True education reform needs more than mere words from Government

I rise to speak on the Australian Education Bill 2012. I was expecting a significant bill, given the title, and I ask: what does the government intend with this bill? I use that term loosely.

What does this bill tell schools? What does it tell parents and their communities? What does it tell people in my community in the south-west of WA, who might be watching this tonight?

The answer is: not much. It does not tell you much at all. It tells you that the government has a plan to have a plan to have a plan. That is why there is great concern and uncertainty in my electorate.

When I read through the bill—the nine pages and about 1,400 words—I thought, ‘This should really be a very important piece of legislation.’ I looked for the financial impact statement and I printed it off.

Under the heading ‘Financial impact statement’ it says: ‘There is no financial impact associated with this bill.’ The rest is a blank page. There is no detail. There is no certainty for the schools, the parents or the teachers in my electorate. There is nothing legally enforceable.

The bill actually states that it is not legally enforceable. There are no funding arrangements—a blank page—and no plan. The bill does, however, have a lot of uncertainty, as I said, for schools, parents, students and communities—particularly for schools in regional and rural areas, where often the school is the centre of the community, so issues that affect the school affect the whole community.

We would all like our education system to be the very best possible, and I see this in schools in my electorate. However, this bill before the House does not tell us how this is going to be achieved.

Even the explanatory memorandum cannot bring itself to claim that the bill provides the answers, because it does not—it is a plan to have a plan. Instead the explanatory memorandum says:

The Bill provides the foundation for a legislative framework that puts an excellent education for every child at the heart of how Australia delivers and funds schooling.

The bill itself is not the answer but may perhaps provide that foundation for a legislative framework that might one day provide an answer—thank you, Sir Humphrey! The answer will be provided in the fullness of time at the appropriate juncture!

The bill apparently sets out a vision for the development of a national plan for school improvement.

I thought this was the Australian Education Bill 2012, but let us be really clear: this bill does not deliver a national plan for school improvement; it delivers a plan to develop and then ultimately deliver a plan.

It does not, itself, deliver at all.

The bill outlines five directions for reform: quality teaching, quality learning, empowered school leadership, transparency and accountability, and meeting school needs.

Those are fine words of aspiration, but beyond listing the five reform directions in the bill there is no detail. What is there for us to discuss from the nine pages of this bill? How does the government mean the plan to be implemented or delivered on the ground? It is the lack of detail that is of great concern, and it is creating significant uncertainty for schools, parents and students. They do not know, any more than we do, what is intended.

It should be noted that the coalition is not opposed to the bill. However, I certainly support the amendments proposed by the shadow minister, the member for Sturt.

One of the issues that will be of concern right across Australia—not just in my electorate—will be the definitions of ‘systemic school’ and ‘non-systemic school’. That is a critical issue.

We, the coalition, have set out principles to outline our values for schooling that will guide our coalition government in delivering a real education policy.

At any time that we get into government, the principles will include the fact that families must have the right to choose a school that meets their needs, that meets their values and that meets their beliefs. All children must have the opportunity to secure a quality education.

Student funding needs to be based on fair, objective and transparent criteria distributed according to socioeconomic needs. Students with similar needs must be treated comparably throughout the course of their schooling.

As many decisions as possible should be made locally by parents, communities, principals, teachers, schools and school systems. Schools, school sectors and school systems must be accountable to their community, families and students.

Every Australian student must be entitled to a basic grant from the Commonwealth government.

Schools and parents must have a high degree of certainty about school funding so they can effectively plan for the future—that should be a basic right. Parents who wish to make a private contribution towards the cost of their child’s education should not be penalised, nor should schools be penalised in their efforts to fundraise and encourage private investment.

Funding arrangements must be simple so schools are able to direct funding towards education outcomes, minimise administration costs, and increase productivity and quality.

These principles define the education agenda of the coalition. Even in this form they provide more detail than we see in the government’s bill before the House.

Until such time as these details are made available, key questions remain to be answered following the handing down of the Gonski report.

There are a few questions that need answering. Where will the at least $6.5 billion per year the government floated come from?

How much will the Commonwealth contribute and how much are the states expected to find? What programs will be cut and what taxes will the government increase?

If the Gonski modelling shows 3,254 schools worse off, how much extra will it cost for every school to receive more funding, as the Prime Minister has promised? Where is the modelling showing the impact of this funding for each school?

These are the sorts of questions every school in my electorate wants to know the answers to. Will the Prime Minister guarantee no school will have to increase school fees as a result of the changes?

