Thursday, 22 June 2017
Australian Education Amendment Bill 2017; In Committee
Just going back to the discussion we were having prior to the break before question time, I want to seek some advice from the chair as to what is the best way to proceed. I think everyone understands what we have done, but just to clarify, I would like to move my amendments (1) and (2) on sheet 8177. We are not referring to amendment (3). That is now going to be moved as a separate amendment as amendment (1) on sheet 8179. I am wondering whether I am able to seek leave to move all three of them together, or whether I need to move the two sheets separately.
The CHAIR: I am advised that you have already moved the three together. You should now seek leave to remove amendment (3).
I seek leave to remove amendment (3) on sheet 8177.
I am not going to prolong this overall discussion in relation to a schooling resource body. I think I have given reasonably clear indications so far that we prefer the more independent model that we have proposed subsequently. I appreciate that the Greens are attempting to improve what has been proposed here in government amendments, but our position will be to oppose these Greens amendments and oppose the government's amendments, because we prefer the more independent body that we will be proposing in subsequent amendments. I have also indicated that we are happy to entertain further amendments along the lines of the discussion that occurred here earlier, were these measures to fail.
Aside from that, probably the only outstanding issue I have, which I hope the minister can address, follows from the discussion earlier from Senator Lambie about what funding we are looking at for the National School Resourcing Board, I would like to understand where that funding is coming from. Minister, can you take me to the provisions that account for those funds to be made available for this board?
No, that is right. They will be normally appropriated. It is not funding provided under the Australian Education Act, which, of course, is a mechanism for funding to be provided to approved authorities and so forth. This will be normal government appropriations for departmental or other entity funding, which will be outlined and reflected in MYEFO with the funding for this entity.
Minister, what I am seeking to clarify, though, is: does this arrangement involve a requirement for additional funds than have already been outlined in MYEFO, given the lateness of these measures, or does this mean that these funds come at the expense of other allocations that have been made prior to the arrangements to establish this board or is there some general appropriation for which additional funding will be found? I want to satisfy the Senate that the establishment of this board is not going to compromise other existing funding allocations within your portfolio.
Perhaps I can take this opportunity to ask the minister if he is in the position to provide any of the other information that was canvassed in the previous session discussing this bill. Perhaps the clerks could assist me also. I know we made some progress just before the hours motion kicked back in, and we are now on this bill. Was the minister's response to the order for production of documents tabled during that period? I am seeing a no to that, so I will ask the minister again. We are in this ludicrous situation where, under the government's hours motion, we still do not have before the Senate your response, Minister, to an earlier order for production of documents that the Senate endorsed earlier this week. The deadline is now probably about two days old. You told us that you provided a letter to the President responding to that order of the Senate. I earlier asked why the usual courtesy of conveying that information to the senator moving that motion was not satisfied, and I still have no answer or sight of that letter.
The Senate is now following the hours motion that was agreed to between the government and the crossbench, but we are in this farcical situation where an order for production of documents in relation to the consideration of this bill has still not been provided to the Senate. Minister, I essentially beseech you now, because I do not think it is appropriate conduct for the Senate in scrutiny of legislation for there to be an outstanding order for production of documents when we are trying to progress this legislation. Despite all of the cooperation that has been going on here during the committee stage consideration, us taking that step exposes the farcical element of this process. I beseech you, Minister, to at least table that letter during this committee stage consideration so that this Senate is not left in the situation where it does not have a response to an order for production of documents.
by leave—I move amendment (1) on sheet 8179:
(1) Amendment (7), item 106, after subsection 128(7), insert:
(7A) A review may also address the following:
(a) whether the Commonwealth, a State, a Territory or an approved authority has:
(i) not distributed funding on a needs basis; or
(ii) funded a school below its share for a year; or
(iii) funded a school above its share for a year;
(b) measuring improved educational outcomes for students against the rate of school funding.
Can I just indicate on behalf of my colleagues so there is no ambiguity that we strongly support these amendments. Amendments (1) and (2) on sheet 8177 do allow for a greater degree of transparency. They give greater teeth to the National Schools Resourcing Board. The other amendment on sheet 8179 is an one that is, again, an accountability and transparency measure, including for educational outcomes. It is something that I know my colleague Senator Lambie, who is not in the chamber now, has indicated her support for. I think that these are important transparency measures to improve the outcomes arising out of this bill. My colleagues and I strongly support these measures, and I look forward to their passage.
Just so that the chamber is clear: this should bring us back to the motion before the chair, which is for the Senate to consider amendments (1) and (7) on government sheet GX167, as now amended, incorporating the components of Senator Hanson-Young's two amendments.
That is fine. If the Clerk can assist, we would be very grateful. So far in the committee stage consideration we have dealt with request (2). My understanding was that we then dealt with the cluster of amendments (3), (4) and (6), but I do not see how that is reflected in revised (3).
The TEMPORARY CHAIR: It is (3), (4) and (5), I am advised.
My understanding was that we did (3), (4) and (6), and after that we then did (5).
The TEMPORARY CHAIR: That is correct.
Okay. If we could have the running sheet amended so that we are all in the same place, understanding what progress we have made, that would assist us, I think, in this committee consideration. As the minister said, we are now dealing with amendments (1) and (7), which are essentially the government's amendments with respect to the schooling resourcing body. I have indicated in response to Senator Hanson-Young that our position is that we prefer the greater independence and the greater specificity of our proposed amendments in relation to particularly the review of the SES, so we will deal with those subsequently. For that reason, we do not support the proposal that the government has negotiated with the crossbench.
I would just like to indicate the Australian Greens' support for this overall amendment, now that we have been able to strengthen the role of this body. I think this is an important step forward. I acknowledge, of course, that more independence and ensuring that it undertakes specific reviews are important. I would just like to ask the minister: Minister, could you just reconfirm for the record in relation to this amendment creating this body that it will be directed to review the SES formula and to look at the auditing and accounting of children with disability?
I am happy to confirm for Senator Hanson-Young, as indicated on a few occasions in debate already, that they will be tasked with those two jobs sequentially. The first order of business will be to look at the SES methodology, including its interaction with capacity-to-contribute arrangements.
I am aware that Senator Collins has indicated our position on this, but I would like to take the opportunity to just ask a few clarifying questions around this area, related not necessarily directly to the amendments that the Greens have put but to the broader amendments from the government as well. I know that there are a few people here in the gallery today, and there are a lot of people listening. The mystery of what is going on in the Senate is something that people often express to me when I am out in the general community. So I think what is going on here is really important in terms of the frame for the questions that I want to ask.
I think that Senator Collins, in her remarks earlier, asked the question: why is there such haste for this to happen now? For people who are watching this debate, who are here in the parliament today and listening to it, it is a great question that does not have a good answer as yet. Why are we going to sit, potentially through the night? Why is this happening now? It is because this government has decided that it wants to push this massive change—this very, very significant change in multiple ways—through the parliament in this period of time before we rise. In my resistance to the hours motion yesterday —the motion to change this process of the parliament and have us sit for all these hours—I spoke about the reason the government is doing that. Despite the way that this Senate is often described in the media as a site of great difficulty in getting negotiations through, getting things settled and getting agreement—the fractious Senate—the reality is that, as fractious as this Senate might be and is described, the real problem that the minister and Mr Turnbull have is that, if they do not get this legislation through here now, what is waiting outside the doors of parliament is an absolutely revolutionary force of the united power of the Australian education movement. Whether it is government schools or Catholic schools, there is huge concern about what this government is trying to do, and the reason they are concerned is that their questions were not given the opportunity to be asked, let alone answered.
Some of the questions that I want to ask in my contribution to this broader debate around the SES mechanism and the student weighted average are technical. They are the sorts of things that should have been considered extremely carefully by the department, who could bring in other arms of government—perhaps the Bureau of Statistics or perhaps Treasury—to carefully look at and analyse these things. They would have all the power of government to actually look at what is being proposed by this government, give it great scrutiny and then come here to the parliament with a very well considered piece of legislation.
Really good legislation requires very little amendment. Really bad legislation has been poorly consulted on and has been, in fact, made in the absence of consultation with key sectors of the community—I am talking about the government school sector and the Catholic school sector. When legislation is made badly and without that care, we end up with lots and lots of amendments. What is going on here is amendments to amendments, and we have heard the change to the amendments. If you are a little confused up there, I can tell you that I am also confused, and I have the papers down here some of the time, so I can try to figure out what is going on. We had a change to the Greens amendment that just went through from a discussion from Senator Bernardi that happened here in the chamber last night. It is not necessarily a bad change. I was a teacher, so I understand what outcomes from education are, whether it is in a classroom or whether it is a broader issue for the country. But the fact that it is getting made up on the run here in this chamber now is an absolutely telling indictment of how bad this minister's management of this piece of legislation is.
The problem is that decisions are being made about a funding structure of billions of dollars for all Australian children across this country that has been based on who knows what? As Senator Collins said, we—the whole Senate—have implored the minister. We have used technical means to say to him: 'Bring in the modelling. Tell us what you are using as your basis of evidence for the decisions that you are making and the changes you are making to how schools are going to be funded. Show us the thinking that went on behind this. Show us the numbers that went on behind this. Show us the consultation.' The minister has refused to provide that. It is called an order for the production of documents. We asked for that and the Senate agreed to it but, in some sort of game-playing that sometimes is really prized in this place, a little technique has been used to prevent that very important level of documentation coming into the chamber so that we can have a look at what is going on and critique what the government says are the facts.
We cannot critique the facts because we cannot even see the facts that they are basing it on. In fact, there may be no facts, and that is a bit of a problem. So this is where we are: we have a government that is saying, 'We are doing a great thing for the country; it is a transformation; it is going to be wonderful', and we have this lovely even, almost soporific, tone of the minister's very steady answers to the questions—except it is a veneer, because, underneath, the decision-making instruments are not being made transparent to this parliament. I acknowledge that the Greens and other colleagues here are trying to do the best they can on the run, but that is not how you make good policy for every child in the country. This is policymaking that affects every single family and every single community. It is policymaking that has the potential, if the bill is passed, to lock in 10 years of a funding mechanism that would be devastating, in my view, in terms of leaving parts of the country behind.
This minister, and plenty of his colleagues who backed him up, has been going out and saying, 'It was terrible under that Labor lot. They were so bad. They did 27 special deals across the country. Bad, bad people! They shouldn't have done that!' The reason those deals were done in that way is that Mr Gonski, when he looked across the country, saw that there was no level playing field—that some kids were underwater because they happened to have been born in a state where the funding was inadequate. Others were doing pretty well. In fact, the Western Australian government was doing pretty well in terms of looking after their government schools. So we had all this unevenness across the country. The whole purpose of the Gonski reforms was to do two things—and this is where the government is hiding a lot. The first thing was to get funding up to a point where it was evenly distributed to all children in our schools and young people in our high schools. Then they needed to put extra money on top of that base level, which is the student loadings, and that is the needs based bit.
The special deals were done to start to push the ones that were really underwater back up so that they could get to a breathing space. They were special deals to make sure that every Australian kid who happened to be born anywhere was going to get a fantastic shot at education when they walked through the gate of any school, whether it be Catholic, Anglican, Islamic, government, independent—it did not matter. That is what it means when it says sector blind. It means children being able to walk through the gate of any school and find a place where they can learn, because there is equitable access to learning opportunities across the country. That is what we were supposed to be getting to. That is not where we are now. It is not where we are going to get to be with the government's proposal, because instead of thinking that it would be good to make it equal for all the students, this minister keeps saying, 'Now we are giving the states the same deal.' That is not much chop if your state is not getting enough to give a proper level of education to the kids. So the 27 special deals were special. They were good and they were important.
But what we have seen from this government is a whole different sort of special deal. It has nothing to do with equity for children. They are a whole lot of skin-saving special deals with the crossbench for the government. That is what this is about. We will do a special deal with the Greens. We will do a special deal with One Nation. We will do a special deal, if we can, with Senator Leyonhjelm—I do not know what his position is at this point in time, but he has certainly made some comments about it. That is what has been going on. It is called horsetrading, I think. It is horse trading in here, under pressure, in a pressure cooker of a time right now. That is what is going on here. It is not good legislative practice. We are faced with a bill that has been inadequately prepared and is in great need of serious amendment.
I ask the minister a series of questions—and I still do not have an answer to the question I asked yesterday: what research is there, what modelling has been done, what evidence do you have that says giving 80 per cent of federal funding to non-government schools and 20 per cent funding to government schools is a good thing to do? Where is the evidence? We have not seen anything.
My next question: can the minister please advise what is the total amount of money lost due to the unpicking of the system weighted average for all New South Wales Catholic schools at level 101? Can you advise what proportion of the funding will be covered by the transitional arrangements? Let me just say it again: what is the total amount of money lost due to the unpicking of the system weighted average? I am a senator for New South Wales; I am really interested in New South Wales. I know Senator Collins asked a question similar to this for the other states and territories. What has been lost? Minister, can you confirm that as a result of your primary capacity to continue contribution changes, average non-government school SES 100 loses $438 per student? Could you confirm that? Non-government schools with an SES of 110 lose $800 per student—can you confirm that? What are the proposed arrangements for schools to apply for transitional funding? Have you got a plan? Do individual schools apply, or do systems apply? How will the funds be distributed? Have you got a plan and can we see it? Can you bring it into the light of day? Can you bring it into the parliament so that we can give it some scrutiny before we roll through, in this outrageous manner, into a funding model for 10 years that you want to roll out across this country? Could you give us some evidence and could you provide a little information?
We are talking about the authority. I do have the government's amendments somewhere. I know the Greens will critique this in some way, but the government's amendments just made me laugh when I had a look. Not because it is a laughing matter—it is a very serious matter—but because it is done in a way that only the Liberal Party would conceive of what should be done in an amendment. They have gone on about who should be on it. They 'are appointed by the minister'. It is about how they exercise their power. 'Now that we're in government, the place where we belong, we'll control who we're going to put on and who we're going to take off.' Oh, and it is in the 'opinion of the minister'. The whole of the language in here: 'Reviews to be conducted periodically'. The whole of the language used just on this page does not deal with anything about the purpose of the review board, which is absolutely vital. I concur with many of the comments, including those of Senator Hanson-Young, about the need for the deep scrutiny of what is going on, and certainly around checking the outcomes. But we have not got any of that from the government. We have got a lot about how they will appoint perhaps some friends. It is an appointment process to a board of ambiguous status. It is certainly not independent; it is much more under the thumb of the minister. The reason we do not want to go there is because, under the thumb of this minister, we have had terrible outcomes in how the department has been able to communicate with the whole of the broader population.
I have a few very specific questions there, Minister. Please do not be contemptuous. Please give an answer to these questions that are coming to me from people who want to know the facts.
Thanks, Chair. In relation to why it is 20-80, I would refer the senator to the Hansard of the Senate estimates, where that evidence was given and examined in some detail. In relation to the impact of the system weighted averaging and the figures, I went through with Senator Collins only a few hours ago, state by state and sector by sector, what that meant for next year. In relation to impacts for SES changes, again I would refer the senator back to the exchanges in the estimates and the committee inquiries. In relation to the terms for transitional funding, I understand the draft terms for the transitional funding were tabled as one of the answers to the inquiries and questions that were made.
In relation to the amendment that is actually the question before the chair at present, I would highlight to the senator that, if she wants to know what the functions of the national school resourcing board as proposed are, she need only look at the fact that, indeed, they have functions specifically to look at compliance by states and territories with their responsibilities and to look at compliance by approved authorities with their responsibilities. More generally, we have given commitments that, under the other powers that leave more open what their compliance regimes or their responsibilities are, they will look at the SES score methodology and at its interaction with the capacity-to-contribute arrangements. They will then have a look at system weighted averaging, but ultimately they will be responsible for all aspects of the funding regime. Indeed, as a result of some of the amendments that have been adopted already, they will also have the capacity to self-initiate reviews in relation to the funding mechanisms and how those funding mechanisms interact with student outcomes, most importantly.
I thank the minister for answering some questions that he crafted—in a pretty crafty way, actually—out of the questions that I asked. He constructed them in a way that provided him with an opportunity to read from a sheet and stick to the scripts that the government has been trotting out disingenuously for weeks. I was here when you gave an answer to Senator Collins about the funding for the board, and you gave some state-by-state information in an extremely speedy way—a set of numbers that you have not had the courtesy to table, that cannot be checked anywhere, that have just floated on the air into the Senate and that you are asking us to just take on trust. Let me tell you, Minister: it is a pretty hard thing to take your word at this point in time when there are so many key people in education—experts around the country—who are saying that you are misrepresenting their views, that you have not listened to them, that you are ignoring their advice and that you are not answering any questions. So pardon me if I have trouble believing the answers that you have crafted to your own questions, let alone your avoidance of the details of the ones that I have asked you to give me a response to.
I would like to think that I heard it all, but you actually spoke fairly quickly, Minister, so pardon me if I go back and say that, in the middle of whatever patter we got then, I did not understand what the proposed transitional funding arrangements are. Did you tell me if individual schools or systems apply for that? What special funds are available to what sectors with regard to these transitional funding arrangements?
I am very glad the senator knows to answer the question with that statement. Considering this is a house of review and we are looking for some transparency, if these questions are being sent to me to ask you by sectors who have the resources to look this information up, I would appreciate it if you could just do me the courtesy, Minister, of actually telling me the answer to my question, which is: what are the proposed arrangements for schools that apply to transitional funding? Do individual schools apply or do systems apply?
According to the draft terms that have been circulated for consultation with systems and sectors and relevant stakeholders, those who are eligible and meet the eligibility criteria will be eligible to access funds and apply for funds. We have circulated them to get feedback, quite appropriately.
That is a little bit of a beginning of an extraction of information. So there are some draft terms out there. That takes me back to what I commenced with in my contribution afternoon: why are we doing this now, in such haste, when this absolutely vital part of understanding what is going to happen going forward is out with the sector in draft form, not agreed, and actually unknown by key participants in the system? Why should we as a Senate, representing the Australian people, give the government permission to push ahead with this when it is so clearly underdone, so clearly ill-prepared, so clearly out of touch with the educational experts? I put on the record and say to those in the chamber here tonight that the reason this is so bad is that parents will do what has to be done to protect their children from the loss of educational opportunity that is embedded in what this government is proposing here tonight.
