House debates

Wednesday, 4 March 2020

Bills

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

11:37 am

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

I rise to speak on the Australian Education Amendment (Direct Measure of Income) Bill 2020, and I move:

That all words after 'That' be omitted with a view to substituting the following words:

"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".

Labor see this as very significant legislation. We have referred this bill to the Senate Education and Employment Legislation Committee to ensure that it receives proper scrutiny because it's very important to get a change of this scale and this significance right.

The bill introduces a new method for calculating a family's capacity to contribute to the cost of their child's education in non-government schools. The changes that are being made would calculate this capacity based on a direct measure of the family's income rather than on the average of the neighbourhood in which a student lives. This reform was originally recommended by the independent National School Resourcing Board, and, before that, the change was recommended in the original Gonski review. It wasn't practical at that time, based on the data that we had, but recent improvements in the Multi-Agency Data Integration Project mean that this moderate measure is now possible.

In principle, of course we support a move to a more accurate and reliable measurement of a school community's capacity to contribute to the cost of education in non-government schools. The new measurement offers a more precise reflection of socioeconomic status and would mean that funding flows more smoothly to the non-government schools that need it the most. For example, under the current area based approach, if a neighbourhood contains both a low-fee and elite independent school both would receive the same socioeconomic status score, even if one takes in students from lower-income families and one takes in students from wealthier families. Under the new arrangement, the lower-income school will receive a lower capacity-to-contribute score, while the wealthier school's score will increase. The wealthier school's capacity-to-contribute score will increase because those higher-income families can obviously afford to make a greater contribution to the cost of their child's private education. As far as it goes, this does mean that funding will be distributed more fairly within non-government schools than the existing arrangements.

When we were last in government, we introduced the Schooling Resource Standard so that there would be an objective measure of the cost of properly educating a child, including loadings for factors like the socio-economic status, remoteness, size of school, number of Indigenous students, disability and English language proficiency of students. That figure for non-government schools is then discounted by a parent's capacity to contribute. Of course, we absolutely believe that school funding should be guided by need. Our efforts in government were designed to make sure that funding was distributed on the basis of need. Of course, that hasn't been the case under this government. Our original approach of sector-blind, needs based funding is paid lip service by those opposite but certainly has not been delivered in reality.

The reason we have moved this second reading amendment is that, while we support the more direct measure of income that is contemplated by this legislation, this legislation continues the government's absolute refusal to properly fund public schools. We have always supported the government restoring some of the funding that was cut from non-government schools, but it should do the same for public schools. There is no reason that they would restore the funding that they've cut from non-government schools but continue the funding cuts to public schools. That's exactly what those opposite have decided to do. For the parents of the 2½ million students in public schools, the schools that educate two-thirds of Australian children, the message from this government is absolutely clear. They are saying: we don't care that your school will never reach its fair funding level.

The coalition has a very warped understanding of student need in this country. Public schools educate 82 per cent of the poorest children in Australia. They teach 84 per cent of First Nations children and 74 per cent of children with disabilities. When it comes to funding decisions and practical support, this government works on the basis that the schools that need the greatest support will get the least. Public schools have never been their priority and, in fact, inequality is written into funding agreements. In the funding deals with the states and territories, the coalition has insisted that the states and territories top-up non-government school funding to 100 per cent of their fair funding level, the Schooling Resource Standard plus loadings, by 2023. But public schools will only ever get to 95 per cent of their fair funding level based on the agreements signed with the states and territories by those opposite.

You look at particularly poor systems like the Northern Territory and Tasmania. The Northern Territory and Tasmania do worst under these arrangements. They do very badly indeed. The states that have the greatest number of children who are struggling educationally and who need the greatest support actually do worst under the coalition's funding arrangements. The government has also included a loophole, a cheat, for the states and territories, where states and territories will be able to include the cost of school transport schemes, depreciation and so on. These costs were never contemplated in the original calculations of the Schooling Resource Standard, because they don't go directly to the cost of educating children. Kids in public schools will do worse again because of the funding agreements signed by those opposite.

In effect, what this means is that by 2023 almost every non-government school will be funded at or above their fair funding level while almost no public schools will be. That's the impact. That's the effect on public schools in all of your electorates. This is what you're doing to them. This is what you're doing to public schoolkids. This is not sector-blind needs based funding; this is 100 per cent sector specific. If you're going to a non-government school, those opposite insist you get 100 per cent or more of your fair funding level. If you're going to a public school you'll never get more than 95 per cent based on the arrangements made by those opposite. That's a very powerful message to the parents of those 2.5 million schoolchildren.

There's another issue that I want to flag with this bill. With this bill we're moving important funding provisions from legislation to regulation. It's just not best practice. This includes the transitional arrangements for schools with capacity to contribute scores that will rise under these changes. The government should not be doing what it's doing here, which is essentially issuing itself a blank cheque to do special deals, to do side deals, particularly without parliamentary oversight. I really don't think this is best practice, and I don't think it's something that should generally be encouraged.

When it comes to schooling, Labor absolutely believes in parental choice and we support the parents. We have fought side by side with parents who send their kids to non-government schools to see this funding restored—funding that's previously been cut by those opposite. But for there to be genuine choice for parents we have to have a properly funded public school system, too—and that's what those opposite consistently refuse to provide. And you really don't have to go too far to see the impact of that in our schools.

