue which the government has been dealing with since the time of the Gonski legislation. The Gonski review particularly looked at the issue of SES. The Gonski review had this to say about the SES:

… the area-based SES measure used at present is subject to potentially significant error due to variability in family SES within Census Collection Districts. This should be replaced in time with a more precise measure that would reflect directly the circumstances and background of each student in a non-government school.

That is what this legislation does: it responds to the views of the Gonski review. The member for McMahon is sitting behind me because he agrees with what the government has done here. He agrees with what the government is doing here. He agrees that the direct income measure is very important.

I think about many schools in my electorate which were subjected to the SES measure. They might have had people from a particular suburb or a particular postcode in their school but they weren't necessarily the wealthiest people in that particular suburb. In fact, very often, particularly in the Catholic independent school sector, they were among the poorest people in that postcode. The direct income measure creates fairness across the sector. It says that if you as a parent earn a particular amount of money that is what is going to be counted, rather than an average across a postcode or series of postcodes.

This legislation and the new arrangements mean that almost all the schools in my electorate are better off under the direct income measure—and that's terrific. Providing more support for all schools, as we are doing—going from $21.8 billion this year to $32.5 billion in 2029—means that we are supporting the choice of parents and their right to choose the education that is right for their families. In the Berowra electorate, people don't make a bad choice—whether you choose government, whether you choose Catholic or whether you choose independent. I'm lucky to have 51 outstanding schools serving 27,000 students. The teachers in all our schools are dedicated and professional, and the standard of education our children receive is extremely high.

Parents choose schools for all sorts of reasons. For some it will be logistics and for others there are values based decisions that affect their choice. The non-government schools, who are the particular beneficiaries of this measure, are filled with families that represent the full spectrum in my community. Families who choose non-government are actually often lower-income families. The old assumptions that we used to determine the capacity to pay haven't corresponded with the actual wealth of families attending non-government schools in my electorate. I think particularly of a couple of the non-government schools, Mount St Benedict College and Oakhill College, which made particularly strong recommendations and representations to me and to the education minister about the importance of the direct income measure and what it will mean for their school and for other schools in my electorate.

I want to pay tribute to the non-government schools in my electorate. I have 16 fantastic non-government schools who serve nearly half of the students in my electorate—nearly 10,000 students: Arden Anglican School, Berowra Christian Community School, Lorien Novalis School for Rudolf Steiner Education, Mount St Benedict College, New Hope School, Northholm Grammar School, Oakhill College, Pacific Hills Christian School, Redfield College, Tangara School for Girls, Hills Grammar School, Warrah School, Marian Catholic College, St Agatha's Catholic Primary School, St Bernard's Catholic Primary School and St Madeleine's Primary School.

When you hear some of the reasons that families sacrifice so much to send their children to these schools it is heartening to see the government supporting families in this way. One family in my electorate who have chosen to send their children to a non-government school said:

We gladly forgo oversea holidays and instead choose to go camping with our family so that we can send our children to these amazing schools.

Someone talking about Berowra Christian School said:

… we sought to find a school that would support the worldview and values we hold so dearly.

We deliberately chose this school because it offers an education that we feel is in partnership with the way that we are seeking to bring up our children.

Berowra Christian School is a small, nurturing, inclusive and academically strong school. The teachers are dedicated, loving and caring professionals. They always go above and beyond what's asked of them as teachers. The staff demonstrate incredible care and support, especially for those children with special needs, including our ten-year-old son, who has a significant physical disability.

The decision to send our children to Berowra Christian School was not one we made lightly. It involved greater travel each day and also greater financial cost. But when we reflect on the nurturing education that our children have received at this school, we would make the same decision in a heartbeat.