The minister might be 'clever' enough to get some sort of deal constructed here tonight—and certainly the pressure is going to be coming on from everybody because staying here all night and doing this is a big ask. I am going to stay until it is all done because I am committed to this. But the pressure of that to push this through is really a sign of how desperate this government is to just corral this group of people here tonight and get a big tick on something that is incredibly uncertain and have a massive influence across the country so that they do not have to go out and spend the next six to eight weeks actually talking to the experts and coming up with decent legislation that does not have to be amended on the run. They do not want to have those conversations and they have not shown the capacity to engage in negotiations with either the government sector or the Catholic sector across the country in a way that has bred a culture of trust. Indeed, trust is broken with the education sector across this country to the point where one of the leading administrators of Catholic education, Stephen Elder, has said this is the worst experience in terms of interaction with a government in 50 years, that it has never been this bad.
So we know that there is a draft out there about who is going to apply, but we do not know if it is going to be individual schools or systems. Minister, how will the funds be distributed? On what basis is that going to be determined?
They will be distributed in accordance with the approved guidelines, which will be finalised once consultation in relation to the draft guidelines that have been circulated is complete, as is standard practice across any such government program. We are seeing and hearing all sorts of claims being made by the senator. I do not want to waste the time of the Senate as, clearly, Senator O'Neill does—and she is obviously filibustering until Senator Collins comes back. Yet again she wants to talk about 'all of those who might have concerns'. Well, there are of course plenty who have urged the Senate to get on and pass this. I have referenced many of them in Senate debates over recent weeks. I will reference one more, who I have not referenced before, whose comments are new. Terry Hynes, the former Tasmanian branch president of the Australian Education Union, has said: 'This opportunity to establish needs based funding in public schools must not become victim to the purely political warfare being waged by a Labor opposition badly out of touch with its base on this issue.'
Senator Collins, you can keep going on. You keep saying, 'Why do we need to do it now?' Let me refer you back to the comments of the shadow education minister, Ms Plibersek, on 14 March, where she said:
Schools are already planning for next year. They are working out how many classes they'll have, how many teachers they need, what sort of special programs they can offer. Except, these schools have no funding certainty. They don't know how much they will have to spend next year.
Well, the legislation is here. The Turnbull government has put $18.6 billion additional in the budget not just to give funding certainty but to give absolute clarity that there is clear, strong funding growth. We are doing it through a model of clear, needs based funding. Your side can keep going on about what the Labor Party might have done had it magically found an extra $22 billion. That is your right. But understand that the Labor Party are standing in the way of needs based funding. Former union leaders are calling you out now. The Labor Party are standing in the way of giving certainty to Australian schools. You can keep coming in and asking questions that were already answered through the Senate estimates process or the Senate inquiry process or where documents and tables have already been released, but ultimately it just exposes you as doing nothing more than playing cheap politics with this issue.
I love the minister's outrage that he should have to answer questions tonight: 'Oh, it's all been done before; it's all been done before.' That is why all of the school sectors are out there still raging into the night against what the government is about to do! What we are talking about here is very, very important—how will the funds be distributed? I did listen carefully to the answer, and I think it was basically, 'Trust me; it'll be okay.' I think that is what we got out of the minister, in translation.
My next question about transitional funding is: will it be available to all non-government, low-fee systems or just some of them? And on what basis will that be determined?
Okay—so we are getting to the point where the minister does not want to answer these questions. All this SRS and SES funding stuff that we are talking about gets very confusing for people. Can I just read into the record what it actually means when you do not have the student resource standard that I was talking about in my contribution a little earlier this evening. All this talk about money and transitional funding all goes down to what actually gets to the classroom so that the teachers can do the work that they need to do.
Right across the country, the money from the reforms that were advised by Mr Gonski has gone into every school and has made a massive difference. And it has been different in every school, which is great, because principals are wonderful professionals. They know what they are doing. No system is perfect, and there is always going to be the odd aberrant one, but generally we have amazing principals who are leading educational communities across this country. They know what to do when you give them enough money to interact with their learning community. They know what to do. They have been putting in speech pathology; they have been putting additional teachers into classrooms; they have been putting additional support staff into classrooms to help students; and they have been gradually, deliberately, every day, making advances in helping our kids become better readers, better thinkers and better citizens because they are learning and they are getting the resources that they need. So, when the SRS is not at the level it needs to be, there are big problems.
This is what a teacher had to say—and believe me: I am going to trust a teacher who has committed their life to serving children and serving this nation through education. I am going to believe them and what they are telling me every day over the glib language that we are hearing from this minister. The teacher said: 'As a public school teacher, I struggle to keep my classroom at a minimum standard to meet the requirements to teach the syllabus. This weekend alone I spent $133 on stools for my classroom. Why on earth can't my school afford furniture? Because we are so far below the minimum resource standard. The original Gonski NIRA arrangements made me feel secure in the decision to send my own daughter to a public school when she hits school age. I am not confident in this decision, if the local public school is inadequately funded, while the grammar school is able to provide opportunities above and beyond whatever I could imagine in my own classroom. I cannot provide my students with the future opportunities they so very much deserve without the proper funding that will put my students on an equal footing with those from higher socioeconomic areas.'
That is what is happening across this country. Some of our schools are so desperately underfunded, in terms of the student resource standard. I have been in classrooms to observe students and teaching and found that there was only one novel between two children. They cannot take them home and read it, because there are not enough to go around. I have been to parents and friends and parents and citizens meetings where communities that are not exactly replete with cash are raising $10,000 to buy school readers so that their children in kindergarten years 1 and 2 can actually have readers for learning how to read.
The other day I was on a plane with a person who works for Defence. He told me about his partner, a teacher, who spends money every single week buying paper and practical resources to take to the classroom for the students to be able to learn. That is what the money that is going into education is supposed to address—those terrible things that are missing. It is to give schools the capacity to deal with those things and all the extra things that are needed to help students learn. So, the money we are talking about in all these formulas is all caught up in responding to the real challenges that are out there in classrooms.
Minister, I asked you before about the primary capacity-to-contribute curve. I asked you about the average non-government school SES 100 situation. Can you confirm that those students will lose $438? With the non-government school SES 110, can you confirm that there is a loss of $800 per student. Minister, could you possibly advise, in the complexity of all the special deals you are doing here with the Senate, how many different arrangements will you have in place at the end of your dirty deals? You have eight different indexation arrangements for each state government system. I am not sure if the minister is shaking his head at me or if he is having an unpleasant conversation with somebody on the other end. It would be hard to be getting this sort of critique in stereo, I suppose. There are eight different indexation arrangements for Catholic schools, separate transition arrangements for each independent school, transition arrangements for ACT Catholic, and potentially some others, and some schools transitioning over 10 years and others perhaps over six years. How many deals do you have going, Minister, and are there still some afoot tonight so that you can get this done and get your legislation through?
I did not speak on the Australian Education Amendment Bill 2017 during the debate on the second reading, so I thought I would take this opportunity, while senators O'Neill and Collins are changing over, to explain my opposition to the government's school funding deal, which is before the Senate. I will speak again in support of my amendment, but I think this initial explanation will be helpful. Einstein said that insanity was doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result. We all know that paying all teachers more does not improve school education outcomes. We know that governments that spend up big in their first budget don't fix the mess closer to an election. We know that when Liberal governments have adopted Labor-Greens policies they lose Liberal votes but do not pick up Labor-Greens votes. And we know that governments that borrow incessantly eventually cause mass hardship to the people. Yet, on each count, the government school funding deal is making the same mistakes we have seen in the past.
When Labor was in government it was clear that the previous increases in school funding had not improved the quality of school education. Despite this, Labor sent terms of reference to David Gonski that did not require his recommendations to fit within the spending envelope of existing spending. Unsurprisingly, Gonski's recommendations call for increased spending. Labor adopted such spending increases as policy, and Labor legislated for these spending increases in the Australian Education Act 2013. In the 2014 budget the Abbott government instead proposed that from 2018 Commonwealth school funding should be increased in line with the CPI and student numbers. This was a step in the right direction, but the Abbott government never bothered to enact this proposal, so, to this day, Labor's approach remains the law of the land.
The Parliamentary Budget Office has advised me that the existing law requires nearly $20 billion more Commonwealth school funding over the next decade than Abbott's proposed approach. When the Turnbull government proposed to increase Commonwealth school funding, compared to Abbott's approach by $18.6 billion over the next decade, and when Turnbull actually planned to legislate to convert his proposal into law, I was inclined to support Turnbull's legislation.
Yes, I accept your point. I suppose I am using shorthand for the Turnbull government and the Abbott government. That was not intended to be disrespectful to people in the other place.
The Parliamentary Budget Office has confirmed to me that passing Mr Turnbull's bill would reduce Commonwealth government funding over the coming decade by $1.2 billion, compared to what the current law requires. Despite the government's claim that it was increasing school funding, this was compared to the unlegislated fantasy of the Abbott government. I knew that the government's bill was actually cutting school funding over the coming decade, compared to what the current law requires. That was fine by me. The government was also proposing to make small improvements in how funding is distributed, although, in a perfect world, the Commonwealth would provide no school funding, the states would fund students rather than schools and funding would be properly means tested, such that we could jettison the grab bag of duplicative, poorly designed loadings and capacity to contribute calculations of the current system.
But yesterday the government changed. It proposed a further $4.9 billion in Commonwealth school funding over the coming decade and has prepared amendments to its own bill to make this funding boost the law of the land. So now the government is planning to increase Commonwealth school funding over the coming decade by $23.5 billion compared to Mr Abbott's approach. Crucially, this also means that Commonwealth school funding, compared to the current law of the land, is set to increase by $3.7 billion.
Within a day the government's approach to schools has morphed from a spending cut to a spending splurge. This is despite the evidence that school funding does not determine school performance, despite the evidence that fiscal responsibility is required early in a parliamentary term, despite the evidence that adopting Labor-Greens policies does not make Labor-Greens voters vote Liberal and despite the evidence that a government's incessant borrowing eventually causes mass hardship for the people. The irony is that the consequences of this will fall on current school students.
In order to pay current school teachers more, regardless of their performance, the government is burdening today's children with ever greater debt. Might I remind senators that the government's net debt is $355 billion, and might I remind them that each year the government is adding to this debt by running budget deficits. We are spending money we do not have. We are falling into the very spiral of borrowing and debt that Senator Gichuhi so clearly warned against in her maiden speech. How can you, in good conscience, agree to borrow even more money under the school funding deal? When confronted with a Senate that has a dangerous addiction to borrowing and spending, the government should have been prepared to see its bill defeated, but its focus is on the political theatre of a winning vote, regardless of what that vote entails. It is principle-free governing, and it is ruinous for our nation.
I join with Senator Leyonhjelm in many of his comments regarding the fact that throwing money at education does not improve educational outcomes. I suppose Senator Leyonhjelm and I both went to veterinary schools, where there was not an enormous amount of expenditure of capital—and look where we are today, for the evidence of it! I would be very keen to direct him to my contribution last evening in which I pointed out to the chamber the outcomes of a Senate inquiry on teaching and learning that I ran back in 2011. It was at the time when 'Gonski Macro' was out there doing big-dollar things. Our teaching and learning inquiry, whose report and recommendations had unanimous support, dealt with the non-dollar associations: why children aren't learning and why can't teachers teach? It was things like early childhood, influence of the parents, selection of students leaving school, quality of teacher training, the amount of time that trainee teachers had in practicums, the fact that so many of them—over 50 per cent—regarded themselves as not teacher/classroom ready when they graduated, mentoring that was not happening, professional development that was not being offered to temporary teachers because the very ones who needed it might not be there next year, the quality of teacher training, et cetera.
All of those matters found their way into the recommendations, and of course the biggest one of all was discipline. And how disappointing: even though at that time we made it clear that teachers would not need to have their name or the name of their school made public, we only ever had one Tasmanian teacher who appeared before us to tell us why he cannot teach. And it is because if a child goes berserk at the beginning of a class then not only does it take him half the class time to settle that circumstance but the other 25 or so children are there shivering in their desks, and how much are they going to learn? That same teacher from Tassie also spoke to us about the fact that so many teachers are being required to teach outside of their area of specialty. Why? Because when so many of them went into teacher training all they wanted to do was phys ed or art, and how many teachers in schools are required?
He told us he was often one class ahead for the teachers who were being required to teach mathematics and science but were not qualified in that space, and he was helping them out by being one class ahead. We addressed all those things, and I support you, Senator Leyonhjelm—through you, Chair—that it is evident. For the Finns, who are the best in the world, and the Chinese and the Singaporeans, money is not an issue. Discipline certainly is, and attention by children certainly is.
I want to turn to some of the commentary we have heard in the last couple of days from Senator Collins and Senator O'Neill, for whom I have a high degree of respect. Like me, they have come through the Catholic education system and I suspect know an awful lot more about it than I do—although, as you know, I was nine years on the Catholic Education Commission. And I think it is fair to say—and this is my own comment, not a criticism necessarily, but I would venture the opinion—that the department and the minister might even accept that the minister may have perhaps had a greater level of consultation earlier, may have engaged a little bit more with the systems et cetera.
Having said that, I want to put on record my very clear statement, and it is this. When Senate estimates was on, I met, prior to dinner, with the minister's adviser. Over dinner one night, on the final Thursday night, I met with Minister Birmingham and we discussed where I believed the issues lay with the Catholic education system, particularly systemically. I got out of bed at half past three on the Friday morning to get the 6 am flight back to Perth so I could go and meet the head of Catholic Education, Dr Tim McDonald, a man I value highly. We went through it all, and I said to him, 'Tim, what is it you need?' And he told me what he needed. Just to be sure, I committed it to writing, as I promised Minister Birmingham I would do. I sent it to Dr McDonald asking him to comment and criticise if indeed I had inaccurately reported what I understood to be the circumstance. Remember I had nine years as a parent member on the commission. It was a few years ago. I put to Minister Birmingham the requests of the catholic education system out of WA. Dr McDonald said to me, 'The South Australians are in a worse circumstance than we are.' Then on the Monday, for what was a public holiday for you and me, Temporary Chair Sterle, I participated by telephone from North Yunderup in the Senate inquiry chaired by my good friend Senator McKenzie. Again, I was particularly pleased to hear the questions asked by Senator Collins, because I know she is well across these issues.
But prior to my writing to Minister Birmingham I put to the heads of the Catholic education system—who I believe were the gentleman from the ACT, Ms Danielle Cronin and I think Mr Elder from Victoria—what I understood from Dr McDonald were the key questions. I am sure my report to Minister Birmingham is probably boring, but if he wanted it to be released I would have no trouble with that. I delayed my report to Minister Birmingham about the McDonald meeting because I wanted to test whether or not what I thought Tim McDonald was saying to me was valid. Then, in response to Dr McDonald's suggestion, by teleconference last Friday I spoke to the head of the Catholic Education Office in Adelaide and two others. His name was Bruno and the other two Christian names were 'Paul'. We discussed at great length their special needs. I said to them that I would again be corresponding with Minister Birmingham. It is amazing how much work you can get done on the plane going between Perth and Canberra, as you know, Temporary Chair!
I shared with Minister Birmingham the concerns they had and the requests they had. The requests were these: 'Please impress on the minister that we should preserve the system weighted averaging for a 12-month period. Please don't rush through the proposed SES model for a 12-month period. Please impress on the minister the need for a review independently undertaken.' We discussed a Professor Farish, who I understand had been the architect of the SES scheme and who had in fact said that he did not think it was working or going to work. This was following Mr David Gonski's original statement that he did not think it was going to work either. I will also come to Dr Peter Tannock. So that is what I sent to the minister.
As you know, Temporary Chair, I have never been a person to rush out into the media on issues. I have worked behind the scenes always. But I was so minded, as is obvious on the public record, and I did go out into the media. I did not initiate that. It was the subject of requests. I said to the minister privately—and I repeated it publicly—that if I could not achieve on behalf of the Catholic education system the requests they were making of me I could not give the government my support. My words were, 'Simon, please don't make me vote against the government in my last week in the Senate.' Those were the words I used and they were accurately reported.
So on Monday of this week a meeting took place at my request with the minister and a number of those people about whom I spoke a few minutes ago. It was between Mr Zahra, Mr Crafter, who I think is the chairman of the National Catholic Education Commission, Ms Cronin, Mr Elder, Minister Birmingham and me. We went through those issues again. Questions came up of disability funding et cetera. At that time the minister took on board what the request was and I said to him I would not be going out into the media because I had no interest in going out to the media—I just wanted to get across the line; I just wanted to get what the Catholic system had asked me to achieve. That was it. There were calls coming in and I could have appeared publicly on television and done all the stuff that some of the people around here love to do, but I do not like to do that and I have not.
Absolutely, Senator Collins—you have my respect. As for the gentleman behind you, we only ever see him. It has come to pass that the minister has been able to accommodate the requests I have made. Last evening, just in case it was not clear, I rose in this place and spoke and I specifically asked him: are you prepared to have the system weighted average retained for 12 months, will you have an independent inquiry, will you include students with disability in it, will you ensure that the outcome of that inquiry, its report and recommendations, are tabled in this place, and will you please tell me the mechanism that will be used to give effect to it. Today my office and I have had phone calls, we have had emails, we have had everyone—very concerned principals, parents and others. This morning I said my staff, 'Gather together my speech from last night and Minister Birmingham's speech in response.' I have shared that with the ones I have had time to speak to; the ones I have not had time to speak to I have sent a copy. Each and every person has either come back saying, 'Thank you, I now understand the scenario,' or they have not responded and I take that to be acceptance because they were so concerned.
I will be bold enough to say that had I had the opportunity to speak to the minister in earlier days I would have counselled him against putting out the so-called per school tables, and because you know the Kimberley so well, Mr Temporary Chairman Sterle, I will simply use the illustration of Sacred Heart in Broome. If you look at the tables, they apparently got a 49 per cent increase. The entire state of WA's Catholic system is funded in a co-responsibility, but you and I know how many kids' parents will be paying fees at Sacred Heart in Broome—very few. If Sacred Heart's school board said, 'You little beauty, we're going to grab the 49 per cent, we're going to get out of this co-responsibility fund and we are going to use those funds', you, Mr Temporary Chairman, would know better than most people that Sacred Heart Broome would probably last for about two weeks because the cost of running that school is vastly greater than that sum of money. It has not helped that we now have this circumstance under way.