In August last year, the ABC published an investigation into Australian schools, looking at the way capital was distributed across the school system—and the disparity that was uncovered by that investigation really was quite shocking. Between 2013 and 2017, half of the total $22 billion spent on school capital improvements in Australia was spent in just 10 per cent of schools. So half the money was spent in one-tenth of the schools—and, as the investigation found, most of the schools were already pretty well-furnished schools with facilities well beyond those of your average public school. At the same time, the ABC found an urgent demand in public schools for the basics—new classrooms, enough classrooms, toilet maintenance, leaking roofs, heating and cooling.

Of course, not every school can have an orchestra pit or a new aquatic centre, but every parent should be confident that their local school, the school closest to home, can provide their child with a great education, a world-class education, and an education as good as any education they can get in an elite school—that there will be enough books, enough computers, enough sporting equipment, and buildings that are built and maintained in a way that shows every child that we value the education that they're receiving at their school and that we care about every child's education equally.

This all comes as Australia experiences a long-term decline in our students' results in reading, in maths and in science. In 2018, according to data from the Program for International Student Assessment—or PISA, as we call it—Australia recorded its worst results in reading, maths and science since that international testing began. For the first time ever, Australia's performance in maths was no better than the global average. In maths, 15-year-olds performed more than a year below those 15-year-olds that were tested in 2002, a year lower in reading than those who were tested in 2000 and a year worse in science than in 2006.

Across all subjects and age groups, right across the board—in government and non-government schools and in every state and territory—our schools are, broadly, going backwards. There are also major disparities within classrooms and schools, with the most advanced students in a year typically five to six years ahead of the least advanced students. We know that children who haven't mastered the basics by the age of eight will struggle to catch up for the rest of their schooling and that early difficulties can result in lifelong problems. What are we doing to fix this? Nothing. This is a government that has no plan to fix this. If we're not fixing these problems in the early years of schooling, we are consigning students to a lifetime of struggle. By these measures we are currently preparing a future workforce that is less equipped for the world of work than the workforce was 20 years ago. We see very worrying implications for our long-term economic growth if our slide in education results continues, with a one per cent change in literacy associated with a 2½ per cent change in labour productivity. We have seen labour productivity sliding in this country for the first time. We can't turn this around. We can't improve our labour productivity unless we're prepared to invest in our people.

The government has no plan to arrest this alarming slide in results and no plan to properly resource our public schools. It's no surprise that the economy its responsible for is in such a dismal state. Wages are stagnant, productivity is static, business investment is down and household debt keeps going up. Labour productivity, as I said, is going backwards for the first time since records began. Economic growth is at its lowest level since the global financial crisis and, in fact, has halved under the Prime Minister's watch. The Liberals have no plan to reverse the shocking drops in student outcomes. They've got no plan to acknowledge the fundamental relationship between education and our economy, and they've got no plan to properly fund public schools. If this government continues its neglect, if it continues to put public education last, we'll continue to see sliding results, more economic malaise, more stagnation and sliding living standards.

Photo of Kevin AndrewsKevin Andrews (Menzies, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Is the amendment seconded?

Photo of Susan TemplemanSusan Templeman (Macquarie, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I second the amendment.

11:53 am

Photo of Bert Van ManenBert Van Manen (Forde, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

It's a pleasure to speak again in this House on the record education funding that this government is providing to schools right across the country, at a state, Catholic and independent level. Quorum formed.As I was saying, I'm pleased to be able to speak in this House once again about the record funding that we're delivering for schools right across this country. In the words of a famous song, 'I believe the children are our future', and we want to 'teach them well and let them lead the way'. This government believes in our children—

Photo of Kevin AndrewsKevin Andrews (Menzies, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

The honourable member for Forde will resume his seat for a moment.

Photo of Chris BowenChris Bowen (McMahon, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Minister for Health) Share this | | Hansard source

I move:

That the Member be no further heard.

Photo of Kevin AndrewsKevin Andrews (Menzies, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

The question is that the motion be agreed to.

Question negatived.

Mr Bowen interjecting

There was no division called.

Photo of Chris BowenChris Bowen (McMahon, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Minister for Health) Share this | | Hansard source

I did call a division.

Photo of Kevin AndrewsKevin Andrews (Menzies, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I did not hear any voice let alone two.

Mr Bowen interjecting

I did not hear any voice let alone two.

An opposition member interjecting

I looked carefully and I waited.

Mr Bowen interjecting

I did not hear a voice. I'm calling the honourable member for Forde.

Photo of Bert Van ManenBert Van Manen (Forde, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

The Australian Education Amendment (Direct Measure of Income) Bill forms part of the measures this government is taking to give all Australian children the quality education they deserve regardless of where they live or what school they attend by providing the funding that is fairly and transparently distributed and allocated according to need.

Before I go into the specifics of the bill, I think it's important to set out the context we find ourselves in in relation to government funding of schools. Funding of non-government schools in Australia is a shared responsibility between the parents and the guardians of the students attending those schools, the Australian government and state and territory governments. Through this bill the Australian government is introducing a more accurate methodology to calculate the capacity of the non-government school community to contribute to the cost of schooling. This more targeted and accurate direct measure of income will support the Australian government needs based funding model for all Australian schools, and under the government's Quality Schools package there will be more Commonwealth government money for disadvantaged students through loading payments, including those in remote and regional areas, and those with disability and Indigenous students.

The bill proposes to change the capacity to contribute methodology and the school's transition to a uniform Commonwealth share of the Schooling Resource Standard. The financial impact of these changes is an estimated additional $1.3 billion investment from the Commonwealth in recurrent funding over the budget and forward estimates from 2019-20 to 2022-23, and an estimated $3.4 billion increase in the recurrent funding over the 10 years to 2028-29. This will see the Commonwealth's investment in our children's education increase to a total of $314 billion from 2018-29.

