Senate debates

Wednesday, 21 June 2017


Australian Education Amendment Bill 2017; Second Reading

9:31 am

Photo of Jacinta CollinsJacinta Collins (Victoria, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Cabinet Secretary) Share this | | Hansard source

This Australian Education Amendment Bill 2017 bill moves away from the fundamental objective that Labor enshrined in the legislation that:

All students in all schools are entitled to an excellent education, allowing each student to reach his or her full potential so that he or she can succeed, achieve his or her aspirations, and contribute fully to his or her community, now and in the future.

Labor opposes both the principles and the practical effect of this legislation, which has continued to unravel every day that it has been subject to public scrutiny. The bill is fundamentally unfair to Australian children, and, consequently, I move:

That the Senate notes that this bill:

  (a)   would result in a $22.3 billion cut from Australian schools compared with the existing arrangements;

  (b)   removes extra funding agreed with states and territories for 2018 and 2019 which would have been brought under resourced schools to their fair funding level;

  (c)   locks in sector-specific payments of 80 per cent of student resource standard for non-government schools and just 20 per cent for government schools, the very opposite of a sector-lined model;

  (d)   sees the Commonwealth government abandon all responsibility for ensuring that Australian students reach, at a minimum, 95 per cent of the schooling resource standard;

  (e)   reduces funding to some wealthy overfunded schools, which Labor supports, but it also increases funding for other overfunded schools while cutting funding to some of our most vulnerable school students;

  (f)   would particularly hurt public schools, which receive less than 50 per cent of funding under the government's proposal compared to 80 per cent of the extra funding in Labor's school funding plan—

  (g)   results in only one in seven public schools reaching their fair funding level after 10 years.

Let me repeat that point (f), because that is the point that seems to be lost when commentators suggest that the NERA, the National Education Reform Agreement, is dead. What the act and that agreement delivered was 80 per cent of extra funding for public schools, which this proposal brings down to just 50 per cent. I had prepared a traditional opposition second reading speech to present when we commenced consideration of this bill. But, I have to say, where we are now and where we are today is a complete and utter farce. Reading the commentary, reading the media, listening to the minister's statements leaves the opposition in the position now that there is simply no point in reflecting on the substantive provisions in the bill, because we do not know what this bill will turn into. The government has not been clear about what it is we are dealing with here now. Today, in the situation where we are in now, as the government engages in further negotiations, possibly with senators who are not fully appraised of the impact of the proposals that the government is putting to them, is just a short part, a small part of that picture.

So let me revisit the week before the budget, when the government first put these proposals into the public realm. Actually, let me take one step further back from there. Let me take you back to the ministerial council meeting ahead of that. This minister turned up to the ministers' council and suggested to them, on the basis of two case studies, that he needed to engage in what I would call a radical market experiment. That is what this government is doing in moving away from the core principle of the Gonski report. Senators might recall that I mentioned that core principle when I quoted a speech from David Gonski yesterday but let me remind you again today. This was the speech of David Gonski on 21 May 2014. He said:

Lost in the discussion for more money were the central tenets of our review. We advocated:-

A. Funding to be unified i.e. given by state and federal governments to the different sectors together rather than states substantially only funding their school system and the bulk of Commonwealth funding being as a consequence paid to independent and faith-based schools.

Embedded in this bill at 80 per cent. This was David Gonski's review's central—capital A—tenet, and this is what this bill moves away from. As I have said in my proposed second reading amendment, the consequences of that, the impact of that, is that what was planned to be 80 per cent of additional funding going to public schools will now—and remember it is less additional funding—be only 50 per cent of additional funding going to public schools.

But let me remind the Senate where we were before the Abbott government failed to proceed with the Gonski reform agenda. We had a consensus. We had public education—non-government education; both Catholic and independent, together. We had settled the school funding wars. But what has happened here now is those wars have indeed been reignited. I am described as a 'veteran' senator; I have been around here for more than 20 years, but I have never seen some of the sectarian debate that has occurred. I will get to what happened in the committee inquiry in a moment, but I have never seen something like yesterday's point of order during Committee of the Whole, talking about senators being ghosts of the DLP. As I said at the time, the DLP that would have been relevant to my political participation concluded in 1978; I was 16 years of age. I was not a member of the DLP; I have member never been a member of the DLP. The only political party I have ever been a member of is the Australian Labor Party.

Photo of Mitch FifieldMitch Fifield (Victoria, Liberal Party, Manager of Government Business in the Senate) Share this | | Hansard source

Did you hand out for them?

Photo of Jacinta CollinsJacinta Collins (Victoria, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Cabinet Secretary) Share this | | Hansard source

I do not see how that is relevant, Senator.

Senator Fifield interjecting

Here we go again! We are continuing it. Senator Fifield, I do not think you understand what this minister has unleashed. For you to suggest that what any senator here now might have done as a young child is at all relevant is appalling, and you are continuing the appalling behaviour which I will come to with Senator McKenzie soon.

Photo of Mitch FifieldMitch Fifield (Victoria, Liberal Party, Manager of Government Business in the Senate) Share this | | Hansard source

I just thought it was funny.

Photo of Jacinta CollinsJacinta Collins (Victoria, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Cabinet Secretary) Share this | | Hansard source

You might think it is funny, but sectarianism is not very funny. Let's move on to the important issue here, which is what a farce—

Photo of Sue LinesSue Lines (WA, Deputy-President) Share this | | Hansard source

Thank you, Senator Collins. Senator Fifield?

Photo of Mitch FifieldMitch Fifield (Victoria, Liberal Party, Manager of Government Business in the Senate) Share this | | Hansard source

On a point of order, Madam Deputy President: Senator Collins is misrepresenting my interjection. It was a lighthearted reference to whether she had, as a child—

Photo of Jacinta CollinsJacinta Collins (Victoria, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Cabinet Secretary) Share this | | Hansard source

It is on the record.

Photo of Sue LinesSue Lines (WA, Deputy-President) Share this | | Hansard source

Senator Fifield, that is a debating point. Senator Collins.

Photo of Jacinta CollinsJacinta Collins (Victoria, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Cabinet Secretary) Share this | | Hansard source

Senator Fifield will have his opportunity in this debate. It is unfortunate that he did not take his opportunity in the cabinet. That is the problem. That we are now in this farce is the problem.

I was talking about the settlement that had been achieved during the Gonski 1.0 process, which was seriously damaged by the Abbott government's refusal to move beyond the four years of the six-year transition plan—the six-year transition plan that would have got most schools, in partnership with the states and territories, to a common student resourcing standard. Mr Turnbull and Senator Birmingham have come in here with the glossy rhetoric that they are on the same path, and that is simply untrue. What Senator Birmingham has done is take what was a combined funding approach and turn it into a Commonwealth share only approach, which will never achieve the outcome that is needed here. It will never achieve the standard, the resources, for Australian schools that is required.

Senator Birmingham, Senator Brandis and others have verballed various of the players in this debate, but the best example of where we are today, which I saw in this morning's press in an opinion piece in The Australian newspaper, is that by Peter Goss, who basically at one stage says: we have got to accept that the National Education Reform Agreement is dead, but the Senate should seriously fiddle with Gonski 2.0 and add a national education reform agreement. So he is saying on the one hand that we have to get over the fact that this government killed the National Education Reform Agreement—and he tries to make comparisons solely on the act itself and suggests that our only option is the act as it currently stands and this bill—but then says, 'Oh, but we should go back to a national education reform agreement.' Of course we should! And that is where it should have stayed.

This government criticised Labor for funding over the four years of the forward estimates, and it has been new to some senators in this debate to understand that states and territories do not have four-year forward estimates and it is a very difficult process to make states commit to ongoing funding over the forward years. This has been new information to many senators considering this debate. But look at this government's hypocrisy with this plan: 10 years, with only four years funded over the forwards. When you think about the rhetoric that was put on Labor about our four-year forward estimates of our six-year plan, you only need to reflect on this plan to see what hypocrisy that was.

So even if this government brings their plan—as has, again, been canvassed by commentators—down to eight years, or to seven or six years, it will still be four to six years too late; it will still be less funding that should be available; and there will be no commitment from states and territories to make their contributions. Let me remind people who are listening to this debate: for the contribution that was achieved with the states who became participating states and the other states that the government failed to bring into the package—the Abbott government failed to bring states who had agreed into the package—the offer there was two Commonwealth dollars for one state dollar. That is not on the table. How on earth does this government propose that we are going to bring the states into this arrangement? We do not know, and all that they say is, 'Um—we've deferred that till COAG next year.' What a farce!

The other element of this farce is the process farce, of course. The Senate inquiry: now, I accept the will of the Senate. Labor argued that we needed more time to address these matters in detail, and I thank senators for supporting my order for production of documents. To me, that does reflect that senators do now understand that there has not been adequate information and that there has not been proper consideration of the detail.

But, of course, another element of that Senate inquiry was the farce about how it was conducted. Firstly, and back to my point about sectarianism, for me to be accused on Twitter by the chair as running a protection racket for private schools which was eventually, after the hearing, finally withdrawn, is a joke. But add to that joke that the chair thinks that she can walk and chew gum at the same time. To me that is quite unethical chairing.

The other part of the joke, I think, was best represented by—not usually a friend of mine—which suggested that Senator McKenzie and Senator Hanson-Young were operating a tag team against me defending Catholic education. Since when does the Australian National Party form a tag team with the Greens to try to deny the Senate an opportunity to explore the details of a bill before it? This is, Senator Fifield, the sectarianism that I am referring to.

There has been a range of other commentary that it is better not revisited. The point here is that these wars had been settled back in 2013, and should have been left that way. This government is not settling the education wars: it has reignited them! As I said, when we have a clearer picture of what the provisions in this bill are we will deal with those in detail during the committee stage. But until such time as we understand what this bill is going to contain there really is no point in commentating further, other than to ask senators to reflect on their position on these issues in the past.

In closing at this stage, I will ask Senator McKenzie to refer back to a press release she made on 13 March 2013, where she said:

Results show that the Federal Labor Government’s fundng model, which is supposed to address inequity, will result in 25 per cent of the lowest SES Catholic schools losing funding.

Senator McKenzie, that is actually today.

But then, for all these stories about scaremongering, let me remind Senator McKenzie of this one, again, from her press release:

Under the Gonski recommendations, the average fees for Catholic Schools could rise between 200 - 300 per cent.

And yet she and other members of the coalition attack Catholic education for highlighting what the changes in this bill do to assumptions around what level of fees, low-fee—particularly Catholic primary school—parents would need to pay. That is the example of the farce occurring here.

Government senators, other than a few, are being incredibly hypocritical. Senator Fifield and his colleagues should get their act together in cabinet and fix this!

9:50 am

Photo of Nick McKimNick McKim (Tasmania, Australian Greens) Share this | | Hansard source

The Australian Greens have been abundantly clear all the way through this debate, since we saw the government's legislation, that we do not support the Australian Education Amendment Bill 2017 in its current form. We have given effect to that by voting against it in the House of Representatives when the member for Melbourne, Adam Bandt, as a representative of our united party room on this issue voted against the legislation.

I am going to speak at some length in my speech about the principles with which the Australian Greens are approaching this issue, but before I do I want to briefly respond to some of the comments made by Senator Collins, who just resumed her seat. Firstly, she is claiming that Labor, when in government, 'settled the school funding wars'. I have rarely heard a piece of spin that bears so little relationship with reality.

Photo of Jacinta CollinsJacinta Collins (Victoria, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Cabinet Secretary) Share this | | Hansard source

Tasmania signed on when you were in cabinet!