I say this to the archbishops who have communicated with me, and the bishops, the principals, the parents and others: yes there is some damage in terms of the system but it has been the underpinning of Catholic education certainly from the eighties when I went onto the Catholic Education Commission in WA to make sure co-responsibility was about the poorer schools being helped—the schools in the bush, the towns across the Kimberley, across the territory and across North Queensland in which there is no state school, it is only the Catholic school, and they get supported because, again, the fees, while attractive for parents, are negligible. I do not want to see the poorer schools in the Catholic system lost, but it is my understanding—I do not think I am an unintelligent person—that should these amendments pass, should we have this 12 months of system weighted average retained with a true independent review including those with disability, then the Catholic education system and indeed the other systems—the Lutherans and the others involved in education—will be able to rebuild their confidence, knowing that they are protected for the future. I have only made this contribution to put on record that that is what I requested and that has been accepted by the minister.
With the Senate's indulgence, I would like to take a brief moment to respond to the points that Senator Back has made. We have listened to those respectfully, even though we are on the amendments in relation to the student resourcing body, and my intention is to move fairly quickly beyond those after I respond to these issues.
Senator Back, no-one doubts your good faith on this issue. It takes me back to the legislation inquiry—you might have been on the phone at the time—when one of the witnesses, who had earlier on been verballed by the minister, was retreating to the position about how wickedly complex this bill and school funding are. Certainly, you are not an unintelligent person, Senator Back, but I think you did understand the points that I made yesterday. I think it is fairly clear for anyone who understands school funding—and, indeed, someone like Dr Tannock—that what the minister has provided you with is not, as I said yesterday, the full monty. If you are keen to ensure that the full circumstances for the funding of Catholic primary schools is maintained, then you will support our amendment, which will come along later, to preserve the existing capacity-to-contribute arrangements.
Senator Back, you were not in the chamber earlier today when I was asking the minister to provide figures that would highlight the difference between the $50 million figure—I think it was about $46 million; I do not have the notes in front of me anymore—as compared to the system weighted average arrangements under the existing bill.
Thank you, Senator O'Neill—$46.5 million was the figure. Senator Back, I understand your good faith in this, but, because I am not really sure there has been a fair characterisation of the nature of some of the lobbying or consultations that have occurred here, I want to bring to the attention of senators—and remind anyone listening to this debate about—reports that have consistently been in the media about what the full value of preserving the arrangements that were established under the act would be. I can take you back, for instance, to a report by Tim Dodd on 8 May this year, where he highlights:
… whatever the motive, the impact is that a large, non-government school system—and the Catholic system is the only large one—gets a significant advantage from using the system weighted average. It's currently worth about $80 million extra a year …
Remember, this is in 2017 terms, and the estimates about what that provision provides going forward across 10 years—as Senator O'Neill and I have communicated to you—grows to about $100 million to $150 million a year. This is why yesterday I said I was pleased that you have achieved some improvements, but it is not what the Catholic education system was fully seeking when they were talking about a review of the SES and the maintenance of existing circumstances until the occurs.
Because, earlier today when I asked the minister for figures that would demonstrate that difference to the Senate—he still has not provided them—he said they are interconnected. The system weighted average issue is connected to the formula used to calculate capacity to contribute, and that is connected to the SES. So, for the minister to respond to you, Senator Back, by only partly addressing that and maintaining the provisions in the bill that change the capacity-to-contribute formula, he puts the cart before the horse. He is making a unilateral change with no genuine policy basis because it produces savings. That is what he is doing. As I said, the estimate for 2017 is probably $78 million. It is about $2 million less than what was reported by Tim Dodd back in early May. This is not new information. It is not new issues that the Catholic education system has come forward with. It is an interconnection between those two factors that have been informed and understood in the canvassing of this issue for some time now.
Senator Back, I think all of us will be genuinely grateful that you have succeeded in closing that gap a bit over half. As you said in your comments a moment ago in your responses to archbishops and others, 'Sure, there will be damage in terms of the system'—I think I am quoting you accurately. That is true, and we should not pretend otherwise. There will be damage because this moratorium that was canvassed is not a full preservation of existing arrangements under the model, and I do not think we should pretend otherwise. I do not mean any disrespect to you in highlighting that point, but I think it indicates a lack of faith by this minister in his dealings with stakeholders. He has been operating the executive by leaking material to the press about what he is doing in a very inaccurate fashion. You have talked about the advice you would have given about the fantasy figures and the school funding estimator. Unfortunately, the minister has not been prepared to give any assurances about not maintaining that arrangement. He has not satisfied anyone following the detail of this debate about how he could rebase the figure for 2017 on a formula that will never apply to 2017. I am still quite embarrassed for the Department of Education and Training, because I think the approach he has taken has compromised their credibility, and I think it leaves the Public Service in a very poor position. Indeed, it may well be well something I take up with the Public Service Commissioner.
We may have argued today that we should have a schools resourcing body and that maybe that will help us remove the politics out of how some of these issues are managed. This is indeed reflected in the amendments we are dealing with here. How these matters have been conducted is no reflection on you, Senator Back. You have operated with the highest integrity every step of the way, but, unfortunately, this minister has not satisfied your demands. I know that you have got the best that you believe you will be able to get—and that is quite a legitimate position to reach—but I would encourage you, if you want to demonstrate to all that you understand how the capacity-to-contribute arrangements and the existing model apply, to support our amendments that would preserve the existing capacity-to-contribute arrangements in the act. Frankly, Senator Back, I am not hugely confident of those amendments because I know the Greens party has a different position on them. But, if you want to indicate to this government and to this minister that you do understand that there has been poor faith in their dealings, that is how I would demonstrate that point. We will be coming to those amendments later.
Before we come to those amendments, I would like to take this opportunity to highlight the broader interest of the community at large that there has been in the consideration of this bill. Whilst the committee stage process has been contracted, and we are here now at this hour, the number of letters and emails coming in expressing messages, clarifying points and expressing support for the principle position that a number of people have taken in this debate is something I have not experienced in the past.
Yesterday we had representatives of independent schools in the gallery. Today we have a slightly different story here to the usual. We have the Barnardos Mother of the Year in the gallery, because she is concerned and interested in how this legislation is progressing. Selina, I welcome you to observing this debate and understanding how the Senate is highlighting the issues that have not been properly canvassed in the minister's selective representation of school funding to the community at large. I know that Selina Walker understands how the Catholic education system operates and the sort of co-responsibility that Senator Back was referring to before. She understands, as Senator Lambie did, how that co-responsibility works and assists many Australian families—so much so that in that her case she organised forums here in the ACT to bring parents together to highlight the point.
More importantly, I think, contributing to this debate is a mother who understands the education of children and the importance of the unique Australian education system, a system that currently accommodates low-fee non-government schools doing a great job and in many areas doing the only job. The point that I made before about the nature of our school education system—Senator Williams will be interested in this—is that in some regional and remote areas the Catholic parish school is the only school. In many places they and the public school work closely together with their local communities, and they essentially meet the accessible, affordable education needs of that whole community.
This is what you understand, Senator Back, and Selina Walker understands is being compromised by this minister pushing through new fee arrangements in the model. What this minister is saying to parents in low-fee non-government schools is, 'Under our model we now expect you to pay more.' If the SES model is reviewed and a more appropriate formula is put in place, in another 12 months that might help preserve the cliff that happens next year. The Catholic education systems may be able to absorb the shock of some of that change until such time as that review occurs.
But we do not know how effectively those school communities will be able to absorb that shock. The minister has not done the modelling; he has not provided us with the information; all we know is that he is persisting in changing the capacity-to-contribute formula in the model despite ongoing reports and requests from stakeholders across the board. In persisting to do that he is not meeting the commitment that he gave that he would continue existing arrangements for low-fee parish Catholic primary schools. They are going to get a whack in the next financial year unless this Senate agrees to withdraw those provisions from the bill and meet the good faith that senators such as Senator Back and Senator Lambie and others have injected into the discussions here and the minister actually does what he said he would do.
I wish to make the following statement in relation to this important piece of legislation. I believe that these measures will be beneficial to students in Australian schools. What has been negotiated with the crossbench over the past few days has led to an increase in funding commitments of almost $5 billion to a total package of $23.6 billion in additional spending. The fact that the Gonski reforms will be implemented as they were intended to much more quickly, over six years rather than 10, is a very good result for students and teachers around Australia. The amendments moved by my colleague Senator Sarah Hanson-Young, which were passed earlier today and which I strongly supported, have now given more accountability and transparency powers to the National School Resourcing Board as well as powers to ensure that educational outcomes can be monitored. These amendments have strengthened my views on the importance of this bill being passed. No bill is perfect, but this package of reforms will deliver significant improvements for the education of our children across the country, including in my home state of Tasmania.
I want to make it clear to my colleagues that I strongly support this bill, I will not be persuaded otherwise and I will not be moving from my position. I have heard everybody out. I have been doing this for months. This has been agenda item No. 1 for my office. There is a lot more that has to be done in our education system—right from the bottom—but this is the best way to do it for this funding and for the way that this model has now been designed. I have total trust in Minister Birmingham following through and making sure that the board and the people he puts on that board do the right thing. I am very grateful that he is putting more people on the board so that there is more diversity. So we have one of two choices here: we can either sit here and keep going all night, or we can do the right thing and let our staff go home. It has been a long week. The game is over. It is now time to get on with it. It is time to look after the future of the kids of this nation.
by leave—I move requests (1) to (15) on sheet GX160 together:
(1) Schedule 1, item 1, page 3 (line 9), after "year", insert "for the school".
(2) Schedule 1, page 3 (after line 10), after item 1, insert:
1A Section 6
6 -year transitioning school means a transitioning school whose starting Commonwealth share is less than its final Commonwealth share.
(3) Schedule 1, page 3 (after line 10), before item 2, insert:
1B Section 6
final Commonwealth share has the meaning given by subsection 35B(6).
(4) Schedule 1, page 3 (after line 23), after item 5, insert:
5A Section 6
starting Commonwealth share has the meaning given by subsection 35B(2).
(5) Schedule 1, item 6, page 4 (line 4), omit the definition of transition year, substitute:
transition year means:
(a) for a school other than a 6-year transitioning school—a year from 2018 to 2027 (inclusive); or
(b) for a 6-year transitioning school—a year from 2018 to 2023 (inclusive).
(6) Schedule 1, item 16, page 6 (line 24), after "year", insert "for the school".
(7) Schedule 1, item 16, page 8 (line 9), after "transition rate", insert "for a school other than a 6-year transitioning school".
(8) Schedule 1, item 16, page 8 (after line 12), after subsection 35B(7), insert:
(7A) Unless the regulations otherwise provide, the transition rate for a 6-year transitioning school:
(a) for the transition year 2018 is 16.67%; and
(b) for each transition year from 2019 to 2022 (inclusive) is the transition rate for the previous year increased by 16.67 percentage points; and
(c) for the transition year 2023 is 100%.
(9) Schedule 1, item 16, page 8 (line 13), after "transition year", insert "for a school".
(10) Schedule 1, item 16, page 8 (line 16), after "subsection (7)", insert "or (7A)".
(11) Schedule 1, item 40, page 13 (line 1), omit "transition year", substitute "year from 2018 to 2027 (inclusive)".
(12) Schedule 1, item 47, page 17 (line 21), omit "10 transition", substitute "6 to 10".
(13) Schedule 1, item 47, page 17 (line 29), omit "transition", substitute "6 to 10".
(14) Schedule 1, item 71, page 22 (line 6), omit "10 transition", substitute "6 to 10".
(15) Schedule 1, item 82, page 24 (line 26), omit "transition years", substitute "the years 2018 to 2027".
These measures are very important, and I acknowledge the role of many crossbenchers, including—I would note on the record—the work of the Greens as well, in relation to these requests to bring forward the transition period for schools across both government and non-government systems to reach the agreed level of the schooling resource standard.
As senators are well aware, after the lengthy debates that have been had, the government proposed that, in applying consistency across Australian schools, we would deliver 20 per cent of the schooling resource standard to government schools across every state and territory—the schooling resource standard being the needs based model that the Gonski report helped to develop, which ensures different loadings and different support for students based on different levels of disadvantage. Whilst the deals that had been done previously provided for a very different level of support from the federal government across each different state and territory, the Turnbull government brought down a proposition to say that we wanted to see every state and territory reach 20 per cent of that schooling resource standard by 2027 over a steady 10-year period, taking the state that got the worst deal, Western Australia, and bringing it up to be on level-pegging terms with the jurisdictions who got the best deal, so that everyone was treated equally.
We similarly proposed, reflective of the historic nature of schools funding, with the federal government providing the lion's share of funding to non-government schools and the states providing the lion's share of funding to government schools, to bring the non-government schooling sector up to 80 per cent of the schooling resource standard. That ensures, with just one or two exceptions, that every schooling system across the country sees growth over that time. It does, though, see around 350 separate stand-alone independent schools transition down to 80 per cent of the schooling resource standard and maintenance that we have discussed in relation to circumstances for the Northern Territory.
The amendments I have just moved, which are now before the chamber, will accelerate the transition period that the government has proposed for all of those schools and systems who are below the 20 per cent and 80 per cent shares. It will not have any impact on those systems or independent authorities who are above the 20 per cent or 80 per cent shares. It will ensure, though, that those who are below that will transition to that common share of 20 per cent and 80 per cent over the next six years. By 2023, we will have every government school system in the country being treated equally, fairly, by the Commonwealth government according to the Gonski formula. By 2023, we will see all of those underfunded, non-government schools and systems treated equally and fairly and transition to a common formula of the Gonski funding. This is really important because it delivers certainty, fairness and equal treatment along the lines of a needs based funding model.
The result of this is that we will see growth in terms of funding additional to that which had a ready been put in the budget papers—growth of around $1.5 billion over the budget period and around $4.9 billion over the next 10 years. That is additional funding to help transition all of those schools, all of those systems, to the common 20 per cent and 80 per cent shares faster. It has benefits across all schooling systems in Australia—government schooling systems and non-government schooling systems, including the Catholic system, other systems and stand-alone authorities. It delivers additional funding faster. But there is an important caveat to that. In the long term, because it is helping all schools to reach that cap faster, once those schools reach their 20 or 80 per cent share they will then move ahead based on the indexation within the legislation. In the long term it does not have any structural impact on the budget from 2027 and beyond but it does ensure that schools reach those targets much, much sooner.
I commend these amendments to the Senate. They are a significant change and they absolutely help in the mission the Turnbull government brought forward with this legislation to ensure consistency of application of the needs based model across the country. They help to do that much faster than was the case previously. They have been advocated by many different parties and stakeholders during the Senate inquiry in particular, during much of the public debate and during consultations with the crossbench. I acknowledge and pay tribute to the various crossbench parties who have helped with this. Senator Lambie has just spoken passionately about the fact that it is not just about the money but how we make sure the funding is used as appropriately and effectively as possible, especially for kids in schools where there are enormous challenges and difficult circumstances to overcome. Senator Xenophon and his team have worked hard to bring forward the transition arrangements. Senator Hinch and Senator Gichuhi's commitment to make sure there is equitable treatment and it is achieved as soon as possible has been very strong. Senator Hanson and her team have made sure that, through this, we do not lose sight of a focus on ensuring that quality efforts around teaching and teaching reforms are absolutely pursued, as states and territories have previously agreed to do.
As I said at the outset, I acknowledge also Senator Hanson-Young and Senator Di Natale's advocacy for these types of amendments too, notwithstanding the positions they have taken on the overall bill. These are amendments that absolutely enhance the Turnbull government's reforms. They build upon them. They make them stronger. They will deliver greater support, and faster, to the schools who need it most. I commend the amendments to the chamber.
I can indicate—somewhat wryly, I have to say—that Labor will be supporting these amendments. Why I take that approach, I suppose, is that I reflect on the government's response to when we had a six-year transition plan and indeed all of the political statements at the time about how it was not fully funded because the funding was not fully provided in the forward estimates over four years—and here we have pretty much the same type of plan. Labor is going to take the responsible position here and accept the improvements that the crossbench has been able to achieve, but again I highlight that response in comparison to the former response of the current government, when we had the six-year transition plan under Gonski 1. We may be talking different quantum figures here, but the pretence that it involves funding beyond the forward years is again essentially replicated here. It is not as stark as it was when it was over 10 years, and I am not going to waste the Senate's time in getting the detail of what proportion of the funding is in the first four years. That is the sort of argument that this government has pursued in the past, and it is really not a credible policy position. We accept that there has been improvement in the amount of funding that will come forward and we appreciate the progress that the crossbench has been able to make on that particular matter, and for that reason we will be supporting these amendments.
I do have to indicate, though, that we still fundamentally believe—and this is what best characterises the position we are taking on this bill as a whole—that the combined approach recommended in the Gonski review, rather than this minister's confected Commonwealth-only approach, is going to achieve the best long-term outcomes. I agree with Senator Back that it is best, in dealing with states and territories, to apply the carrot rather than the stick. I will not say much more on that now, because we will get to that in further amendments when we are dealing with the bill and what has been proposed to deal with that, but we believe that is a fundamentally wrongheaded approach. We have done what we could to try to convince the government that the nature of their approach with states and territories was not going to be to the long-term benefit of Australian school students, but we understand that for the crossbench any improvement they could get on what the government was prepared to propose is better than what was originally proposed. Only the future will tell us, and the Schools Resourcing Board will help us in the future understand how effective we have been in dealing with the behaviour of states and territories and how they fund school education.
As I said, we still fundamentally believe that the 20 per cent for government schools and the 80 per cent for non-government schools is unfair. The impact of increasing the Commonwealth funding level to some non-government schools cannot be described as fair in any sense of the word. The improvement in funding, for instance, to my high-fee independent school, which will apply almost equally under this six-year transition as under the 10-year transition, is not fair when schools such as my local Catholic parish primary school suffer the cuts that are related to the capacity-to-contribute formula changes. It is not fair. I am not going to go into the various schools, cherrypicking examples; I have given you just my local example.
I have the income and the capacity to now send my youngest child to a high-fee independent school. It just so happens that she is attending that school because it is the best local school that meets her particulars. But I have the income that enables me to pay those sorts of fees. Many children in my local area attend the low-fee Catholic systemic parish school that my children also attended. Their parents do not have the capacity to meet the increased fees that will apply if this Senate approves the changes to the capacity-to-contribute formula. Certainly I could, but many of the other parents of children in that school could not. That school includes students from the refugee community. In Box Hill, South Sudanese students and quite a number of Asian students participate within that parish and that school. Their parents will not be able to meet the increase that will occur unless we remove those provisions from the act.