This bill includes measures that support financial certainty by allowing schools time to plan as the new arrangements are implemented. Certainty in funding is essential to allow schools to plan for the future and the measures in this bill will help them do just that. Let me briefly outline how the Commonwealth funds schooling in Australia, because I note with interest the member for Sydney's comments earlier. We contribute funding to both government and non-government schools through the Australian Education Act. As things currently stand, recurrent school funding is calculated by reference to a base amount of funding for every primary and secondary school student along with six loadings that provide extra funding for disadvantaged students and schools. It is commonly referred to as the schooling resource standard, and for most non-government schools the base component of the schooling resource standard is discounted by a capacity-to-contribute percentage. The capacity-to-contribute discount is calculated based on the area based measure. Under this methodology the school community's capacity to contribute is calculated by averaging certain indicators of socioeconomic status for each ABS statistical area in which the students at the school reside.

This new methodology included in this bill was the result of recommendations made by the national school resourcing board in its review of the SES status score methodology in its final report. As part of the review, the board consulted widely and it received 34 substantive responses to the issues paper, including a number of detailed proposals which informed the board's consideration and analysis. The board also received 261 submissions, which were largely part of a coordinated standard response from individuals and school communities. The board members also undertook 38 face-to-face consultations, in all states and territories, with non-government education authorities, school leaders, communities, state and government agencies, researchers, policy analysts and other interested parties. The Australian government agreed to all six recommendations made by the board and this bill gives effect to the relevant recommendations to implement the capacity-to-contribute function.

Funding for schools in Forde across both government and non-government sectors will increase over the next 10 years. This particularly assists schools like Beenleigh Special School, where estimated Commonwealth funding per student is set to increase from $9,720 in 2019 to $14,502 per student in 2029. This will allow the school to have more specialised programs to provide their students with greater learning opportunities and experience and to build on the already outstanding work that Beenleigh Special School does each and every day for their students.

Catholic and Independent schools, including St Matthew's Catholic Primary School at Cornubia and Saint Philomena School in Park Ridge will also receive average increases of a little bit under four per cent in funding per student from 2018-2029, allowing more families from a diverse range of backgrounds to have a greater choice in their children's education. I note with interest that I received an email from Saint Philomena School yesterday talking about the improvements they're going to make to that school over the next few years and the redevelopment of that school. Those plans look extraordinarily exciting, and the contribution to the community will be enormous as a result.

Government schools will also continue to receive record levels of total Australian government funding, with an estimated $127.8 billion of recurring funding expected to flow to government schools from 2018-2029. In fact, government spending is the fastest growing for state schools, at around 6.4 per cent per student each year through 2018-23, compared to student growth of about five per cent for the non-government sector.

As a result of this bill, the school funding model will remain sector-blind and Australian government funding for non-government schools will continue to transition to 80 per cent of the Schooling Resource Standard. The government will continue to refine the model over time. The government is continuing to deliver a needs based funding arrangement to ensure that students with the same need in the same sector attract the same level of support, so that every Australian child, no matter where they live, can have access to a world-class education.

At this point I would also like to take this opportunity to thank the outstanding work of the educators across all the schools in my electorate of Forde. Every day they are there at the forefront, whether it is the classroom, whether it's the cleaners, the groundsmen, the janitors, the principals, the administration staff—all of them do an outstanding job every day with a genuine and heartfelt desire to ensure that the students in their care have the ability to be the very best that they can be. I want to use this opportunity to thank them for their efforts.

As I said at the beginning of this speech, I believe that children are our future. This government certainly believes that. We are putting the money where it counts to achieve the best possible outcomes for Australian students. I commend the original form of this bill to the House.

12:06 pm

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

As the seconder of this amendment I am pleased to speak on it. The appropriation bill before us does some important things. I would note, firstly, that it is the seventh year of this government. Since they took office their penchant in education has been to always be focused on the numbers and rarely focused on the outcomes. This bill puts in place a change in the funding regime that is limited to the independent school sector, where it would cover non-government schools—that is independent and Catholic schools.

The bill in itself and the move to implement the new system, which allows the assessment of each school and its parents' capacity to make a contribution to that education, is a much finer discretionary tool than the one we currently have, which uses the SES which is built into the ICSEA scale. I would support this bill simply on the fact that it rights an aberration that has been long held in the Commonwealth funding of non-government schools. That is the aberration that allows somebody to set up an independent school in a low socioeconomic area with no intention of drafting students from that low socioeconomic area but attracting significant Commonwealth funding on the back of their geography. To be specific, I think of Geelong, where we have a school in a low socioeconomic area of Corio that attracts enormous Commonwealth funding which does not reflect the nature of the students in that school or their parents' capacity to pay, quite bluntly.

In that sense I think this is a good amendment. I know that some of the independent and Catholic schools in my area would welcome this. I've spoken to them at length. As someone who was a school principal, I understand the funding models that we're using here and I understand the demography of a school and how that, with parents' capacity to make a contribution, often impacts on what a school can offer in terms of its broad facilities. There are many schools in my community in the seat of Lalor that are what we call low-fee schools, which may be independent, Catholic—I think of two Muslim schools in my community—growing schools with large numbers of students and large numbers of families for whom that's a choice. I know that this will make a difference to them, because it will allow the use of people's actual incomes to help determine the funding model that will be in place.