Photo of Nick McKimNick McKim (Tasmania, Australian Greens) Share this | | Hansard source

I will take that interjection because I was actually the Minister for Education and Skills in Tasmania at the time.

Photo of Jacinta CollinsJacinta Collins (Victoria, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Cabinet Secretary) Share this | | Hansard source

I know, and you signed on!

Photo of Nick McKimNick McKim (Tasmania, Australian Greens) Share this | | Hansard source

We did sign on.

Photo of Jacinta CollinsJacinta Collins (Victoria, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Cabinet Secretary) Share this | | Hansard source

Thank you!

Photo of Nick McKimNick McKim (Tasmania, Australian Greens) Share this | | Hansard source

That is right. Exactly. But what that does is give me an almost unique position in this chamber to know exactly what was going on at the time. I am going to tell you now, Senator Collins, what went on at the time. What went on at the time was that David Gonski, in his landmark, groundbreaking report, recommended a range of things, including a sector-blind, needs-based funding model. What Labor delivered was about as far away as you could get from a sector-blind, needs-based funding model. There were agreements with different sectors, different jurisdictions and different states and territories. Obviously, the one I was part of negotiating on Tasmania's behalf at the time was one of those. I have not actually counted those agreements, but there were a lot of them. The government is saying there were 27.

Photo of Jacinta CollinsJacinta Collins (Victoria, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Cabinet Secretary) Share this | | Hansard source


Photo of Nick McKimNick McKim (Tasmania, Australian Greens) Share this | | Hansard source

I think Senator Collins, by interjection, has just agreed with that. That sounds about right.

Photo of Jacinta CollinsJacinta Collins (Victoria, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Cabinet Secretary) Share this | | Hansard source

No, that is what they are saying.

Photo of Nick McKimNick McKim (Tasmania, Australian Greens) Share this | | Hansard source

It sounds about right: 27 separate agreements that were negotiated bilaterally.

Photo of Jacinta CollinsJacinta Collins (Victoria, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Cabinet Secretary) Share this | | Hansard source

You haven't fallen for this line, have you, Nick?

Photo of Nick McKimNick McKim (Tasmania, Australian Greens) Share this | | Hansard source

Senator Collins, I am going to continue here and I will not be shouted down by you.

Photo of Sue LinesSue Lines (WA, Deputy-President) Share this | | Hansard source

Order! I just remind senators to make their comments to the chair. I remind other senators that it is disorderly to continue to interrupt.

Photo of Nick McKimNick McKim (Tasmania, Australian Greens) Share this | | Hansard source

Thank you, Madam Deputy President. I will not be shouted down by Senator Collins here because I am going to place on the record what happened. There were 27 separate deals across sectors and across jurisdictions. They were negotiated bilaterally and no-one got to find out what any of the negotiations were with any of the other sectors in the education system in Australia or with any other of the states and territories. What we ended up with I think would be accurate to describe as a mishmash of different agreements where some sectors won and some did not travel so well, and where some states and territories had outcomes that they were happy with and some states and territories had outcomes they were not happy with.

Of course, during this process and ultimately before that process had finished, Labor called a federal election. I will remember the day they called that federal election because there were still negotiations ongoing and at least some states and territories ultimately did not finally and formally conclude their negotiations. That is what Labor left us with. History shows that the government changed and the Liberal government came into power.

That was a long time ago. I have to say that the current government—the Liberal-National government—in this country have been derelict in their responsibilities on education since then. This has dragged out in terms of the government arriving at a position for far too long. Now, typically, when they have arrived at a position they want to bring this bill on for debate here today to put pressure on this Senate to pass it. Ultimately, I want to say that the government's tactic of bringing this bill on today to commence the debate is a tactic clearly designed to place pressure on this chamber.

I also want to say that the government has been derelict in its duties in regard to the way that it has negotiated with the Australian Education Union—or, should I say, failed utterly not only to negotiate but even to respectfully communicate with the Australian Education Union. When I was minister in Tasmania, I had a face-to-face meeting with the president of the Tasmanian branch of the AEU once a month. I would sit down face to face with them, and we would talk about a range of issues that existed from both sides of the table. I am very confident to say that I had a very good relationship with the AEU in Tasmania, because of course the Greens view education principally as a public good. We also believe that federal funding into Australia's school system, whatever the sector, needs to be done on the basis of need and equity to ensure that all Australian children have the opportunity to fulfil their best educational opportunities.

Before I leave the subject of the Labor Party—and this was raised by Senator Collins herself in her speech where she swallowed the grenade and denied that we were seeing a return of the DLP in this place—I have sat for two question times in here this week, and Labor has asked question after question after question on behalf of the Catholic education system in this country and not one question on public schools from the Labor Party.

Photo of Jacinta CollinsJacinta Collins (Victoria, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Cabinet Secretary) Share this | | Hansard source

A point of order.

Photo of Sue LinesSue Lines (WA, Deputy-President) Share this | | Hansard source

Thank you, Senator Collins.

Photo of Nick McKimNick McKim (Tasmania, Australian Greens) Share this | | Hansard source

The DLP is back. Do not worry about that.

Photo of Sue LinesSue Lines (WA, Deputy-President) Share this | | Hansard source

Senator McKim, resume your seat, please.

Photo of Jacinta CollinsJacinta Collins (Victoria, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Cabinet Secretary) Share this | | Hansard source

The senator is misleading the Senate. That is simply not true.

Photo of Sue LinesSue Lines (WA, Deputy-President) Share this | | Hansard source

That is a debating point, thank you, Senator Collins.

Photo of Nick McKimNick McKim (Tasmania, Australian Greens) Share this | | Hansard source

We have all sat here and listened to question after question after question asked on behalf of the Catholic education system in this country. Labor will go out to the Australian people and claim to be champions of the public education system. But the true champions of the public education system in this place are the Australian Greens. Every time, we will attempt to do what is in the best interests of the public education system in Australia, because the people that we care about in the context of education debates are students in the public education system. We have been very clear about that. Our track record speaks for itself. If you look at the 27 different deals that Labor stitched up when they were last in government—

Photo of Jacinta CollinsJacinta Collins (Victoria, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Cabinet Secretary) Share this | | Hansard source

That is what the AEU want.

Photo of Nick McKimNick McKim (Tasmania, Australian Greens) Share this | | Hansard source

a reasonable interpretation—

Photo of Jacinta CollinsJacinta Collins (Victoria, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Cabinet Secretary) Share this | | Hansard source

You can't even represent them properly.

Photo of Sue LinesSue Lines (WA, Deputy-President) Share this | | Hansard source


Photo of Nick McKimNick McKim (Tasmania, Australian Greens) Share this | | Hansard source

Senator Collins, I will not be shouted down by you. I will not be shouted down by you, Senator Collins.

Senator Jacinta Collins interjecting

Photo of Sue LinesSue Lines (WA, Deputy-President) Share this | | Hansard source


Photo of Nick McKimNick McKim (Tasmania, Australian Greens) Share this | | Hansard source

I simply will not be. Once Senator Collins is able to control herself, Deputy President, I will be happy to continue. All right. Thank you.

As I was saying about the 27 separate and disparate agreements stitched up by Labor when they were last in government, in no reasonable assessment can it be claimed that those 27 agreements—as Senator Collins is claiming—'settled the school-funding wars'. Any reasonable person watching the question times that we have had in the Senate this week will understand clearly who the Labor Party are operating on behalf of in this place. Believe me, they are not operating on behalf of the public school system, students at public schools and parents who choose to send their children to public schools. They are operating on behalf of the Catholic education systems in this country. I invite anyone who may be listening or may be reading theHansardof my speech later to go and check the record. It is all on the Hansard. Labor's questions have been designed to advocate on behalf of the Catholic system and prioritising that system to a far greater degree than they did the public system.

We are approaching this matter and the discussions that we are having at the moment based on the principles that we believe in and the policies that have been developed through our membership—in fact, by our membership. Uniquely in this place we have a set of policies designed and delivered to us by our membership, and also in broad consultation with key education stakeholders. These are the principles that we are taking into our discussions and consideration on this matter. Primarily for us, education is principally a public good. We also believe very, very clearly that differences in educational outcomes should never be a result of differences in wealth, differences in income, differences in power, differences in what possessions people have or differences in where people live.

We have always believed, and always will, in the Australian Greens that universal access to high-quality education is fundamental to Australia's economic prosperity, it is fundamental to our environmental sustainability, it is fundamental to our wellbeing as a people and it is fundamental to the social fulfilment of Australians. We believe, as a principle, that everyone in this country is entitled to a free, well funded, high-quality, lifelong public education and training system. We also believe that it is a primary responsibility of government to fund all levels of the public education system to a high quality, from early childhood education through to our schools system. This includes VET—vocational education and training—and tertiary education. We believe that because, as I said, we have a view and a principle that everyone is entitled to a free, well funded, high-quality public education and training system.

It is also a key principle of the Greens that federal funding to Australia's school education system, which includes both public and non-government sectors, should be done on the basis of need and equity, to ensure that everyone has the opportunity to maximise their educational outcomes. As I said, David Gonski, when he released his landmark report, recommended a sector-blind needs-based funding model. That is not what we got from Labor at the time. It is just not. And no matter how loudly and at how much length the Labor Party try to claim that what they delivered was in line with what David Gonski recommended, no matter how loudly, no matter what spin Labor put on it, any reasonable, fair-minded person, if they have a look at what Labor delivered when they were last in government at the Commonwealth level, is going to conclude that what Labor delivered was not a sector-blind needs-based funding model.

In fact, when I was minister in Tasmania I introduced a new funding system for government schools in Tasmania—the Fairer Funding model. That was, and perhaps still is—I have not done an analysis, but at the time that was the funding model, of anywhere in Australia, that was the most faithful to David Gonski's principles. It only applied to the way we distributed money within the public school system in Tasmania, but it was a genuine needs-based funding model that allowed us, with the extra money that was flowing to Tasmania as a result of the agreement that we signed with Labor, to deliver significant school funding increases to every single public school in Tasmania. The minimum funding increase in the school resource packages of public schools in Tasmania, once we had implemented that model, was five per cent. Some schools got up to 40 per cent more money in their school resource packages—nearly half as much again as they had the previous year. I introduced, as minister, a genuine needs based funding model for distributing money amongst public schools in Tasmania, because I believe in a needs based funding model. I believe in it. I believed in it to the degree that I implemented it when I was minister in Tasmania. I still believe today that what Australia should have is what David Gonski recommended: a genuine needs based funding model. That is not what we have in this country at this time. It is just not.

Another principle that the Australian Greens have is that when decisions are made by government in the context of our education system and our school system, those decisions should be arrived at as a result of input from teachers and their representatives, from academics and experts in education, from unions representing teachers and academics, and ultimately, most importantly, through consultation with parents of children in Australia's education system, and, in fact, those students themselves.

We want to see—and this is the way we are approaching this issue—a public school system that is recognised as amongst the best in the world. There is no reason why this country cannot have a public system that is the envy of the rest of the world, but we are a long way from that. If you look at the way we have journeyed through the PISA rankings in recent times, we are heading in the wrong direction.

No-one who knows their way around education would suggest that simply by throwing funding at the school system we can achieve the outcomes that we want. The challenges are more complex than that, and there are a range of public policy measures that need to be put in place in order for us to deliver what the Greens want to see, which is a public education system in Australia that is recognised as amongst the best in the world. However—and this is important—extra funding certainly helps. It certainly helps.