In dealing with this fundamental shift to 80-20, we note that this faster transition time and the cuts to school funding is still almost $20 billion over 10 years if you use our plan as the status quo. Sure, there has been a lot of discussion about what should be the relevant status quo—the Abbott status quo or the Labor status quo—but that point still remains. Sure, there has been a $5 billion improvement in the overall pool, but these significant cuts to an alternative plan to school funding are still there. This will reduce the quality of education that schools can provide. It will affect New South Wales schools, which have been on a much better plan. Unfortunately, the grief I still feel here is best described by what the Australian Education Union indicated should be the alternative. They said, 'Preserve the existing agreements—continue them on their six-year plan, continue Victoria on its slightly longer plan to a consistent student resource standard and renegotiate with those other states that weren't able to become participating states.' That is what has not happened here.
The 20 per cent low rate for government schools still means that only 85 per cent of government schools will get to their fair funding level. That is the big concern about this shift. Let me say that again: the 20 per cent for government schools embedded in this bill still means that only 85 per cent of government schools will get to their fair funding level. Because we have not been able to see any government modelling, and I gather the minister still has not responded to the Senate's order for production of documents, we cannot properly understand which those schools are. Where are those schools? We are reasonably confident a fair proportion of them are in the Northern Territory. But where is that 15 per cent of public schools that will never reach their student-resourcing standard?
Hopefully the new student resourcing board will be able to enlighten us on some of those issues. We can look at the more appropriate ways to target policy to help those schools get to an appropriate student resource standard. But this plan still does not get many public schools there. Remember, no state or territory has agreed to increase their funding, and we will get to a discussion later about how feasible the arrangements proposed really are. I have characterised them pretty clearly, I think. They are a stick approach rather than a carrot approach, and Labor fundamentally believes that they will not work. Of course, then we have this perverse situation where they may indeed encourage some states to withdraw funding from non-government schools. This may indeed encourage some states to retreat rather than improve their funding.
So, Minister, I have just two questions of you in relation to these amendments. The first is: what does this faster transition mean in terms of the share of the additional funding that will go to public schools? You will have heard the concerns that 80 per cent of the additional funding under Gonski 1.0 went to public schools and only 50 per cent of the Gonski 2.0 additional funding would have gone to public schools. So my question now is: what proportion of the additional funding in—what shall we call it? Perhaps I should consult the crossbench. Will we call this Gonski 2.0+?
You prefer 'plus'? It is a 'plus' on the status quo, which was the bill, so I will grant you 'plus'. What proportion of the funding under Gonski 2.0+ will go to public schools?
The other question I have, Minister, is on issues related to teacher wages. We have heard, from a number of parties, concerns about how this model might impact on the wage cases and claims of teachers across the various different sectors and states. My question is: what, if any, impact will this faster transition of funds over six years as opposed to the 10-year plan—so, the additional $5 billion—have on the pressures related to teacher wages? If it is going to achieve an improvement and not damage the appropriate reward for good quality Australian teachers, that will be good, but if it is essentially not going to make much difference because the model really is not addressing those issues and the government does not have any other plans in relation to rewarding quality teaching, then that is a point worth understanding.
I acknowledge and thank Senator Collins for her acknowledgement that the opposition will not be opposing these amendments and have provided their support to these amendments.
My understanding is that, in total, over the 10-year period, around 65 per cent of that additional funding now available will flow towards the public sector, and that is of course, broadly speaking, commensurate with the enrolment share across different sectors in Australia.
In terms of your question about teacher wages, Senator Collins, as you would know, because they are negotiated through industrial processes by the different school system authorities or individual authorities, they are really matters for those systems. As you are aware, through the bill there is consideration given to overall wages growth as part of the indexation arrangements.
I would like to speak briefly to these amendments as circulated by the government. These of course relate directly to the issues raised by the Greens in terms of making sure that we do not make Australian kids wait an entire decade to get their school resource standard up to something that is appropriate. We know that kids are struggling in schools right across this country and we know that the bulk of underfunded schools across Australia are public schools. They have waited far too long for the injection of money that has been promised and then unpromised and promised again. It is a relief that we finally have some commitment to bring forward the obligations to ensure that our schools right across the country that are underfunded can start to catch up.
We know that, when the Gonski reforms were originally envisaged, the recommendations of David Gonski and his panel talked a lot about the fact that we had to start putting our schools on an equal footing; we had to put in a lot of effort to get schools that were well behind up to a standard which was acceptable. Of course there are schools that continue to be well and truly overfunded, and the Greens have an amendment that will start to rein in some of that overfunding at a faster rate as well. In conversations with members of the crossbench, with the government and with the opposition I think it is clear that 10 years was too long. I welcome the fact that the government has acknowledged that and I welcome the change as a genuine attempt at a step forward to deal with the inequalities and disadvantages particularly in our public schools across the country. The Greens strongly support this amendment and will be very pleased to see it pass.
With the National School Resourcing Board, will there be that level of accountability where the chair of the board or a senior member of the board will be required to appear at Senate estimates? That is three times a year where there will be that level of accountability, and of course there is nothing to stop the references or legislation committee insisting that they appear more regularly in respect of their very important work.
I want to acknowledge the good grace of Senator Collins in this very long debate. If she were out there as a barrister I think she would get lots of briefs, because she is on top of this brief and she has been very assiduous.
'She'd make more money,' says Senator Lambie! I think the minister may acknowledge that Senator Collins has been a very worthy adversary for the government—he does—but the important issue here is that whatever differences we have I think there is unanimity in this chamber that this is a package with more money, more accountability and more transparency than it had at the beginning of the process. This is something that Mr Gonski, Ms Greiner and Dr Boston have all said is an improvement, and I want to genuinely thank Senator Collins for her good grace. I understand that there is a very clear line in the sand between the Labor Party and the government, and indeed some of the crossbenchers, on this, but sometimes a bit of grace is lacking in this place and I think Senator Collins showed a great deal of grace in her statement. I appreciate that.
In terms of this amendment to bring things forward six years, in the end the Greens could not support this legislation but I think they did play a very constructive role in this debate that should be acknowledged. Of course that goes for my crossbench colleagues such as Senator Hinch and Senator Lambie.
Apart from reiterating that this is a package of measures that I and my colleagues negotiated with the government to condense this to six years, to get better outcomes more quickly, will the chair of the board be accountable before estimates? That is a very simple question. I am happy with a yes or no, Minister.
Senator Xenophon, thank you for your good comments right around the chamber, many of which I had already indicated in acknowledging people. Indeed, Senator Collins and Senator O'Neill are worthy adversaries in these discussions. The answer is yes—the chair would be available to be called to estimates when estimates committees thought that was necessary and appropriate.
Just as a point of clarification: this amendment is basically going to affect the bottom line of this funding package to the tune of $4.9 billion. I did note that in the minister's opening remarks yesterday he said he would be making amendments but that they would not impact the budget at all. How do you reconcile this increase of $5 billion or thereabouts with your opening remarks?
I invite Senator Bernardi to look back on the remarks. I indicated that the long-term structural position of the budget would not be affected by decisions the government was taking. Indeed, the impact of these amendments, which bring forward the transition to a common school funding share across the country, do of course have impacts over the shorter-term periods in the budget, but by 2027 the final position remains the same.
The CHAIR: The question is that requests (1) to (15) on sheet GX160 be agreed to.
I would like to direct a question to Senator Hanson, through you, Chair. Senator Hanson, I am interested in whether the issue of children with autism in schools was raised during your conversation with the minister? Your comments relating to children with autism needing to be in separate schools and not being able to get an education through the mainstream education system have generated much controversy today. I am interested to know whether you raised that issue at any time through your discussions with the minister during consideration on this education bill?
I am glad you have raised this, because I think you are totally misled. You are misinforming this parliament. I never said that children with autism would not be in normal, average schools. I said that they should actually have a special classroom. They should have a classroom where they actually have the special attention that they need with the teachers.
Senator Hanson-Young interjecting—
I have actually had a lot of comments from teachers who are contacting my office and are saying that it is clearly a problem in the classrooms that has not been addressed. Parents are also saying, 'It is a great idea and thank goodness someone has finally opened up the debate on this and actually wants to discuss it.' Anyway, we have had a lot of support today from people who believe this needs to be opened up for debate. All children deserve a decent education, and I think what the government has done in this bill to increase the funding for autism in schools is a wonderful idea. I believe it has gone from approximately $690 million up to $1.23 billion, so that is much appreciated, especially by Giant Steps—they are very appreciative of it. Giant Steps is a school for autistic children. Their parents had trouble getting them into schools and they did not fit into schools, and that is why Giant Steps has been started.
There is another thing. I had a letter from a 15-year-old boy today, and he said: 'You are right in what you said. I went to a state school and I was bullied. I was not treated properly and I was left out of excursions, to the point I felt like I could die. It was not till mum found me a Catholic school for special kids that I then started to learn properly. I felt accepted and I went on excursions.'
I think what is important is this: let's have the debate about it. There clearly is a problem. Because I raised an issue, you have mislead this parliament about what my true statements were. You were not interested—through the Chair. I do not believe the Greens or the Labor Party are interested in what I have to say. I think it has been political pointscoring. Parents and children have heard these comments. They have been taken completely out of context.
Everyone deserves a decent education. As I said in part of my speech—I wish I had it here to say it word for word—if it were one of my children I would want them to have all the special needs and attention that they truly deserve. Do not throw the baby out with the bathwater. Look at the problems out there. Listen to what the people are saying. Listen to what the teachers are saying. Even the Queensland Teachers' Union admit there is a problem with autism in the classrooms—that teachers are not taught or qualified in how to handle this. That has to be addressed.
Through you, Chair, I perhaps will explore the idea of 'special classrooms'. That is a new concept. I thought Senator Hanson was proposing that children with autism did not deserve an education through the mainstream education system, but we now have a concept of special classrooms. Was that issue of special classrooms within mainstream schools, or indeed the issue of ensuring that children did not go through the mainstream education system, raised at any time with the minister, Senator Hanson? Senator Hanson?
The question that Senator Hanson has refused to address—indeed, today the minister refused to address—was whether the issue of children with autism attending mainstream schools was part of the negotiation over the education reforms. Senator Hanson, you have an opportunity to set the record straight here and make sure that you are straight with the Australian people. Was this part of your negotiations with the government?
I just want to say a couple of things in response to Senator Di Natale's question. Firstly, that question was asked last night in the Senate committee stage. At that time I made clear that such issues were not raised in negotiations with Senator Hanson during discussions about this legislation. In fact, Senator Hanson and I had discussions about a range of issues, as she has noted, in relation to teacher quality. We discussed, indeed, the application of the nationally consistent collection of data on students with disability, and in that we did discuss students with autism, but at no time in such discussions did Senator Hanson suggest that students with autism should not be in mainstream schools. At no time did she suggest to me that we should not be pursuing, wherever possible, inclusive policies.
Senator Hanson was interested to understand how the NCCD process works, and I am also very pleased to tell the Senate that, as a result of the amendments just passed in relation to disability funding, the investment in support for students with disability and their families will increase from an estimated $20.6 billion over the next decade to some $21.2 billion over the next decade. That is, of course, a $600 million increase on what was already a very significant increase in support for students with disability.
Of course, one of the important features of using the nationally consistent collection of data on students with disability, one of the very important features, is that students are identified in their school, by their school, based on the level of adjusted assistance that is required for those students. In relation to something like autism and its impact in a school environment, it is widely appreciated—I am sure particularly by you, Senator Di Natale—that there are students who have different levels of adjustment and need different levels of support. The NCCD process will allow schools to differentiate and then receive different levels of support reflective of the different needs of those students with autism, just as it is reflective of the different needs of students with disability overall.
I do hope that provides clarity and context to discussions, also to how the support for students with disability will operate in relation to this legislation. As I indicated in the Senate today, the government is very committed to ensuring the NCCD process works. We are very committed to ensuring that schools around Australia meet their obligations under the national disability standards. We are very committed to making sure those disability standards keep up with the expectations and rights of students with disability. We are very committed to all of that because we know that extra resources and support—and better targeted support, under the NCCD arrangements—will enable schools and teachers to respond and ensure the right classrooms and resources are available to support students of all needs and in all environments to have an inclusive and successful education.
(1) Schedule 1, page 18 (after line 23), after item 49, insert:
49A Section 6
school education reform agreement has the meaning given by subsection 22A(6).
State -Territory contribution amount has the meaning given by subsection 22A(2).
(2) Schedule 1, item 60, page 20 (lines 17 to 22), omit section 22A, substitute:
22A Conditions of financial assistance—State -Territory contributions
(1) A payment of financial assistance under this Act to a State or Territory is subject to the following conditions:
(a) the total amount of funding provided by the State or Territory for a year for government schools located in the State or Territory must equal or exceed the State-Territory contribution amount for government schools in the State or Territory for the year;
(b) the total amount of funding provided by the State or Territory for a year for non-government schools located in the State or Territory must equal or exceed the State-Territory contribution amount for non-government schools in the State or Territory for the year.
(2) The State-Territory contribution amount for government schools or non-government schools in a State or Territory for a year is the amount worked out using the following formula:
State-Territory share for the State or Territory x Total SRS amount for the State or Territory
(3) Unless the State or Territory's school education reform agreement specifies otherwise, the State-Territory share for the State or Territory for a year from 2018 to 2023 (inclusive) is the percentage worked out using the following formula:
final State -Territory share means the State-Territory share (within the meaning of subsection (4)) for government schools or non-government schools, as the case requires, for the State or Territory for a year after 2023.
starting State -Territory share means the percentage prescribed by the regulations for the year for government schools or non-government schools, as the case requires, in the State or Territory.
transition rate means:
(a) for 2018—0%; and
(b) for each later year—the transition rate for the previous year increased by 20 percentage points.
(4) Unless the State or Territory's school education reform agreement specifies otherwise, the State-Territory share for the State or Territory for a year after 2023:
(a) for government schools is:
(i) if the starting State-Territory share (within the meaning of subsection (3)) for the State or Territory for government schools is 75% or less—75%; or
(ii) if the starting State-Territory share for the State or Territory for government schools is more than 75% but less than 80%—the starting State-Territory share; or
(iii) if the starting State-Territory share for the State or Territory for government schools is 80% or more—80%; and
(b) for non-government schools is:
(i) if the starting State-Territory share for the State or Territory for non-government schools is 15% or less—15%; or
(ii) if the starting State-Territory share for the State or Territory for non-government schools is more than 15% but less than 20%—the starting State-Territory share; or
(iii) if the starting State-Territory share for the State or Territory for non-government schools is 20% or more—20%.
(5) The total SRS amount for the State or Territory is:
(a) for government schools—the sum of the amounts worked out under Division 2 of Part 3 for the year for each government school located in the State or Territory, as if the Commonwealth share for the year were 100%; and
(b) for non-government schools—the sum of the amounts worked out under Division 2 of Part 3 for the year for each non-government school located in the State or Territory, as if the Commonwealth share for the year were 100%.
(6) The school education reform agreement for a State or Territory is the agreement between the State or Territory and the Commonwealth relating to implementation by the State or Territory of school education reform mentioned in paragraph 22(2) (b).
These amendments relate to state and territory contributions. As I have indicated to the Senate numerous times recently and indeed in public debate, one of the key features that the Turnbull government sought to put in place with the bill that it has brought to the parliament was some means for the Commonwealth to hold state and territory governments accountable for at least maintaining their real share of funding and investment into the future to at least ensure that state and territory governments could not do as some of them have done in the past, which was to take increased Commonwealth dollars with one hand and pocket them with the other. When state and territory governments did that, it provided no net benefit to students or schools; it simply provided a benefit to the bottom line of those stat budgets, which was contrary to the intent of the governments, be they Labor or coalition, making that increased investment. So we put in place those provisions.
There was constructive engagement of those on the crossbench, including those who wanted to hold and make sure they held different players in state and territory governments to account and wanted to make sure that, with the Commonwealth government moving towards the consistent application of a share of schooling resource standard across all states and territories, there was some means to reflect the fact that some states do more to pay that full schooling resource standard than do other states.
I look around the country and know that, with 20 per cent of the schooling resource standard to be provided to government schools from the federal government, Western Australia on its current contributions and the ACT will exceed 100 per cent of the schooling resource standard for those government sectors. We know that Tasmania will virtually meet 100 per cent, that South Australia will come close to 95 per cent—the target set by the previous Labor government—but that then it drops away across some of the other states and territories. The amendment put before us today seeks to put in place a means of holding the states somewhat to account to reach that 95 per cent target for all of them, to put in place a capability for the minister of the day, if the states do not put in increases alongside the increasing Commonwealth contributions, to look at the level of Commonwealth contribution and ensure that it is more proportionate to that state or territory if they believe that the scale of contribution required is in fact not as great as the schooling resource standard would dictate.
These measures should be viewed as an incentive mechanism. They do set into the legislation very clearly a target, and that target is very clear for all to see: achieving 95 per cent of the schooling resource standard across the board. Equally, they do provide capacity for us to negotiate with the states and territories about the achievement of that target and to set terms around that via regulation following those negotiations. I commend the amendments to the Senate. I again note that they were developed in part out of the processes of the Senate inquiry, out of the advocacy of various stakeholders both in and out of this place and particularly out of the work of some elements of the crossbench.
As the minister has indicated, these amendments deal with locking states into increasing their funding in five equal increments until they are at 75 per cent of the student resourcing standard. It also allows states that are above 80 per cent of the student resource standard funding—currently the ACT and Western Australia—to reduce their funding, which essentially allows some cost shifting. I have raised this perversity in the past in relation to the Grattan Institute's suggestion to the Senate committee inquiry that states might retreat—or, indeed, that states could consider and perhaps should retreat—from their existing funding arrangements in that respect. Indeed, here we potentially have that shifting in relation to the ACT and Western Australia.
The minister referred to the Senate committee inquiry and other submissions leading to some of the further work that is involved in this amendment. Minister, having observed at least the public elements of that process, my reflection would be that these amendments are not well informed. We have had the discussion about how well informed was this policy shift from the combined approach as recommended by the Gonski review to the Commonwealth share approach. I remain to be shown anything that informed that shift. I continue only to be told that cabinet determined it, rather than any informed thought, discussion or policy development. Even the Grattan Institute could not assist there.
These amendments basically represent a will or desire that states do certain things. As I have said previously, it has been very naive to suggest that one size fits all will work in this federation in relation to school funding. I suspect the future will highlight that. I suspect the future will highlight that this attempt to tie states and territories with this stick approach is not going to work either. There has been nothing that we have observed coming out of the ministerial council or coming out of COAG that gives us any confidence at all that this approach might work.