That view of Berowra Christian School is the same as that of so many parents who send their children to non-government schools. I commend the bill to the House. I think it adequately and accurately reflects the desires of the Gonski review. (Time expired)

4:50 pm

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

I rise to speak on the Australian Education Amendment (Direct Measure of Income) Bill 2020—a bill that alters the way non-government school funding is allocated, in that it seeks to introduce a new method of calculating a family's capacity to contribute to the cost of their child's private education. I state up-front that Labor will not oppose this bill, but I would advise the House to also support the member for Sydney's amendment.

The legislation before the chamber is a significant departure from the current funding allocation arrangements, so the Labor Party has referred this legislation to the Senate's Education and Employment Legislation Committee to ensure that it receives proper scrutiny. It would be a speedy inquiry because there is some urgency because of some GST complications. Nevertheless, we do need to have a look at it. We do need to get this right. It is important. All members of parliament would care about our children's education. I say that from my previous life before I became a lawyer, when I spent 11 years as a high school English teacher. I've always seen education as the great transformational opportunity in life. It's the wonder of Australia that we provide strong, solid education for all. It is why, traditionally, we've been a very egalitarian society. Since we've provided funding to all, whether they be in the bush or the city, all Australian kids should be able to receive a world-class education. But the change being put forward by the coalition is significant. It would calculate the capacity to pay based on a direct measurement of family income using de-identified ATO information for the actual parents at a school, rather than the average of the neighbourhood in which the students live, which is basically calculated by census collection districts data. This reform was recommended by the independent National School Resourcing Board and, before that, by the original Gonski review.

Labor supports this move. It provides a more accurate and reliable measurement of a school community's capacity to contribute to the cost of education in non-government schools. Currently, if there is an elite school and a low-fee school in the same neighbourhood, parents coming from the same neighbourhood would receive basically the same socioeconomic status score, even if one school takes in all the students from the low-income families and the other school takes in all the students from the very wealthy families. Under this new arrangement proposed in the bill, the low-fee school's capacity-to-contribute score would be lower due to the lower incomes of the actual families whose children attend that school. The elite school's capacity-to-contribute score would increase because the families with children at that school can afford to contribute more to the cost of their children's private education.

I'll give a specific example of a school that I know well—St Brendan's Catholic Primary School in Moorooka, a school not far from my house that one of many two sons attended. I know St Brendan's church. It was where my parents were married and it's was where my mother was buried. So I know that church well and I know the school well—Mrs Cole and all those who do great work there. St Brendan's Moorooka in the southern suburbs of Brisbane only has 70 students, but almost half the students, 46 per cent, are from the most disadvantaged educational background. Forty per cent have a language background other than English and 17 per cent have a medically diagnosed disability. Under the current SES scoring system, St Brendan's has a score of 102, putting it above the national average, which is not actually a true reflection of the school community. The DMI score puts St Brendan's at the minimum level of capacity to contribute, which more realistically reflects the situation of the school community, meaning increased funding would flow to St Brendan's. I should say that my children do not go to that school now, so I'm at some length from it. On the face of it, there have been many stories like the story of St Brendan's. The implementation of this change should mean a fairer funding distribution within non-government schools compared to what currently occurs.

As I've said, the Labor Party have sent this bill to a Senate inquiry to make sure it will work as intended and have a fairer distribution of funding to non-government schools. I do note that there is some capacity for the minister to do something like the old funding maintain deal under previous quadrenniums of education funding for schools that miss out. Some might call it an education slush fund, but I wouldn't be that unkind. It would be for the minister to make sure that schools that are worse off in that gradual transition can be accommodated. So we might see people writing off to the minister.

As a former teacher, I absolutely agree that school funding should be guided by need. It should be the basics for every student in Australia and then loadings based on need. That's an appropriate way to approach education. Although this bill is intended to make funding for non-government schools fairer, sadly, it will not do a single thing to make funding for public schools fairer. I want to focus on public schools because, remember, public schools educate two out of three Australian children. Around 2½ million Australian students go to a public school. Some go to both, but 2½ million Australian lives are going to be impacted by government decisions. Public schools educate not just two out of three but 80 per cent of the disadvantaged students, 82 per cent of the poorest kids, 84 per cent of Indigenous Australians and 74 per cent of kids with disabilities. So that's not two in three; it's well and truly above.