But I want to make a clear point about that as well. We know from what the government has provided us that it's going to make a difference to a considerable number of schools and that there's going to be an adjustment period. It's going to make a considerable difference to a number of schools. There are I think 810 private schools that will be better funded because of this discrete measure and 59 schools, I think, that will lose money. I assume that the school in Corio will be on that list and will find itself not funded to the extent that it has been. That is, quite bluntly, outrageous and this is the first attempt the government has made to change any of that.

This measure will be most accurate where most of the student population's parents are PAYG salary or wage earners and are paying tax as they go, because their taxable income has fewer deductions. We know what they're earning, we know what their taxable income is and we all know that there are many fewer variations that they can have in establishing their taxable income. For those families that are in business, let's say, it may not be as accurate. I expect that in communities like mine this will be a fairly accurate indicator. Further, I'd go to the point that has been made in Victoria time and time again, which is that this is about a family's capacity to pay. For the private sector, that's a reasonable basis to be funding schools on. But we know in Victoria through our government system that the best indicator of a child's projected outcomes in education is parental education levels, which shape parental attitudes to school, which shape student attitudes to school. The more highly educated the parent body is, the more likely it is that the school will achieve higher outcomes. This was the beginning of the understanding, the beginning of the regime that saw Labor pursue a sector-blind, needs based approach. This legislation adjusts something to support non-government schools but flies in the face of that integral part of a needs based, sector-blind system. It does something but it does not add one cent to government schools from the Commonwealth, it does nothing to change the inequity that we see in our school system and it therefore does nothing to improve the quality of our education overall.

If we asked most Australians if they wanted a world-class education system they'd say yes. If we asked most Australians if they wanted a fairer Australia they'd say yes. If we asked most Australians if they wanted to grow the economy and created a more prosperous society they'd say yes. But what this piece of legislation highlights, in the fact that it is focused purely on the non-government sector and adds not one more dollar to the public sector, is that those opposite say 'no' to all of those questions. That's what this legislation does. It reminds us that when those opposite had an opportunity they voted against equality. They voted against a world-class education system, because they voted against a system that was going to be sector blind and needs based. They are now seeing it in sector terms as this legislation demonstrates to us so clearly. They are seeing it in sector terms, not as an opportunity to develop Australia's world-class education system. I say that because this government has abandoned all reform in the education space other than monetary reform. This legislation before us highlights that again. It's about monetary reform. It's about parents' capacity to pay. It is not about creating positive educational cultures. It is not about ensuring that every child in our school system is supported so that they can achieve their potential. That's not what this legislation is about. This legislation is about dollars and cents, and that is all it's about. It's not about education at all.

I want to make that point really clearly: the amendment goes to the government's failure—to their neglect of public education. The bill speaks to that, in the absence of public education being included. It goes to the fact that our standards are slipping and they have abandoned the reform agenda—absolutely abandoned it. If it hasn't got a dollar sign in it, they're not interested in it. They're only interested in ensuring that the status quo—that is, the inequality entrenched into our school system—stays where it is. That's what they're committed to, and they've failed to come up with a long-term education policy for the nation and the economy. There's nothing clearer than the fact that we're here today. They're implementing an idea that has been around for a decade, after seven years in government. Seven years in government, and now they're going to implement this simple measure that could have made a difference and could have changed significantly the waiting, even in the non-government sector.

The other part that we need to highlight in this bill is that 810 private schools will be better off under this measure, or more 'fairly funded' under this measure—fairly funded purely through the lens of the private sector—and 59 will lose funding. But then we go to the detail and we find that there's going to be a two-year transition period. These 59 schools are transitioning again. This is going to implement a system that says, 'These parents in this school have the capacity to make this kind of a contribution.' So why do we need two years to do that? It brings to mind all of the rhetoric that we heard when this government tore up the sector-blind, needs based funding model. They tore it up, and we were all in this chamber when that happened, when they voted not to do the right thing. It absolutely tore up our chance of getting the kind of equality we need for a first-class education for all of our students, and the rhetoric was around the 27 deals. We kept hearing the Prime Minister at that time, Malcolm Turnbull, talking about the 27 separate deals and how they were going to do a better job. Now they're going to enter into, possibly, 59 separate deals with 59 individual schools to transition across to a new funding model. So 27 arrangements with different sectors and different states was too much to bear, but we're going to build this system and then we're going to have an opportunity for schools that are worse off to transition.

I want to look at schools that are worse off and the options that are being put in place here, because some of it's quite unbelievable. 'Over 2020 to 2022, schools will move to the new direct measure. In 2020 and 2021, schools will be provided with three different options for working out their capacity to make a contribution score. Schools will automatically receive the most beneficial of these three options.' I ask myself: what year is it? My answer is: it's 2020. 'The first option is to use the current SES methodology using the 2011 census data'—2011 census data! The second option is the 2016 census data and the third option is the new system. Whichever one works best for that school, they can move into it. For a start, I don't know how the 2011 census data can possibly be relevant in this case. It seems to me that the government is hell-bent on making a change with this legislation, but making the fall as soft as it can across the sector, because it doesn't want to come here and tell us that it had to make 59 separate arrangements with 59 private schools to make this work. So it's set up a fudge, if you like, around that process. The fact of the matter is that a fund goes with this legislation where those schools may be able to appeal this process and sit down with someone in government and figure out how they might transition across. That means how they might not lose money—how they might ensure that they continue to be funded in an inequitable way.

Everyone in this place knows my background. Everyone in this place knows that I spent 27 years in public education. Everyone in this place knows that it saddens me every time I come in here to speak about education that the focus from those opposite is not on reform. It is not on a scientific approach to our classrooms. It is not about building teacher capacity. It is not about supporting schools to do the best work that they can do. No, it's about money. On this side, the money arguments are actually about building equality into the system. The money arguments are about supporting reform to ensure that every child gets every chance in every school in this country.

