Senate debates

Thursday, 22 June 2017


Australian Education Amendment Bill 2017; In Committee

12:50 pm

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

The committee is considering the Australian Education Amendment Bill 2017. The question is that amendments (1) to (3) on sheet 8177, moved by Senator Hanson-Young, be agreed to.

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

Whilst we are dealing with Senator Hanson-Young's amendments to the government's amendments which would establish a schooling resource body, it may be useful if, as I did last night, I refer to elements of our subsequent amendments in relation to establishing a more independent student resourcing body and canvass a number of issues where the current arrangements here are not yet adequate. This will, of course, allow senators an opportunity between now and 4.30, when we are back again on this bill, to contemplate further improvements that could be achieved in relation to the establishment of this body.

The discussion last night covered issues such as its independence, which Labor believe is critical and which is dealt with in our amendments. Another issue is that it be tasked to do this review of the SES, quite clearly, which is dealt with in our proposal. Another suggestion last night, from Senator Bernardi, that it should address educational outcomes was, I believe, a very good suggestion, and if Senator Bernardi has not yet had the opportunity to look at couching that as an amendment then that is something Labor are prepared to address between now and when we return to this at 4.30.

The other suggestion was in relation to students with disability. There have been significant concerns raised about how this bill will deal with students with disability, and the circumstances there—and again we will probably come to this later in the day—are quite critical. We know that with only limited additional funds we are looking at doubling the number of students over which those funds will be distributed, and we have very little understanding of or information about how just picking up the current nationally consistent dataset will occur and what the impact may be on students already receiving support with respect to a disability.

Another issue that I have heard others comment on is how this relates to the NDIS. I think it is important that a schooling resource body be tasked with helping to develop the implementation of the application of a nationally consistent dataset across students with disability and also with helping the implementation of the NDIS and the line that distinguishes how support is delivered to people with disability if those people are, indeed, school aged. It is a very sensitive area, because historically schools, particularly special schools, have provided a range of supports through their schooling arrangements and, as we move down the path of the implementation of the NDIS, the last thing we want to do is compromise the existing resourcing of students within schools. We want to develop a model that works consistently with the NDIS. So Labor would be open to considering an amendment here that would specify the work that should occur there for students with disability. With the goodwill of the senators here now, hopefully, these are issues that we may in the very limited time be able to deal with between now and when we return at 4:30.

Of course, that leads me to Labor's more ideal position, which is that we should not be addressing these issues under these circumstances. These are very important public policy issues where reviews that should have occurred have not occurred, reviews that should have been conducted under the National Education Reform Agreement have not occurred, the minister—possibly because he has been given far too broad responsibilities as the only minister in his portfolio—has not got on top of these issues and now, for crass political reasons, we are being asked to shove this through the sausage factory. We should not be shoving this through the sausage factory. We should be very carefully considering these issues.

Unfortunately, it was the will of the Senate that the Senate committee's consideration of these factors was far more brief than it should have been. Labor at the time through selection of bills asked that a more appropriate amount of time be provided so that we could address the broad myriad of issues that are now, of course, coming up in this debate here. As I said last night, thank God for our Australian parliamentary system, because at the end of the day we know that these issues do come back to the floor of the Senate. Senator Xenophon understands, for example, that there are a broad range of complex issues—and I know the Greens do too—that need to be addressed before we set up a framework to apply under one version for 10 years. Parliamentary process and Senate scrutiny should not be occurring under these circumstances.

Sure, I understand the raw politics of this for the government. I understand that, once they believe they have the crossbench in the cart, they do not want to allow more time, because they might jump back out of the cart when further information becomes available. But this Senate committee process will be the opportunity for the opposition of the day to highlight what a dud arrangement this is in many respects.

Further to that, though, if at the end of the day we establish a schooling resource body and we set it up the right way, that will allow further scrutiny of some of these issues. But, as I mentioned to senators last night, we have crossbench senators coming onto the floor here and telling us things that are factually incorrect. This highlights the concerns when the government, failing to consult adequately, secretly convinces behind closed doors some crossbench senators that certain circumstances are so and then those senators come onto the floor here, attempting to justify their position, and do not even have the facts right.

Again, Minister, probably because your responsibilities are far too broad and Mr Turnbull did not give you any other executive support in your portfolio, you are not able to provide senators such as Senator Hanson-Young with the information she needs to justify her position. But the suggestion, quite apart from the discussion overnight about students with autism, that state governments do not provide funding to non-government schools is wrong. I went through some of the history of that, but I show that as one of the starkest examples of why we remain concerned that we still do not have your reply to the Senate's order for production of documents.