One of the reasons we were not prepared to back the government's legislation in the House of Representatives, and why I am very comfortable rising here today in the Senate and saying the Greens do not support this legislation in its current form, is that the funding that was concurrent with this legislation simply was not enough. It is no secret that funding increases are one of the things that are front and centre in our minds as we work through this issue. As I said, we want to see schools' funding provided on the basis of equity and need, and we also want to see funding levels based on a transparent standard that recognises the real costs of educating students to a high level. We acknowledge and we want to see public schools being fully funded at a high level, including the full cost of addressing disadvantage. The mechanism to deliver that, of course, is the mechanism recommended by David Gonski, which recommended loadings based on specific areas of disadvantage, whether that be a location or whether that be, for example, a student with disabilities.

Our principles on this issue are abundantly clear. They are the principles that will guide us as we work through this issue in whatever time remains available to us, but Australian people can rest assured. The evidence is there from question times this week that the Australian Greens, front and centre, are the party, when you compare it with Labor, that has public education at the front of its mind. When you look at question times, as I said, the evidence of where Labor are coming from on this issue is abundantly clear. They are asking question after question about the Catholic sector in this country. The party that always champions itself as the party of public education, I am sorry to say, is morphing before our eyes. I am at a loss to understand why question after question from Labor was about the Catholic system in this country. (Time expired)

10:10 am

Photo of David FawcettDavid Fawcett (SA, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I rise to make a brief contribution to this debate on the Australian Education Amendment Bill 2017. We have been hearing a lot about education funding and the need to reform, for the simple reason that children around Australia, for some years now, have been funded differently, with some 27 different agreements that have been struck by the previous Gillard government with states and territories. The community has been calling for some time for a fair and transparent system that will provide an equitable funding base for students. Speaking from a South Australian perspective, the agreement that was reached in South Australia—and I have spoken to a range of school sectors there—has seen many sectors with a very flat trajectory and increases only in the very latter part of what the agreement with the Gillard government had promised. They have maintained for a number of years that South Australian schools have not been treated well, for the simple reason that the level of funding has not been on par with interstate colleagues. What this agreement looks to do is to find and define a new baseline and bring all students from all states to a common point. Over a number of years, you will get that transition of increasing funding for students.

It is important to realise that, whilst there is the independent sector, the Catholic sector and the state sector, it is not only the federal government that provides funds to these schools. There are two particular concerns that I would like to briefly address as we look at this funding. First off, for state schools, it is state and territory governments that actually provide the majority of funding to those schools. So, when people see figures that highlight what the federal government provides to the different sectors and many people ask me why it is that the state schools seem to receive so little, it is because the primary responsibility for those state schools rests with the state governments. So if you look in net terms at what the taxpayer pays, whether that is through GST given to the states who then pass it on to the schools or whether that is funding given directly from the federal government to state schools, the state system is completely, or almost completely, funded by the taxpayer, whereas private schools do not receive the same extent of funding from states, and the majority of taxpayer subsidy for them comes through federal funding, with parents—often not high-income parents—working hard to make sure that they raise the additional funding to give children the schooling of the parents' choice. For many parents, it may come down to academic issues. For some, it may come down to issues of a faith-based education. But what we see is that all parents who are taxpayers pay money through their taxes, and the state and federal governments each make a contribution. But those who choose to pay extra not only take stress off the state system but pay for the quality and type of education that their children want.

The second point I would make, particularly around this current debate, is on the funding for Catholic schools. I have received a number of emails from people in the last few days talking about the funding for Catholic education. I just remind people who are listening to this debate that it was actually the Liberal Party and the coalition government who originally championed and pushed for the ability of parents to make that choice, and we have been a consistent supporter of funding schools of various kinds so that parents can make the choice as to where their children go. Those who wish for them to go to an independent or Catholic school top that up with fees.

The Catholic school system also makes its choices about where it allocates that taxpayer funding. So, part of the confusion in this debate is twofold. One aspect is that when people see some of the computer models that forecast the amount of funding that will be provided to a school they are seeing the SES based funding, such that the demographic of that school leads to the level of funding that will be attracted. That does not necessarily equate to the funding the school receives under the Catholic system. Under the Catholic system they receive a bulk payment, if you wat to simplify the term, from the federal government, and they can then distribute that funding as they see fit within their school system. Some of the people who have contacted me have looked at what their school has been receiving through the Catholic system and then compared it with what is on the website for an estimator and saying, 'We appear to be receiving less funding.' But the way the Catholic system has always worked is that they have taken a bulk payment from the federal government and then distributed it across the schools in their diocese or in their network according to how they have calculated the need of the school. So you cannot necessarily say that there will be less funding, because it depends very much on what the Catholic system wants to distribute.

The fact of the matter is that the Catholic system as an aggregated whole is receiving more funding year on year from the federal government under these arrangements, which is why you cannot say that schools are going to have to increase their fees as a result of federal government decisions, because the federal government is actually giving the Catholic system more money. If the Catholic system chooses to distribute that differently, that is up to them, but they have more money from the federal government to distribute to their school, so there is no school in any system—and certainly I can say this for South Australia—that will receive less money as a result of these changes. Every school in South Australia receives more money as a result of the changes this government is making.

The last area that is important to highlight is around what people have been saying in the media and in some of the letters I have received, particularly responding to comments from members opposite—that there have been cuts. Well, the reality is that the forward estimates—the four-year period—has in Australia's history always been the period when governments lock in and commit to spending, because the amount we have to spend should surely be based on what we can reasonably expect to have coming into the government, through individual corporate tax and through a range of revenue-raising measures. How far out can you predict that? If we said, 'Look, we think that in 100 years this will be happening,' people would laugh. In 50 years? People still would be pretty uncertain, or if we said in 20 years. You can bring it back four years. That, for many decades, has been the period for which governments can reasonably predict what our income will be and therefore what expenditure will be.

Prior to the 2013 election the Gillard government made promises going well into the future about very large amounts of money that they had not actually budgeted for. They could not explain where it might come from and could not give any guarantees. But that is the benchmark they are now claiming in saying that the record funding this government is giving to education is somehow a cut. So, people in the public are often—rightly—confused, because they hear one side of politics talking about cuts and the other side saying, 'Well, no, we're actually increasing funding.' I think it is really important for people who are listening to this debate to understand this. And I think Senator Xenophon made the comment that this is comparing apples with mythical pears. That funding in 2013 was a mythical pear that was held out as a promise but it was completely unfunded and there was no justifiable basis for how the Labor Party could ever deliver it. Yet, that is what people are now trying to say is the basis upon which the coalition government—they are saying—is cutting funding. That is just not correct.

We are delivering record amounts of funding this year to education. Every sector is receiving more funding. In South Australia's case, every single school is receiving more funding, which is why we have seen organisations such as the South Australian Primary Principals Association come out and say that this is a good deal for South Australian children. We have seen Catholic colleges, like Nazareth Catholic College, come out and say that this is a fair deal and a good deal, and we have seen independent schools and Christian schools come out and say that this funding model is good for South Australia. Because it is good for South Australian children and restores equity and transparency around the nation, I support this bill.

10:21 am

Photo of Cory BernardiCory Bernardi (SA, Australian Conservatives) Share this | | Hansard source

The Australian Conservatives believe in evidence based spending of government funding and resources. We are rightly concerned about the evidence that has been put forward by the minister with respect to this funding. We are rightly concerned about the principles applied by the minister in determining this policy position. And, as a former longstanding member of the Liberal Party, I am deeply concerned about the complete abandonment of Liberal values and principles by the government.

This bill, this policy mix, is yet another example of how the Liberal Party has completely lost the plot and jumped into bed with the big spending, big taxing ideas from the other side of the chamber. Their selling point to me to convince me to vote for this bill is: 'It would be worse under Labor. We are slightly less bad than the Labor Party. If we can't do a deal with you, Senator Bernardi, we will do one with the Greens and it will be worse.' All of those things may be true. But it does not negate the fact that that is not how we should be deciding public policy in this place. We should be looking at outcomes and this is an expenditure which violates, I think, the most basic principles of governance.

They have dressed it up in the guise that it is going to lock in security for the next 10 years for schools funding. That is absolutely nonsense, because whatever they decide they want to lock in can be changed by subsequent governments. They have adopted exactly the same process, which is a smoke-and-mirrors load of baloney that the other side put up under Gonski 1.0. They are saying: 'We're going to lock this money in. It won't be changed.' Then, when the opposition become the government, they seek to change it. Of course they can. It is unfunded beyond the forward estimates. We are fooling ourselves if we think a government can bind future governments on a recurrent expenditure process like this. It is a con. It is a 'conski'. It was 'conski 1.0'; it was rightly criticised by the Liberal Party and the coalition. Now they have 'conski 2.0', which is exactly the same thing but 'slightly less bad'. That does not cut the mustard.

They are saying they are 'slightly less bad' and they are going to do a better job. But they neglect to reflect on what I would call the key performance indicators: literacy and numeracy. Their policy is, 'We're going to throw money at this and hopefully it will turn out better for students'. There is zero accountability built into this program. 'Let's get the money, throw it in, and then we will decide how it's going to impact our students and our children later on'.

Much has been said in this place in recent years about record funding for education, yet the statistics are quite damning. We are ranked 25th in maths, according to the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development's Program for International Student Assessment, which ranks 15-year-olds. That is barely above the OECD average and trails Vietnam and Russia. We are ranked 16th in reading, behind Poland and Slovenia. We are 14th in science. If you look at the trends of the international rankings in maths and science, we trail many countries, including Russia and Kazakhstan. In fact, we are ranked 28th for nine- and 10-year-olds. That is a fall of 10 places from the same survey five years earlier. We are ranked 18th for 13- and 14-year-olds in mathematics, 26th for nine- and 10-year-olds and 17th for 13- and 14-year-olds in science. In almost every ranking we trail New Zealand.

So, more money is not the answer—yet both sides of this chamber boast about record spending on education. The big problem we have in education is that they are not teaching our children how to read and write. Children are not learning the literacy and numeracy that they need. That traditional teaching ethos has been abandoned in favour of things like Safe Schools, which I note the education minister defended from pillar to post, notwithstanding the evidence that was presented to him. He had a mock review of it, which was a dud, and he still went into bat for it. It is not about the outcomes; there is an agenda here, an ideology, that is underpinning this, and it is a fraud. It is a fraud because it is failing our students and it is conning the Australian people, suggesting that anyone who is opposed to this funding is apparently somehow for poorer outcomes for students. That is absolutely wrong—but Australian taxpayers do deserve value for money.

I also reject the notion that some students are more deserving than others. If we want our children to achieve the best possible education outcomes then each child should be equal. Each child should be funded equally. I note that the education minister, in his first speech—of course, you are full of bravado in your first speech; you can say what you think—said, 'Why don't we trial education vouchers?' The problem is he has abandoned that. He is now in a position to do something about it and he has abandoned that value, he has abandoned that principle, just like the Liberal Party have abandoned their criticism of 'conski' 1.0. What a metamorphosis we have seen. It was a con, and then at an election you had then education minister Christopher Pyne, the mentor for Senator Birmingham, promising that Gonski 1.0 would be funded and that they were absolutely committed to it. Now here they are trying to pull their own 'conski' on the Australian people. This is a complete abandonment of principle.

I suspect that there are some hardheads in the coalition who recognise they are staring down the barrel of electoral defeat because of the decisions that they have made in recent years, and they have decided that if you can't beat them, you might as well join them. I am not joining them in their socialist nirvana. They can have that to themselves. The Australian Conservatives will stand alone as principled conservatives that are determined to get good taxpayer value for money and good outcomes. We are determined to have key performance indicators to measure the success of programs rather than throw money at them and hope the problems all go away into the politically too-hard basket—and that is precisely what has happened here. Two wrongs do not make a right, and for the coalition government to be aping the Labor Party and the Greens party and chasing this unfunded 'Starship Conski', as I would call it, is absolutely wrong.

