Senate debates

Wednesday, 21 June 2017


Australian Education Amendment Bill 2017; Second Reading

12:03 pm

Photo of Jacqui LambieJacqui Lambie (Tasmania, Independent) Share this | Hansard source

I rise to speak on the Australian Education Amendment Bill 2017, which provides for needs based school funding. This debate is not just about school funding, though. It is about our children. It is about equal opportunity and it is about our future. Today I speak on this bill to remind my colleagues to broaden their thinking beyond the here and now. In fact, I am asking my colleagues to think beyond the next 10 years. Constant squabbling amongst ourselves over issues as important as education funding, making changes to the education system every three or four years, only damages our children and, therefore, Australia's future.

The Liberal government would have had an easier time negotiating with colleagues had the government included the opposition and the crossbench and the key stakeholders in the conversation a lot sooner. As I read through the submissions to the committee, the one thing most submissions had in common was a concern that there had been little to no consultation. I am thankful Minister Birmingham took time out of his busy schedule to fly to Tasmania to hear my concerns, but, if the schools and Minister Birmingham's colleagues in this place had been kept in the loop while this bill was put together, it would have received feedback sooner, allowing the minister to draft a solid bill.

This lack of consultation speaks to larger cultural issues within the Liberal government's ranks. The feedback I receive on a daily basis from key industry stakeholders on a variety of bills is that this government does not consult. This is a pattern of behaviour that has been allowed to develop, turning the Liberal government into its own worst enemy. Its consistent refusal to consult with key industry stakeholders and with its opposition and crossbench colleagues creates a mad rush to get the bill passed, as we have experienced this week. Instead of blaming our chaotic or feral Senate when bills do not pass, perhaps the Liberal government should sit down with its colleagues in the Senate to discuss our concerns well before bills are presented to the House. This prevents political games and mistakes being made. The point of a democracy is that all views are represented in parliament. As long as the Liberal government ignores those views, it will continue to have problems in the Senate. This culture of last-minute negotiations and decision-making is not conducive to considered and well-thought-out legislation and gives senators very little time to draft and present amendments to make for much better legislation and to give us a fair go.

Labor is not interested in this Gonski debate either. For me as an Independent, it is frustrating to see funds invested into a lengthy evidence based report and for the government of the day to bastardise the recommendations or cherry-pick recommendations to suit its political agenda. It is devastating to see governments play with the futures of our children, and therefore the future of our nation, for political gain. It is ironic that Labor proudly claims to roll out the full Gonski when it was the Labor government that compromised the true Gonski.

Do not get me wrong. I gave Labor the chance and the time to see Gonski through. A few years ago, I was approached by the Education Union when I expressed my disappointment in student outcomes, especially in Tasmania. They begged me to give it a couple more years. Well, I have done that. Oh, dear, I have done that! The NAPLAN results show there is no measurable improvement for Tasmania—absolutely none. It has not moved up a notch. In fact, there is negligible improvement across the nation. A media statement released by the Australian Curriculum, Assessment and Reporting Authority said:

… in recent years NAPLAN results have largely plateaued.

It asked the question, 'Is this good enough?' This is a good question. What are the major parties' ambitions for our children? Is the word 'okay' good enough, or should we have higher expectations for the young people who will eventually lead this nation? The education we give our children directly impacts nation-building and Australia's future. I would like to see our children reach their potential to be effective and ensure Australia continues to be the great country that it is. We now know that throwing enormous amounts of money at education is not the answer, but you do not throw out a broken model until you know the new one is better.

While I look forward to seeing a truly needs based, equal opportunity funding rollout, it still is not the answer to improving student outcomes. The answer lies in our teachers, who work hard and try their best but are not always provided with the support or resources to explore teaching students in a capacity that supports students' individual learning needs. As a start, the teaching degree must be treated with more respect. After all, teaching is circular in nature. If a teacher is taught well, that teacher is more likely to teach well. By providing a high-quality teaching degree, we encourage that sense of respect, and our teaching students will fulfil greater potential. By asking our students to complete postgraduate study, we create a greater knowledge base from which to teach our children.

While our teachers are studying at university, it should be a requirement that, on top of their practical work, they volunteer as a teacher aide every day, five days a week, from 10 to two. It is time for on-the-job training to begin again. We have lost this, and we are suffering because of this. Get them out of those universities in their second year, and get them on the job. During my time as a senator many schools have approached me about their need for more teacher aides and agonised over the lack of funding. Well, there is your answer: get them out of those universities and get them into schools. They will get on-the-job training and mentoring all in one. We are getting two for the price of one here. If university students were required to volunteer to be a teacher's aide they would not only receive real world experiences and develop mentor relationships with experienced teachers; they would also observe a variety of class behaviours and incidents. This would give them the tools and experience they need to deal with such behaviours as new teachers when they graduate. In addition, the schools and their students will receive the one-on-one support they need in the classroom without breaking the budget.

I emphasise that some things must be beyond politics. The Labor Party and the Liberal Party must stop playing games with issues that are vital to our country and our people. Education and health must be exempt from the political games that seem to be entrenched in this place. The good of the people and the future of Australia should be treated with greater consideration and sincerity.

I want to speak about children with disabilities. In the past—whether it be Veterans' Affairs or the NDIS—you have always underestimated the cost. I do not blame you for this; many of you have probably not experienced being sick and down and out, and what that costs. When you have not been on both sides of that game you underestimate terribly, and that is where you run into trouble. I want to make sure that our kids with disabilities are fully funded at all times. I do not want to see the divide in this country made any greater than it already is. That worries me terribly. If you cannot get this right in this model then I will be coming forward on the NDIS. I will be brutally honest with you: there are gaps in that, and I will push student funding for disabled students really hard and really fast. I want them well catered for and I want them to get the opportunity to be in normal classrooms if they are able to. It is not only great for them; it is also great for those students who do not have disabilities. They learn compassion. They learn how to deal with these matters. It gives them coping mechanisms for the rest of their lives. Everybody wins out with this. So I am really having a good look at this.

When it comes to the Catholic education system, I hope that they will continue on the same trajectory they are on right now until the review is over. I hope that what I have been told in that matter is the truth: for the next 12 to 18 months they will maintain everything they already have.


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