I understand only from your comments that it is just a letter, so I suspect it is just a letter which says, 'Nothing to see here.' If it says, 'Nothing to see here,' that is the problem in itself. The problem in itself is that you have not properly modelled the changes that you have proposed in this bill. If that is the case, it is incumbent on the Senate here to highlight that inadequacy. However, if you have argued a public interest immunity—that this information should not be available—then that of course is another issue that we should address, because why not? Why can the Senate not understand the impact of these changes that you are so determined to pursue?

And let me run through that determination in the remainder of the time I have here, because you are right, Senator: it is reckless. But let me run through that story. The story starts with outrage that those rent-seeking Catholics could dare complain that what we learn now is $4.6 billion is being removed from their system. Your own senators in the past have run worse lines. But no: this minister here is happy to get up, presumably under the endorsement of Mr Turnbull, and call Catholic educators rent seekers. That is outrageous. But of course they have backflipped on that one now, because the government is out there peddling that what they said for so long was a special deal is not actually a special deal.

Overnight I ran through the details of how government at the time, when I was working with Minister Garrett on school education, responded to the Gonski report in a range of areas. I know I will again be criticised for focusing on just this one area. There will be others in this debate, but this one area is the one that highlights the worst—the extremes—of this minister's behaviour. So, the remainder of the story is that I have argued this consistently, I have demonstrated where his own department has done somersaults to try to protect its minister and failed—needed the furnish the Senate with corrections to the material it provided us—because his argument that the SES had been refined was blatantly untrue.

Now, this is not the only area where the minister has not come up with a correction to this chamber. He also said in question time the day before last that there was an increase in the share of funding for Catholic education, which is wrong. Even the PBO had already highlighted that that is not true. I understand that a minister who is responding to questions in question time might not, on the face of it, respond as clearly as perhaps he should. But I invited the minister to correct his answer, and he has again simply ignored that invitation. He has ignored my invitation, a call made as recently as this morning, to show the common courtesy of providing the senator who has requested it an order for the production of documents that this Senate endorsed. Contempt of the Senate is pretty much the issue here. He has refused still to provide me with a copy of that response.

We will—maybe—get to the tabling of documents, and that may be available to the Senate later today. But those who understand the vagaries of Senate process understand that we may never get to tabling, because of the hours motion that the crossbench and the government agreed to. So, accountability and scrutiny in this parliament have been affected by the hours arrangement that crossbench senators agreed to. The Senate cannot even see the response to its own order for the production of documents. If that is the minister's idea of how to protect what information he might have provided secretly, so be it—although a number of crossbench senators say, 'Well, actually there's nothing there; we haven't seen anything.' If that is the case, so be that, too. My job is to demonstrate that the minister has not adequately modelled the impact of his arrangements.

So let me ask, at the conclusion of these comments: what modelling has been done on the impact of the provisions that I was highlighting yesterday?

On page 11 of the bill, amendment (36), subsection 54(3), you are repealing the table. The table shows the current capacity to contribute arrangements for non-government primary schools. We discussed how Senator Back told us on the doors this morning that he was happy with the amendments, but what the minister still has not made clear is why Senator Back believes he has gotten the best he can out of this minister. I do not believe that he is even convinced that it is good enough. It is not a full moratorium. It is putting the cart before the horse if the government proceed with these amendments before the SES review has occurred. (Time expired)

1:05 pm

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

I have a few questions. First of all, I want to ask questions about the resource board. I was wondering if you could give me a little bit more detail on exactly what is going to be involved in that, how long that process is going to take and who will be involved in that process on the table, please, Minister.

1:06 pm

Photo of Simon BirminghamSimon Birmingham (SA, Liberal Party, Minister for Education and Training) Share this | | Hansard source

Senator Lambie, thank you for your question. The resource board is intended to be an ongoing entity under the legislation. In that sense, it is expected that it will always be there. It is expected that it will have representation from, and therefore the confidence of, the states and territories, the Catholic education system representatives and the independent school system representative bodies to make sure everyone has a seat at the table. But, importantly, there will be flexibility there in terms of the numbers of members, such that the government of the day will be able to make sure that there not only are representatives bringing particular stakeholder perspectives to the table but also is independence around that table as well, which I think is critical and essential, and the government would want to ensure that that is the case.

I also think it is critical that the combination of those nominated by the government and those nominated by the other stakeholders will be broadly representative of the community to make sure that we have, for example, younger people having their voices rightly heard through a process such as this so that, indeed, those who perhaps have a more contemporary understanding of life at school actually have a seat at the table as well. It is important, of course, that a clear understanding of those who have come from different walks of life will also be reflected there—especially people who understand that educational services in parts of our country have to confront a whole range of circumstances of disadvantage and challenge that not only are fixed in a school community but also require, of course, the engagement of the school community with the entire community, and people who understand how it is that the funding, the resourcing, the support and the actions within schools and their systems helps to support those communities who need it most.