To emphasise that, in 2019, there were 3,948,811 students enrolled in 9,503 schools across this country. Of those students, two-thirds were enrolled in government schools, 19½ per cent enrolled in Catholic schools and 14.18 per cent enrolled in independent schools. In this place, all this Commonwealth government wants to do is suggest that the Commonwealth funds private schools while states fund public schools. Well, if we want a world-class education for every child in this country, it will require federal action. It will require Commonwealth attention, because otherwise the state-to-state variation is going to hold our children back. It supports the fact that the in-school difference and the between-school difference are already holding our children back. Our slipping of standards and our slipping of achievement against international standards is demonstration of that.

12:21 pm

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

I rise to speak in favour of the Australian Education Amendment (Direct Measure of Income) Bill 2020. An excellent education system is vitally important to Australia. At a macro level, it's vital economically, socially, for adaptation into the future and for cohesiveness as a nation. At an individual level, obviously education provides people with an opportunity to learn, to develop knowledge, to develop skills, to develop understanding and to rise to their potential.

This government strongly supports the rights of parents to choose the best school for their child. To enable this, we need to have strong and vibrant public and private systems—systems which allow for a diversity of schools to flourish. We also need to ensure that the choice is an affordable one. To that end, funding must be provided for each and every child, regardless of the school system their parents choose.

(Quorum formed) Before I commence again, I want to note that it is wonderful to once again see school students in the public gallery. To all the school students up there: I ask you to ask the parliamentary education officer who is with you to explain the quorum-calling game that is currently being played.

To pick up where I left off, within the context of the vitality of having an excellent education system, I do want to note—and it is not directly relevant to this bill, but it is relevant to education—the government is providing a record $314 billion investment in recurrent funding for schools from 2018 to 2029. It will grow from $21 billion this year to $32 billion in 2029. There is record funding for all schools—

12:26 pm

Photo of Chris BowenChris Bowen (McMahon, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Minister for Health) 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 that the member be no further heard.

12:34 pm

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

In the remaining time available to me I want to outline that the new method of calculating funding for non-government schools, the direct measure of income, is a very positive move. However, as with any change, there will be differential impacts on schools under the new method. Indeed, of the 13 independent schools in my electorate, seven will move to a higher level of funding, two will stay the same and four will move to a lower level of funding.

I've already been in contact with the schools which are going to have a lower level of funding, and I, like the minister and this government, do appreciate the concerns that they have expressed. To assist them with the transition, the government has put in place a lengthy transition period, over 10 years; $1.2 billion in the new Choice and Affordability Fund to help those schools; and a robust review process, which is currently being developed, which will enable independent schools that believe they need to have their new funding relooked at to go through this process. The things that they might request to be considered would include sudden changes to local economic circumstances; recent significant changes in student enrolment numbers; unique circumstances of the school community, such as where the parents or guardians have a greater number of dependents; and other exceptional circumstances.

By way of finishing, I would note that the purpose of this bill is to implement the recommendation of the National School Resourcing Board. It will establish a new and more targeted and accurate way to calculate the capacity of families to contribute to the cost of sending their kids to a non-government school. It is a needs based model which is designed to get the best results for students, parents and teachers. The more targeted and direct measure of income will make school funding more equitable by ensuring that funding flows to the schools that need it most. Under this model, by 2029, students with the same need in the same sector will attract the same level of support.

12:36 pm

Photo of Chris HayesChris Hayes (Fowler, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

To start, Labor supports the basis of the Australian Education Amendment (Direct Measure of Income) Bill 2020. I certainly support the amendment moved by the member for Sydney; however, the bill, as it's formed, makes a lot of sense, particularly for areas that I have the honour to represent in Western Sydney.

As I've spoken about on many occasions, my electorate is one of the most multicultural in the country. As a matter of fact, I receive the majority of refugees that come to Australia. One thing that I've learnt from the many years of representing people in my community, particularly those who have come here fleeing violence, fleeing torture and fleeing oppression, is that they not only come here for a new start; they also bring with them a passionate belief in education. From their backgrounds, they know that the difference between success and otherwise—particularly in a country like Australia—starts with a good education for their children. So it's not uncommon in my community to see the parents working two or three jobs to ensure their kids get the best opportunities in education that they can possibly give them.

The people I represent are not rich; my community's certainly not a rich community. As a matter of fact, the average household income—not the average income, but the average household income—is a tad over $60,000 a year, so it's not rich. But those mums and dads out there understand that giving their kids a future starts with a very good education. I would have thought that's one thing that we should all subscribe to in this place: every child needs to have the opportunity of a great education. It should not be subject to politics. One thing that we should be able to agree upon is that every dollar that we invest in education is an investment in this country's future. It's not just for a particular child or a particular community; everything we put into education invests in the future of our country. As I said at the start, I see a lot of benefits in what's being proposed in this bill in changing the identification models for determining funding for independent and systemic Catholic schools, which do play a significant role in providing education to children and certainly kids in my area in Fowler.

Essentially the bill builds on recommendations made by the National School Resourcing Board, which recommends moving away from the SES model, the socioeconomic status model, for determining the funding and moving to a new model based on the direct measure of income. I understand from speaking to principals that there have been issues over time with the SES model, trying to work out the period over the calculation which it's made; whereas the new model of direct measurement of income will be averaged over a three-year period on a rolling basis. That will help avoid or minimise the fluctuations that can occur, particularly when there are areas of high casualised employment in our community. Sometimes people are going to earn more in a particular year than another year. So this is probably a far more accurate measure for determining the basis of the contribution to be made on a schools basis.

