School Assistance Amendment (Financial Assistance) Bill 2011

Ms BIRD (Cunningham) (1.28 pm)—I rise in support of the Schools Assistance Amendment (Financial Assistance) Bill 2011.

Mr Pyne interjecting—

Ms BIRD—I was so moved by the intense and wonderful contributions of my colleagues on this side that I have come to add my contribution to this particular debate. I thank the shadow minister for being so keen to hear me that he has acknowledged my presence in the debate.

There is an important process underway instituted by this government to review the most appropriate mechanism for schools funding. Within the context of that broader consultation that is currently underway with a view to having a report through by late this year, this bill provides ongoing certainty around funding. It will amend the Schools Assistance Act 2008 with the intention of extending the existing funding arrangements, which include the indexation arrangements until the end of 2013 and the grants for capital expenditure until the end of 2014. This is intended to ensure funding certainty for the Catholic and independent schools sectors through the process of the broader review.

I should indicate that part of that broader review currently underway includes the conversation with all sectors, not only the organised sectors but the parents, schools and student bodies that are interested in participating in the review. Like many in this House, no doubt, I have had submissions and interest from local school communities about this most significant and important process. This bill sits within that broader context, with the intention of providing funding certainty during that process that is being undertaken.

Obviously if we acknowledge that the bill sits within the funding review, as has been indicated by some of the other discussion and the nature of the amendments proposed by the opposition, it also sits within a broader educational reform agenda, which includes initiatives such as the Building the Education Revolution, the Digital Education Revolution and the development of a national curriculum. These are all excellent and important reforms in the sector. As a former teacher I think it is well overdue that we have had an opportunity to express our confidence and invest in our education system in the way that those three broad reforms intend to do. In particular for me, having been an English history teacher, it may be a bit surprising but I think the Digital Education Revolution—

Mr Pyne—You’re obviously grasping at straws now!

Ms BIRD—which the shadow minister obviously finds something unimportant and not worthy of consideration within this House, should be acknowledged as a particularly important reform. It became obvious to me that as the current generation grew up they would have to have digital literacy skills, which are as significantly important in many ways in a modern society as their broader literacy skills, and that schools would therefore need to be able to provide the sorts of technology we are now seeing roll out in schools. Whilst there is a separate, dedicated funding stream to provide that support into schools, the capacity of schools to provide that is critically important. When I chaired the Standing Committee on Education and Training in the last parliament—the member for Braddon, who is here in the chamber now, was a member of that committee—we had evidence in our inquiry about the issues that will confront young people into the future. We heard from young people that the capacity to be digitally literate and have access to those resources in schools was particularly important for them.

Since this government was elected, with our commitment to education, we have seen a dedicated range of funding streams that have been important to modernising our school system, that have provided the digital literacy skills and technology that schools needed and that have upgraded the infrastructure in schools, which is particularly important. I have been visiting several of my primary schools recently with their new hall facilities in the Building the Education Revolution. Sometimes I think what people miss about the importance of that program is the expansion of the primary school curriculum to include a range of activities that require them to have access to what we would see as fundamental spaces in a modern school area. So the physical infrastructure funding programs have been critically important to those schools, as well as, within the broader context of funding, looking at the mechanisms by which we fund schools on a recurrent basis.

That process is obviously always a fairly contentious one, with a variety of views on that. We are doing that in the most appropriate manner, as the previous speaker on our side indicated, with a full review, full consultation and everybody able to participate and have their say, which is well witnessed by the level of interaction each of us receive in our electorates through the consultation process. We will work towards getting an outcome for that by the end of this year. But within that broad reform agenda, which is significant on capital, on resourcing and on recurrent funding, there is a need for a commitment, which this particular bill does, to give some certainty to the non-government sector over the period of that review.

I also want to go to the issue that is raised in the amendment put forward by the opposition in relation to the national curriculum. Again, this is an area where there has been a call for and a need for reform to develop a national curriculum for a long time. It is always a challenging thing to do when there are various states and there are various views on what should be part of a national curriculum.

There are contested arguments from academics in the field and so forth. But in a modern nation it is well worth going through that process in order to get a modern relevant curriculum that is standard across the nation so that young people, whether they move about or not, can have a common experience through the curriculum. The other reason I think that is particularly important is that—as we develop our connected classrooms and as our technology enables more and more young people to interact beyond their classroom, their school and, indeed, beyond their community into other communities across the nation or internationally—we have to have a national curriculum that allows the development of those resources and supports for schools to be put in place. I think there will be many very exciting developments as we see the technology rolled out across our schooling system and indeed, I would say, into homes so that young people are able to appropriately link into national and international resources developed for the curriculum that is a common experience across the nation. That will be a truly wonderful experience. Already I know that members in this House have been into schools and seen examples of these tremendous programs with professors from universities and specialists from places like Questacon delivering wonderful programs that, because of technology, our students can participate in and that are meaningful to them as part of their curriculum. The development of a national curriculum can only support the further expansion of those sorts of resources and opportunities.

The opportunity to participate in the debate today reflects the fact, I believe, that we do have a true, national reform agenda that is around the infrastructure, facilities and resourcing of our schools.

It is about giving every young person the best possible opportunity we can to get a good grounding for their future through the schooling system. It is also a modernisation program. The funding review that is currently underway will be thorough and it will conclude later in the year. But to enable that to continue to progress in the way that has been envisaged, this bill requires passing in order to provide certainty in the meantime. I commend the bill to the House.