In this area it enables crossbench senators to suggest that they tried, and there is something there to try to deal with state and territories, but, as one of the few remaining senators from previous government, I have to express my scepticism that these arrangements will work at either a ministerial council level or a COAG level. I say that with regret, but I also say it with the experience of having worked with states and territories across governments of different persuasions to build the nationally consistent data set for students with disability. I have participated in these forums and I know how they can work when state and territories attempt to work together or when states and territories involve genuine consultation and engagement with the non-government school sectors as well. There is nothing in these amendments that gives me any confidence that this process will work or that it will be enforceable in any other way other than public accountability that might be available through the school resourcing board. I have to say that we can have very little confidence that these arrangements will operate that some crossbenchers, particularly, might have been attempting in encouraging the government to establish this.
That aside, Labor still fundamentally believes that all schools across the country should move to a fairer funding level than this 75 per cent of the student resource standard. We believe that the 95 per cent that we struck under Gonski 1 was the appropriate level to aim for, and this 75 per cent state, you say, is still not getting schools to the combined level that we need them to be at, especially given my earlier remarks about the six-year transition and the number of schools that under the six-year transition still will not get to the level we need, or the number of public schools in that case, to the level we need them to get to.
At risk of being repetitious here, the review of funding for schooling clearly stated that this needs to be done in partnership with states and territories, again with that combined resourcing approach that is lacking from these amendments within the overall framework. This is why Labor worked with states and territories to achieve this. We have had the government, for the last four years, telling us: 'State contributions don't matter; it's up to them. They should be able to do their own thing.' Now, all of a sudden, we are back to an attempt—it is not a realistic attempt; it is not an enforceable attempt. In fact, what is that expression—putting lipstick on a pig? That is probably a better characterisation of what is occurring here, because now, at the last minute, the government is trying to rush through an amendment that seeks to bind state government budgets, with absolutely no discussion or agreement with states and territories and no advice as to how enforceable those arrangements might be.
So, arising from that, Minister, I have two questions. One is: how many different agreements and arrangements will we end up with under these new concessions? Senator O'Neill, I understand, has already asked this question in a different discussion. But, Minister, I understand that there has been no response. Given the somewhat glib characterisation earlier from other senators about the 27 different arrangements, I am really not sure that we have moved that far away from 27 different arrangements, with a range of other accommodations.
Overall, that might more adequately deal with our delivery of school education in Australia than the provisions originally in the bill, but let's just make that point. This is no longer the pure one-size-fits-all arrangement that the minister has told us consistently, for the last six months probably, was his objective. And indeed, Minister, could you answer: why are you allowing the ACT and Western Australia to cost-shift to the Commonwealth by reducing their funding to schools to 80 per cent of the SRS?
The Commonwealth takes the view that, in the setting of the schooling resource standard—which of course will be developed and enhanced via the review methodologies the senators debated—a 100 per cent target for the schooling resource standard is an appropriate target to have in place. We obviously seek to ensure, as I indicated before, that no state that is below that target is able to cost-shift onto the Commonwealth. We seek to ensure, though, that every state is treated equally. In terms of your question, I am happy to inform you that our anticipation is that after 10 years, across the states, all government school systems will be receiving one consistent 20 per cent share of the schooling resource standard. Across the states, all non-government school systems will be receiving one consistent share of the schooling resource standard.
This is about getting rid of differential treatments and having circumstances in which children of virtually identical need in schools of virtually identical circumstances can, in one state of Australia, receive significantly different levels of funding from their national government than they do in another state of Australia. It is about seeking to be blind to state boundaries, but in recognition that yes, we want to seek an aspiration of states and territories meeting the schooling resource standard or thereabouts. We have sought to apply this mechanism so that the states—Queensland, New South Wales and Victoria—that do not come close to meeting the 95 per cent, or plus, target of the schooling resource standard have an incentive in which to do so and within which to put in the additional investment to do so. It does get to 95 per cent, because we are seeking to encourage the states towards a 75 per cent share of the schooling resource standard plus the proposed 20 per cent share from the Commonwealth, which, of course, equals 95 per cent of the schooling resource standard.
This is about creating an incentive mechanism that sits alongside and works in tandem with the mechanism we already have to ensure that there is no cost-shifting. But we also do not want to undermine the constitutional autonomy of the states in relation to school funding, so this is about creating an incentive. Yes, the states will still be free to set their funding levels, but for the first time the Commonwealth minister will have clear powers and clear reasons to be able to respond if the states and territories reduce their funding, rather than having the Commonwealth minister's hands tied while the states and territories cut their funding, as we saw in the last report on government services data, which was released by the Productivity Commission, which showed that additional Commonwealth funding for school education had flowed into my home state of South Australia but in that year the state Labor government had reduced its funding for school education, therefore negating the benefits that were intended to flow through to schoolchildren and schools in South Australia.
First, the Australian Greens support this raft of amendments. We have been advocating for this. As a result of the Senate inquiry we put this in our recommendation and over the past couple of weeks we have been advocating for the government to do something to tie the states into the process. I think this is a good step forward and I am thankful that the crossbench has seen the sense in supporting this, as well. It is absolutely important to ensure that we do not have just the federal government doing their part of the bargain, without ensuring that the states are fundamentally tied into this process. We do not want to see state governments crab-walking away from their commitments to education, thinking that in next year's budget, or the year after that or the year after that, that they can cost-shift and find savings in education. We know that state and territory governments routinely do this.
Sadly, despite the fact that we are in 2017 and you would think wiser heads would prevail, state governments, as well as federal governments, somehow still think that budget savings in education are a smart idea. We all know that cuts to education are dumb cuts, whether it is in the schools sector, in early childhood or in our tertiary and higher education sector. Cutting funding to education drives this nation backwards. At a time when they have high youth unemployment, when we have low job growth, when we have an immense transition of the workforce, the absolute last thing we should be doing is finding cuts in education.
This amendment, as the minister has outlined, is designed to try to tie the states in, to bring them to the table to ensure that they too play their part in the role of bringing schools up to the resource standard and ensuring that everyone across all levels of funding is committed to genuine needs based distribution.
I have a couple of questions for the minister. In regard to the criteria for maintaining funding, obviously it is a condition of federal funding that states maintain their level—they cannot drop below. What type of indexation rate will that be set at, because, of course, it is in regulation and not in the act itself?
For the states to maintain funding for their funding-maintained arrangement, it is intended that they maintain what is their share of the schooling resource standard that they pay in 2017 into the future. The amendment before us is about the states and territories where that is below 80 per cent or 20 per cent, for the respective sectors—that they grow it. Because it is aligned with the share, the intention is that it, as a share, grows with the schooling resource standard, which is growing by 3.56 per cent over the next three years. Then, the formula indicated in the bill is a composite of 75 per cent wages growth and 25 per cent inflation growth.
Thank you, Minister. I now want to ask some questions about maintaining funding from the federal government in relation to the Northern Territory. Could you please outline what we are going to do to ensure the Northern Territory is protected, given its circumstances. We know that already Northern Territory schools are funded above the 20 per cent share. I would like to hear how the minister intends to ensure that children in the Northern Territory are not disadvantaged.
As I have indicated to the Senate before, the government took a decision outside of the model as such to budget funding for the Northern Territory—the additional funds necessary for them to maintain their existing share of the schooling resource standard, noting the unique circumstances there and reflecting the fact that NT students will, of course, continue to receive far and away, as I was indicating to Senator McCarthy last night, the highest per-student funding in the country, befitting the needs of those NT students. As outlined in the budget, in no way is the Commonwealth proposing to reduce the share of the schooling resource standard for the Northern Territory. That is being topped up in the budget out of some additional funding, which is around $35.6 million over the budget period.
I am happy for the minister to confirm that later on down the track if need be. Of course, the Greens are very concerned about what would happen to the Northern Territory if, indeed, we did not maintain a level that is well above the common share of 20 per cent. I would like that figure confirmed, because it is absolutely essential that, whoever is in government and whatever commitments they want to make schools, we do not see funding to Northern Territory public schools drop in any way.
I have just a quick question. In the conversations that have been had at estimates since the arrival of the Abbott government and in the period of the Turnbull government, one of the questions that we have constantly asked is about what was happening with the distribution of funding, and the response that we got from the government over and over again was that to call on the states to account for the money that the federal government was providing to them was to increase red tape. It was a particularly frustrating response to receive. It was not seen as accountability at all to have the states account for the money. If people are interested in this, they could look at the Hansard and they will see Senator Ryan, representing Minister Pyne, and Mr Cook, as the acting head of the department, saying over and over and over again that the sort of thing that is now being proposed in this amendment was red tape. What has changed, Minister?
I think that is a carbon copy of a question that we explored in Senate estimates. There are significant changes, Senator O'Neill. You would recall that the type of red tape that was being discussed was the idea that every school in the country would have to go through a process of submitting a school improvement plan as part of the funding, a highly bureaucratic process, whereas what we are seeking to put in place here are accountability mechanisms particularly for the states and territories.
Specifically, we have been discussing accountability mechanisms that relate to their maintenance of funding and/or their growth of funding. We are also discussing accountability mechanisms so that where states and territories agree to undertake certain reforms, such as they did in response to the teacher quality review, there is some capability for the federal government of the day to ensure that those reforms are actually followed through—in that case, to lift and enhance the quality of teachers, or perhaps the application of the national curriculum in another case or, indeed, whatever else the second Gonski review may discover and that they may agree to.
by leave—I move Amendments (1) and (2) on sheet 8160 together:
Clause 2, page 2 (table item 4), omit "176", substitute "181".
Schedule 1, page 37 (after line 26), at the end of the Schedule, add:
Part 4—Limiting commitments
177 Subsections 67(2) and 69A(1) (note 2)
Repeal the note.
178 Subsections 112(3) to (5)
Omit "section 126", substitute "subsection 126(1)".
179 Section 126
Before "The Consolidated Revenue Fund", insert "(1)".
180 Section 126
After "for a year", insert "commencing before 1 January 2022".
181 At the end of section 126
(2) Payments of financial assistance under this Act to a State or Territory for a year commencing on or after 1 January 2022 are to be made out of money appropriated by the Parliament by another Act.
Amendments (1) and (2) on sheet 8160 together.
The theme through my contributions to this debate has been the requirement for governments to act responsibly and within their remit. That means that their funding needs to be applied over the course of the forward estimates, where they are accountable and where the impacts that are going to be on the budget bottom line are displayed to the Australian people. They are not fanciful projections, if I can say that. They are not pie-in-the-sky anticipations of glowing revenues and blossoming economies. They are actually put down in black and white.
We know that we cannot rely on the forward projections when it comes to revenue, but we more or less can rely on them when it comes to expenses. If you double the government's estimates you will probably be pretty close to where their expensive programs roll out. However, in this case the government have been sneaky; they have been tricky. This is exactly what they condemned the Labor Party for when Labor were in office: for making an announcement over a decade or more, with expenditure weighted into the latter years so that it did not interrupt or damage their budget bottom line but so they could go out there with spin and say, 'Look at us! We're fiscally responsible!'
Well, they are neither of those things. They are not interested in better educational outcomes—either side, to be frank—because the measuring and the statistics are not there. There is no criteria to peel back the layers and to say, 'I'm terribly sorry, you've failed at your school to educate your children properly so we are going to peel back your funding.' And when the government announced Gonski 2.0, which was a political fix—or an attempt at a political fix; whether it works or not!—it was scheduled to spend $1.9 billion in the forward estimates, or thereabouts, and the remainder of the $18 billion in the never-never. This was on the presumption that they would not be in power.
That is a smoke-and-mirrors trick! It is exactly what they condemned in Labor, but now they have said, 'Well, we're only spending $18 billion.' But in the blink of an eye, at the stroke of a pen and at the demand of a crossbencher, another $4.9 billion magically materialises. That is another $5 million a week in interest payments that the very people who they are purporting to want to change the educational outcomes for are going to have to pay back for decades and decades to come! They are robbing from tomorrow to prop up their political perils today.
There has to be a better way. There has to be a way that we can have confidence, not only in government projections but in government accountability. You should not be able to sow what would be known in corporate takeover parlance as the 'poison pill'. The poison pill is where you lay a landmine so that when someone comes along who does something that you do not really like, or if you think you are going to lose your grip on power, it is going to blow up in their faces.
Putting funding out there on a 10-year projection is a poison pill. It is designed to put off until tomorrow the things you need to deal with today. It is designed to ensure that, should you lose your grip on power because of the wisdom of the Australian people, the other mob are going to have to pick up what has been left behind. Labor were experts at this and, quite frankly, the coalition belled that cat, and they did it properly. They said, 'Gonski 1.0 is not a funding cut because the funds were never there in the first place.' Well, I am telling you that with Gonski 2.0 the funds are not there either. They cannot project revenues into the next year accurately. Every year we hear there is going to be a deficit of $20 billion or whatever it might be, or a surplus. In fact, since 2009 we have been told a surplus is just around the corner, but it is yet to materialise and we are now $500-plus billion in debt. And the minister, through the stroke of a pen, added another one per cent to that yesterday. If anyone here does not think that that is completely bonkers and an abrogation of duty, they should not be here. But this is the problem. On this side of the chamber, for this crossbench, success is measured by how much money it can gouge out of the government so that it can pursue its agenda. I think we cannot afford that anymore. Every intervention from the Nick Xenophon Team costs the Australian taxpayer billions of dollars. It is funnelled into their little target measure. We are seeing the same now from others here.
Let me be frank: I am very happy to say that I want to save the taxpayers' money. You can get better educational outcomes by making sure the existing funding, or even supplementary funding, is commensurate and dependent on children being better educated. You cannot have people coming out of schools who are not literate or numerate to a sufficient standard. You cannot have them going into university studies and graduating in degrees that are never going to get them a job and never have a meaningful financial or beneficial outcome for them. But it is a great financial and beneficial outcome for universities, because they only care about the students coming in. That is what this bill does: this funding is only about the students coming in. 'We do not give a hoot about the outcomes,' is basically what this government is saying—'As long as you get the students into the schools, you can teach them what you like and off we'll go.' I, for one, say that is absolutely wrong. This is a gross dereliction of duty by the legislators in this place and in the other place. They are spending money they do not have on promises they will not uphold on outcomes that will remain unknown.
And so it is time to inject a bit of fiscal sanity into this. The amendments I have proposed here are that the funding will be allocated in accordance with the government's own projections over the forward estimates—in fact, slightly further on than that because we are already into the first year. Basically, they say: 'Yes, the funding is there for the next four years. Then, if you want more funding to pursue it, come back to the parliament and resubmit it again and have the discussion again about the best way forward.' Do not pretend that this is offering certainty or surety for any school in this country, because it is not. At the stroke of a pen, at the change of a government, whoever can negotiate an even bigger, better or worse deal—however you want to describe it—will then be able to change all of this. If you want proof of that, let's remember what Labor did. When the Labor Party were in government, they promised Gonski 1.0 to provide certainty and surety. They guaranteed it would keep going. They did special deals and all of those things. I make no judgement about that. But they promised the schools that there was certainty going forward, and what is happening? We are changing it!
There are only two things that are guaranteed in this place: the first is that we will all get kicked out at one point out or will leave; and the second thing is that the government, of whatever persuasion, is going to tax the Australian people more. It is not death and taxes; it is political death and taxes, in this case. The problem we have is that by appealing to the base instincts of schools or dressing these things up in moral dimensions and saying, 'Unless you do this, our kids will miss out,' we are neglecting the true fundamentals—that is, that money does not solve problems and government intervention does not solve problems. In actual fact, government intervention, more often than not, creates unforeseen and untold numbers of further problems.
So, if we want to confine them and we want to restore the accountability and the credibility, quite frankly, of politics in this country, we can start right now. We can start now by saying: 'Let's accept that the government's got an agenda it wants to pursue. People want to improve it, change it and modify it as they see fit. But let's hold them to account on the forward estimates so that the spending they want to spend now is on their heads. Then, if they are elected for another term, and in four years they want to do it all again and they think, "Yes, exactly what we said four years ago is perfect; let's do that," they can introduce the same bill and extend the spending on the same trajectory.' But I will wager London to a brick that this funding will not remain in place as it is passed in this Senate—and it looks likely to today—for the duration of the 10 years that they are promising. There is no certainty attached to this bill. The only certainty that can be brought in is by holding the government to account for its promises over the forward estimates in order to stop the funding attached to it then or to allow the government to make its case for the reason it needs to continue or change. It needs to be one of the two.
We stand here not because we are against education—in fact, it is quite the opposite—but because we believe that education is the building block of future success. But it has to be measurable and it has to be wise, and we also have to balance it with the prudence that comes with being a fiscal conservative, where you tend not to spend money you do not have. You can invest money in the future, but investment means you have to know what your expected rate of return is. There is no expected rate of return here, except if you are a politician and you are hoping to neutralise a political deathroll by throwing money at a problem in the hope that it goes away. It will not go away. I think the government is more likely to go away than the problem of our education system. This bill does not save it, but what we can do is improve it. We can improve it by putting what is effectively a sunset clause on the funding until the government makes its case in four years time. I know it is not politically popular, and I do not expect too much support, quite frankly, in this place because it would hold too many of them to account.
I rise to express support for Senator Bernardi's amendment to limit the appropriation provided by the Australian Education Act to 2021. It is such a good amendment, I wish I had thought of it myself. It is a modest amendment. It does nothing to alter the architecture of school funding. It is neither a Labor-friendly amendment nor a Liberal-friendly amendment. It simply prevents this parliament from binding the next one and the one after that.
If the amendment passes, school funding in 2022 and later years would require an appropriation. This could come through appropriation bills which are introduced at budget time and at the time of the mid-year budget update and which are routinely waived through parliament. Or the appropriation could come through amending the Australian Education Act closer to 2022 so that it provides some further years of appropriation. This is procedural best practice. It is how democracy should work, and it is a template that should be applied to every other statute that currently provides an enduring appropriation. If this were done, the government of the day, be it Labor or Liberal, would have a chance of balancing the budget. I commend the amendment to the Senate.
In response to Senator Bernardi, I acknowledge his contribution to the debate and over the course of the last 24 hours and the effectiveness of the suggestion he made about outcomes which appeared overnight in the Greens amendment.
However, Senator Bernardi, Labor are not able to support this amendment up for discussion right now, because ultimately it results in no funding certainty for schools. We do not support the government's legislation, but we absolutely believe that there should be ongoing funding for schools and that it needs to be budgeted for by the government. To support your amendment would put that significant part of education infrastructure in Australia at risk, so Labor will not be supporting your amendment.