Because it is a significant change, it will be phased in, which will take some time to do. It will also cost some money to do that. Because you're changing the model and, without putting too fine a point on it, there will be winners and losers, to ensure that there is fairness and balance, the government has also provided $3.2 billion over the next 10 years to the non-government schools as they transition to the new measure. That's in addition to the $170.8 million available in the 2019 year to give funding certainty to those schools.

Further, there will be a $1.2 billion choice of affordability fund to address specific challenges in the non-government school sector. As I say, there will be winners and losers. There will probably be some challenges in the transition to the new model. This fund will help smooth those challenges out. It essentially ensures that schools won't miss out and, more importantly, the kids won't miss out in respect to that funding.

The measure as it's proposed will be far fairer in determining the funding relationship between the government and non-government school sectors. Over the last couple of years I have got a lot of comments from the Catholic Education Commission, and I note that they are certainly supportive of this measure, as they think it will be a far more accurate evaluation of a school's capacity in respect of its funding. The Catholic Education Commission have indicated that they estimate that three-quarters of their schools will receive a more favourable treatment under the capacity-to-contribute formula under this mechanism than before.

I'm certainly not deaf to the concerns of others. I note particularity the concerns expressed by the Australian Education Union, particularly in their involvement in representing teachers in the government sector. They've made a lot of comments, and I don't disagree with much of what they've said, by the way. It's not that they're arguing against the provisioning to non-government schools, but they are saying that the federal government is really taking their eye off government schools, state schools for instance. The government won the last election. Regrettably we have to concede that. But in the last two elections alone, education, along with health, has been front and centre in the political contest. I remember back in 2013 when the then education minister—I'm pretty sure was Christopher Pyne—maybe feeling a little under the pump at that stage, wanted to talk about how there would not be daylight between Labor's policy on education and their policy on education. As a matter of fact, he went on to say that of the Liberal Party, 'We match Labor's promises on education dollar for dollar.' In other words, he made it very clear in this place that it doesn't matter which party you'll vote for; you'll get the same outcome in education.

That was in 2013. The very next budget came in May 2014, and what do you think they did? They went and cut education. Despite having a promise that we're going to say that education is a sacred cow and we all believe that our investment in education is an investment in the country's future—despite going through all that rhetoric—the very first budget opportunity that they had to prove that, they cut it. So they've got a track record. Under Tony Abbott they dumped the reforms designed to lift the standards of basic reading, writing and mathematics, and under Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull they abandoned proper and fair funding for schools. This mob opposite have a track record when it comes to talking about education. They talk the big game but deliver precious little.

And it's not just what they do in relation to schools. Education is pretty holistic. Education is about primary and secondary schools certainly. It's also about universities and, importantly for a country like Australia that needs to increase its skill base, it's about TAFE and vocational education. In their next budgets, they actually moved to cut TAFE funding by $3 billion. It's just not by any accident now that we have 150,000 fewer apprentices at a time when we need a skill base in this country. The only way that they are actually going to get the skills is by importing them.

Our children deserve to know that we are doing everything we can to ensure that they get the proper education and they can move to sustainable, secure, well-paid jobs in this country. Part of that equation is also about our tertiary education system of universities. What do you think they did in respect of universities? They cut $2.2 billion out of our universities. Our universities are forced to take more overseas students to be able to run their programs. Our universities are forced to do more work in collaboration with supportive industries to support education. I think the kids of Australia deserve to know that we in this place, for the limited time that we actually get to be here, are going to do everything we can to secure their futures, and simply cutting education is not the way to do it.

But I get back to where I started. I do think the direct measurement of income will be of tangible benefit in calculating the contribution targets for the non-government schools sector. I think it will certainly level the playing field in areas where there may be a systemic Catholic school or low socioeconomic area alongside a more elite school. As it is at the moment, it's calculated on their area. If they're in a low-SES area geographically, that means they will both be treated the same. Now, that should not be the case. We must make sure that every child gets the benefit of a good, well-rounded education in every school.

On that basis, I support the amendment moved by the member for Sydney and I also support the underlying rationale contained in the government's proposition in the bill before us.

12:50 pm

Photo of Andrew WallaceAndrew Wallace (Fisher, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I rise in support of the Australian Education Amendment (Direct Measure of Income) Bill 2020. If there's one thing that we learnt from the disastrous years of the Rudd-Gillard-Rudd government, it is that just throwing money at a problem is never the way to solve it. The solution to every problem, according to members opposite, is to spend more, with no thought about where it's going, and then, when that doesn't work and you run out of cash, you spend even more. That's why Labor presided over a budget deficit that peaked at $54½ billion and it's why, nearly a decade later, they went to the last election proposing an additional $387 billion in new taxes. Those opposite have learned nothing from that defeat, as that remains their policy today.

The coalition, however, understand that solving a complex problem requires a sophisticated, practical response. In the first instance, we look to reform, not to raiding ordinary Australians' bank accounts. Second, if we do find that more money really is needed to solve the problem, then we deliver that investment. But, when we do so, we introduce a third vital element, so often missed by members opposite when they sit on these government benches. We make sure investment is delivered equitably and delivered to the places where it will make the greatest difference in solving the problems. When it comes to the problems facing education in this country, we've applied this practical approach, and the bill before the House is a central contribution.