We want to make sure that the recommendations, the process et cetera of this body will be transparent, which is why we have made sure that there are provisions in here for copies to be provided to all of the relevant stakeholder groups and for their reports and findings to be presented within the parliament so that they are public, for the world to see, and, therefore, governments of the day are held to account with regard to any recommendations contained in the reports of the body. The statement I have given already is that the first body of work it would undertake relates to the SES methodology and its interactions with the capacity to contribute arrangements. We have given a commitment that it will have a look at disability loading arrangements and the continued implementation of the NCCD—in particular the striking of those different loading levels across the three different categories for students with a disability to ensure that they are receiving the type of adjustment support necessary for their full participation in schools.

I think it is important to highlight as well that this body, over time, would clearly be undertaking work in terms of whether or not the types of loadings, the types of structures and the funding arrangements were actually getting and delivering improved outcomes in schools. I know that has been a topic of debate. We already have the review taking place through the second half of this year, identifying how funding should be used to achieve educational excellence in schools. That will inform the types of conditions that are set out in proposed section 22(1) of the bill, where states and territories will enter into agreements around school reform to make sure that expert evidence around the implementation of school reforms is committed to by the states and that they then follow through on them.

Good examples, I guess, of where we want to ensure that commitments from the states are acted upon are the important issues of teacher quality, teacher training and so forth, on which we have existing agreements with all states and territories, through the COAG Education Council process, to enhance teacher training at our universities, to have primary school teachers undertaking subject specialisation and to ensure minimum standards in terms of the literacy and numeracy skills of teachers leaving university, getting registered and going into the classroom. I think it is only appropriate that we should expect the states and territories to be held to account to follow through on those sorts of things they have already agreed to do.

But, Senator Lambie, to come back to your question, I do think that it is essential in terms of the composition of the board that we make sure that, yes, there is suitable expertise and experience but also that it is suitably representative of the need across the Australian education landscape and is not, if I can put it this way, just the usual faces but ones that actually bring a degree of fresh perspective to these debates as well so that everybody can have confidence in the future that they are truly focused on student outcomes—what is best for kids and what is best in schools—not necessarily just the technicalities of funding formulas.

1:12 pm

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

I am still a little concerned about time frames. I have been here for nearly three years. I have seen recommendations come and go—and go on the shelf. That is where they go. This is what is bothering me. We are going to pull these people together. They are not going to be cheap, I imagine; they will have to be paid to be on a board. I want to know, when everybody comes to an agreement, whether the Liberal party is just going to sit there and ignore those recommendations. I know this is hypothetical, but let's face it: that is a pattern of behaviour in here. We are discussing disability funding and we are still not sure if there is going to be a shortfall. Now, if that is proven straight away, I want to know if you are going to implement that money within seven days and put it back into the system if you have got this wrong. They are the sorts of things I want to know, Minister.

1:13 pm

Photo of Simon BirminghamSimon Birmingham (SA, Liberal Party, Minister for Education and Training) Share this | | Hansard source

We will absolutely move as quickly as we can to appoint this board. We have given the commitment that the work on the SES methodology would be complete by the middle of next year and we have given the commitment that changes around that, should they be necessary, would be implemented in time for the 2019 school year. So it is absolutely the government's intention and commitment that, once we are in receipt of that report, we will act as quickly as we can to implement any findings of the reviews that would be undertaken by this body and make sure that, if adjustments to funding models are required, they are brought in as quickly as they can be and, equally, as fairly as they can be in terms of their impact on schools and systems, with sufficient notice ahead of each school year, and their funding arrangements.

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

The question that Senator Lambie asked that the minister has not responded to is: what is the budget allocation? It is not a hard question, Minister. Last night you took on notice my question about what the various calls would be on section 69A of the act. You told us that that is where the funding was going to come for this mystery $50 million fund that seems to have assured Senator Back that that is the best he is going to get. But you still have not come back to us about what other calls there are on that provision, and now you have ignored Senator Lambie's question about what the budget allocation is for this resource body. I understand the game here. I know you can ignore my questions. Ultimately public scrutiny will hold you to account for that. But ignoring Senator Lambie's questions in the current circumstances, I find absolutely bizarre. Why would you ignore her quite valid questions about what the budget allocation for this body is? It is not a hard question. The department should be able to tell you the answer to that question.

While we are on that question, let's ask some further questions about the information you gave us last night on this $50 million fund we read about in the press. You told us that the estimate was $46.5 million to assure Senator Back that he would have a moratorium on the existing arrangements that apply to non-government schools. I highlighted last night that that was not the full monty. It was nowhere near the full monty. The $46.5 million is even less, far less, than what the estimate of that figure would have been back in 2013, when I was working with Minister Garrett on these issues. The only way I could understand to justify it—and, on our assessment of your amendments overnight, I think my fears have proven correct—is that you have failed to remove your changes to the capacity-to-contribute arrangements from this bill.