We, the Australian Conservatives, will be seeking to improve very bad legislation by saying that the funding for this program should exist only as far as the government has budgeted for it. That means over the forward estimates. It is nonsensical to promise a 10-year program. What is next—a 20-year program to education? We could play at one-upmanship the whole time. We could operate a 50-year program of $500 billion going into education. We will not spend any of it, or very little of it, now; but I promise you that in years 45, 46 and 47 we will put $100 billion into education in those years. It is nonsensical. No-one would believe it. Why would we believe this now? It is a con. Shame on those who are perpetrating this on the Australian people. On the one hand they say the Catholic sector will not be disadvantaged, and yet the evidence in the modelling suggests that $4 billion is going to be taken out of the Catholic sector and put into the public sector. Even though the minister denies that again and again, he will not release the modelling. I have had a senior minister come to me and say that the Labor Party's $40 billion Gonski 1.0 is legislated and there is nothing they can do about it; so unless I support this bill the Australian taxpayers will be $20 billion worse off. But when I raised that with the education minister, he said, 'No, that is not entirely true.' So in the same cabinet room they do not even know what they are trying to convince us of.

I know the minister is making the point that he has the crossbench all locked away. The threat is, 'We'll do a deal with the Greens and it will be much worse.' What sort of policy program is this? It is blackmailing over a system that is going to impact every child in this country. There are no key performance indicators in it. There is not one basis that says that if the school does not achieve a higher literacy or numeracy rate, the funding will diminish. There are no performance indicators. You might as well just throw it into a big black hole and say, 'Let's hope it comes out the other end.'

I am not buying that. I think it is absolutely wrong that governments think they can borrow money from future generations and scatter it wildly and hope that some of the seeds take root. It is a flawed thing. It was flawed when the Labor Party did that. I remember, when the coalition government had some principles left, they identified it as a con. It was underfunded; it was undemocratic; it was absolutely false. And now they are doing exactly the same thing. This has become a witch's brew of leftist policies in this place, and everybody is having their sip of it—eye of newt and tongue of ox, or whatever they want to put in there.

But in this little wedge—and it is a tiny wedge; there is only me right now, but I welcome anyone else—we are rejecting the witch's brew. We are going to continue to put forward ideas that are responsible, that are funded, that will get meaningful outcomes, that will ensure that parents have choice, that will ensure that education standards rise and that our children are not being done a long-term disservice because we feel that by simply throwing money at a problem it will go away. If money were the answer to success, then Collingwood would probably win a grand final every second year, because they spend more than anyone else. But it does not work like that. It does not work in education and it does not work in government.

I feel that I cannot trust anything that is being put to me in respect to this funding by members of the government. That is a very hard thing to say, but I do not believe what they are telling me. Their own people do not believe what they are being told. They tell me that they have been told one thing and then one of their colleagues is told something different. I reckon it is a massive con job. It is designed to fix a political problem rather than solve an education issue.

And it is an issue, because I think the education system is failing our kids. Yes, they might learn about gender theory or this or that, but it is not much good if they cannot write a sentence coherently. It is not much good if they cannot be literate and numerate and they cannot calculate the change from $5 when they are buying a cup of coffee or tea, which is the lived experience. When I was running a business, I employed a year 12 graduate who could not mentally calculate the change from $5 for a cup of coffee. You just ask yourself: how did we get to that circumstance? And they graduated year 12 with good marks, and they got entry to university! But no matter what it qualifies you to do in academia, if you do not have those practical skills, it is a dud. And we are getting worse. This is the great problem. We are getting worse by any standard, as we saw when I went through the trends in international maths and science.

So I am deeply concerned about this. I will try and improve it by limiting the indexation, which is an amendment that I think Senator Leyonhjelm is going to produce. I will support the funding model if it is limited to the forward estimates, where the government is accountable and has to budget for it. But I will not support some random figure that is unfunded and unaccountable and has no measurable statistics. I encourage those on the crossbench, those who are serious about getting positive outcomes, to get the government to rethink this policy—not to do a deal with the Greens or with Labor but to rethink this policy so that it actually has some bite; so that it places some responsibility on the school system to do better by our students; so that it is responsible with taxpayers' money; so that it does not lock in a three per cent funding rise if inflation is only one per cent; so that it does not lock in guaranteed ongoing funding for particular schools if they are failing our students just because parents do not have a choice about where they can send them; and so that it does not provide funding if schools are not delivering absolutely positive results for our kids. These are the problems that we face. This is a very expensive fix for a political problem that the government has. It does not want to fight a campaign against the AEC or the Labor Party about being different on education. It is preparing for its next election and it is doing taxpayers a massive disservice in the meantime.

I cannot foresee a way, based on what I know, where I can support this bill. It is because I do not trust the government, who have abandoned their principles; I do not trust the information I have been given; and I do not respect a policy that is going to promise to spend borrowed or taxpayers' money with no meaningful outcomes.

10:37 am

Photo of Pauline HansonPauline Hanson (Queensland, Pauline Hanson's One Nation Party) Share this | | Hansard source

We are talking about the educational program, which is very important to all Australians. I can understand what Senator Bernardi is saying about the funding. One Nation has been having extensive talks not only with the government but with interested groups like Catholic schools, education, parents and Labor. We have sat down to try and find some common sense in where we are headed with this. We will be supporting the government's Australian Education Amendment Bill 2017, but I do have a few things to say about it.

The Labor Party have been talking about there being a cut under this bill of $22 billion. My understanding is that it is a lie. There is no cut of $22 billion. It is like Labor have gone out there and promised: 'We were going to be putting an extra $30 billion into the educational funding. Now the government is bringing it back to $18.6 billion, so therefore Australians have lost $22 billion.' No, you can have your wish list; you can go out there and say, 'We're going to give you this money,' but unless it is actually there on paper, in black and white—I can go out and say, 'I'm going to give you $1,000,' when I only have $500 to give. Unless you produce it, don't go out there telling lies to the public. That is exactly what they are doing now.

They are out there making these robocalls around Queensland saying, to all the workers at the coalmines there: 'This is the CFMEU and we're ringing you to tell you that Pauline Hanson's One Nation is supporting the Liberal Party and they're going to cut $22 billion out of government funding. This is a real cut to you. She's destroying educational funding.' This is another lie. This is basically like Labor's 'Mediscare'. You lie to people, you are not up-front with people, you are hypocrites. I would suggest, if you have to pull these dirty tactics and stunts on people to get back the votes in Queensland, that if you were honest with people, if you were up-front with people, you might do a better job than you are doing now. But the people are waking up to you.

My concern about this is: why do we need another $18.2 billion thrown at this when the federal funding for education now is just under $88 billion? On top of that there is state funding as well as parents who pay fees to send their kids to schools. When I went to school we did not have all this money thrown at us. Our education levels are dropping. Australia used to be very high on the list of educational standards, but we are dropping. People say it is because of lack of money—'Let's throw more money at it.' Throwing money at it is not always the answer, and I do not believe it is the answer now. We have lost control over our classrooms. But I think the main issue here is that we have lost the quality of teachers, because over the years these do-gooders who want everyone to feel good about themselves have come into the education system saying to kids: 'You're all right; you don't have to compete in the classroom, you don't have to have grades, you don't have to perform to be top of the class, so we're going to take grading away. We're not going to tell your parents whether you got 40 per cent or 85 per cent, because we want you to feel good about yourselves.' They are not competing.

I am telling you, that is what the real shock in our society is, because the kids are not competing in the classrooms and they are not competing when they get out of the classrooms either. When they get out into the real world and into the workforce, there is no competition, and life is about competition; it is about striving to do the best you can. Unless you know what standard you are at, how do you know how much further you have to strive? I have spoken to the education minister about this—that things need to change. It is not about throwing more money at it; it is about how we can improve our educational standards.

It is absolutely pathetic, seeing the way children write—or that they cannot write. We used to have a decent standard of handwriting called 'running writing'. Now kids are flat out even learning how to write, let alone do maths. And maths is not a prerequisite in every classroom. They cut out maths. In some schools you do not necessarily have to learn maths, science or even English. They are the basics that we need as part of our education for the rest of our life. And as Senator Bernardi said, kids cannot add up. How right that is. In my shop, we had the till there, and the till would tell you what change to give, but when we had blackouts the young staff did not even know how to count money out. Unless the till tells them how to do it, they cannot calculate—they cannot work out anything in life—because they are not taught the maths. We are relying for everything on computers, on calculators, and in real life that is not always at your fingertips to use.

We need to go back to the basics. In the classroom there is a lack of discipline. The teachers are told that they cannot discipline the kids. And our educational system is now teaching the kids their rights. They say, 'Your parents can't tell you what to do, because you have your rights.' Then when the kids go home their parents tell them something and the kids say, 'You can't tell me that; I know my rights.' Parents have that right. This is what the problem is in our education system. Kids need to know that if they do the wrong thing they will be disciplined, and teachers should have control over their classrooms. A lot of teachers want that.

Regarding the push for Safe Schools, most parents I talk to don't want that. They think it is a load of rubbish and they do not want their kids to be confronted with this. Yes, it has been forced onto the kids in some schools.

I hope this whole package works for our kids and for our education system. It will be brought before the board and I will continue to talk to the education minister with regard to bringing in maths and science and on the issue of the quality of our teachers, and stopping pushing them through the education system. What we especially need to stop is this attitude that everyone must go on to university. No, they do not. If you have kids who are not academically minded it would be better to get them on the tools or in the trade. Why don't we push that? Why don't we give them a better understanding so that businesses can go to classrooms and tell them what it is like to be a plumber, an electrician or an IT professional, or something else, rather than peer pressure saying to them that they must go on to university.

At the end of the day the is no real qualifying level you need to get into university. We have peer pressure making everyone feel they have to go to university. It will be a cost to the taxpayer and the student will never pass. It is like, 'I've been to university. Which one did you go to?' without there being a standard for education. Let's give kids the opportunity to choose other professions. Let them leave at year 10, if they are not academically minded, instead of keeping them in the education system just to bolster the figures so that they are not on Newstart or youth allowance and are not in the unemployment queues. Give them opportunity to go on to other trades.

That leads to TAFE colleges. TAFEs are being shut down. They are not getting the funding that is so important to a lot of young people who do not want to go on to further education in our universities. It needs to be funded and looked after. I will be supporting that for the TAFE colleges, and the government will look at it. I know the TAFEs have been under a lot of pressure.

The Catholic schooling systems have been concerned about this issue. They take up a lot of the slack—not only the Catholic schools but a lot of other non-government education centres. They are trying to do their best to educate a lot of people across the country. There has been talk about who is getting money and who is losing money and where the funding is coming from. The government is going to give non-government schools 80 per cent of this funding—they do not get state funding—and the state schools will be getting 20 per cent of the funding. On average, for each child at primary school there will be just over $10,000 and for each child at high school there will be approximately $13,000 funding. This package will give around 3.7 per cent in extra funding per child.

I thank Senator Back for the issues he has raised and which he spoke to us about. The government needs to look at whether this funding is going to have an impact on some schools, especially those in the lower socioeconomic areas, and whether will they close. That concerns me greatly. I am pleased to hear that they are actually going to put in place a requirement that that be reviewed in a year's time. I think that is very important as it will give it time to settle in and see that it is working. Senator Bernardi said that he does not want to take it over the 10 years. My concern is that schools and everyone else needs to know what is happening in the future. They plan further ahead than that.