Unfortunately, public schools get the least help from this government. Public schools are not the priority of the Morrison government. They haven't been the priority of the Abbott government or the Turnbull government. The Liberals and the Nationals will only fund public schools to 20 per cent of the schooling resource standards, but they fund private schools up to 80 per cent. In fact, this government's plan is for public schools to never, ever reach 100 per cent of the schooling resource standards, the costs associated with educating a student. They will make sure that non-government schools are funded to 100 per cent of the SRS—and some above—but not public schools. Public schools can only ever expect, under this government's watch, to get to 95 per cent, and some of those will be lucky to get there.

How can Australia's schooling system be so unequal when it has been the foundation for an egalitarian society? This is a fundamental departure, I would suggest. Under their agreements, by 2023 almost all private schools will be funded at or above their fair level of funding, but almost all public schools will remain below it. That's not sector-blind, needs based funding. Remember what Gonski was talking about: sector-blind, needs based funding. That was the philosophy. That was what the economic driver was. That's what Gonski recognised as a banker—remember, he wasn't a teacher; he was banker who saw the economic benefits in investing in education. And where do you get best bang for your buck? By having sector-blind, needs based funding.

The coalition government is not even trying to reflect some level of equality. Every parent knows that school funding is important. I could go through my private schools and my state schools. All parents are passionate about their children receiving the best possible education. I know that they give up their time to run lamington drives, to have sausage sizzles, to have trivia nights and raffles. They don't do it for the fun of it; they do it to give their children a better chance in life. I know that every dollar counts when it comes to educating our children. This government is happy to spend $3.4 billion to deliver targeted, needs based funding for private schools, but they refuse to provide a single dollar extra for underfunded public schools.

Before the next member of the coalition jumps up and says, 'We're spending record amounts in education,' I remind them of the basic mathematics that there is a record number of Australians now. Of course you're spending record amounts of funding in schools; there are more Australians than there have ever been before. The Grattan Institute has argued that teacher wages and increases in student numbers have meant public schools have not had a real increase in funding. We know that this year more students are enrolling in public schools than in any other sector. The growth numbers are in some of those areas such as disability. The increase has been greater than the general population increase.

What does this mean? It has implications for resources—not only teaching resources, not only physical resources but the physical classrooms and buildings needed to accommodate the extra 150 students over the past five years. An ABC investigation into public schools last August found there was an urgent demand in public schools for basic facilities such as new classrooms, toilet maintenance, leaking roofs, heating and cooling. It is not unreasonable for a parent to expect that their local public school will have adequate classrooms, adequate bathroom facilities, roofs that don't leak, classrooms that are not so uncomfortable that children can't concentrate to learn. These are basic requirements for learning. Coming from Queensland, where it does get a bit warm in summer, I particularly appreciate the commitment by the Palaszczuk government to provide air conditioning in schools. That is a great commitment to providing top-class schools.

Every child deserves a good education. Teaching resources are obviously critically important as well. The inequality that is being entrenched in school funding agreements comes at a time when we have seen a long-term decline in students' reading, mathematics and science skills. Australian students have recorded the worst results in reading, maths and science since international testing began. I remind you that we are in the 7th year of this coalition government. Our schoolkids are now around a year behind in these basic subjects. Australia has fallen behind the Czech Republic, Latvia, Poland and Estonia. If no action is taken to reverse these falling standards, Australia's performance in maths will be the fifth worst in the developed world by 2030. In reading Australia would drop to 23rd and in science Australia would drop to 31st. In short, we would have slumped from one of the best performers in the world to one of the worst. This is alarming, and the Morrison government should be addressing this decline urgently. They are now in their 7th year of government: seven long years of wasted opportunities, and they have done nothing to turn around these plummeting results. If our kids are not learning to read, write and do maths and science, this government is failing our kids and failing Australia. They are failing the ageing Australians who will need the jobs of the future that come with those STEM-type subjects.