I am going to ask questions which will highlight for all those concerned in this debate that that really is what the fix is. The first question, Minister, is: what would that estimate be under the existing provisions in the act? If you were to preserve the system weighted average arrangements for non-government schools that have access to them—and let's add in those systems that you have possibly deliberately stalled as well while you were thinking about these savings—what would the estimate be then? My suspicion is that the estimate you have given Senator Back, and perhaps other crossbenchers, is based on the provisions in the bill that change the capacity-to-contribute formula in an arbitrary way with no policy justification at all and certainly no policy justification ahead of the review of the SES that is planned to occur.

Let us see what that difference is. The simplest way to highlight that is for the minister to answer the question: if we leave in place all of the funding arrangements that currently apply to non-government schools—the system weighted average, the capacity-to-contribute formula—what would that estimate be then? I would like to understand that change. I understand now it applies for only the 12 months, but what is the impact of that change, state by state? Tell me, as a senator for Victoria, what the change to the capacity-to-contribute formula will mean for Victorian non-government systemic schools. Tell Senator Lambie what your unilateral change to the capacity-to-contribute formula, with no policy justification, will mean for Tasmanian non-government systemic schools.

Do not try to pretend this is all just Catholic rent-seeking, because it is not. Most states have schools, such as Lutheran schools, operating in very poor rural communities. They have schools, such as Anglican schools and a range of low-fee accessible schools, serving the interests of educating disadvantaged students. Minister, you may not have had much exposure to these schools, but that is why the Gonski review made special arrangements for the non-government schools that are what we call sole providers. These are the schools that exist in the Northern Territory—as an example—providing education to Indigenous kids. The Gonski review recommended that those schools receive full public funding.

The Gonski review then said there are other low-fee systemic schools that also deserve to be protected in ongoing funding arrangements—the sorts of schools that Senator Lambie has talked about from her own personal experience, the schools that are available to Australian families when their circumstances are down and out, the schools that not only provide access to education for those students but reside within a community parish environment that provides support and assistance to those families. These are the very schools that are compromised by your unilateral change to the capacity-to-contribute formula.

I am in a parish where the schools are further up the capacity-to-contribute curve. I am in a parish where, on the whole, the SES ranking would regard students as coming from families that could perhaps afford to pay a little bit more. But I have families from my own parish—as I said last night, I have had, for me, the unique experience of receiving emails from parents in my own parish who do not know me because I do not get an opportunity to participate as I might if I were not a federal member of parliament—lobbying me on this issue. And they are not talking about their own personal circumstances and capacity to contribute. They are talking about Senator Back's comments about their values and about co-responsibility. These families want to be there to assist others. Some of them want to pay fees higher than they might otherwise so that their school community can cross-subsidise the Australian families that, at that point in time, need that extra hand, need that extra help. This is what your unilateral change to the capacity-to-contribute formula is going to destroy unless you fix it.

I can ask the minister, till the cows come home, to quantify that impact, in order to display to the Australian public at large that the minister is failing to respond to legitimate questions about what that impact is and that he is failing to respond to a Senate order for production of documents that would allow us to understand what impact modelling might have occurred. To date, he has failed to do so. Indeed, the crossbench, in supporting him here, has failed to allow the Senate committee legislation process to do a proper review to scrutinise these changes. Perhaps, if I had been busier operating in a completely different portfolio area, he might have succeeded in hiding these issues.

Well, you cannot, Minister. This may have become, to use a phrase used by one of the witnesses that the government has been verballing in this process—I think it was Mr Pratt, from the principals, who eventually retreated to, 'This is just so wickedly complex,' and he is right—'wickedly complex'. What you have set up in this bill is wickedly complex, but, fortunately, some of us know enough about this very complex issue to be able to expose what the real deal is.

The minister might like to say that Catholic parents are whingeing, Catholic educators are scaremongering and the Catholic education system is rent seeking—very, very sad behaviour from this government—but the facts will speak for themselves. And if, at the end of the day, you manage to convince the crossbench that they should support this stuff then ultimately their behaviour will be exposed too, because it will be on the record, even if the minister persists in not answering the question, which, on the whole, probably about 80 per cent of the time, has been his response so far.