I know it will break Senator Bernardi's heart but probably will not surprise him to hear that the government will not be supporting his amendment. I certainly will not insult you, as you would see it, with any of the comments that the chair may have just quietly muttered before. I can imagine your reaction to that. Senator Bernardi, I appreciate the intent behind your amendment. It is the type of amendment that, were you to want to apply sunset provisions across all areas of government spending, would be a means and a mechanism to do so. As Senator O'Neill has indicated, it is also the type of amendment that would create uncertainty, as you got closer to the end, about what the scale of funding would be. We should recognise that there is always an opportunity for the parliament to seek to amend and vary spending commitments that have been made by previous parliaments, as this chamber is doing right now. That is the nature of such arrangements.
The government have sought to chart a pathway that does not follow through with what we believed were both unaffordable and—as I think Grattan Institute has detailed and demonstrated—unwise funding commitments made by the previous Labor government but that, instead, came up with a model that provides fairness and consistency, stops and ends the capacity for state and territory governments to cost-shift back onto the Commonwealth and ultimately seeks to put in place some limit on the share and scale of the contribution to schools that the federal government makes, a share and scale which has been growing for many years now. We have seen state and territory governments, different political bodies and political lobbyists seek to use pressure at different times and junctures to continually push up the level of federal involvement in school education. While the reforms we have passed tonight will grow it, they will also cap it. As we discussed earlier, Senator Bernardi, the obvious impact of getting to a set share and a consistent share across the country is demonstrated by the fact that the 2027 cost estimates do not vary as a result of the amendments that have been made and passed through here during the debate on this legislation.
We think we have put forward an appropriate model. It therefore avoids the risk that your amendment may pose that in four years time an argument may well be made for even greater spending to be put through when such matters have to be reconsidered, which would be contrary, I am sure, to the intent of what you have brought to the parliament. I thank you for that.
I acknowledge, as have others, your engagement in other debates and particularly your focus on school outcomes. On the school outcomes front, I would draw your attention again to the provisions in the bill we have brought forward, particularly section 22, that provide some capacity for the first time for the Commonwealth to make some of the funding provided to states and territories conditional upon their following through on some of the commitments they might make. If we are to be, as has become the case over time, a more significant partner in the funding of school education then we also ought to hold state and territory governments to account for the way it is used, to ensure that it does lift outcomes.
An example I have given during this debate is the agreement reached, during the life of the coalition government, between state and territory governments and the Commonwealth on teacher education reforms to ensure minimum literacy and numeracy standards for initial teacher entrants and that primary school teachers in future have subject specialisations. Those types of agreed reforms, which can help lift teacher quality in the future, are absolutely things we should have the capacity to ensure the states and territories follow through on, to get better outcomes in place for school education.
I will not labour the point, but, Minister, I thank you for that comprehensive answer and for the confirmation that the coalition has abandoned competitive federalism as well as fiscal sanity and prudent spending. But I will make this point: one of the great things about the public advocacy for particular outcomes in policy settings is—you are right—it does apply pressure. But pressure, as well as causing those who are brittle to flake and crumble to dust, can every now and again generate some diamonds. So pressure can be a very, very good thing. I think pressure in this place when applied to people who are committed to principles and upholding values can be a very, very positive thing. Having a public debate about these things is sometimes in our national interest.
This is not a specific criticism of any party or any individual, but too often in politics we are only looking for the expedient quick fix to take the pressure off and to stop the media picking on us or a special interest group from screaming too loudly because it might be inconvenient and drown out the message we want somewhere else. I think that is the wrong way. I think there is an element of that that has occurred in this respect with the government. The fact that pressure was applied by a section of the school community and miraculously $5 billion was conjured out of thin air for the near estimates and a little bit further on I do not think is good public policy. As I said, $5 billion is a significant amount of money. I am disappointed that the attempts by the Australian Conservatives to put some fiscal sanity back into this place have been rejected, but I am very grateful to David Leyonhjelm of the Liberal Democrats. It is not the first time I have heard everyone say how important and good sunset clauses are and how they support them but just not on a particular bill and not on their watch. Somehow they should apply to someone else. It is disappointing, but nonetheless I can read the writing on the wall. I appreciate the courtesy with which you have rejected my pleas to be financially sane.
by leave—I move opposition amendments (16) and (18) on sheet 8155 together:
(16) Schedule 1 , item 46 , page 16 (lines 8 to 21) , omit the item, substitute:
46 After paragraph 3(1) (c)
(ca) to ensure that, as the Commonwealth increases its school funding, the States and Territories also increase their school funding so that each Australian school receives, from the Commonwealth and the State or Territory in which the school is located, recurrent funding equal to at least 95% of the total of the base amount for the school for the year and the school' s total loading for the year, for each year commencing on or after:
(i) if the school is located in Victoria—1 January 2022; or
(ii) if the school is located in another State or Territory—1 January 2019;
46A Subsections 3(2) and (8) (note)
Repeal the note.
(18) Schedule 1 , item 48 , page 18 (line 10) , omit paragraph ( c ).
We also oppose schedule 1 in the following terms:
(15) Schedule 1 , item 45 , page 15 (line 3) to page 16 (line 7) , to be opposed .
Can I say, in relation to this set of amendments about retaining the current preamble objects and reform objectives that are in the act, that Labor has always been up-front about our values in relation to school education. We believe in the transformative power of education and that high-quality school education should be available to all Australian children. Our schools should not entrench disadvantage; they should do the reverse. Every student in Australia should receive their fair funding level, the level they need for a high-quality education.
Let's be clear about the contrast between our values in education and those of those opposite. You can look at the government's proposed bill and try to understand those values, but it is not just what is in their bill that matters; sometimes what is not in their bill tells you a whole lot more. Labor's Australian Education Act, the current legislation, enshrines our values up-front. We set objectives and targets: that all students in all schools are entitled to an excellent education and that the quality of a student's education should not be limited by where they live, the income of their family or the school that they attend. The first object of our act was to ensure that the Australian schooling system provides a high-quality and highly equitable education for all students. You cannot find those objects if this bill succeeds, because they are not there.
What is in the bill also reflects what you believe you can achieve. The government's bill has cut a lot of our national targets. It no longer aims for Australia to be one of the top five highest performing countries in reading, maths and science by 2025; for our schooling system to be considered high-quality and highly equitable by international standards by 2025; or to halve the gap between the outcomes of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students and other students by 2020.
After all the talk about the need to reverse Australia's declining education performance and, indeed, the talk in here about transparency, there is no point unless we have benchmarks or objectives to measure that by. Having the Schools Resourcing Board has a range of the advantages that we have discussed, but we should be establishing the standards we hope to achieve under that transition, whether it is six or 10 years. In six years time, we should be able to revisit this issue and say we have not met the objectives that we set or, indeed, that we have. We need to be able to review what has been achieved by these changes and understand what further changes need to occur.
After the talk about the need to reverse Australia's declining education performance, the government does not back itself to achieve the targets but, indeed, has progressed the cuts. That is because this bill removes the reform objectives contained in the act. It removes reform directions around the quality of teaching, the quality of learning, empowering school leadership, providing transparency and accountability, and meeting student need—many of the issues that were previously incorporated in the plans and the National Education Reform Agreement that this government let languish. Finally, Labor fundamentally believes that all schools across the country should move to their fair funding level, 95 per cent of the schooling resource standard, and today I move these amendments to include this object clearly in the legislation.
The government's radical alternative plan is to take this combined approach with states and territories—in fact, I think Senator Bernardi referred to competitive federalism before. This new approach is a 'one size fits all', Commonwealth-only share approach. I understand that the Senate chamber seems to be determined to allow that radical shift in approach, but let's at least hold the government accountable for it. Let's include in the act the object of what should be achieved. Let's hold them to account in the future about how this poorly-informed shift in approach has not worked.
The schooling resource standard is, as many of us understand, the amount of funding needed, based on evidence informed by the Gonski review, to give a child a high-quality education. Every student in Australia should be entitled to their fair funding level. Any funding system that does not include this objective will just entrench inequality and disadvantage in our schools. By removing these things, this bill abandons the objective that all schools should reach their fair funding level of 95 per cent of the schooling resource standard.
Instead, the government's arbitrary decision to prescribe sector-specific targets of just 20 per cent for the SRS for public schools and 80 per cent of the SRS for non-government schools will mean that 85 per cent of public schools will be funded below their SRS target in 2027. Labor does not believe that we should have a school funding system that does not keep the objective of a quality education at its heart. We are calling on the Senate with this batch of amendments to retain the current preamble, objects and reform objectives in the act to enshrine the objective of schools reaching their fair funding share of 95 per cent of the schooling resource standard.
I will just quickly respond to Senator Collins. The preamble that is proposed in the bill for the new act is a very clear preamble. It makes plain to all who choose to see it the importance and significance of education in the life of the individual, the importance of a high-quality education to the future of our nation and the role of the Commonwealth in regard to the provision of education—the centrality and importance of that—and, indeed, as a leader in education systems across the country.
The objectives, yes, are varied and simplified somewhat from what is in the current act. But it is the Commonwealth's intention that specific targets, as such, ought to be set via the types of agreements that we hope will be struck with the states and territories following the second Gonski review. The right place for time-limited targets is indeed in such agreements, rather than in enduring legislation.
I am just working out the different machinations, because they changed. I just want to clarify that the Australian Greens supported those amendments of the opposition.
The TEMPORARY CHAIR: Okay. The question now is that item 45 of schedule 1 stand as printed, which is amendment (15) on sheet 8155.
Question agreed to.
I will now move to the next batch of our amendments, which deal with the issues around the removal of sector-specific targets—the 80 per cent/20 per cent approach the government has shifted to. Indeed, there is a bit of repetition here as well, which I think is the issue we encountered earlier in relation to the objects of the bill. I seek leave to move amendments (1), (3), (5), (11), (17) and (19) together.
That the House of Representatives be requested to make the following amendments:
(1) Schedule 1 , item 1 , page 3 (lines 4 to 10) , omit the item.
(3) Schedule 1 , page 3 (after line 13) , after item 2, insert:
2A Section 6
overall funding , for a school for a year, is the total of:
(a) the school' s total entitlement for the year; and
(b) any recurrent funding for the school for the year from a State or Territory, other than:
(i) financial assistance provided to the State or Territory for the school under this Act; or
(ii) capital funding.
(5) Schedule 1 , item 16 , page 6 (line 15) to page 8 (line 18) , omit the item.
(11) Schedule 1 , page 13 (after line 27) , after item 42 , insert:
42A After subsection 130(5)
Regulations prescribing Commonwealth share
(6) Before the Governor-General makes a regulation for the purposes of the definition of Commonwealth share in section 6 in relation to:
(a) a school located in Victoria in relation to a year commencing on or after 1 January 2022; or
(b) a school located in another State or Territory in relation to a year commencing on or after 1 January 2019;
the Minister must be satisfied, having regard to the combined contributions of the Commonwealth and the State or Territory, that the regulation has the effect that the overall funding for the school for the year is at least 95% of the total of:
(c) the base amount for the school for the year; and
(d) the school' s total loading for the year.
(17) Schedule 1 , item 47 , page 17 (lines 19 to 21) , omit "Not all schools will attract the final Commonwealth share immediately. Most schools (called transitioning schools) will move to that share over a period of 10 transition years.".
(19) Schedule 1 , item 71 , page 22 (lines 5 and 6) , omit "Most schools (called transitioning schools) will move to that share over a period of 10 transition years.".
Statement pursuant to the order of the Senate of 26 June 2000
Amendments (3) and (11)
Amendments (3) and (11) are framed as requests because together these amendments would be likely to increase expenditure under the standing appropriation in section 126 of the Australian Education Act 2013 from 1 January 2019.
Amendment (3) inserts in section 6 of the Act a definition of “overall funding” for a school year as the total of both the school’s “total entitlement” under the Act and the recurrent funding from a State or Territory.
Amendment (11) would constrain an existing regulation-making power, to set the “Commonwealth share” of funding, to circumstances where the Minister is satisfied that the purpose of the regulation will be to ensure that “overall funding” for a school for the year is at least 95% of both the base funding amount and the school’s total loading for the year.
From 2019 onwards (or 2022 for Victorian schools), this requirement is likely to increase the amount of Commonwealth funding under the standing appropriation in order to attain this funding target. As a result, the amendments are likely to increase expenditure under the standing appropriation in section 126 of the Australian Education Act 2013.
Amendments (1), (5), (17) and (19)
Amendments (1), (5), (17) and (19) are consequential on amendments (3) and (11). Amendments (1) and (5) omit provisions proposed by the Bill which would alter the method for calculating the “Commonwealth share” of funding to schools. Amendments (17) and (19) omit references to schools transitioning to the final Commonwealth share of funding over 10 years, as schools will likely transition to this share from 2019 ( or 2022 for Victorian schools) . Amendments (1), (5), (17) and (19) should therefore be moved as requests.
Statement by the Clerk of the Senate pursuant to the order of the Senate of 26 June 2000
Amendments (3) and (11)
If the effect of amendments (3) and (11) is to increase expenditure under the standing appropriation in section 126 of the Australian Education Act 2013 then it is in accordance with the precedents of the Senate that those amendments be moved as requests.
Amendments (1), (5), (17) and (19)
These amendments are consequential on the requests. It is the practice of the Senate that amendments purely consequential on amendments framed as requests may also be framed as requests.
The government's bill entrenches a discriminatory distribution of funding by prescribing sector-specific targets of 80 per cent of the SRS for non-government schools and 20 per cent of the SRS for public schools, fundamentally opposite to the review of the funding of schooling objective of a sector-blind model. In fact, it is quite sector specific. There is no reason for the arbitrary decision to fund just 20 per cent of the schooling resource standard for public schools and 80 per cent for non-government schools. That is not what the Gonski review recommended.
The government's funding model provides a majority of extra funding for the non-government sector despite the public sector educating the majority of educationally disadvantaged children. This was clearly detailed in the Prime Minister and Minister Birmingham's media release on the day of the announcement. The government's target of 80 per cent of private schools in 2027 and 20 per cent for public schools in 2027 has no requirement for states or territories to ever increase their funding. The crossbench, in Gonski 2.0-plus, has somewhat attempted to deal with that issue but we have already covered that territory.
The government's funding model will result in 85 per cent of public schools being funded below their SRS target in 2027, some 15 years after the original review of funding for schooling. So given the discussion about the original six-year transition, the subsequent 10-year proposed transition in Gonski 2.0 and now a six-year transition, we do indeed need to be reminded that the war in school funding has led to a scenario where, some 15 years after the original review of the funding of schooling, we still will have only 85 per cent of public schools there. It is a serious reflection on how inadequately this political process has dealt with these issues.
Even after 10 years, the Northern Territory, which is having its funding cut in real terms, would reach just 85.8 per cent of its fair funding level. Victoria would be funded at just 85 per cent of its fair funding level. New South Wales and Queensland would reach just 90 per cent of their fair funding level. And South Australia would remain underfunded at 93.6 per cent of its fair funding level.
Teachers, parents and school communities do not care whether their funding comes from the Commonwealth or the state government. Most of them do not understand the complexity—indeed 'the wicked complexity' as one witness claims—of this system. But what they do care about is that their school has enough funding to provide a fine quality education for all children. By moving to a Commonwealth-only model that does not take into consideration state funding, children will never receive the same funding no matter which state they live in.
We are calling on the Senate to enshrine the 95 per cent of the schooling resource standard as the target, but, as I have said, that was covered in the previous amendment. In this case, we are seeking to revert back to the combined funding approach that was going to deliver, especially for children in public schools. On that note, I would ask a further question relating to the earlier question I asked about what share of additional funding went to public schools. My question is: of the extra $4.9 billion for the six-year transition, rather than the 10-year transition, how much of that additional funding, which has been achieved in the negotiations with the crossbench, goes to public schools, and what proportion of that additional funding will, under these arrangements, under this shift to a Commonwealth-only share, go to non-government schools?
I will deal with the amendments first while we seek to see whether we can answer the specifics of Senator Collins's question. There is obviously a fundamental difference in that the Labor Party's outlook in relation to school funding by the national government is that it is perfectly reasonable for a national government to decide to favour one state or territory over another state or territory in the way in which the funding applies to that state or territory.
The view the Turnbull government has taken is that, as the national government, we ought to treat each of the states and territories in an equitable manner according to their individual needs. We think that is a perfectly fair and reasonable approach. It is what happens in relation to areas such as funding for hospital operations and the like, where, under an efficient pricing methodology, the Commonwealth funds about 45 per cent of the cost of hospital services and the state and territory governments fund the remainder. In this case, it is reflective of the fact that Commonwealth involvement in the funding of state and territory government schools has been increasing over the years. Not that far back it was close to single digits. At the start of the coalition government around 13 per cent of the cost of government schools was contributed by the federal government. That has moved up to about 17 per cent, and the legislation we are passing tonight will take that to 20 per cent, within six years, consistently across the country. What we expect is that we will see consistency of treatment by the federal government across the different states and territories, ensuring, therefore, that Western Australians will no longer receive a raw deal.
The logic that was applied by the previous government was: if a state government has decided to invest more in its schools, we will give it less; if a state government has decided to invest less in its schools, we will give it more. That was a profoundly flawed logic in terms of the types of incentives that it created. These amendments are—amazingly, astoundingly—even more flawed than what the previous government had sought to do. Yes, these amendments seek to put in place a 95 per cent overall funding requirement, but the consequence of these amendments is that, if a state or territory is not providing a share—pick a number—the Commonwealth will provide the remainder, the entire remainder. I am advised that this would mean that, from 2019 onwards—for all schools except those in Victoria, because the Labor Party continues to treat states differently, so Victoria comes in in 2022—if a state government withdrew its funding, the federal government would simply have to top it up to get to 95 per cent of the schooling resource standard. So it removes all responsibility from the states and territories. Previously the Labor Party had sought a situation where there was minimal responsibility on states and territories and reward for those who underfunded. Now they are proposing a situation where there is virtually zero responsibility.
Of course, that is not completely inconsistent with what applied under the old act. Indeed, there was nothing under the act as it stands, until this Senate and this parliament, hopefully, amends it, for the Commonwealth to take action should a state or territory government reduce their level of funding. In fact, circumstances that the previous government put in place were that, as a state or territory approached 100 per cent of the schooling resource standard, if that occurred somewhere, there was a built-in incentive for that state or territory government to keep funding below 100 per cent because, that way, their rate of federal funding would grow faster each and every year into the future than if they triggered that 100 per cent assessment.