We know that funding is important to address this decline. When Labor was in government, we started to see improvements at the school level because we demanded that schools spent the extra funding well. I can give you many concrete examples. I will particularly point to Kuraby State School in my electorate. They are a strong culturally and linguistically diverse community, and they are making investments in early education, as so many state schools do, where they turn kids around so quickly and the benefits come later in life. At Eagleby South State School—not in my electorate, but I wanted to mention it, because it is not too far from my electorate of Moreton—they hired and trained extra reading aides and introduced a new reading program. The year 6 and 7 reading age at that school went from 50 per cent up to 70 per cent. They are real changes.

This government seems incapable of addressing the decline in the literacy and numeracy standards of Australian schoolchildren, so I'll give you a few tips. Most of this is really common sense. We need to get back to basics. You need to learn to read before you can read to learn. We need to raise teacher entry standards so we can have the best and brightest people teaching our children. We know that the best performing schools take teachers from the top 30 per cent of achievers. Teaching should not be a last choice; it should be something that people are proud to do. We need to use evidence, like we do in medicine, so we teach the basics well, and obviously we need to properly and fairly fund all of our schools. We need to have targets and a plan to get there—for instance, a target that Australia is placed in the top five countries internationally in reading, mathematics and science by 2025. Labor had actually agreed to a detailed plan with the states to improve school performance in reading, maths and science in 2013, but the new coalition government under Tony Abbott junked that plan in late 2013, calling it red tape. They are in their 7th year of government now. Children who started primary school back when the Abbott government came in are now in high school. What have they done? They have locked in unfair funding. They think the schools with the greatest need deserve the least amount of funding.

The coalition's failure to address these alarming declines in educational standards is not only failing our children but has long-term implications for Australia's economy. There is evidence that a 1 per cent change in literacy is associated with a 2.5 per cent change in labour productivity. The economy under this coalition government is already in strife. Living standards have been eroded by stagnant wages, falling private investment, stalling productivity, record high underemployment and household debt. Economic growth is at its slowest since the global financial crisis, and more headwinds are coming our way. It doesn't bode well for Australia's future when the Liberal government can't get the basics right for our economy and it can't get the basics right for our education system.

The Morrison government has no plan to address any of the challenges that are facing this country—no plan to fix the economy, no plan to address the decline in educational standards and no plan to properly fund all schools. We need a leader, but all we have is fluff and spin and shiny, glossy brochures. I support this bill, but I also support the amendment moved by the member for Sydney, noting the government has damaged Australia's schooling system. I commend this amendment to the House.

(Quorum formed)

5:08 pm

Photo of Rebekha SharkieRebekha Sharkie (Mayo, Centre Alliance) Share this | | Hansard source

I rise to support this bill, Australian Education Amendment (Direct Measure of Income) Bill 2020. Centre Alliance was critical in assisting the landing of the major Gonski education reforms in the last parliament, negotiating for Australian schools to receive $23.5 billion—$4.9 billion above the government's original proposal of $18.6 billion. This was critical for South Australia in particular, because, when the previous state government had an agreement with the then Gillard government, the Gonski agreement that was negotiated had the funding in the backend of the agreement. That meant that many South Australian schools were behind other state counterparts, because the funding for them was in years 5 and 6 outside of forward estimates, not that I'm being particularly critical there, but I do appreciate that we needed to make sure that we got reforms through. So we negotiated for those underfunded Australian schools to reach their new funding targets within six years rather than the government's original 10-year proposal. We felt that that was important because a child that was five years of age shouldn't have to wait until it was 15 years of age by the time that reform was completely implemented. It is important to recognise that this has led to record funding levels in education by the federal government, even despite the fact that funding for public schools ultimately remains a responsibility of states.