If you only do it at four years, my concern is that, if Labor gets in at the next election, it will blow completely out of proportion. They will make all these wishes and throw billions more dollars at it without dealing with the real problem. There will be money spent that we will not have. I hate to think what Labor would throw at funding for the schools, because we cannot afford it. Like I said, it has been a real issue for One Nation to come to a decision on whether to support this at an extra $18.6 billion to the Australian taxpayers. But I hope that this will improve our educational standards if it is addressed in the classroom. I think that is what is very important about it.

There is another thing that we need to address, and I will go back to the classrooms again. I hear so many times from parents and teachers whose time is taken up with children—whether they have a disability or whether they are autistic—who are taking up the teacher's time in the classroom. These kids have a right to an education, by all means, but, if there are a number of them, these children should go into a special classroom and be looked after and given that special attention. Because most of the time the teacher spends so much time on them they forget about the child who is straining at the bit and wants to go ahead in leaps and bounds in their education. That child is held back by those others, because the teachers spend time with them. I am not denying them. If it were one of my children I would love all the time given to them to give them those opportunities. But it is about the loss for our other kids. I think that we have more autistic children, yet we are not providing the special classrooms or the schools for these autistic children. When they are available, they are at a huge expense to parents. I think we need to take that into consideration. We need to look at this. It is no good saying that we have to allow these kids to feel good about themselves and that we do not want to upset them and make them feel hurt. I understand that, but we have to be realistic at times and consider the impact this is having on other children in the classroom.

We cannot afford to hold our kids back. We have the rest of the world and other kids in other countries who are going leaps and bounds ahead of us. Unless we keep up a decent educational standard in this country we will keep going further backwards and backwards, and our kids will not be the ones who are getting the good jobs in this country. They will be bringing in people from overseas and filling positions in this country that belong to our children. Our education is very important, and I feel that it needs to be handled correctly and we need to get rid of these people who want everyone to feel good about themselves. Let us get some common sense back into our classrooms and into what we do. Like I said, One Nation has spoken to many areas. Have we got it right? I hope we have got it right, because it is very important.

I see so much in this place. It is the blame game, and Labor opposes so much all the time just because they are in opposition. It is a pity that parliamentarians in this place do not sit down and really have clear discussions with each other and find what is best for the people, because they are sick and tired of this. Labor, you said that you wanted to throw money at this. I think the $18.6 billion is a good start. It is a start. Why can't you work with the government on this, and then build on that? If this money is not going to the place where it is supposed to, and if it does need more funding, then work together to increase the funding. Stop opposing things just because of the fact that you are in opposition. It is about working together for the future of this nation. I just get so frustrated with the whole lot here, because I know people want the right answers. Not everyone—and I have heard it from those who are Liberal voters—is entirely happy with this package, whether they are hearing the right message not. 'What is right?' is a tough decision to make, but at least this is a step in the right direction, and that is what we are trying to do. One Nation is trying to handle this in a way that gives assistance to all those parents and schools, and extra funding for educational policy. That is One Nation's stance on it. We will be supporting the government on this bill.

10:54 am

Photo of Bridget McKenzieBridget McKenzie (Victoria, National Party) Share this | | Hansard source

It gives me great pleasure to stand in this chamber this morning and speak to the government's Australian Education Amendment Bill 2017. I chaired the Senate committee that was tasked to perform an inquiry into this bill, just as I sat on the Senate committee that was tasked to inquire into the original Australian Education Bill, where unfortunately we saw the implementation of David Gonski's panel's recommendations corrupted, in the name of panel members, corrupted by a Gillard government desperate to maintain power and desperate to get a deal done with the states and different systems. Now, a few years down the track, that sees Australian students treated very differently depending on where they live.

As somebody who has come from the education sector—I was a secondary teacher and a lecturer in the Bachelor of Education at an institution in my home state of Victoria—I have a deep and abiding interest in ensuring that every single Australian student, no matter where they go to school, receives an excellent education. The people that I represent, the constituency at the very heart of the National Party's ethos, is rural and regional Australia. Of the nearly one million country kids attending school outside capital cities, the vast majority are attending state schools at the primary and secondary level. What we see right now, under the existing act and its provisions, is that state school students in one state, for instance Western Australia, are being treated very differently by the Commonwealth government than students with the same level of need by the New South Wales government.

For us here in the Commonwealth parliament, in the Senate chamber, that brings all states together, that is just is not fair. Let the states argue their specific vested interests in their space and for their specific education budgets; but here in this place we need to take a national review. We need to ensure that every Australian child is treated the same by this place. What we have been able to achieve in the provisions of this bill is to ensure that if you attend your local Catholic primary school, your small independent Christian school, your local Jewish school or your local state primary school, you will be treated the same by the Commonwealth government according to your needs. That is only fair and just, and that is how we should be approaching education policy in this country.

We know that we have been spending record amounts of funding over time. In the report released by the OECD even as late as last week we are not doing well when it comes to quality education and student outcomes. At the end of the day, this is not about staff student ratios; it is not about how long school goes for how shiny your building is or who has the equestrian centre and who has not. This is about the outcomes for Australian students. We need to ensure that they have a high-quality education equipping them for the jobs of the 21st century. It should not matter which school they go to in determining that.

What we do know and what research tells us is that students come into classrooms with a different set of needs. These needs affect their capacity and ability to engage in the schooling system. So Gonski and the former Labor government identified, and indeed it is reiterated in our own bill here today, that there are a series of loadings that ensure that those levels of need are actually funded, so that those students who are of Indigenous descent, who attend rural and regional schools, or who have to attend school with a disability—all of those factors are taken into account in the needs based funding model. The only people complaining about this bill and the enactment of a needs-based, sector-blind funding model of those people who have had sweetheart deals for way too long. Like we stand up and critique vested interests in the business sector and in the union sector, so too we call out vested interests in this area which are actually undermining the delivery of a high-quality, needs-based, sector-blind funding model to every Australian student.

These changes get rid of the opaque and unfair system entrenched by the previous government. I note Dr Ken Boston, a panellist for the original Gonski review in 2011, has described what occurred under the previous, Labor government as a 'corruption of the Gonski report'. You would think the Labor Party would be getting on board the rectification of that corruption right here, right now, today. However, they continue to do what they always do and play cheap political games with the lives of Australian students, and it is simply not on. I commend every senator in this place who is seriously considering why this Commonwealth parliament should not treat every Australian student the same.

To illustrate the consequences of this regime, I turn to a small country primary school in Victoria, 40 kilometres north of my electorate office, with 41 students. It currently attracts Commonwealth funding of $26,731 per student per annum. A comparable school in New South Wales, with 42 enrolments, attracts $11,039 per student per year. That is a massive differential between small primary schools in country New South Wales and those in country Victoria that just should not be occurring but has been able to under the Labor Party's iteration of the Gonski deals. They have similar needs, yet there is a gulf in funding between them. That shows everything that is wrong with the act as it stands and why it needs amendment right now.

Another example is that 530 of the schools with the highest proportion of Indigenous students are in remote or very remote areas. These changes will ensure their particular needs are met.

We need to have a more granular approach to students with a disability to ensure that a teacher in the classroom is able to assess a student's need and the amount of resources required to address that student's learning outcomes, because that is what we are talking about—learning outcomes, not just money from money's sake but how we are going to help those individual students reach their potential and learn to the best of their capacity. And that is by having a much more granular approach to how we deal with students with a disability loading, and that is something we are absolutely committed to.

I also want to go to the Senate Education and Employment Legislation Committee inquiry on the bill. We received overwhelming evidence about the need to 'end the funding wars' when it came to education funding in this country, including from the Grattan Institute, who, typically, does not side with our side of politics, but wanted those issues put to bed. I think the most telling evidence was from ACSSO, which represents the parents of the over two-thirds of Australian students that attend state schools in this country. The ACSSO president, Mr Spratt, came to our hearings. Whilst it was great to hear from the smaller sectors and the different systems, it was great to hear from somebody that represented two-thirds of our nation's students' parents. As the chair said:

You have been very clear in your desire to end the funding wars—to get it sorted—

to support this bill.

We have to take on board and ensure that the Commonwealth government treats every single Australian student fairly and justly.

Another issue that we are addressing is the need for states to maintain their contribution levels. Over recent years, while the Commonwealth government has been chipping in more money, we have seen states decreasing their rate of investment in their constitutional responsibility to educate the students within their state boundaries. That is simply not acceptable. If the Commonwealth government is going to invest record funding—I know others in this place have gone into the actual level of funding that will be distributed under these initiatives—then it is imperative that state governments stop playing politics with those students who are attending non-government schools within their boundaries and treat every student the same within their own boundaries. I hope this legislation will put their feet to the fire and help them get on board with focusing on how they can treat all students and maintain parental choice, which is a core fundamental aspect of our education system here in this country.

Again, I could go into the different deals and how they impact time and again on how different students are treated differently. One of the things that struck me about the Senate inquiry we conducted was that there were no questions from the Labor Party senators about public school funding. Every single question from the Labor Party senators was about how the private schools, the non-government sector, were going to fare under the changes being suggested. That beggars belief. I am a public school teacher and a lot of my kids went to public schools and the children of my constituents, en masse, attend state schools, so I want to see a very strong state school system—and this bill does what Labor's bill could never do. They are too busy playing footsies with premiers leading up to an election rather than considering outcomes for Australian students.

I want to put on the record some critiques that have been made in recent days on the guarantee, particularly for those private schools that operate as systems, that private schools will be getting an increased level of investment. We are the side of government that does support parental choice, but we also recognise that that should not come at a cost to investing in all students' education. I specifically go to the Catholic education sector. Between 2018 and 2021 the average annual per student funding to the Catholic sector will increase by 3.7 per cent and by a total of $2.8 billion between 2018 and 2027. That is a phenomenal amount of increased funding, and I am confident, as I travel around regional Victoria and I talk to Catholic principals, I talk to state school principals and I talk to independent school principals, that they are desperate for this money to enter their schools so they can provide the resources that their students need. It is absolute hypocrisy for people to stand up here today and talk about cuts in funding when, in a needs based system, if you have a need it will be funded. That is how it works. If you do not have a need, you are going to miss out. I have no objection whatsoever to ensuring that incredibly overfunded schools under the current system get a cutback. I would much rather see increased investment in rural and regional state schools across this country than see North Shore Sydney privates continue to get the level of funding that they are getting under the Labor Party's agreements right now. That is the level of unfairness that this bill seeks to undo, and I encourage all senators who care about equity and fairness to support it.

People often mention the Finnish system—why aren't we more like Finland? Do you know what makes the Finnish system so great? It is not about the buckets of money; it is about a bipartisan approach to education over two decades rather than this argy-bargy 'he said, she said, we do it better, no you don't' argument. Our future is dependent on the educational outcomes of every Australian student right now. We know we are not achieving in international—

Photo of John WilliamsJohn Williams (NSW, National Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Mr Acting Deputy President, I am very interested in listening to Senator McKenzie's presentation. Senator Marshall, who is a very good Deputy President of this chamber—

Photo of Barry O'SullivanBarry O'Sullivan (Queensland, National Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Do you have a point of order?

Photo of John WilliamsJohn Williams (NSW, National Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I don't know why they dumped him on that side—would keep order in this place, but he is being very disorderly, and I ask you to bring it to his attention or instigate standing order 203.

Photo of Barry O'SullivanBarry O'Sullivan (Queensland, National Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Senator Marshall, on the point of order—and let's make it relevant, if possible.

Photo of Gavin MarshallGavin Marshall (Victoria, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Of course. Senator McKenzie is suggesting that there is hypocrisy and there are double standards.

Photo of Barry O'SullivanBarry O'Sullivan (Queensland, National Party) Share this | | Hansard source

That is not relevant to the point of order.