It is certain that we need to make improvements to the Australian education system; change is needed. The latest report of the Program for International Student Assessment, or PISA, published in December last year, showed that, since 2000, Australian students' performance in reading, maths and science has been in relative decline. Though on a par with similar countries—New Zealand, the United States, the United Kingdom and Japan—our students' performance has been slipping compared with important near-neighbours like China, Singapore and Korea. These declines have been consistent across governments on both sides of politics, with some of the largest declines coming during the Rudd-Gillard-Rudd years.

As the Minister for Education has said, the time has come for us to change direction. But the government understands that simply throwing money at the problem is not enough. Funding to education has been increasing every year, yet performance has not increased. Clearly, as the coalition have always said, we need more than just money; we need reform as well as investment and we need our investment delivered to the right places. This government has been getting on with the job of delivering all three. First, in partnership with the states and territories—(Quorum formed) As I was saying before I was so rudely interrupted, first, in partnership with the states and territories, we're rolling out a generation-defining reform in how—

Photo of Warren SnowdonWarren Snowdon (Lingiari, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Assistant Minister for External Territories) 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 that the member for Fisher be no further heard.

1:04 pm

Photo of Andrew WallaceAndrew Wallace (Fisher, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

We all know that scene from Braveheart when Mel Gibson was riding up and down in front of his troops, and he said, 'You can take our land, you can take my minutes from this speech but you'll never take our freedom.' So first in partnership with the states and territories we're rolling out a generation-defining reform in how education is delivered in Australia. We're ensuring teacher quality and raising standards in the sector by more rigorous testing of trainee teachers. We're acting to make sure that teaching draws the kind of talented leaders that we need by insisting that teachers score in the top 30 per cent of their peers for literacy and numeracy. We're backing the full implementation of NAPLAN to ensure that parents and teachers get transparency on student progress and to promote accountability in the sector. Along with better trained teachers, we need to improve the content that they are required to teach. That is why the government is refocusing the Australian curriculum on the skills and information that students need to know. We have fast-tracked a review into the entire curriculum. (Time expired)

1:05 pm

Photo of Adam BandtAdam Bandt (Melbourne, Australian Greens) Share this | | Hansard source

There are schools that need more money. They're called public schools, and there's not a cent for them in this appropriation bill. In public schools, one in five teachers is dipping into their own pocket to buy things like food or equipment for their students, but they don't get any support from this bill. In public schools there are 45 per cent of teachers helping them buy things like clothes and toiletries, but they don't get a cent from this bill. Under this government's funding formula 99 percent of public schools will be funded less than the Schooling Resource Standard by 2023, while 100 per cent of private schools are going to be above that benchmark, but this bill gives the private schools more money and gives nothing to the public schools.

If we want to have a country where everyone is entitled to a good-quality education, where our educators get paid properly and where, when you go to school, you have proper equipment in proper buildings, we need to fund our public schools. But this government can find $3.4 billion so that schools that are already doing alright get even more money, but public schools get nothing. This government is failing the 2½ million children in public schools.

We need to go back to basics here. We need to say that in a country like Australia every child has the right to a decent public education. Public schools are not a safety net; they are the gold standard. We should fund them as such. But what we know from report after report and inquiry after inquiry is that our public schools are slipping behind. Why? Because there is a cashed up lobby of very wealthy schools that is able to come here and persuade both sides of the aisle that they deserve special treatment. As a result, every time there's an additional pot of money to be handed out, it doesn't go where it's needed.

Public schools are the ones who educate our most disadvantaged students. They're the ones who need more support, so if there's a spare $3.4 billion going, let's give it to our public schools, because they're the ones who are doing the bulk of the teaching and the bulk of the teaching in the areas of need. This has been reported time and time again, but it seems that in this place need doesn't count for much; what counts is whether you've got the right school tie and you went to the right very wealthy private school that has a few swimming pools and tennis courts. If you do that you can come and ask the government for additional money, and they will give it to you.

There are some positive steps in this bill, because it starts to go some way towards improving the measurement of a school's socioeconomic score. In my electorate, where we've got more public housing than any other electorate in Victoria, there are some Catholic schools that I wouldn't say are wealthy by any stretch: St Joseph's, St Michael's, Holy Rosary. Some of those schools are looking after and educating some of the neediest and poorest students. But what the government is doing is wheeling out some of those schools and saying, 'This justifies the whole bill.' Well, no—part of the problem there is that we don't fund schools on the basis of need. The government hands over big cheques and then the money doesn't find its way to the schools that need it. If we had a proper needs based funding system, then those schools who are educating some of the most vulnerable, including those in the flats in public housing in Collingwood or Kensington in my electorate, would get the funding that they deserve. But if you took a needs based approach, what you would find is that the bulk of the money goes to the public schools, because that is where the bulk of the need is.

Photo of Adam BandtAdam Bandt (Melbourne, Australian Greens) Share this | | Hansard source

And the students. That is exactly right—and the students. That is where the need and the students are, but that is not what this government is doing. Although the government accepts that there's a problem with the funding model that they've got, and say, 'Maybe we need to look a bit at socioeconomic scores,' what this bill doesn't do is consider the existing wealth and assets of private schools in allocating the funding. The idea that this is about redressing some kind of imbalance is completely wrong, because, even if your public school has enormous assets and enormous wealth, that won't be taken into account. You can still line up for some of this extra $3.4 billion. What the president of the Australian Education Union said is absolutely right:

This draft bill locks inequality into school funding. It takes no account of a school's income, wealth or assets in determining private school funding levels.