We also negotiated for a National School Resourcing Board to be implemented to review and improve the school funding methodology, with benchmarks for state and territory governments so that they pay their fair share of education. In the early days of Gonski, we saw that where the federal government tipped in a particular state or territory government would in some cases crab walk away from their responsibilities.

The central element of this bill comes directly from the school national schools resourcing boards reveals school funding, the June 2018 Review of the socio-economic status score methodology. A key recommendation of the board was that the socioeconomic status scores for non-government schools should be calculated on the capacity of school families to contribute to the cost of education rather than using area based calculations, based on postcode. The reason that this is important is that many families make enormous sacrifices to send their children to a non-government school because they are not as wealthy as the average resident in that particular school's area or postcode. This can often be because families live outside the area where the school is. This is particularly true in my electorate of Mayo, where families often live in outer lying rural areas and townships and send their children to the larger towns, where non-government schools are often based. It is worth remembering that not all non-government schools are wealthy schools from leafy inner suburbs. For example, a good number of students in non-government schools in Mayo are actually children on school cards. Many of them are children with special needs who are supported and included in the very inclusive and caring small environments for children. A long-running South Australian initiative, the school cards support children from financially disadvantaged backgrounds.

I know that schools right across my electorate, whether they be independent or state schools, are all fund raising. They're all running sausage sizzles, they're all running cake stalls and they're all organising school fetes. All of that is to put more money back into their schools. They are careful with their budget, particularly when they're a small school. That's because in many of our small schools in regional areas if one family can no longer afford to stay at that school, an independent school, that can drastically change enrolment numbers.

When I talk about school cards and about families who send their children to independent schools and sacrifice so much to do so, often the reason they do that is that they want their child to be taught in the faith that's in the home or they're looking for different learning styles that will suit the specific needs of their children, whether it be Montessori or Waldorf-Steiner models. I have Steiner model schools in the Adelaide Hills and in Wilunga. I will say, though, that every school in my electorate is a quality school, whether it is a public school or an independent school. For a regional area, we provide significant choice for families, and that, ultimately, is what we want to see in an education system, that there is choice for families.

I have received reassurances from the government that the funding transition is being made so as to minimise any disruption. Given my knowledge of the non-government schools in Mayo, I am confident that these changes will create positive funding outcomes for all of our non-government schools, and I therefore commend the bill to the House.

In closing, I would like to mention the school community fund, which provided $200,000 per electorate for small projects. I think that provided an enormous boost to our schools right across Australia. They were small projects organised through electorate offices. I would strongly encourage the minister to consider having a funding round in the future. I know that it was well oversubscribed in my electorate, and I'd like to think that more schools in my electorate would have the opportunity to participate in that grant round in the future. I commend the bill to the House.

Photo of Shayne NeumannShayne Neumann (Blair, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Minister for Veterans' Affairs and Defence Personnel) Share this | | Hansard source

Mr Deputy Speaker, I draw your attention to the state of the House.

The bells being rung—

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

I have a point of order, Mr Deputy Speaker. I thought 15 minutes needed to elapse before one could draw attention to the state of the House.

Photo of Steve GeorganasSteve Georganas (Adelaide, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I've just been informed by the Clerk that that's not correct. Thank you for your interest.

(Quorum formed)

5:17 pm

Photo of Warren SnowdonWarren Snowdon (Lingiari, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Assistant Minister for External Territories) Share this | | Hansard source

I want to thank all of those in attendance for coming to hear my contribution. I don't know if they'll stay long—

Ms Price interjecting

It's hardly my maiden speech. I'm pleased to be able to make a contribution to this debate on the Australian Education Amendment (Direct Measure of Income) Bill 2020. I indicate that we in the Labor Party are supporting the legislation and that I'm also strongly supporting the amendment moved by the shadow minister for education and training. I remind the House that, under this legislation, the funding of non-government schools is a shared responsibility between parents, guardians and the Commonwealth and state and territory governments. Under existing legislation, non-government schools are transitioning to receive a Commonwealth funding share of 80 per cent of the school resourcing standard by 2027. The funding share is to be discounted by a school's capacity-to-contribute percentage, which calculates the capacity of the school community to contribute to the students' education. Certain non-government schools, including the majority of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander schools, are exempt from the CTC reduction and will receive full base funding.