Photo of Gavin MarshallGavin Marshall (Victoria, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

It goes exactly to the point. If Senator McKenzie is going to be so provocative, she expects—

Senator McKenzie interjecting

Photo of Barry O'SullivanBarry O'Sullivan (Queensland, National Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Senator Marshall, please resume your seat. Senator McKenzie, I do not need any assistance. You do not have the call yet. Senators are entitled to be heard in silence in this place, and it becomes particularly difficult when we have a small chamber with only a limited number of people. I would ask that that covenant be respected. Senator McKenzie, you have the call.

Photo of Bridget McKenzieBridget McKenzie (Victoria, National Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Thank you very much. No, you do not need any help from me in chairing or anything else.

It was the majority view of the committee examining all of the evidence before it to support this bill notwithstanding there were issues raised. I think the minister in his public commentary and other senators have dealt fairly and squarely with those concerns. It is our view that, if fully enacted as presented here today, this bill will create a system for public funding of schools that is fair and transparent. That has been one of the great critiques. The Commonwealth tips a lot of money—a record bucket of money—into certain systems, whether they be state systems, whether they be private school systems such as the Catholic education system, and has no real understanding or visual oversight of where that is going. To have a transparent system where parents and taxpayers can actually hold state governments and education systems more generally accountable for where they spend their money and who is getting that share of the funding is appropriate. It is absolutely the right policy position to take.

The bill will also ensure the highest levels of funding growth will occur where the need is greatest. Isn't that fantastic? Where you have some out-of-school needs which are actually going to impact how you engage with the education sector, the Commonwealth is prepared to back that and to ensure that the school has a level of funding to assist with overcoming those barriers. What I know about representing rural and regional Australians is the level of educational disadvantage is incredible. On any measure—NAPLAN results, PISA results, participation in higher education, you name it—rural and regionality is an issue with educational engagement. That must change. It is why our government has initiated an in independent review into rural and regional education and it is why one of the loadings is about the location and size of a school.

Similarly, so is SES. We know that the 10 electorates in this country with the lowest median income levels are in rural and regional Australia. This not only deals with inequity right now and over the coming 10 years but backs in the investment we need in my communities to ensure we have the skilled, engaged, educated young people and ongoing workforce that we need to fully participate in all the opportunities that the 21st century brings for us in agriculture and across the board.

It also puts an end to students with the same needs being treated differently depending on where they live. Anyone that is interested in fairness, do not listen to the opposition. If they are talking about fairness on one side and Gonski on the other, full stop turn it off. You are not hearing the truth. I sat and had a bit of a listen to the opening couple of lines of the shadow minister for education in her speech on this bill's second reading, and it was absolutely unbelievable. The level of falseness that she pursued through that speech was very concerning. The ABC Fact Check is not always great for my side of politics, but I tell you: they got it right on the Labor Party's claims about the Gonski funding—that the Labor Party was misleading not just the parliament but the entire nation around any talk of the $22 billion cuts—and yet we allow that conversation to go on. I see you nodding, Senator Marshall—

Photo of Gavin MarshallGavin Marshall (Victoria, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I'm laughing.

Photo of Bridget McKenzieBridget McKenzie (Victoria, National Party) Share this | | Hansard source

But we continue to let it go on. The AEU, which has spent $20 million on a Gonski campaign, when presented with a model that is going to end the inequity, cannot come to the party. During the Senate inquiry, when asked, 'Are you happy for students in WA state schools to continue to receive different levels of funding to students with the same need in my home state of Victoria?' the AEU refused to answer, but it made it very clear that it wanted to keep the entrenched disadvantage inherent in the 27 different deals as part of the policy of the Commonwealth government. It is absolutely an abomination. I commend this bill to the Senate. I thank the crossbenchers who are actually putting Australian students first in their consideration. (Time expired)

11:15 am

Photo of Janet RiceJanet Rice (Victoria, Australian Greens) Share this | | Hansard source

It is with quite a deal of interest—interest and curiosity—that I am rising to speak to the Australian Education Amendment Bill 2017 today, because I think we still do not yet quite know where this bill is going to land. It is of concern that the government has brought on this bill for debate today while negotiations are still ongoing, for this is a critical issue for the future of Australia and our education systems. Achieving equity, fairness and the best outcomes for kids at all schools across Australian is fundamentally critical to the future of our country.

There is one thing that is clear in terms of the way that the Greens are approaching this: front and centre we are being completely guided by what is in the best interests of all school students at all schools across the country. We particularly have the interests of children who are going to public schools, and we want to make sure, in particular, that we achieve the best outcomes for the neediest public schools. We have a great opportunity to reform schools funding so that it is genuinely needs based and sector blind. That is not where our schools funding is at the moment. Schools funding currently is a complete dog's breakfast. Schools funding under the deal that is supposedly the result of the last reviews led by David Gonski is supposedly needs based and sector blind. It clearly is not. There are carve-outs all over the place. It is not fair. It is not equitable if you are a school student in the Northern Territory compared to a school student in the ACT, for example. So we have a really important opportunity now, and it is up to us to make the most of that opportunity.

There are some good things that the government has put on the table now, such as the changes to the architecture to make it more genuinely needs based and sector blind. But the Greens are not going to support the model that is on the table at the moment, if that is the one we end up voting on, because it is not a model that delivers what we need for our schools. Clearly there is not enough money on the table at the moment. The mechanisms are not there to make sure that the states are going to continue to pay their fair share. In our federation responsibility for education is shared between the Commonwealth and the states, and it is not going to be any use at all if the Commonwealth increases its funding but allows the states to squib their part of the deal—that we get extra money from the Commonwealth, but the states go, 'Oh, that's good. Right. Terrific. We'll go and pocket it and not spend it.' Clearly we have to maintain that nexus. We have to make sure that the increase in funding that is required comes from both the Commonwealth and the states.

The other critical factor that the Greens have been arguing for, which was part of the original Gonski review, is having an independent body to overview schools funding into the future so that it can be genuine and we can trust that we know that it is absolutely going to continue to be fair, equitable, needs based and sector blind. So that is what the Greens are continuing to fight for, and we will continue to fight for that and continue to put the needs of every school student in Australia at the forefront of our negotiations.

As I said, the critical issue is what is in the best interests for all kids in all schools, but particularly the kids of those families who frankly do not have the resources to be paying private school fees. They should not have to. Those children, as much as any other children in the country, deserve a gold-standard education. Our country needs them to receive that gold-standard education because it is in our national interest. If you look at how the Australian education system is currently performing on the world stage, our best schools are up there with the best schools in the world. The kids that are going to those best schools are achieving the outcomes that we can be really proud of. But, sadly, that does not extend through to all of our schools.

What we do not have is equity in education. That is what we need to achieve. The best performing school systems in the world, such as the Finnish system, are the ones that have that equity so that you know, no matter what the background of a child is—what their family background is, how much income their family has or whether they are Indigenous or not Indigenous—they are getting the resources that are required to enable them to achieve their full potential. That is what the Greens are fighting for—improving equity in our education. That means making sure that more resources are going to go to the most needy of public schools.

I have visited many schools across Victoria in my three years as a senator. The most recent one I visited, just a couple of weeks ago, was Tarneit Senior College. Tarneit Senior College is in one of Melbourne's growth areas—the outer western suburbs—and, despite being in a growth area and despite being a relatively new school that has only been built within the last decade, it is struggling. It has not had put into it the resources that are required. Usually, when you arrive at most schools you visit, they at least have the resources and feel that they have to be able to market themselves. There will be a grand entrance, even at a lot of our public schools. But, no, the entrance to Tarneit Senior College is off the car park. There is a little sign on the gate saying, 'All visitors, please report to the office.' You look and think, 'Where's the office?' There is no building that is obviously going to be one that has an office there. You follow the signs, and the office is in a portable building—and they expect it to be in a portable for many years to come. It has been in a portable for the whole life of the school.

I had a terrific meeting with the principal, who showed me around the school and showed me where they are still lacking in funding, where they need more funding to be able to provide the resources to make sure that all of their kids can achieve their potential and what they have been able to do with the extra money that has been put into their school over the last two years. In particular, I met their wellbeing team—their social workers and other staff working to ensure the welfare of all of their students. They told me some pretty amazing statistics. There are quite a lot of issues that Tarneit as a growth area is facing. It is actually an area that has a high turnover in population because of the unaffordability of housing right across our cities, even in growth areas. The people who move to Tarneit hoping to find affordable rent find, after a while, that they cannot afford to pay the rent there, and they move even further out and they move to regional Victoria.

So, there is lots of transience. There are low-socioeconomic families there, and huge multicultural diversity—lots of newly arrived families. There are major, major student needs. This is reflected in the fact that they now have a student wellbeing team of five staff, whereas two years ago they had only one. They have 420 students in years 10 to 12. Of those 420 students, 317 last year accessed the services of their student wellbeing team—three-quarters of the students. This is a school that is struggling, that needs more resources put into it. This is the type of school I have in my mind when we as Greens are negotiating to get the best outcomes for students and families.

The other issue which is, again, so critical—why we need to ensure that schools like Tarneit Secondary College get the level of funding they deserve—is that if they do not we know the pressure that puts on families, feeling that this school actually is not going to give their kids the best education. They have competition from local private schools. Then there are families that can afford to pay private school fees but may have to dig really deep and miss out on other things because they feel that in order to get the best education they have to send their children off to private schools. So then you get the segregation of the wealthier families who are sending their kids to private schools and those that have no option and so are sending their kids to the state high school. That is not in the interests of the wellbeing of our community. That is not going to be delivering the best educational outcomes.

We need to have the resources of all of the community feeding into and supporting our public education system. But in order to do that we have to make sure that schools like Tarneit Secondary College are funded appropriately. As a Victorian senator, that is what I am going to be fighting for: to make sure that those schools get the resources they need, that they are not going to be disadvantaged. Under any needs based, sector-blind model, with an adequate quantum of funding, they are the schools we are going to be fighting for. All children deserve the best education possible to set them up for a bright future. Their educational outcome should not depend on their family's wealth or income or on the state they live in. And parents should not have to shop around because they are worried that their local public school does not have the resources to educate their kids. Public education should be the gold standard, not a safety net.

I experienced this as well. My two kids both went to local high schools in the western suburbs. One went to Williamstown High School and one to Footscray Secondary College. They were great schools, but I was under a lot of pressure when we were choosing schools for my kids, who are reasonably bright kids: the number of my friends who said, 'Oh, you should be sending them off the private schools, because the local secondary schools aren't going to be able to deliver for them.' And we said: 'No, we're going to send them off the public schools. We are absolutely, philosophically committed to sending them off to public schools.' And they did brilliantly.

But many of their fellow students at Footscray and at Williamstown came from families from the outer western suburbs and were travelling long distances, where they could, to go to what their parents thought was a better public school. That is not a good outcome. We should be ensuring that the families living in St Albans, the families living in Werribee, the families living in Tarneit have a school they can be proud of. That is why we really need to have this genuine Gonski model of funding. It is absolutely critical for our students. We need that genuine, sector-blind, needs based model that is prioritising funding to look after the needy schools and kids. And we need to get that investment sooner.

One of the current concerns we have with the government's legislation is that although more funding would be flowing it is not going to be delivering outcomes to the most needy of schools until 10 years into the future. That is not good enough. It means that a kid who is in grade 3 today will not have the full funding going to their school until they are at the end of high school. We need to make sure that we get that greater investment sooner so that we can give every child the opportunity to reach their potential.

We have never had that genuine model. The current Gillard Gonski model is clearly not needs based. It is locked-in funding to the wealthy private schools at the expense of public schools. The current Turnbull Gonski 2.0 is not sector blind. It is offering certainty to private schools but it leaves the neediest public schools little chance to catch up after years of neglect.