In other words, just think about this for a moment, if you've got a couple of tennis courts and a swimming pool and equipment that many, many students and people will never ever see in their life, you can still line up for a share of this $3.4 billion and get some of it, even if you've already got a lot, while other public schools, where one in five teachers are dipping into their pocket to buy stationary and classroom equipment, get nothing.

This isn't just an attack on students and families and public school teachers across the country; this is also an attack on democracy, because this is another step towards us becoming a society of haves and have-nots, where if you've got the cash to send your child to private schools to the tunes of tens of thousands of dollars a year, then you're going to get more money, but, if you're lining up for a public school where you sit through sweltering days during summer, as the climate crisis gets worse, because so many of those schools aren't designed well enough to keep the students or the teachers or the staff cool, or if you're one of those students who's lining up and you can't afford to buy breakfast that day, there is nothing in this $3.4 billion for you. This bill increases inequality. It makes inequality worse and it puts us on the road to becoming a US-style society, where the gap between the haves and the have-nots grows. If there is a spare $3.4 billion going, give it to the public schools first, alright? Give it to the public schools first. And yes, if there are—I'll repeat what I said before—some non-government schools that are educating the genuinely needy and vulnerable, like the ones who educate some of the students from the flats in my electorate, then under a needs based formula they would get funding too, and they wouldn't have to queue up behind some wealthy schools and hope that there's crumbs left over for them at the end.

If this was only one bill it would be bad enough, but this comes on top of other insults from this government. Government funding for private schools has grown by 35 per cent over the 10 years to 2017-18, while funding for public schools has only grown 11 per cent. Annual per student growth in total government funding for private schools was 3.4 per cent compared with only 1.5 per cent for public schools. We are not giving the money where it is needed. This is why only a few weeks ago parents right around the country were getting invoices from their public schools for fees that often were called 'voluntary fees' but in some cases in some schools they're getting invoices for things called 'essential education fees' that can run into the hundreds, if not thousands of dollars. For public schools, why is that happening? That is happening because the government is not funding schools properly.

This was a chance for the government to say to all those parents who are having to pay school fees to send their kids to public schools, 'We will give the money to public schools instead so that public education in this country is genuinely free.' So long as we refuse to give the money to the public schools—when you do things like charge fees at public schools, that impacts even more on the most disadvantaged and vulnerable. They're the families who are going to be less able to stump up the cash for it. They're the parents who are going to have to make heartbreaking decisions like, 'Can I afford to pay for my child to go on an excursion or to pay for something that's called a voluntary fee?' knowing full well that, in many instances, if you can't pay that you feel the stigma as a parent. You feel the stigma, and you don't want your child to be treated differently. The public schools know this is going on and they bend over backwards to help. This is why teachers are dipping into their own pockets and principals are scrabbling around trying to find extra money. Meanwhile, the public schools are falling down around their ears in many instances.

I'm a proud product of public schools at the primary and high-school level. I tell you what, the first time I walked into a wealthy private school and saw that there were things like big tennis courts and indoor pools at some places, and they have gym departments with higher budgets than the whole of some public schools, my head exploded. But that is what's going on in this country. This bill makes it worse. The only way that we are going to remain a strong democracy where everyone gets an excellent quality education, and the only way that we are going to enshrine public schools not as the safety net, as this government thinks, but as the gold standard that they are, is by funding them properly. That is something the Greens will always defend.

We oppose this handout to schools, many of whom don't need it, when there are public schools waiting in line in dire straits. For so long as a public school teacher has to dip into their own pocket to pay for food for a school student, and for so long as parents sending their kids to public schools have to pay hundreds or thousands of dollars in voluntary fees for an education that should be free, we will oppose $3.4 billion being given to schools that have already got tennis courts and gyms coming out of their ears. That money should be going to the public schools that need it. If we had a proper needs based system of funding, then even non-government schools like those Catholic schools that educate some of the poorest in our country would stand to benefit and wouldn't have to wait in line behind those very wealthy schools.

A key part of the Green New Deal that I will be pushing as leader of the Greens is genuinely free education in this country—getting rid of those public school fees that parents have to pay, ensuring that every teacher is paid properly and ensuring that every public school has the money it needs to deliver and continue to deliver a gold standard education. If there is money going, it should go where it is needed first. You have to ask why it is in this country, when there are students that are still going to school hungry; when there are parents that can't afford to send their kids on excursions, because the fees that are being charged are too high; and when teachers have to dip into their own pockets to make ends meet, that we are handing out $3.4 billion, on top of the previous $1.2 billion that this government cut in special deals, to anyone other than the public schools.

I don't know what the other parties are going to do on this, but I can tell you the Greens will be fighting it, because the Greens will fight for public schools and put public education first, because so long as public education is underfunded in this country, which on any measure it is, that is where the money should be going first. This is taking us down the road to becoming a US-style unequal society where we divide between haves and have nots. One of the good things about Australia is that no matter how much money you've got you can feel guaranteed that your child is going to get a good education, a world-class education, when you send them to a public school. But that is under threat if we keep underfunding our public schools. If we want everyone in this country to have the right to send their child to a public school and know that they'll get a gold-standard education then we've got to fund our public schools properly, and that means giving this $3.4 billion that apparently is going begging to the public schools who need it, not to the very wealthy private schools, which don't.

(Quorum formed)

1:23 pm

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

I rise to support this bill, the Australian Education Amendment (Direct Measure of Income) Bill 2020. Every child has the right to a great education, and every parent has the right to make a choice.

Photo of Warren SnowdonWarren Snowdon (Lingiari, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Assistant Minister for External Territories) 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.

1:31 pm

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

The debate is interrupted in accordance with standing order 43. The debate may be resumed at a later hour.