Since 2001 the CTC had been determined using an area based SES score calculated every five years from census data, with schools assigned a score that is the average of certain SES indicators for the areas in which students reside. This means that the SES score for an area is based on the averaging of the characteristics of all people residing in a certain geographical area, not just the families of the students attending the school. This was the best available data when the measure was implemented.

The new DMI model will be based on the median income of parents and guardians at the school. Schools will collect names and residential addresses for all students, which will be provided to the department of education. The department will then provide the data to the Australian tax office, which will match it against income metadata and provide de-identified income data back to the department. A school's DMI will be based on a three-year rolling average to minimise year-on-year fluctuation. The bill also contains transition measures aimed to smooth the change from the current arrangements to direct measure and minimise adverse impacts.

Over 2020-22 schools will be moved to the new DMI when it is most financially beneficial for them to do so. In 2020 and 2021 schools will be provided with three different options for working out their CTC score. Schools would automatically receive the most beneficial of the three options. The new direct measure will apply to all schools by 2022.

The bill enables adjustments to the rate at which schools move to their 80 per cent Commonwealth SRS share, to smooth out any fluctuations presented by the phased implementation of the DMI methodology. Non-government schools which are transitioning down to an 80 per cent Commonwealth share of SRS will have an extension of two years from 2027 to 2029. All non-government schools will have their starting Commonwealth share reset from 2020 to 2022 to ensure schools are not unnecessarily disadvantaged by moving away from the SES methodology to the new direct measure of income. These transition arrangements are being funded through the $3.4 billion budget allocation. And then there are circumstances where a school can be considered a majority Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander school, impacting its funding requirement.

Labor, as I say, is supporting this legislation. We have referred the bill to a Senate inquiry so it receives the scrutiny appropriate for a significant change to legislation such as this.

I should take note that whilst there is broad support across the education sector—I'll come to my concern about the failure to fund the public education system. There is broad support amongst private educators for this legislation. However, I need to point out that there is a coalition of regional independent schools across Australia who are very concerned about this legislation. They've put out a press release under the name of Stephen Higgs, the chair of the Coalition for Regional Independent Schools, and they are very concerned. They say they represent 50 schools from states and territories, and they say they'll be stripped of millions of dollars a year under this new model, forcing them to cut programs, increase fees and, in some instances, potentially close their doors. I've encouraged those schools to make representations to the minister. Clearly there are opportunities within the way in which the legislation's been framed for the minister to make exceptions and to deal with the concerns raised by these particular individual schools.

The problem I've got is that, while we're pumping $3.4 billion into the private education system, we're not putting a similar amount into the public education system.

Photo of Tony PasinTony Pasin (Barker, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

That's because states do it!

Photo of Warren SnowdonWarren Snowdon (Lingiari, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Assistant Minister for External Territories) Share this | | Hansard source

Listen, knucklehead, just behave yourself.

Photo of Steve GeorganasSteve Georganas (Adelaide, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source


Photo of Warren SnowdonWarren Snowdon (Lingiari, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Assistant Minister for External Territories) Share this | | Hansard source

It's very clear that the people who are being disadvantaged by this legislation are people who work in the public school sector and work—

Photo of Steve GeorganasSteve Georganas (Adelaide, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

The member for Reid.

A government member interjecting

Photo of Warren SnowdonWarren Snowdon (Lingiari, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Assistant Minister for External Territories) Share this | | Hansard source

What? He is not a knucklehead?