Where is the government’s detailed response to the 41 recommendations in the Gonski review?

How much indexation will each school and each school sector receive? What will be the benchmark funding per primary and secondary school student?

These are the sorts of things we should be seeing in any bill entitled an education bill. How much funding per student will be allocated for students with a disability?

Will this funding be portable between the government and non-government sectors? What, if any, future capital funding arrangements will be provided for schools? What new reporting requirements and other conditions will schools have to meet in order to qualify for government funding?

They are pretty simple questions. You would have thought that, in a bill that is entitled ‘Australian Education Bill 2012’, exactly these types of questions would be answered and very clearly laid out.

These questions do need to be addressed before the government can make any real progress in education reform.

But the key question remains: where is the money? The explanatory memoranda tells us that this bill, the Australian Education Bill 2012, has no financial impact; there is no money in this apparent deal.

The Labor government has a well earned reputation, as we all know in this place, for making unfunded announcements. It also has a similar reputation for cost shifting to the states. The current actions of this bill will only enhance that reputation.

The review panel chaired by David Gonski handed down the final report into schooling to the government in December 2011.

The main recommendation was to implement a new funding model, at an additional cost to all governments of $6.5 billion per year. The panel’s original proposal was that the Commonwealth and states split the cost of introducing the proposed model on a 30 to 70 basis.

That would require each government to lift their existing expenditure in school education by approximately 15 per cent.

Dozens of technical issues arose once the panel’s theoretical model was tested by the government. Both the National Catholic Education Commission and the Independent Schools Council of Australia reported serious anomalies.

Leaked modelling in August 2012 revealed that approximately a third of all governments, both government and non-government, would lose funding. The explanatory memoranda tells us that the Commonwealth commits itself to work collaboratively with the states.

That is something that we certainly need to see, and we will believe it when we see it.

Honourable members interjecting—

Ms MARINO: As the member says, it is easy for me to say—so I challenge him to do the same.

When we talk about the education of the next generation of Australians, I really want to point out the desperate need for education on cybersafety. When we talk about education needs of Australian students, cybersafety education must be part of the conversation. Our young people are at risk.

With the advances in the science of communication and of the internet, this risk continues to grow. We can no longer afford to sit on our hands while our young people remain at risk. I believe the major way to effectively protect people from such a risk is education.

This is a national problem that needs a national coordinated solution. Everything that I have seen and done on this issue tells me that education of our great young people is the real key.

I saw a recent report from Europe that revealed that, of the 30 countries and regions that participated in a study, online safety education is included on the school curricula of 24.

The UK has cybersafety in its national curriculum and starts the program at five years of age. The threat is real and looms large, and our response needs to be rapid and effective.

I was speaking, in the previous part of this debate on the Australian Education Bill 2012, about the need to include cybersafety in the national curriculum. With social media—like Facebook and others that we see out there—the user has to assume that anything they post online cannot be deleted and is, in fact, on the internet forever. Speaking on such social media, a quarter of teens surveyed said that they had been the victims of cyberbullying.

Advanced features of social media—we see them all the time—include Bluetooth and geotagging.

Geotagging can often be a default setting which poses a significant risk, particularly to young people, who do not understand the implications of taking a photo with the geotagging embedded in there and then uploading it to Facebook.

So the reason for cybersafety to be included in the national curriculum is very real. Our children face these issues on a daily basis. It is part of the challenges they face.

I deliver these courses into schools constantly, encouraging young people to be safe and aware online. Certainly it is something that needs to be included in the national curriculum.

We need to teach our young people how to be safe and, equally importantly, we need to teach parents how to teach their children to be safe. This should be an Australia-wide activity.

The only way to deliver that, in my view, to the next generation and the current one, is to include that type of education in the national curriculum.

As I said in relation to the nine-page, very short bill before the House—the plan to have a plan to have a plan—what we need is legislation that delivers certainty and choice.

We need to deliver.

Where is the definition of what is a systemic school and a non-systemic school? The government needs to deliver details in this piece of legislation, but no details are in this nine-page bill.

The government needs to deliver the funding well before the next election. Just where is the funding going to come from?

We have heard nothing about that. There is no reference to that in this bill, in any way, shape or form—nothing in this legislation. Probably the way to describe this bill—as I did previously—is that it is, at best, an aspirational mission statement. The bill is supposed to be about education but is, in fact, nine pages long and approximately 1,400 words.

Here is the financial impact statement; there is nothing on it. This is not legislation; this completely ignores the issues.