They are some of the fundamental flaws of the old approach of the previous government and of the approach in these amendments that really do remove the legislative requirements and the legislative expectation that states and territories will pull their weight for what is, of course, their constitutional responsibility. In terms of the question that you asked, Senator Collins, I am advised that the answer to that is around 67.6 per cent.
In terms of the minister's comments in relation to fundamental flaws of this approach, unfortunately some of that is due to the fundamental flaws of his process. Some of those issues were addressed in our amendments relating to the schooling resourcing body, which, indeed, we are not pursuing now given that the Senate has already determined an alternative approach that we found inadequate for a range of reasons, as I have already said—not only its independence but also that it failed to specify a range of the roles that could occur under that body. As the Senate has already determined the other arrangements, we are not persisting with that group of amendments.
I just want to add briefly the Greens' comments in relation to these amendments as moved by the opposition. I understand the intent of what the opposition is trying to do. However, we feel very strongly that we have to find a better way to ensure that states do not crab walk away from their responsibilities. We do not want to see cost-shifting in education. One of the reasons why we supported and pushed for the amendment to lock states in in the previous amendment dealt with earlier tonight is we are worried, and we know it happens, that states and territories will try and save on their education budgets. Federal, state and territory governments do it all the time, and we have to put in place a mechanism for that to not happen.
We are worried that there is no incentive to make sure that states continue to fund our schools properly. I understand the desire to make sure our schools are all funded properly. The Greens will support the opposition in every step to do that. However, this amendment, I think, will undermine that by the fact that you cannot have a state government just pull their funding because it suits them or because they want to fund a new road or something else come election time. They have to be committed to funding our schools to get good quality education in our public system.
The CHAIR: The question is that opposition requests for amendments (1), (3), (5), (11), (17) and (19) on sheet 8155 be agreed to.
by leave—I move amendments (13) and (14) on sheet 8155 together:
(13) Schedule 1 , item 43 , page 13 (line 29) , omit " sections 52 and 53 ", substitute " section 52 ".
(14) Schedule 1 , item 43 , page 13 (line 33) , omit " subsection 52(1) ", substitute " section 52 ".
We also oppose schedule 1 in the following terms:
(4) Schedule 1 , item 3 , page 3 (lines 14 and 15) , to be opposed.
(8) Schedule 1 , item 41 , page 13 (lines 24 and 25) , to be opposed.
(10) Schedule 1 , item 42 , page 13 (lines 26 and 27) , to be opposed.
These amendments deal with retaining the minister's ability to set SES for a group of schools and maintaining the existing primary capacity-to-contribute curve. We have canvassed this issue several times already during the debate on this bill, so I will attempt to cover a range of key points fairly quickly to reinforce the discussion that has already occurred. Because the SES scores do not seem to accurately assess the ability of school communities to pay fees and changes to the primary capacity-to-contribute curve, many low-fee systemic schools and indeed catholic schools will be hard hit. The government's bill assumes that primary parents are able to contribute more to fees than is currently the case.
The Australian Bureau of Statistics evidence to the legislation committee inquiry into the bill showed that primary school parents on average earn less and have lower labour force participation rates than secondary school parents. The Catholic Education Commission estimates that around 600 Catholic schools will face a funding cut from 2017 to 2018 alone. This is the cliff that I have referred to. Other changes in this model allow a transition—it was 10 years; it is now six. There is no transition in this shift. The cuts around the ministers arbitrary changes to the capacity-to-contribute arrangements for non-government schools hit straight, hit right up and hit in 2018.
Catholic parish schools have warned that the cuts will force them to raise fees or possibly close existing schools in local communities. Minister Birmingham has presented dodgy figures to try to present this package as increasing funding. These are the so-called fantasy figures that rebased 2017, on the basis of a formula that will never apply to 2017, to try to convince parents that they would get an increase between 2017 and 2018—an outrageous process in public policy administration.
Stephen Elder, the education director of Catholic Education Melbourne, wrote:
When Catholic education first raised concerns with the Turnbull Government's Quality Schools funding package, Minister Birmingham said there was 'a lot of exaggeration' about the impact that it would have on schools …
But according to the education department's own calculations, Catholic schools will see a total loss of $4.6 billion. It is pretty clear—indeed, thanks to Senator Leyonhjelm—that Catholic Education was not exaggerating. I have asked this minister to correct the record from question time when he claimed that there would be an increase in sharer funding for Catholic Education. It is in fact quite the reverse—and starkly so.
Reverend Anthony Fisher, the Catholic Archbishop of Sydney, said in The Australian Financial Review on 8 May this year:
What's already apparent is that the government's new 'capacity to pay formula'—
and indeed I wish Senator Back was here now, because he appears to have been convinced that this capacity-to-pay formula had not really been raised by Catholic Education, and I do not know what higher level you might want than Archbishop Fisher raising this issue directly in The Financial Review
will force fee rises of over $1000 for a very significant number—at least 78—of the Catholic primary schools in Sydney alone. For some areas of Sydney fees could more than double. Modelling in other states has found the same.
This relates to the point I made earlier in the discussion, that there is really only one education provider other than—well, in fact, this is a unique situation for Catholic Education, because you have state governments operating their systems, Catholic Education systems operating theirs and then somewhat disparate independent schools, most of whom do not operate as systems, delivering education in a way that they do not really operate the funding-estimating model. They do not really understand or do not really have the capacity to quickly gauge the impact. But Catholic Education do, and that is why they were cottoning on to the significance of these changes very early on.
There has been next to no consultation with the Catholic sector about these reforms, just an effort to bully and silence school principals, teachers, parents and educators who are standing up for fair funding—quite the reverse of the contribution the minister made at the very large convention in Perth just ahead of the last election, where he claimed that Catholic Education are not just an appendage to the education system. But now he seems to be trying to conduct surgery and turn them into something else. We value the contribution the Catholic education system makes to Australian education, and we want to preserve it, whereas these amendments, arbitrarily changing the capacity to contribute formula, could seriously damage this unique and valuable element of our education system.
The Department of Education and Training revealed in Senate estimates that the figures on their website from 2017 are based on the new model, as I said earlier, and will never apply to 2017. The figures overinflate the starting point for many Catholic schools. So it is no wonder, when parents started looking at that site and trying to understand how it related to the reality in their school, that Catholic Education very quickly pointed out the farce that was involved in setting up that school funding estimator. It appears that the online calculator includes funding figures for some schools that are wrong by more than $1 million. That is how stark this exercise has been.
The minister and the department have repeatedly been asked to share the actual 2017 figures that systems and schools will actually receive based on the current settings in the act. Senators involved in this debate have heard me ask for figures based on the current settings in the act, which the minister continues to refuse to provide. Despite claiming that they have shared some of this information, the data in the current financial estimator tool has never been shared. They are hiding the actual funding for Catholic schools and systems in 2017, as it will reveal the extent of the cuts—the cliff that happens next year.
The minister should urgently reveal the actual 2017 figures for Catholic schools across the country so that school communities, parents and teachers can accurately assess the impact of this policy. This type of behaviour will not be possible in the future if we get the school resourcing body operating properly, but this is indeed where we are now in respect of this issue.
These amendments will retain the primary capacity-to-contribute curve, as it currently exists in the act. They will deliver the full-monty, so to speak, in terms of preserving existing arrangements, until such time as the review of the SES occurs. And they will keep the system weighted average as it is currently provided for in the act rather than the new arrangements that the government has proposed under more-general provisions, once again, until such time as an SES review is undertaken, and should then be supported.
The Australian Greens cannot support this amendment. We have said all the way through this process that if we are to put in place a genuine needs based funding model, a fair system, and one that looks after our most needy students and schools, we must ensure that we are looking after our public schools first and foremost.
We know that it is our public school sector that is primarily below the SRS level. We also know that the majority of Australian kids go to public schools. I have been just amazed at how much attention and coverage the Australian Labor Party has continued to give to the Catholic schools system throughout this debate, since this package was first put on the table some eight weeks ago. I do not dispute for one second that there are poorer Catholic schools across the country that deserve their fair share of funding. But, let's have a look at why those schools are not getting the support they deserve. We know from evidence given to the Senate inquiry and from a number of reports commissioned by the various Catholic schools commissions themselves that the Catholic schools systems have been funnelling money from poor schools to rich schools. They do that because they want to keep fees low across the board. So, poorer families are subsidising richer families and their kids at the more-wealthy Catholic schools. It is fundamentally unfair. There has been an extraordinary display over the past eight weeks in which the Labor Party, purely for politics, has continued to run a campaign to keep entrenched in this system an unfair advantage to Catholic schools across this country. Senator Collins spoke about the funding differences between public schools, Catholic schools and independent schools resulting from the changes to the model. We know that unless there is a change, unless we put in place a genuine needs based model, Catholic schools across this country will continue to get more money at the expense of public schools. That figure of $4.6 billion proves it. It proves what is wrong with the system that was put in place by Julia Gillard in the dying days of her government. It was a sop to the Catholic school system when it was done then. This group of amendments from the Labor Party tonight is a sop again.
The Catholic school system have been given a special deal by the government already. It has caused ructions in the government ranks. They have got themselves a special deal, yet today they have been walking the halls of parliament, camping outside Senator Lambie's office and begging for more. Give them an inch and they will take a mile.
If we fundamentally believe in needs based funding and in a fair system that looks after our kids who are most in need—our poorest public schools—it means that some of those independent or Catholic private schools are going to have to take a hit. That is the reality. Either you believe in needs based funding and in supporting public schools or you do not.
The CHAIR: Senator Hanson-Young, I remind you to refer to people in the other place by their correct titles.
How many press conferences have the Leader of the Opposition, Bill Shorten, and his deputy, Tanya Plibersek, held in Catholic schools in the last two months? A hell of a lot more than they have held in public schools. The protection racket has been in full swing, and these amendments strike right at the heart of what is wrong with this system. If you believe in needs based funding and you believe that public money should fund our public schools, it is time it was cleaned up.
Given the hour, I am going to moderate my response to the rather extraordinary contribution that we just heard there. It is not indisputable that the distribution arrangements that have been applied by Catholic education systems have been doing as Senator Hanson-Young suggests. The material that she put before the Senate committee can be challenged in a range of ways that I do not intend to go through in detail tonight. Of course, the first was the Kathryn Greiner 2015 draft, which we have already dealt with. The other report that Senator Hanson-Young provided to the committee and the other document that she tabled equally can be challenged in a range of ways that I do not intend to occupy this chamber's time with tonight. The report, once understood in context, does not at all do what Senator Hanson-Young suggested that it does.
The point here, and the point of what occurred in Gonski 1, is that you do not need to rob Peter to pay Paul here. Many involved in the school funding debate back at the stage of Gonski 1 reached a consensus because we accepted that we have a unique education system here in Australia that involves, if you compare it to other countries in the world, a reasonably large low-fee non-government education sector. I know some senators, and indeed some education advocates—it is a very small group nowadays, but there are still some—would argue that public funding should be only for public schools. Certainly that is a smaller and smaller group as the years go by. In my case, I was the beneficiary of funding that was ultimately provided to schools that fit the category of being low-fee non-government schools. I can understand Senator Hanson-Young's concerns about the high-fee independent school sector, and particularly those that this government has described as overfunded, according to their 80 per cent model. I can understand the concerns around those. But the school funding wars have raged here in Australia for so long until that settlement that we had during the Gonski 1 period. Eventually, a large number of public school advocates came to understand that basic principle: you did not need to rob Peter to pay Paul. That is what this $4.6 billion figure, once it finally surfaced with the assistance of the PBO and Senator Leyonhjelm, explained. The reason why the Labor Party has been highlighting the issues around Catholics schools is that that is where there is the big hit in this bill. That is where the impact is, cleverly hidden by minister Birmingham. That is where the big hit is.
We have said consistently to the government, 'You think the political climate is right now to act in relation to the—to use their expression—overfunded schools. We're up for that.' We are up for that. We tried it out, as the minister knows, under Mark Latham's leadership. We know what the coalition did at that time. The Labor Party learnt that political lesson pretty well.
So, Senator Hanson-Young, no, the Labor Party is not talking out of both sides of its mouth here. The government is, because it was this government who ran the campaign about the schools hit list under Mark Latham's leadership, and now they have a hit list of their own. But they are using that hit list as a shield. The shield that they are using that hit list for is—there are not significant financial gains from their hit list here. The 24 schools that were the original set of schools that were regarded as 'overfunded' did not yield significant budgetary gains. The real budgetary gains here come from the changes that the government has made so far as they impact on low-fee, systemic non-government schools.
Senator Hanson-Young, you know it is not just about Catholics. We have been over that several times. This digression into sectarianism again from the Greens is quite concerning. I know that in Victoria, for instance, the Australian Greens learnt that lesson in the past, when the impact of the Victorian Greens' policy in relation to low-fee non-government schools was highlighted. When that electoral impact was felt, they changed their policy in relation to non-government schools. I do not really understand why the Australian Greens do not seem to have understood that this track did not work for you. It did not work in Victoria, and you changed your policy position in Victoria. I can explain to you why you changed your policy position in Victoria. I can tell you the story from my own local parish and my fellow parishioners who live in my street, who have Australian Greens signs on their front lawns. They are the people who have been inclined to vote for the Greens because of your policies relating to social justice issues, but I do not think they will stomach this sectarianism. I do not think they will stomach that at all.
Senator Hanson-Young, I would have preferred not to go down this path—
The CHAIR: Senator Collins, I remind you to address your comments to the chair and not directly to the Senator.
Certainly. I would have preferred that this debate not go down this path, because I do not think it was very fruitful. In the committee stage consideration, for example, fortunately at the end of the day both senators withdrew allegations around protection rackets and the like, but it is back again in this debate. This debate is almost concluded. I think it would best facilitate the debate if I do not go any further into those issues. Hopefully, following Senator Birmingham, we just simply move on.
The coalition wants to make clear, as I did yesterday in response to some of the questions from Senator Back, our respect for Catholic education in Australia. I want to put that up front given the exchange and the discussion that we have just had. We recognise the value that Catholic education systems around the country have in the provision of high-quality education in a range of different environments, including environments of particular social disadvantage.
There have been times in this debate when we have had questions about some of the places in Australia—regional areas, Indigenous areas—where Catholic education is the only education opportunity that students have. Of course, in those circumstances they receive full fee funding under the government's funding model, as is appropriate, recognising that the schools provide public service in that regard that is not available from government systems.
Indeed, as Senator Collins rightly reflects, there is a very long history in relation to Catholic education in Australia and a proud history on this side of the chamber, adopted by those on the other side, of support for Catholic education that is extended into support for non-government education of a variety of faith based and, nowadays, also non-faith-based persuasions outside the government school systems that empower parental choice right around Australia. We want to make sure that parental choice continues to be available, which is why we have clearly maintained the support for non-government education of all persuasions under these reforms. But we have done it in a way that seeks to ensure consistency in the way they are applied across all of the different non-government education systems, sectors and authorities such that they are all treated in an equitable manner based on their need and the relative capacity and means of their school communities.
Senator Collins challenged the notion of whether there is a growing share for Catholic education. I am very pleased to point out that across each state the share of the schooling resource standard will grow for Catholic education systems as it does for many other non-government bodies and as it does, of course, for state and territory government bodies. In New South Wales that will grow from 78 per cent of the schooling resource standard to 80 per cent by 2023 as this bill has been amended. In Victoria it will grow from 79.8 per cent to 80 per cent, in Queensland from 79 per cent to 80 per cent, in South Australia from 77.7 per cent to 80 per cent, in Western Australia from 76.1 per cent to 80 per cent and in Tasmania from 73.7 per cent to 80 per cent. We have acknowledged particular circumstances in the ACT, but in the Northern Territory it will also grow from 64.5 per cent to 80 per cent. So there is growth in terms of the share of the schooling resource standard that Catholic education systems will receive, as will many other non-government-approved authorities, as of course do virtually all of the states and territories see growth to reach their 20 per cent target by 2023 under the amended bill.
There have also been suggestions made that somehow funding is reducing to Catholic education. I have told this chamber many times and stressed publicly as well that of course there is significant growth in funding for Catholic education systems just as there is, again, across government and independent education systems. In relation to Catholic education systems, that funding growth is from $6.3 billion in 2017—and I know senators have heard that figure before. Strangely, Senator Collins challenged what it is that Catholic systems receive in 2017. I will not go through that for each system, because we have done that before, but it is $6.3 billion in aggregate, growing to $9.7 billion by 2027—clear growth over that trajectory. And the amendments that have been put in place to bring forward the reaching of the 80 per cent schooling resource standard share will see faster growth in the earlier years for Catholic education systems as for others who are below that 80 per cent target.
I also note that in terms of ongoing support for Catholic education systems, they will continue to receive, on average, the highest level of per student funding across the country. That is reflective of some of those circumstances of need that Senator Collins spoke of and that I acknowledged at the outset. Across non-government systems and schools, Catholic education does service more communities of lower means, lower capacity and higher need. At the end of the transition period, as is the case today, Catholic education systems will receive, on average and on a per student basis, significantly more than other non-government education systems or schools receive. In fact, that comparison today is some $8,800 per student in Catholic systems and approximately $7,200 per student in the independent school systems. By 2027, with full implementation of these reforms, it will be some $12,500, approximately, per student in the Catholic systems and approximately $10,800 per student across the independent systems, with them all being treated—as I have said time and again—according to the same needs based funding arrangement.
I also stress respect for the autonomy of the systems. That is a discussion we had earlier in this debate and last night, putting in place measures within the act that clearly define the autonomy and freedom of the systems to operate their own needs based funding arrangements.
Finally, I do acknowledge, as was indicated before, the review of the SES arrangements that we have already committed to. These are to address some of the issues around capacity to contribute and otherwise that this amendments put in place. We have made some funding commitments specific to next year. It is very important to make sure that we give that certainty, but that we then also have a proper process that will now be in place to undertake such a review of SES into the future. I do not accept the propositions put by Senator Collins about the disadvantage to Catholic education; I have outlined very clearly why there is a strong advantage.
The CHAIR: The amendment is broken into two questions. The first question is that amendments (13) and (14) on sheet 8155 be agreed to.
by leave—I move amendments (1) to (4) on sheet 8165:
(1) Schedule 1, item 5, page 3 (line 23), omit ", or prescribed under,".