If the minister needs more time to answer these questions about the capacity-to-contribute formula then let's allow that time. His own department's submission to the legislation inquiry indicated that, in terms of timing, this could be dealt with in the first few weeks of next session. I do not know what the political imperative, which Senator Birmingham has convinced the crossbench of, is, other than the raw politics of what has been occurring in the media overnight. In advance of any vote here, the Prime Minister has had a win, and maybe he has managed to shore up his leadership. Then again some of the other commentators are highlighting that this is such a dog's breakfast and such a bad deal that it is going to come back to bite them. I agree: this will, if it is passed, come back to bite the government, the crossbench and indeed the National Party, for just rolling into this. I am appalled that the deputy leader, Barnaby Joyce, of all people in the cabinet, has allowed this to occur. In this place, Senator Canavan, also in cabinet, has allowed this to occur. This is appalling. I have heard other cabinet ministers described as having said: 'Oh, I was not there at the time.' That excuse is just not credible. It is not credible at all. We know these matters were considered by cabinet over many months. It would be irresponsible and—to pick up Senator McAllister's point before—quite reckless for any minister to suggest to his constituents: 'No, I am not responsible for this. It is all too late. There is nothing I can do.'

Senator Williams implied a moment ago in an interjection that there were not any questions. There were questions. The minister has them and he is not answering them, and that is what I am reflecting on at the moment. I have asked for the state-by-state impact of this 12-month moratorium. I have asked what that impact would be, unlike the dodgy figures he provided us yesterday, were we to—as an amendment that we are moving subsequently—retain the existing capacity to contribute provisions in the act. In the remainder of my time here, let me make clear to people what those provisions do. Last night, I was referring to the Gonski review and the advice that it gave government at the time about how to shape the capacity-to-contribute arrangements. The factors they referred to there were quite important. We had to balance those arrangements so that they allowed schools of all different types of characters to continue to operate, in particular, low-fee, systemic, non-government schools, because this panel understood how education is currently being delivered. It is those schools that are compromised by the unilateral shift the minister has made.

We had the department at one point suggest—to give Mr Cook credit, we clarified this point later—that there is nothing in this bill that deals with fees. Capacity to contribute is a hard concept to get your head around. The Gonski review described it as the 'anticipated private contribution'. The anticipated private contribution is essentially the fees you would expect parents to pay. What this government is doing under the provisions in the bill is unilaterally changing that assessment. I have a range of questions, Minister, about the impact of the shift of that curve at the various levels of the SES. (Time expired)

1:29 pm

Photo of Simon BirminghamSimon Birmingham (SA, Liberal Party, Minister for Education and Training) Share this | | Hansard source

I will resist the temptation to waste the committee's time by responding to all of Senator Collins's verballing and unsubstantiated claims and otherwise. But I will very quickly deal with a couple of her questions. I am not quite sure Senator Lambie did specifically ask this, but I am more than happy to say that the four-year budget entitlement or cost for the National Schools Resourcing Board is $7.2 million, providing funding to ensure that the board has sufficient resources to commission data, modelling and expert work as it sees fit. While Senator Lambie is not here, we will make sure that her office is alerted to those figures, should she wish to know them.

Senator Collins also asked, in relation to the measures we were discussing with Senator Back last night, for a state-by-state breakdown of the funding provision to provide equivalence of the maintenance of system weighted averaging for systems next year: for New South Wales it is $10.5 million for the Catholic system and $0.5 million for independent school systems; for Victoria it is $9.2 million for the Catholic system and $2.4 million for independent systems; for Queensland it is $7.5 million for the Catholic system and $0.9 million for independent systems; for South Australia it is $2.5 million for the Catholic system and $1.5 million for independent systems; for Western Australia it is $2.5 million for the Catholic system; for Tasmania it is $0.8 million for the Catholic system; for the ACT it is $5 million for the Catholic system and $3 million for the independent systems; and for the Northern Territory it is $0.2 million for the Catholic system—totalling the estimate of $46.5 million that I indicated last night to the committee. Of course, as I indicated last night, it is an estimate and is subject to enrolment numbers and such other normal factors.

In terms of the other modelling that the senator has asked for: I am not aware that there is modelling of the precise nature that she wants. What the department has produced, and which has been provided at Senate estimates and elsewhere, is modelling that demonstrates all of the integrated changes, whether they be changes to the capacity-to-contribute arrangements, changes to indexation, the shifting of systems in schools to receiving, over time, a common share of the schooling resource standard, the needs based funding arrangement—all of those are integrated changes. They all of course impact upon one another in different ways. That is what provides us with the different funding that has already been tabled in relation to funding for different systems.

1:32 pm

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

I will be brief, Senator Hanson-Young, on this point, because the minister has not answered the critical question here, which I think I asked three times, and that is: what would those estimates be if they were calculated under the existing provisions in the act for the capacity to contribute? You have given me the figures, which in our understanding we are pretty clear relate to, as you have said, the integration of a range of other factors. But my question is—

Photo of Simon BirminghamSimon Birmingham (SA, Liberal Party, Minister for Education and Training) Share this | | Hansard source

It depends on all the other factors.