Photo of Gavin MarshallGavin Marshall (Victoria, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

What's your position now? Are you voting for it?

Photo of Janet RiceJanet Rice (Victoria, Australian Greens) Share this | | Hansard source

The Greens position is that we are continuing to negotiate. There are some advantages that the government's model is offering, improving the architecture—

Photo of Barry O'SullivanBarry O'Sullivan (Queensland, National Party) Share this | | Hansard source


Opposition senators interjecting

Order! Interjections while senators are speaking is disorderly and interjections while the chair is talking is even more disorderly. Senators are entitled to be heard in silence, and that is how we are going to proceed. Senator Rice, you have the call.

Photo of Janet RiceJanet Rice (Victoria, Australian Greens) Share this | | Hansard source

Thank you, Mr Acting Deputy President. Clearly, we have got a dog's breakfast at the moment. We are being failed by both parties, with both of the models that are on offer. A continuation of the old system is not good enough. The government's model that is currently on offer is also not good enough. The Greens will continue to negotiate to get the best outcome that we need, and that means having a genuine Gonski. It means putting kids before politics. It means making decisions on where we stand on the basis of what is the best policy outcome—not playing political games.

What Labor are supporting at the moment is not the genuine Gonski. Labor walked away from the central premise that all schools should be funded on the basis of need. They promised that no school would lose a dollar, which sounds great, but it actually means that the wealthiest schools will continue to get more and more money, while those with scarce resources, the least well-off, will be deprived of funds. It means that we would have the continuation of the disparity, of the inequity, in our education system. The indexation that is on offer under Labor, which is locked into the legislation, means that poorer schools would take more than 100 years to catch up to those schools that are underfunded—let alone 10 years. It will be 100 years before they will be able to catch up to those that are underfunded. That inequality of opportunity is currently what is locked into law. Clearly, that is not a system that we would want to see continue.

An analysis by the Grattan Institute says that Labor's education plan taken to the 2016 federal election would have added mega bucks but still not achieve consistent needs based funding for over 100 years. The Labor Party claim that the Turnbull government's cutting of $22 billion from schools over the decade is also a widely inaccurate claim. It is simply the difference between what Labor promised at the last election; it is not what is in law right now. Labor are currently not in government, so their promises sounds great but they actually mean nothing now. In order to have certainty over that, Labor should have locked in that funding before the 2013 election, but they chose not to do that. They chose not to lock in that amount, because they wanted to use our schools, our education, and the funding for schools in political game-playing in the election campaign. We could have had fairer funding locked in place if the Labor government in the lead-up to 2013 had chosen to do so, but they chose not to. On the other hand, the Turnbull government is claiming that there is a boost in funding of $16 billion over the decade, but this is based on the low level of funding that former Prime Minister Abbott stripped it back to. Neither of the parties are delivering fair, equitable and honest statements about our education system. The two parties are playing politics while our public schools are losing out. We need to be putting kids before politics. We need to be making sure that we have a system that is genuinely needs based and sector blind.

We also have these claims that public schools are going to be receiving a cut under the government's Gonski 2.0 proposal, but, in fact, no public school system in Australia will receive a cut under the proposed funding model. The only notionally overfunded public schools in Australia are those in the Northern Territory, and they have been given additional funding under the government's proposed plan so their funding is not going to backwards. Government schools in every state will see their funding increase. Because they are all funded at different rates by the Commonwealth currently, the rate that they increase will be different. Historically underfunded states will increase at a faster rate than those that are closer to the target.

Again, there are some good things that, as Greens, we want to be building upon. The best outcome is for us to negotiate an agreement that ends up with a genuine needs based, sector-blind funding system that will deliver the best outcomes, equitable and fair outcomes, that will give every kid the opportunity to achieve their potential. We are going to do that by changing the architecture so that it is genuinely needs based and sector blind, and by putting in the resources so that all schools will be up to the standard that is required to allow kids to fully achieve their potential.

11:36 am

Photo of Malcolm RobertsMalcolm Roberts (Queensland, Pauline Hanson's One Nation Party) Share this | | Hansard source

As a servant to the people of Queensland and Australia, I rise to speak to the Australian Education Amendment Bill 2017. This bill seeks to make a range of changes to the Gillard-era Australian Education Act 2013 to implement the government's so-called Gonski 2.0 education changes. These include a range of funding changes that seek both to increase education funding overall and to reapportion funding between and within the public and private school systems.

Pauline Hanson's One Nation will be supporting the government's amended legislation; however, the key issues that need to be highlighted are accountability and choice. At Pauline Hanson's One Nation, we continue to listen widely. We appreciate very much the input from New South Wales Labor senator Deb O'Neill, whose passion and commitment to education is certain. We also appreciate the commitment and the passion with which Senator Chris Back, the Liberal senator from Western Australia, spoke to us this morning. Both are clearly knowledgeable and passionate about education; that came through with both of them. We listened to Senator David Leyonhjelm and Senator Cory Bernardi, and we will be considering their amendments for increasing the rigour and accountability of this bill as it is implemented. We listen, most importantly, to constituents, and we live ourselves in local communities with diverse state, Catholic and private schools. These vary from New South Wales with Senator Burston, to Queensland with Senator Hanson and me, to Western Australia with Senator Georgiou.

In my early years as a child in India, I went to a school for expats run by Italian nuns using the acclaimed Montessori philosophy. I then went to state schools in New South Wales and then to a boarding school in Queensland. So I have sampled the private school sector and the independent school sector and I have also sampled state schools. My wife and I have two children who are now adults. Our kids went to a private primary school, based on the needs of the child, using the Montessori philosophy with parents paramount in the running of that school, albeit through an elected board appointing a principal. So there is yet another model. Then my children went to a state high school that had a history of respect for children. My understanding is that it was the only Queensland state high school with no uniform. What we want is for our kids to think for themselves and to discover as they wish. They have different interests, not just because one is a boy and one is a girl, but because they have different experiences and spirits when they came into this world, and different interests and passions.

Let me tell you a story. I want comment on the Greens. Before getting to that, I want to comment on one of their funders—the CFMEU. The CFMEU put a robocall around Queensland yesterday. They are saying that our party, Pauline Hanson's One Nation party, is calling for cuts to education spending. That is false. What would we expect from the CFMEU? It is a dishonest statement trying to hurt Pauline Hanson's One Nation party. The CFMEU is above all a political organisation. It is no longer a union that looks after its members. The union bosses are disconnected. It is these people from whom the Greens take their money.

It is not true at all that Pauline Hanson's One Nation wants to cut education spending. We are actually in favour of strong education funding. No money has been taken out in this bill. The CFMEU's puppets, the Greens, say we need equity in education, as they often do. I am going to tell you a little story about two countries pretty soon. We do not want equity—sorry, equality—of opportunity; we want choice—equality of opportunity, because that gives choice. When choice is available it leads to accountability, and it leads to progress. That comes from accountability and choice—when humans are free to exercise our free will, our human spirit, in a way that enables us to take responsibility.

I would like to talk about the basics of education. That is a right of every child, with rigorous, effective education being the foundation for our nation's future economic prosperity and moral, spiritual and social health. There are three topics I would like to raise. First of all, state responsibility. Under our Constitution, the responsibility for education is with the states. That is where it should have been and should have stayed, and that is where it needs to be returned. We operate under competitive federalism—or rather, we used to. Centralisation has led to the politicisation of schools and has led to travesties such as the Safe Schools program, which is initiated federally and spread through some of the states, notably the Victorian Andrews government with its ridiculous Safe Schools policy. This is what centralisation gives us—United Nations driven ratbag propaganda such as Safe Schools, that are nothing more than brainwashing and propaganda exercises levied on the young and impressionable. Safe Schools are not about safe schools; Safe Schools are about violent schools—emotionally violent schools. Safe Schools are about intimidating young boys and girls from the age of four onwards—intimidating and confusing them.

The second thing I would like to talk about is individual choice—not state mandated social engineering, but choice, through vouchers. That leads to accountability.

The third thing I would like to talk about is effective education preparing boys and girls for the real world, so that boys and girls can pursue their dreams, their interests and their passions. We do not need boys especially sitting in school from the age of four or 5 to 18. That is not what many boys want to do. Boys in particular, but also girls, humans in general, learn by doing. Boys in particular learn by doing and by implementing what they learn. I have been to two universities and I am a graduate from two universities, one of them recognised as one of the finest in the world. I do not want every person to go to university—only those who want to go to university.

Let me tell you a story of two countries: East and West Germany. After the Second World War, West Germany was liberated from the American government by Ludwig Erhard, the Treasurer under the Chancellor at the time. East Germans and West Germans worked together in the Second World War and came up with a remarkable industrialisation and a remarkable inventiveness. The East Germans were restricted by socialism after the Second World War. The West Germans were liberated under Ludwig Erhard and free markets.

As a result of that simple difference, the East Germans over 50 years produced the Trabant car, a little papier-mache box with a smelly, dirty, polluting and noisy engine. People had to line up in East Germany to get that car because there were not enough of them available. The East Germans were a basket case. The West Germans, at the same time, produced Mercedes, Porsche, Volkswagen, Audi and Opel. The West Germans produced the world's most aspired to cars.

Today we have a Trabant education system, and it is producing Trabants. The Greens love Trabants. They want Trabant energy, and we can see the cost of energy in this country. They want Trabant science, which is not science at all. They want a Trabant environment, which is hurting our environment. They want, you see, what the East Germans wanted, which was control, yet they cannot see the results of denying the human spirit.

What we want to see, though, is states delivering education and, within that education, states enabling individuals to have their choice of education. We accept a national minimum standard that makes it simple for standards to be accepted around the country, but we want to see the states implement their own curricula because only then will we see a development of curricula from one state to the next with superior curricula rising to the fore and other states copying those.

We need a certain level of qualification before people can be accepted into trades and universities. That is now dwindling. We need to restore that. We need teachers with authority, with responsibility, with a specialty where it suits them and with a real job, not childminding, as it has become in some parts of our country. We need an emphasis on maths, English, science and history, and we need a return to teaching about the Constitution. We must send education back to the states. That will end the waste and duplication, and it will liberate the human spirit to improve education.

Within the state system we need to recognise the complexity involved in delivering education across a diverse continent and across many diverse socioeconomic backgrounds. It is a fact, as Senator Back said to us this morning, that many of the towns in Northern Queensland, the Northern Territory and northern Western Australia do not have a state school. They have no state school at all and rely entirely on the Catholic system. That Catholic system has grown up over many years and become so adapted to suiting the needs of individual communities. It brings values, it brings basics in education and it brings education to the disadvantaged. That must be protected. We understand from Senator Back that the government will be putting a one-year moratorium and a delay on implementing some of the provisions in this legislation thanks to Senator Back and his advocacy. If Catholic schools were to be shut, there would be huge burdens on state systems around this country.

Then Senator Back went on to discuss the system weighted averaging used by Catholic schools in Western Australia, recognising the parents' ability to pay. He compared two schools in the same town, Cathedral Grammar and St Joseph's, with vastly differing fee levels. That is not possible under a government mandated bureaucracy. It is possible under the Catholic system, which shoulders an enormous burden in this country. He explained that system weighted averaging is far superior to the socioeconomic-standing system that the government proposes based on postcodes. He explained that Gonski and another key designer of education both say that the system weighted average is, in fact, far superior. We acknowledge many benefits to what the government is proposing. Thirty per cent of the kids in Catholic schools, according to Senator Back, are not Catholic. They are there by choice, with the exception of schools in northern Australia, where there is no alternative. We must recognise the Catholic system. There are regional and rural towns with no state school system that rely entirely on Catholic schools. Without Catholic schools there would be an enormous increased burden on state schools. Ninety-five per cent of state school capital costs were paid for by parents. That needs to be honoured. The Catholic school system, above all, provides parents with choice.