[SRS indexation factor set by Act]
(2) Schedule 1, item 8, page 4 (lines 18 to 21), omit subsection 11A(1), substitute:
(1) The SRS indexation factor for a year is the number worked out under subsection (2) for the year.
[No minimum SRS indexation factor]
(3) Schedule 1, item 8, page 4 (line 22) to page 5 (line 7), omit subsection 11A(2), substitute:
(2) The number is worked out using the following formula:
base quarter means the June quarter in the previous year.
consumer index number, for a quarter, means the All Groups Consumer Price Index number (being the weighted average of the 8 capital cities) published by the Australian Statistician for that quarter.
reference quarter means the June quarter in the year.
(4) Schedule 1, item 8, page 5 (lines 19 to 22), omit subsections 11A(5) and (6).
I also oppose schedule 1 in the following terms:
(5) Schedule 1, item 38, page 12 (lines 4 to 6), to be opposed.
Items 1 and 4 remove the minister's power to prescribe the indexation factor for the schooling resource standard. The minister has flagged that he intends to set the indexation factor at 3.56 per cent in the coming years. This is unwarranted. The schooling resource standard is an amount of funding considered appropriate for a student, so it should be indexed so as to maintain that valuation and not accelerate it.
Item 2 removes a three per cent floor on the indexation factor for the schooling resource standard. A floor for the indexation factor is again unwarranted. The value of the standard should be maintained, not accelerated.
Item 3 ensures that the school resourcing standard is indexed in line with the CPI to maintain its real value. The standard should not rise to reflect wages growth. Growth in excess of CPI would only be warranted if teacher productivity improved. Such an improvement in productivity is not a condition of funding under the government's proposal.
Item 5 ensures that, when considering the indexation of capital grants, the minister need not consider a wages index. Instead, he will need to consider an index of building prices and the growth of student numbers. I commend the amendments to the Senate.
The government will not be supporting these amendments. The government recognises that wages costs are an important inflator in relation to school education and are therefore reasonably reflected in the indexation arrangements.
The Australian Conservatives will be supporting this amendment. We think it is critically important for fiscal responsibility, and we are delighted that Senator Leyonhjelm and the Liberal Democrats have introduced it.
The Labor Party will not be supporting these amendments. We do not believe they are the appropriate indexation arrangements for schooling.
The CHAIR: The question is that Senator Leyonhjelm's amendments (1) to (4) on sheet 8165 be agreed to.
The CHAIR: The question is that item 38 of schedule 1 stand as printed.
Question agreed to.
I would like to first withdraw amendment (4) on sheet 8176. We have dealt with that effectively through questions to the minister in relation to the establishment of the independent resources board.
by leave—I move amendments (11), (14), (15) and (16) on sheet 8176 together:
(11) Schedule 1 , page 24 (after line 27) , after item 82 , insert:
82A Subsections 67(2) and 69A(1) (note 2)
Omit "' section 126"' , substitute "' subsection 126(1)"' .
(14) Schedule 1 , page 26 (after line 21) , after item 98 , insert:
98A Subsections 112(3) to (5)
Omit "' section 126"' , substitute "' subsection 126(1)"' .
(15) Schedule 1 , page 27 (after line 2) , after item 101 , insert:
101A Section 126
Before "' The Consolidated Revenue Fund"' , insert "' (1)"' .
(16) Schedule 1 , page 27 (after line 5) , after item 102 , insert:
102A At the end of section 126
(2) It is the Parliament' s intention to, by another Act, establish a fund of at least $300 million to meet the needs of students with disability.
These amendments all relate to the establishment of and putting money into the disability fund and will ensure that we have enough money to support our students and children with a disability in schools. We know that there has been much talk in this debate about the impact of these changes on the disability sector and children in our schools. We have obviously heard the revolting and very unhelpful comments from Senator Hanson in relation to children with a disability. What the Greens want to do is to request an extra $300 million to ensure that we have enough support in our schools across the country for our children with a disability.
To provide a little bit of background in relation to this, this was one of the elements remaining from our discussions with the government. Up until mid-yesterday, we were urging the government to increase the amount of money put aside for students with disabilities. We are concerned that, with the larger number of students now categorised, there is not enough money in that fund to go around. It is absolutely essential that we do not cut short support for our most vulnerable children as these reforms go through. So we are requesting, through this amendment, an extra $300 million to support children who are the most vulnerable.
The government will not be supporting these amendments. As I emphasised in the chamber before, the rate of funding growth for students with disability is quite significant. The changes that have already been agreed to during this debate have increased the support for students with disability from $20.6 billion to $21.2 billion over the next decade. As indicated, we are also supporting the review and the work in relation to the continuing improvement of the NCCD.
Labor will not be supporting these amendments. However, we do understand the Greens' intentions here, but the assessment of needs for students with disability in our school system should be addressed properly in a manner informed by the appropriate evidence. Unfortunately, that evidence has not been available to us because of the nature of the process in dealing with this bill, and the limited information that the minister has made available. In the longer term, with an independent—or not so independent—schooling resourcing body, hopefully that problem will be overcome. But simply picking the nominal figure of $300 million is not enough, especially given that the government is not supporting it, which means that even that nominal figure is not going to be provided.
From the Labor Party's point of view, we are concerned that additional funding has not been provided for this additional number—this 100 per cent increase in the number of students. We remain concerned to understand how these new arrangements are going to apply to the additional students and, indeed, to the existing funding arrangements for students with disability. We have serious concerns that this will be rolled out according to the nationally consistent data for students with disability, in a manner which will have quite serious impacts on students—both those that currently attract funding and those that do not. We appreciate that the Greens are attempting additional funding here. I suspect other crossbenchers have also attempted that endeavour. We understand that, unfortunately, that attempt has failed. We would have preferred to have seen the full data about these students with disability—what categories they will shift into across the model, and understand exactly what the additional resourcing requirements for those students would be.
We agree with the Greens about the additional funding. I was not in the chamber during question time, but I listened to Senator Brandis talk about the significant additional funding that is supposedly in these arrangements for students with disability. There is no significant additional funding. Anyone who has looked at this bill and understands the miniscule amount of additional funding that is involved in this area knows that these measures are insufficient and, unfortunately, our students with disability will suffer the consequences of that.
Senator Hanson-Young, I understand your endeavour to attract that additional funding and the attempt to try to capture a figure for what that appropriate amount should be. From my experience in this area in the past, it is no better than a guestimate, because of the amount of information we have available. Given that the government is not going to support it and no-one else has been able to secure it, I do not see, in terms of our point of view about what approach should be followed, that simply nominating a figure informs that—more than as an acknowledgement of our statements from the shadow minister, Tanya Plibersek, about the additional funding that is needed and your statement through this amendment as well. I do not see Labor supporting this amendment as necessarily achieving that.
Given that I was denied an opportunity to give a second reading speech because of the shenanigans in here yesterday, I have not had an opportunity to comment specifically on children with disability and how this will affect children with disability in school. I was extremely disappointed and concerned to hear the comments from Senator Hanson yesterday in her contribution on how we address the inclusion of children with disabilities in school. So many people have been fighting for so long in this country to ensure that children with disability are included in our classrooms, to build an inclusive culture in schools. We know we are not there yet, and comments like that set us back even further. We know we are not there yet, because I was a very active participant in the Senate inquiry into the access of students with disabilities to school. We found some very distressing facts there, and some very distressing evidence.
As Senator O'Neill will remember, many parents articulated their daily battles with schools to try and get their children access to schools and build that inclusive culture. You would get some parents who were saying, 'They'll let my children go for a couple of days, but then there's not enough funding to enable them to go for the rest of the days, or there's not enough funding for them to go on the excursions, so they get told to stay at home.' We know this is still happening.
We also heard a lot of evidence about the lack of evidence for the nationally consistent collection of data. This was 18 months ago—around that time. Parents and teachers were already expressing their deep concern about the NCCD. They were saying, 'When it comes out, don't believe it!' I subsequently had teachers talk to me about the fact that they did not know where their school's data was coming from. Those were teachers who had students with disabilities in their classrooms, and they said, 'We're not contributing to that data. We did the first year, but not since.' I have had that said to me several times.
So this data is not reliable. We know from the evidence that the committee collected that there are still serious issues around children's access to classrooms so that they get the best education possible. That is why we need this additional funding. I am not at all confident that there is enough funding available to meet the needs of students with disabilities, so I am pleased that there will now be a commitment to a review of this process. We have had a lot of feedback about the issues around the data—around NCCD and the lack of funding.
In short, many people who are active in this place will be aware of the work of Children and Young People with Disability Australia. CYDA said:
Students with disability frequently experience discrimination, including denial of enrolment, imposed part time attendance and exclusion. Further, schools often lack the required expertise in developing educational programs for students with disability. Limited monitoring and accountability for the learning outcomes of students with disability is also a significant issue. Finally, experiences of bullying and abuse, including restraint and seclusion, are now shamefully common for students with disability in education settings.
I have to stop there and to say that this is an area where I have done a lot of work in terms of the issues of violence, abuse and the use of restraints. We also got a lot of evidence about the use of restraints.
That also goes, obviously, to issues where we need to improve our education system. Their submission goes on:
It is the experience of CYDA that it is rare for students with disability to be provided with a truly inclusive education experience.
That is the evidence that we actually heard through that inquiry, and I have subsequently heard it through other inquiries as well. This group works day in, day out with students with disability and their parents. I believed them. I know that they are looking out for the best for students with disability, and when they are concerned for funding we need to take that seriously.
Even if we do not have it tied down—we do not have it tied down because we do not have all the data anyway—it is not a good enough excuse to say, 'Oh well, you can't give us every dollar and cent to tell us how much we really need, so we won't give them any extra.' That is a flawed argument when you are talking about the need to improve our inclusiveness and make sure that we do provide the best education possible for children with disability.
I urge the Senate to support this amendment. It will provide the start of the additional funding that is needed to ensure that we have a truly inclusive education system.
The CHAIR: The question is that amendments (11), (14), (15) and (16) on sheet 8176 be agreed to.
by leave—I move Australian Greens amendments (6), (7), (8), (9), (12) and (17) on sheet 8176 together:
(6) Schedule 1 , page 19 (after line 14) , after item 56 , insert:
56A Section 20
Omit "' requiring States and Territories to implement national policy initiatives for school education, as well as"' .
(7) Schedule 1 , item 59 , page 19 (lines 22 and 23) , omit the heading to section 22 , substitute:
22 Conditions of financial assistance—agreements relating to school education
(8) Schedule 1 , item 59 , page 19 (line 24) to page 20 (line 3) , omit subsection 22 ( 1 ).
(9) Schedule 1 , item 59 , page 20 (line 5) , omit "' also "' .
(12) Schedule 1 , item 85 , page 25 (lines 10 to 15) , omit paragraph 77 ( 2A ) ( a ), substitute:
(a) the approved authority cooperates with the States and Territories in which the schools are located in implementing the agreements mentioned in paragraphs 22(2) (a) and (b); and
(17) Schedule 1 , item 175 , page 37 (lines 8 to 10) , omit subparagraph 130 ( 5 ) ( a ) ( i ).
These amendments relate to a number of elements that remain in the bill that would require the states to fulfil certain obligations in order to get the funding that has been put aside by the federal government. We are concerned that, in the absence of knowing what these conditions on teachers or states may be, simply leaving that to the discretion of the minister through regulation is not enough certainty for our states, our schools, our principals or our teachers, and we would prefer to see those elements removed. After the Gonski review of these funding arrangements, whenever that reports—at the end of this year or early next year—we can look at what recommendations there may be and what impacts they may have on state and territory school systems. It seems a bit premature to be putting powers in this bill to put restrictions on state and territory school systems without knowing the content of those restrictions. So we would like to have those removed to ensure that we have a full, transparent process going forward for how we engage with the conditions on states, if and when recommendations come from David Gonski and his forthcoming report.
Labor will support these amendments. We introduced reforms, as well as additional expenditure, in our landmark response to the original Gonski review. There is no excuse for the minister or the previous ministers to have removed the requirements for states and territories to commit to reforms. They are not red tape, as the former minister, Christopher Pyne, described them at the time; they are fundamental. That is why Labor has opposed the removal of the preamble and the objects in the current act. We cautiously welcome these amendments. We believe that, if the parliament is serious about reform, it will ensure that the act retains its preamble and objects.
The government will not be supporting these amendments. The government makes no apologies for wanting to put in place mechanisms to ensure that record, growing funding is used for the benefit of students and that the states are held accountable for that.
I refer to amendment (13) on sheet 8176. I seek leave to withdraw that, but I would just like to seek clarification from the minister in doing so.
I would just like to ask the minister: can you please put clearly on the record for us tonight the mechanism that will be used to ensure that the resources board will be able to request documents as they need to ensure that they know where the money is being spent in a state, territory or school system.
I am pleased to confirm for Senator Hanson-Young that the Department of Education and Training already has the power to request documents and to expect those documents to be provided, as well as appropriate checks and balances being in place. The secretariat for the National Schools Resourcing Board will be provided by the department, and therefore the powers do not need to be given explicitly to the board, as they will be able to be exercised by the department on behalf of the board.
by leave—I move
That the House of Representatives be requested to make the following amendments:
(1) Schedule 1 , item 6 , page 4 (line 4) , omit "' 2027 "' , substitute "' 2023 "' .
(3) Schedule 1 , item 16 , page 8 (lines 9 to 12) , omit subsection 35B ( 7 ), substitute:
(7) Unless the regulations otherwise provide, the transition rate for a transition year is the rate set out in the following table for the year.
(5) Schedule 1 , item 47 , page 17 (line 21) , omit "' 10 transition years "' , substitute "' 6 transition years "' .
(10) Schedule 1 , item 71 , page 22 (line 6) , omit "' 10 transition years "' , substitute "' 6 transition years "' .
This tranche of amendments is directly in relation to the overfunded schools currently in the system. We know that the previous arrangements put in place by the Gillard government following the first Gonski review locked in growth rates for schools regardless of whether they were above the resource standard. We know that the result of that has been that there are at least 24 well-overfunded schools that do not deserve continued support in terms of growth rates from the public purse. But we also know that there are a number of schools that will get to a much higher level very soon. The government's original proposal before us allows those schools to be drawn down over a 10-year period. If we are serious about putting equity into the system and ensuring that we redirect our quantum of money to those that need it most—if we care about needs based funding—we will ensure that overfunded schools have their funding brought to the appropriate level, down at the same rate as underfunded schools go up. It is only fair that, as you put more money into schools going up towards the resource standard, those that are well above come down at the same rate. It is about using the public money in the most appropriate and efficient way. If we care about our poorest schools, this is what we will do.
We have heard over and over again that there is not enough money on the table to fund schools at the levels that we want. Well, here is a way of saving some money. Here is a way of making sure that the money that is needed will go to the schools that need it first and foremost. I implore the government and the crossbenchers to consider this. It is an important demonstration that we are absolutely fair dinkum about needs based funding.
No, (1), (3), (5) and (10)—four items. That is why I am standing.
The TEMPORARY CHAIR: I will just seek some advice from the Clerk. That is right—okay, then. She has moved that the House be requested to make amendments (1), (3), (5) and (10).
The government will not be supporting these amendments. These amendments would create extra detriment to a number of schools and systems around Australia. We believe the 10-year transition for those schools is a fair transition pathway.
In doing this, we are ensuring that we redirect the money in the most efficient and fastest way. We have heard a lot from all sides of politics about not having enough money to fund our underfunded schools. Well, this is how you would get it. Get serious about needs based funding, get serious about putting equity into our school funding system and ensure that we stop overfunding wealthy schools that simply do not need to continue to rely on this type of growth rate from the public purse.
I move Greens amendment (2) on sheet 8176:
(2) Schedule 1 , item 16 , page 6 (line 20) , omit "' 20% "' , substitute "' 24% "' .
This amendment goes right to the heart of what we have been debating here tonight and over the last couple of months in this place. This is about ensuring that we look after our public schools. Currently under this legislation the government is proposing to fund 20 per cent from the federal government, 20 per cent of the share of getting schools up to their resource standard. We know that, in order to look after the neediest schools, the best thing we can do is increase the share of federal government funding to our public schools. We are worried that, in some states, they are simply not going to have the cash to get those schools up to standard in a reasonable amount of time. This amendment would ensure that the federal government does its best to look after all of those schools across the country, our public schools. That must be our priority. If we were to lift the Commonwealth share from 20 per cent it would cost the budget that magical number that we have heard a lot about over the last eight weeks—$22 billion. It is the figure that the Labor Party has banged on about for the last two months. This is the opportunity for the Labor Party to put its money where its mouth is. Prove that you care about public schools. Prove that you give a damn about putting your money where your mouth is. Do not wait until the next election. Do not tell the voters to hold their breath and wait. Fund it now, do it now, put it in legislation and let 's make sure we look after our public schools and bank that $22 billion tonight.
I thank Senator Hanson-Young for the opportunity to make the point that the Labor Party's position on this has not been, as the government has often characterised it, just about the money. The $22 billion is a figure designed to fully implement the Gonski 1.0 process. The failure of this government to stay true to the Gonski principles is the issue here. So with this shift that other senators appear to have been prepared to accept away from the Gonski recommendations, away from a combined Commonwealth-state funding model, to a sole Commonwealth funding model—the minister's words here are 'a consistent Commonwealth funding model'—is the problem. That is the issue. Simply creating a new arbitrary percentage for state public schools, which is proposed in this amendment, is not going to remedy that problem.
So, thank you, Senator Hanson-Young, for the opportunity to highlight that our reform agenda in relation to school funding was never just about the dollars. These provisions involve a fundamental shift away from the Gonski review principles. The work that needs to have occurred with the states and territories has clearly not happened. The partnership that was envisaged with the states and territories clearly has not happened. I would just be repeating myself to highlight our scepticism that great success will occur there given the path that this government has taken. But we will not be supporting the amendments for the reasons I have already outlined.
In opposing this amendment from the Greens, let me agree with Senator Collins insofar as agreeing that it is not all about the money. These reforms, though, absolutely are about ensuring we have consistency, fairness and equity in the delivery of needs based funding. That is what the Senate is happily on the verge of passing. We welcome that. But we do not support the Greens trying to put tens of billions of dollars extra on top of what is already a very significant additional investment.
The CHAIR: The question is that request No. 2, as moved by Senator Hanson-Young, on sheet 8176 be agreed to.
The CHAIR: The question is that the bill as amended be agreed to subject to requests for amendments.