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

Exactly! It does. That is why I am asking this question. I will ask it for the fourth time. The question is: if we accepted Labor's amendment to maintain the existing capacity-to-contribute arrangements in the act then what would those estimates be? That is the only way we can highlight exactly what this minister is doing. He is still gaining savings by shifting the existing arrangements. In the past he has explained them as special deals. I have explained, I think quite clearly to the chamber, why they were structured in the way they were at the time. I do not believe they were special deals. I understand the policy justification for why the existing formula is in the act. You are asking us to change that formula. I am asking you to quantify the impact of that change rather than just try and hide it in these integrated factors. If the department needs more time to go away to answer that question then that is fine—we will be back here at 4.30—but a non-answer is not adequate.

1:33 pm

Photo of Sarah Hanson-YoungSarah Hanson-Young (SA, Australian Greens) Share this | | Hansard source

I just want to draw the chamber's attention to the issue before us, which is an amendment I moved last night in relation to the establishment of the independent resources body. I have subsequently circulated a secondary amendment to that amendment, after discussions with the government and others. I just want to draw senators' attention to the fact that that has been circulated. We heard from the minister last night that the government was willing to accept points (1) and (2) of my first amendment on sheet 8177. I would like to draw the chamber's attention to the amendment to that amendment on sheet 8179. This point goes to the naming and shaming powers of an independent resources body. We need the ability for an independent body to shine a light on what is going on.

We have just agreed, through over eight weeks of a very heated debate in relation to schools funding, that there needs to be an injection of money into our public, independent and various other school systems. We want that money to be spent on a needs basis. I think all of us, across all sides, regardless of what political colours we wear, have come to a point—and this is one of the things we should reflect on in a positive light at the end of this debate, hopefully sometime this evening—where all sides are now committed to spending government money on a needs basis. That is, schools that are in need of extra money and support get it; students who need extra money because of various loadings get it; and we ensure that public money is being spent in the best way in order to get educational outcomes, and that means helping to lift those schools that are below their resource standard up faster and quicker.

If we agree that needs based funding is the principle, we must put in place the ability to ensure that that is what is going on. If we are going to hand a cheque to a school system, hand a cheque from the federal government to a state or a territory, then this chamber has a responsibility to make sure that the money gets spent in the way we have asked for. We need to make sure that there is public transparency. A lot of the debate that has been carried out over the last couple of weeks and months in relation to this funding issue has been about the immense lack of transparency that surrounds the spending of public money throughout our various school systems.

We want to make sure that transparency is at the heart of the distribution of funds. The minister has previously spoken—we have heard him many times, I would almost suggest ad nauseam—over and over again about 27 different deals, which means that it is difficult, impossible, to understand really how that money is being spent and why and on what basis. They are getting rid of the 27 different deals—okay; that is step 1. Step 2 is to make sure that we know how that money is being spent. If you want money to go to the poorest schools, let us make sure that it happens.

We know there are schools in all of our states, whether they are in the private school systems or the public school systems, that get more money than others. We know that state governments tend to prop up their most prestigious state governments at the expense of those in poorer and less affluent suburbs. That is the truth. State governments and territory governments will not want to admit it, but that is what happens. We have seen it happen for decades. In the Catholic school system we have seen poorer Catholic schools lose out at the expense of money going towards more wealthy Catholic schools. We have seen issues of a lack of transparency and openness in the independent school sector. This is Australian taxpayers' money. They deserve to know how it is being spent, when it is being spent and whether it is being spent in line not just with the expectations of the parliament but also of the goodwill of the taxpayer.

It is hard to argue against needs based funding. It is impossible to argue against it if you actually believe in investing in education and that education is the most fundamental foundation of giving every Australian child the best opportunity to thrive and be able to achieve. If we believe needs based funding is an important principle, we must give the power to this body to report that that is what is going on—or, indeed, report that it is not. We should not be afraid to give an independent body like this the power to name and shame. If the government is not prepared to do that, I call into question whether they really want transparency at all. We have been talking about this for months. David Gonski and the original Gonski panel advocated this strongly. Let's put in place a body that actually shines a light, acts as a watchdog and ensures that the enormous amount of money that is about to flow to our public and private school sectors is spent where it needs to be spent.

1:41 pm

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

I will respond in part to Senator Hanson-Young's points here, which perhaps warrant some thought depending on whether these particular amendments succeed. As I said earlier, Labor has its own amendments but we are open to improving those if this one does not succeed. We still are concerned about the lack of independence of this body. The points that Senator Hanson Young has made here are quite critical. If the body is not independent, we risk returning to things like the fantasy figures that the department has published—and that is to know is advantage. I agree with Senator Hanson-Young that transparency is important, but it needs to be well-informed transparency.