Vouchers would also provide parents with choice—even wider choice. That would enable many more people to have input into education, into how the schools their kids are attending and being instructed at are run. Then we would have liberation from the Trabant of education. We would have not only diversity of education curricula but diversity of education delivery systems and diversity of educational administrative systems. And, as each one improved, they would be copied by surrounding schools, and we would have an ever-escalating improvement. We would start having the Porsches, the Mercedes, the BMWs of education. We would have a liberation of the human spirit.

The final thing I want to discuss is the need to look at the merits of the German apprenticeship model, which gave us the apprenticeship system—the trade system. As I said, boys—and, indeed, girls—are not built to sit in school all day. Education needs to be for the real world to give people the opportunity to develop the ability to think for themselves. That is real education—not just to pick up the three Rs but the ability to pick up the responsibility for learning, the responsibility for discovery, the responsibility for self-awareness and consciousness, and the responsibility for life. Real education is also about them being able to focus on their interests, not what the state mandates and not what the UN mandates through our central government in this country. We need to stop setting boys up for failure. The German apprenticeship model has proven highly successful.

In America, I was given instruction by a well-known educational expert, Michael Strong. He has had an outstanding career across the country from Alaska through to Hawaii through to the desert states of New Mexico. Michael Strong has developed schools with many different curricula under many different philosophies. He said that in America people talk about sending their kids to university. Only one-third get to university, which means that two-thirds are under the pressure of feeling like they have failed. A university education is not for everyone. We need a country that values education other than at universities. We need a country that sets up boys and girls for trades and careers outside universities. We need to be able to give people a foundation in entrepreneurial activities. That needs a free market. We need to unshackle this country from the clutches of central government—ever-growing central government. We need to stop setting up boys for failure. We need to release the school system for individual initiative. We need to give people choice in schools—not only whether or not they go to a school but what sort of school they go to. We need to really think ahead, but, for now, we are anticipating supporting the government's bill.

11:54 am

Photo of Nick XenophonNick Xenophon (SA, Nick Xenophon Team) Share this | | Hansard source

( It is impossible to overstate the importance of this bill because, whatever the outcome of our consideration, it will have a far-reaching effect on a generation of children and their educational outcomes. It is not hyperbole to say that the future prospects of a generation of children are in our hands. The importance of education cannot be overstated, because education is one of the strongest tools to tackle poverty, reduce welfare dependency and improve health outcomes. Education is about the future of our children and of our nation. My team and I have taken consideration of what is dubbed Gonski 2.0 very seriously. I commend the work that my colleague in the other place, the member for Mayo, Rebekha Sharkie MP, has done on this. She has done a tremendous amount of work. Her diligence and forensic approach to this are to be commended. She has spoken about the bill in the other place and gave the legislation our cautious support, pending satisfactory resolution of our reservations and the outcome of the Senate inquiry. The majority report of that inquiry predictably said it should be passed, but it did set out various concerns with the bill.

Before I discuss in detail how our reservations have been addressed, I want to congratulate the government for its determination to implement a purer form of the Gonski sector-blind needs based funding model. This took courage because, if you level the playing field, inevitably there will be some losers. But if it goes to the neediest schools, those that deserve it the most, then that is a good outcome. For confirmation that the government's model is closer to the original Gonski review's intent we need look no further than the enthusiastic support from members of the original Gonski review expert panel. Who could forget the image of David Gonski standing alongside the Prime Minister on 2 May and saying he supports this package? He was pleased that the government had adopted the recommendations of a needs based funding model. I look forward to the report of his review into how Commonwealth funding should be invested to improve school and student achievement, because outcomes are very important, but we also need to get the funding model right. Ken Boston, a fellow Gonski review expert panel member, went even further to say recently:

It will be a tragedy if the school funding bill is voted down in the Senate … Five years after the release and subsequent emasculation of the Gonski report, Australia has a rare second chance.

Kathryn Greiner, another member of the original Gonski review expert panel, said:

… it would be a disaster for Australian education if this doesn't pass. This is the first time a government in this country has drawn a line in the sand, removed the funding anomalies and got everybody on the same page.

The former Labor government, when trying to implement the Gonski model—this is not a criticism of them—were racked by needing a whole range of different funding deals to get the states on board. There were something like 27 different agreements. The requirement that no school should lose a dollar hobbled the implementation from the beginning and resulted in a distorted model. Instead of a level playing field, the starting point was each sector's then current funding level, which included historical funding anomalies and past deals. It was built on a flawed foundation of inequitable funding. The special deals done during the negotiation to cajole various states into signing up for Gonski sealed its fate as an inequitable model. It was not needs based and sector blind. Arguably it was not Gonski at all but a knock-off brand trying to look the same as the real thing.

I strongly support the intent of the legislation, but that does not mean there was no room for improvement. I mentioned earlier that we had some real reservations, and I want to cover how the negotiations we have had with the government address these. The first was the time frame. In our view a 10-year transition is too long, particularly for jurisdictions that have been underfunded for the past four years. The reduction of the transitional time frame from 10 years to six years is a big development. It goes much further towards bringing these funding anomalies to an end and putting schools on a more level playing field. If we all agree that reaching the SRS is the goal then getting there faster will benefit more children more quickly, particularly those who have already started secondary school.

Our second reservation was that the legislation as originally drafted only required states and territories to maintain their 2017 funding levels plus indexation. This lets states and territories off the hook too easily, so there must be measures—as I understand it, amendments will be tabled that will ensure real accountability on the part of states and territories to reach their share of the SRS by 2023. That will ensure accountability of the new funding model. That is fair, and if the states do not place a priority on appropriately funding their schools then they should be exposed.

The introduction of a national school resourcing body, something that the Australian Greens have long advocated, and I congratulate them for advocating, is also a very welcome addition. We need to have enhanced transparency and accountability, so I strongly support an independent body that can monitor all elements of the needs based funding model and suggest improvements. For example, I support that one of the first tasks is to examine the appropriateness of the current SES determination methodology. I know that the Catholic sector has been concerned about this, and I congratulate Senator Chris Back for his advocacy in this regard.

I have previously stated publicly that this might not be the full Gonski, but it is still the Gonski. At that time I was drawn into the focus on the quantum of funding, not the methodology. My position is now a bit more nuanced. Earlier, I alluded to the fact that Labor's Gonski was not really a Gonski at all, but rather a more expensive knock-off from a flawed methodology. I understand why there has been so much focus on the debate about the quantum of funding and not the methodology, but we can do both. If you scratch beneath the surface, the model that we saw before perpetuated historical funding inequities. The extra funding that Labor promised would have been allocated unfairly.

Labor and the AEU have described this as a $22 billion cut. The $22 billion was Labor's funding promise, but they have not had to follow through on it. My colleague Rebekha Sharkie describes this as comparing apples with imaginary pears. Let us be clear: we are talking about $22 billion worth of imaginary pears. With the compression of the time frame to six years the difference has been reduced to $17 billion of imaginary funding. It is also important to note that the differences in the funding level between Labor's much-lauded years five and six of Gonski and the proposal is less than six per cent.

I am a pragmatist, as are my colleagues. We have a bill in front of us that will provide, in effect, $23 billion of extra funding to our schools over the next 10 years with the compression of getting up to the SRS standard within six years. I am not going to vote against a bill that provides extra funding and addresses the inequities of the failed Gonski implementation previously, given that David Gonski himself and his panel members believe it would be a grave mistake not to pass this bill. If the Labor Party is still committed to providing an extra $22 billion in funding, they can take that to the next election and it can be an election issue.

I will talk about what this means for South Australia in due course in the committee stage. I believe that this is a very welcome bill in terms of the additional funding. I believe that if we knock this off, if we do not vote for this bill, it will lead to fundamental inequities and inequalities in the funding system being perpetuated. This is about getting the methodology right. The fact that David Gonski and the members of his panel are so enthusiastically fact in favour of this legislation is fundamental.

I support this bill, as do my colleagues, with the improvements that we have been able to negotiate. I note that other crossbenchers have been working in good faith to improve this legislation. This bill will also lead to much more increased transparency, which is fundamental. That is something that I will speak about in the committee stages of this bill. In closing, I support the second reading stages of this bill. There are amendments that will even further improve it. This will be a good outcome for students around the country. I do not want to the perfect to be the enemy of the good, because this has very many good elements. It should be passed.

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.

12:13 pm

Photo of Derryn HinchDerryn Hinch (Victoria, Derryn Hinch's Justice Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I rise to speak on the Australian Education Amendment Bill. Around this time last year, before the federal election, I travelled 11,250 kilometres around country Victoria and New South Wales, and not once was the word 'Gonski' mentioned in that time. Of course, in recent weeks here that is all we have heard and in the past few hours that is all we have heard. I do not intend to speak very long; I just want to say that I will be endorsing, supporting and voting for this bill. When I first heard of the Gonski amendments, I had some doubts—and I think they were legitimate ones—especially relating to Labor's scare campaign about $22 billion; they turned me off with that. In the election campaign, I was talking about justice issues. As a senator, I am now forced to vote on education and other issues which were not part of my party platform and not what people put me here for; they put me here to do such things as a passport ban for paedophiles. But I am in this position and I may be one of those who ends up swinging this vote one way or the other. Frankly, the $22 billion Labor scare campaign was a lie. I do not like either side when you lie to me. I watched those TV commercials and talked to various people on the opposition bench. It was like me coming in here today and making a promise that, in 2045, I will give $60 billion to gambling casinos—because I am in favour of gambling—and then a new government comes in and decides they will cut $50 billion of that $60 billion and will not give it. So I then run a TV campaign saying the government are bastards; they have cut $50 billion from James Packer's coffers—$50 billion that was not there in the first place.

Now, I have said I will support this. I have had meetings with many interested parties. I sat down with two very inspiring mothers from the Broken Bay diocese to listen to their concerns about the SES and the discrepancies in it, and I have had assurances that these things will be looked at. Those women came all the way here and paid their own hotel bills because they are concerned about their kids. I am pleased to announce that I am going to support the Gonski bill, with the changes that I and others from the crossbench have actively advocated. I am proud to see that the changes will come into effect more quickly for those schools that so desperately need extra support and need it now. I am proud that an additional $4 billion or so will be invested in the Gonski program.

I am also pleased that we will be holding the state and territory governments to account to make sure that they uphold their end of the bargain in the years going ahead. I am pleased that the 10-year plan will be pushed back to six or seven years—six years, I think. I am also very pleased to acknowledge the Greens' idea, which is to have an independent body to provide a very much needed layer of transparency. I know the Greens have had to fight amongst themselves, but for some of these changes they have advocated very strongly indeed. So, I will be supporting this bill. I think we will get some extra money for Victorian schools. The money will come faster than was planned, better than was planned. It is a needs based scheme. And before I sit down, to steal from Neil Armstrong's apocryphal story about what he really said when he walked on the moon: good luck, Mr Gonski!

12:16 pm

Photo of Mathias CormannMathias Cormann (WA, Liberal Party, Minister for Finance) Share this | | Hansard source

I thank all senators who have contributed to this debate and I commend the bill to the Senate.

Photo of Stephen ParryStephen Parry (President) Share this | | Hansard source

The question is that the second reading amendment moved by Senator Collins be agreed to.

12:27 pm

Photo of Stephen ParryStephen Parry (President) Share this | | Hansard source

The question is that the bill be read a second time.