Photo of Fiona MartinFiona Martin (Reid, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I object to the language used in this place. It's showing disrespect for this place to speak in this way about another member of parliament.

Photo of Steve GeorganasSteve Georganas (Adelaide, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Are you asking for it to be withdrawn?

Photo of Fiona MartinFiona Martin (Reid, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Yes, I'm asking for it to be withdrawn.

Photo of Warren SnowdonWarren Snowdon (Lingiari, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Assistant Minister for External Territories) Share this | | Hansard source

I withdraw.

Photo of Tony SmithTony Smith (Speaker) Share this | | Hansard source

The member for Lingiari has withdrawn.

Photo of Warren SnowdonWarren Snowdon (Lingiari, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Assistant Minister for External Territories) Share this | | Hansard source

But my concern about the government member stands. Their lack of support for the public education system is here for all to see. I want to talk to a particular issue in the public education system around the support of Aboriginal kids in remote Aboriginal communities.

These people across the other side, bar the minister sitting at the table, have absolutely no idea what I am talking about, but let's be very clear. I wonder if any of them have read the Closing the gap report which was recently introduced. Did they notice the differential rates of school attainment by kids who live in very remote communities like the communities I work in in my electorate? If they did, they'd be saying they want this government and the state and territory governments to spend more on public education to make sure the disadvantage which is being suffered by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people who live in remote communities is properly addressed. But it is not only Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander kids; there are elements of disadvantage in the public education system right across this country, and this government effectively says it just doesn't care.

The Liberals think it's fine to provide public schools with only 20 per cent of the schooling resource standard while they give private schools 80 per cent. Why could that possibly be? I stand here as a proud former teacher who worked in schools in the Northern Territory and who has done research on Aboriginal education in the bush. I understand the nature of the challenges. But what I'm concerned about is the failure of this government to accept its responsibilities to address the disadvantage and the need in the public education system across Australia but most particularly in Aboriginal communities in the area that I look after. I just want to go to some of the figures in this report.

This demonstrates that kids who live in remote and very remote communities have an on-average attendance of two or three days a week at school. How can anyone achieve a reasonable educational outcome by going to school two or three days a week? Yet we've had the government and the former minister responsible for First Nations people, Nigel Scullion. He funded the school attendance program in electorates across Australia. Sadly, little has changed as a result of that investment. The government is currently investing $78.4 million from February 2019 to extend this school attendance program until 30 December 2021. Between 2015 and 2018 the investment was $80 million. The $18.1 million was after the initial trial in 2014. The total spent has been $176.5 million, but to what end? What is the evaluation of this expenditure? How has this money been spent to achieve better outcomes? What we know from this Closing the gap report is that school attendance levels have fallen, not improved. Despite that, this government has spent this $176.5 million.

There is merit in spending this money if it's directed to the right areas, if it's in partnership with Aboriginal communities and the public education sector, if it's the priority areas that money should be spent in. There are teachers around the bush who work their hearts out for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander kids for little or no reward, and they don't get properly acknowledged. They work in difficult circumstances and they work in partnership with the communities within which they work, but because of the failure of governments to fund them sufficiently they lack the resources to do the job they want to do. They don't have the resources and we have seen that this is not something that just rests with the Liberal Party. This is a policy conundrum which should have been addressed properly by both sides of this parliament and is yet to be. It's yet to be because we're not prepared to give Aboriginal people the opportunities they properly deserve to make decisions about their own educations.

There are members in the House who would remember the old ASSPA committees. The Aboriginal Student Support and Parent Awareness programs existed across the country and were partnerships where the government funded committees in every educational unit in every school for partnering with the community around what the school priorities should be and to engage with the community. These no longer exist, so there's no process by which the government relates to and works with the communities to provide a better educational outcome for these children.