I am sure Senator Hanson-Young appreciates what some people looking at the information that might be available do not necessarily understand. For example, across any school system, public or private, the most significant cost factor is teachers wages, so school budgets are often the captive of the composition of their teaching staff. For schools in the nice leafy suburbs of Melbourne or Sydney, whose teachers are quite happy and comfortable teaching in that environment and have been doing so for decades, the wage costs are different compared to the issues facing schools in more disadvantaged urban areas or in regional and remote areas. That is not to say that that factor alone should mean that those schools should continue to be able to capture, by virtue of student-teacher ratios or other formulas that systems might apply, the larger amounts of funding.

That is why a composite review of those issues is important for any school system. That is what informed the process that the Gillard government went down—in fact, it was the first Rudd government—with the national partnerships for school funding. What the government said at that time was that we had to find a mechanism, running across these other factors that operate in how schools are funded, to get more money to the areas where we know that money will make a difference. I was incredibly privileged in government. One of my roles was to visit the best-practice versions of those national partnerships and see what a difference that additional funding was able to make in many disadvantaged Australians schools.

In that case, the Commonwealth rather than any particular individual school system used the approach of saying, 'All right, if we just use the basic accounting arrangement about how to distribute funds we are still not going to get the money where we know it will make a difference; we need to look at other funding mechanisms than just this minister's one-size-fits-all approach to target disadvantage.' That is what those national partnerships did. They targeted disadvantage.

It was that policy work that then informed the development of the Gonski loadings. But of course we have not reviewed those loadings to see how effectively the settings of those loadings currently work. Senator Hanson-Young, those loadings were part of that design feature to overcome the basic accounting assessments of how funding for schools should be distributed across schools and systems. If we just rely on the factors around the number of students, the number of teachers and the wage cost of those teachers, who will quite naturally prefer live in, stay in and teach in more comfortable environments, then we are not going to get the resources to the schools we know we need to.

Sure, you can pick up Senator Back's concerns about co-responsibility and systemic concerns about co-responsibility and do some things that way, but what Gonski 1 did was attempt to draw that into the funding formula itself. What Senator Hanson-Young is quite legitimately saying is that schools and systems need to be accountable for how they are following that formula. As I mentioned before, there will be factors in individual schools or individual localities that involve quite legitimate reasons for why one school will not be funded exactly as per the formula, which is why I asked the minister questions in relation to accountability factors that we have already addressed in amendments to the bill. But an independent, well-resourced student resourcing body that will allow for properly informed accountability on these issues is important. We need that debate to be well informed. We need people who understand how these arrangements work and can make competent recommendations about how these issues can be addressed or, indeed, about how change can sensibly be achieved.

We have seen discussion during the debate on this bill and in the committee process on different views about how different systems have responded to Gonski 1. I have been pleased to see that there obviously has at least been some response to the issue that systems need to rethink and not be bound by these narrow accounting formulas about how these funds should be distributed. I say, 'Hear, hear!' on that point. I am with you, Senator Hanson-Young, on the need for systems to continue to be accountable. I understand too the point that you have made, which is that the government system also directs funding to more prestigious public schools in ways that need to be addressed. You are right, Senator Hanson-Young—we do need to get the funding to the most disadvantaged schools if we are ever going to achieve a difference in our educational outcomes.

The concerning thing is that Gonski 1 set up some settings to try to shift systemic thinking about some of these things—and some systems have done better than others historically on these factors—but we have never reviewed the settings. The process that was established in the national education reform agreement was not reviewed because this government was lazy. Sure, you can say responsibility shifted from Christopher Pyne to Senator Birmingham, but that is really not an excuse. It is not an excuse because this minister has been in this portfolio long enough to have received advice long ago on the consequences of these matters not having been addressed.

My understanding is he received information in relation to the SES and its need for review 12 months ago, and yet now he sits in this Senate and now we have to spend many hours fighting this issue when a competent minister would have responded to this issue 12 months ago and saved the Senate the time and occupation that has been required to ensure that that matter has properly been addressed.

But I am still a long way from convinced that it has been competently addressed. The minister has not even taken up my invitation to use the time available between now and when we return to this bill to come back with the information about what would be the estimate of the amount involved in this fund to deal with the system-weighted average if it were calculated on the current provisions in the bill. So I will return to that issue now and highlight for the Senate—and the Nationals here groan because they do not like being held accountable for their poor behaviour in cabinet—

Senator Williams interjecting

We are on the issue. We are very much on the issue. To help Senator Williams, who is not really following this debate: I am on page 11 of the bill.

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

I find you boring.

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

I am more than happy for you to find me boring. Page 11 of the bill sets out the new settings of capacity to contribute, but let me highlight for those senators listening to this the differences that are involved here and why we know the impact is much bigger than the $50 million that Senator Birmingham has very reluctantly come forward with.

Let's have a look at item 8. Where the measure for capacity to contribute for a school with an SES score of 100 was 12, it rises to 16. It is currently in the act 12 per cent. This minister has unilaterally said we should lift that up to 16 per cent without assessing the impact and, indeed, without reviewing the SES, quite contrary to the Gonski review.

