Release type: Speech


Second Reading Speech, Schools Assistance Bill 2008

House of Representatives, Parliament House, Canberra

Mr Speaker, this Government came to office with a promise to bring an Education Revolution to Australia.

Throughout this year, that is what we have been doing, step by step, piece by piece, taking the actions and building the framework that will enable Australia’s schools to achieve world class outcomes in the future.

Education is central to our future as a society. It is a central part of building a stronger, fairer Australia, ready to meet future challenges and able to make the most of its talents and resources.

Over the previous 12 years, the Liberal Government failed to provide the foundations that Australian schooling needs to succeed in this new century.

In the course of just one year, we have put in place the foundations of successful, long term reform and investment in our schools.

New computers are already in schools, funded by our $1.2 billion dollar program for a Digital Education Revolution.

New Trades Training Centres are also on their way, the first practical steps in a $2.5 billion program.

Our Education Tax Refund, a commitment to parents of $4.4 billion, is available for those essential education expenses incurred since July this year by hard working families supporting their children’s learning.

We are implementing our commitments. And we are going further.

Mr Speaker, if this country is to succeed in the 21st century we need a schooling system which delivers excellence and equity for every child in Australia.

This is only possible if the community is confident that Governments are applying the same principles – of excellence and equity – to all Australian schools, regardless of their location or the sector of which they are a part.

Under the previous Liberal Government this was not possible.

Under the previous Government, schools funding was delivered without regard for overall quality. Instead, schools were held accountable for whether they had a functioning flagpole and whether they put up posters about values.

Mr Speaker, Australian values are at the centre of everything this Government does. But we believe that they should be applied to our policy decisions, not tacked on as an afterthought.

To do that, we have developed a shared agenda for reform in education, focused on improving outcomes for all young people.

Outcomes like school-readiness for young children, progress in literacy and numeracy at every stage of schooling and better qualifications and life transitions for our teenagers.

Through this process of collaborative reform, COAG has agreed national targets to radically improve literacy and numeracy outcomes among indigenous students and increase the number of young Australians attaining year 12 or equivalent qualifications.

These goals will be achieved through a new National Education Agreement: an agreement between Governments in Australia that will set the terms of funding and accountability for all schooling over the next four years. Commonwealth funding for Government schools does not require specific legislation and is being negotiated through the National Education Agreement, which will be finalised by the end of 2008.

This Agreement and the Bill being introduced today are complementary and together will show the full commitment of this government to improving educational outcomes for all students, in all school sectors.

Together they will deliver the minimum $42 billion for schooling that Labor committed before the 2007 election.

They will establish the framework of accountability, transparency and collaboration between all stakeholders in Australian Schooling.

They will focus new resources, through a series of National Partnership payments, on the key priorities that we know are critical to the future performance of our school system.

Those priorities are:

  • Improving the quality of teaching
  • Raising outcomes in disadvantaged school communities
  • Delivering a new era of transparency, to guide parents, teachers and policymakers in making the best possible decisions.

Mr Speaker, non-government schools and school systems are vitally important stakeholders in this national endeavour.

This Bill establishes the basis on which they will be funded for the next four years, within the framework of the National Education Agreement. It will apply to non-government schooling the same principles of quality and accountability, excellence and equity, that have shaped our national reform agenda.

The Bill continues to provide for targeted funding for teaching of languages other than English, English for new arrivals to Australia, literacy and numeracy and students with special learning needs and for students in country areas.

The Schools Assistance Bill 2008 will appropriate funding of an estimated $28 billion for the non-government school sector for the years 2009 to 2012. This Bill will maintain the current SES funding and indexation arrangements, meeting our 2007 election commitment.

This Bill also contains two further specific reforms to address our national priorities.

First, there will be additional funding for all non-government schools where 80 per cent or more of the students are Indigenous and for non-government schools in remote and very remote areas where 50 per cent or more of the students are Indigenous. Under the previous government, these schools were not guaranteed the maximum level of Commonwealth funding, despite the fact that they are often serving some of the most disadvantaged Australian children in the most remote and demanding circumstances. This measure will provide an estimated additional $5.4 million to these schools.

This Bill brings together several separate components of funding for schools with indigenous students that were previously funded under theIndigenous Education (Targeted Assistance) Act 2000. This change will reduce reporting and red tape for schools and provide them with increased flexibility to focus on the educational achievement of their students. This newly combined Indigenous Funding Guarantee and Indigenous Supplementary Assistance will provide an estimated $239 million over four years. For the first time, this funding will be indexed at the same rate as other recurrent school funding. This increased indexation will be worth an estimated additional $24.5 million.

Second, a central element of the Bill and funding arrangements for 2009 to 2012 is a simpler, stronger and better focussed framework for performance information and reporting. These requirements for non-government schools are part of a new era of transparency in Australian schooling. They will be consistent with the transparency measures for government schools, and will help to enable proper understanding of how all schools perform over time and in relation to like schools serving similar student groups.

The Bill therefore provides for five activities that are essential to achieving transparency: national testing, national outcome reporting, provision and publication of individual school information and reporting to parents. Non-government schools will be obliged to participate in these activities in a way that is consistent with the wider transparency framework applied to all sectors. In contrast, the schools funding legislation for the previous four year period imposed over twenty separate requirements, necessitating an excessive level of regulation, monitoring and red tape.

This Bill provides another, major step forward in building a long term, national approach to schooling in Australia. It will ensure certainty of funding for non-government schools from 2009 to 2012, gives additional support to schools serving Indigenous students and ensure that all non-government schools are part of an Australia-wide strategy to achieve accountable, responsive and high quality schooling for every Australian child.