They dictate. They promulgate by fiat. They spend money like the $170 million-odd—$176.5 million—I referred to. By the way, it has provided employment for Aboriginal people, but it has not got the outcomes that people are after in terms of improving school attendance. As a result, as you might rightly expect, the performance levels for Aboriginal kids in literacy and numeracy across the country are not what we would want, and it gets worse as you move further into the bush. It doesn't matter where you are, in which state or territory, the experience of remote and very remote communities is very different from the experience of Aboriginal kids who might live in major metropolitan centres. Yet there is no difference in approach to funding. When we think about need, these people need this money to be spent. They need it to be allocated. They need it to be properly partnered with state and territory governments, who also have a responsibility. It does require saying to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, 'We have confidence in you and will partner with you in making decisions about the education of your children.' Sadly, that is not the case.

While the government is spending $3.4 billion through this piece of legislation to support the private school sector, why isn't it putting an equivalent amount into the public education system? Why isn't it targeting money to those schools where there's massive disadvantage, like the ones I've been referring to, in remote and very remote communities, or indeed in metropolitan centres, where the needs are also great in some cases. There is an issue here about the government not accepting it has a responsibility to support the public education system. I say to the government: this legislation which has been introduced deserves support. I point out there are schools that have expressed their concern, but I ask you to contemplate what you need to do to provide an equivalent resource to the public education system, to support those educators who are working their backsides off, to support communities that need new infrastructure and to support bilingual education, Aboriginal support workers and the like. Why can't you do it? You've got the capacity to do it. You've shown you're prepared to do it for the private education system. Why can't you wake up to yourselves and do it for the public education system?

5:32 pm

Photo of Melissa PriceMelissa Price (Durack, Liberal Party, Minister for Defence Industry) Share this | | Hansard source

I thank those members who spoke on the Australian Education Amendment (Direct Measure of Income) Bill 2020. The Australian government is committed to providing every child with a quality education regardless of where they live or what school they attend. Government schools continue to receive record levels of Australian government funding, with an estimated $127.8 billion of recurrent funding expected to flow to government schools from 2018 to 2029, providing strong growth in funding.

This bill introduces a new, more accurate methodology to calculate a non-government school's capacity to financially contribute to the costs of schooling. This methodology was the result of recommendations made by the National School Resourcing Board in its Review of the socio-economic status score methodology: final report, June 2018. The new methodology uses a more robust and reliable set of data to estimate the capacity of parents and guardians to contribute to the cost of schooling, which will ensure more funding flows to the schools that need it most. To ensure that Australian families will have choice and equity in education, the Australian government will provide additional funding to 2029 of $3.4 billion for the direct measured income and $1.2 billion for the Choice and Affordability Fund.

The bill also introduces changes to non-government schools' rates of transition to the nationally consistent Commonwealth share of the schooling resourcing standard for non-government schools. This change will allow schools time to plan and adjust to the new measure. The bill also includes measures to support financial certainty by allowing schools time to plan as the new arrangements are implemented. To further assist the transition, under the Choice and Affordability Fund, the state based Catholic education commissions and associations of independent schools will flexibly administer the fund, including quarantining a percentage of funding that will flow directly to regional and remote schools.

A robust review process will be established by July 2020 to address unexpected or unique circumstances affecting financial capacity of a school's community. The National School Resourcing Board will examine the Schooling Resourcing Standard loadings as they impact students and schools in regional Australia, and the minister will be taking the terms of reference for this work to the next COAG Education Council. The review will commence by June. Further work will be undertaken in consultation with the ABS and the sector to investigate what additional data could be used to further refine how the capacity to contribute is calculated.

Overall, this bill supports the longstanding agreement that funding of non-government schools is a shared responsibility between the families of students attending those schools, the federal government, and the state and territory governments. Subsequently, the new methodology for calculating the capacity of parents and guardians to contribute to non-government schooling will ensure Commonwealth funding is fairer and more targeted. I thank members for their contributions and I commend the bill to the House.

Question negatived.

Original question agreed to.

Bill read a second time.

Message from the Governor-General recommending appropriation announced.