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

Do you have questions?

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

Yes, Senator Williams, I have yet another question on this, which is: what impact assessment has occurred of this unilateral change? Are you seriously telling us, minister, you have proposed this change with no impact assessment? Is that what you are saying? Are you saying that the department did not give you advice of what the impact of that change would be? It would be incredulous for you to be here and to say there is nothing available to assure this Senate that the government has competently assessed that impact. That is ludicrous.

Let me run to point 9.

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

Could you resume your seat, Senator Collins. Senator Xenophon on a point of order?

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

Firstly, I never find Senator Collins boring. I think it shows you how on top of her brief she is in terms of these matters. But my point of order is this: we are currently debating amendments moved by Senator Hanson-Young, and I would be grateful if Senator Collins could address those amendments. I do want to speak in relation to those amendment whenever I get the call and I understand that Senator Collins has another three minutes and seven seconds. I just make that point of order gently and respectfully.

The TEMPORARY CHAIR: Senator Collins, you have the call.

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

Thank you, Senator Xenophon. You have not been here the whole time that I have been making this point, but I am happy to be very brief on it. The point is that, yes, we agree with the sentiment here—that a body like this is required to take the politics out of this process—but at the same time I am making the point that a body such as this can help us understand the impact that this government is not providing. The impact that the minister is not providing is, for example, the increase for a school on an SES score of 101—a primary school—which is estimated at 13.5 per cent, as is currently the case, and rising to 17.9 per cent. These are the Catholic systemic schools. They are on an average of 101, but the crossbench has been hoodwinked that the minister's changes fix the problem. They do not. There is roughly a five per cent increase in the estimate of what fees parents should pay.

1:54 pm

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

As I understand it, what is before the chamber are amendments (1) and (2) on sheet 8177 moved by Senator Hanson-Young on behalf of the Australian Greens, and also amendment (1) on sheet 8179, and that Senator Hanson-Young is not proceeding with amendment 3) on sheet 8177, which relates to government amendment (7) at item 106. My understanding, very clearly, is that the first two amendments on sheet 8177 relate to the National School Resourcing Board and that there must be an independent review annually, but that Senator Hanson-Young has substituted amendment (3) on sheet 8177, so the issue of the reviews is the issue that it addresses, rather than requiring the publication of information.

I think that gives more discretion and does not force information to be published. I thought that was a more sensible amendment in the context of this. Can I say, on behalf of my colleagues, that we support these amendments. We think that the first two amendments may be redundant in light of proposed section 22A and proposed amendments to section 78 of the act, but I do not think there is any problem in it being restated in respect of that. We think that these are sensible in terms of transparency and how the funding is distributed, and also in relation to measuring improved educational outcomes for students against the rate of school funding. These are good transparency measures and I and my colleagues will support them. I will not speak any longer because I understand that my colleague Senator Lambie may have something to say about it.

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

Just to clarify the proposition you have put to the chamber, the question before the chair is in fact amendments (1) to (3) on sheet 8177.

1:57 pm

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

I will seek your wise guidance, Mr Acting Chair, but would it be more appropriate for the amendments to be split so that amendments (1) and (2) be put and amendment (3) be put separately, if at all? Is that correct?

The TEMPORARY CHAIR: Those amendments are effectively amending amendment (7) of the government's amendments. I would have to take some advice on whether separating those three amendments has the same impact of amending the government's amendment (7). By the time we get to that we will have an answer for you.

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

I will be supporting these amendments. The board has not been worked out. There is nothing locked in. I believe that while we are paying all this money to have a board, they can extend themselves right across. I believe that this is a safety net and it has been done very, very well. Whether or not it has the authority—it should have the authority and it should have full authority. If we are going to invest money into this board it should have the authority and the safety nets put in place that are required. Otherwise it is going to be a wasted board. So whatever safety precautions it takes and whatever more we have to put on them to examine, the better. That is what we are paying them for. So I will be supporting these amendments.

1:58 pm

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

I want to put on the record that I appreciate the Greens heeding my words from last night and incorporating the educational outcomes into this amendment. I have a single concern, which Senator Hanson-Young may be able to answer in the next 30 seconds. Have you done any estimates of the cost of this sort of review?

1:59 pm

Photo of Sarah Hanson-YoungSarah Hanson-Young (SA, Australian Greens) Share this | | Hansard source

This is simply giving the power to the board being created by the government to let the public know what is going to do—that it can publish the information.

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

Can I confirm there is no additional cost attached to this? You might want to put that on the Hansard record.

Photo of Sarah Hanson-YoungSarah Hanson-Young (SA, Australian Greens) Share this | | Hansard source

There is no additional cost.

The TEMPORARY CHAIR: It being 2 pm, the committee will report progress.

Progress reported.