Senator MOORE (Queensland) (21:38): I had this funny idea that the role of the Senate was to allow senators to look at legislation, to consider it and then have the chance to make statements in this chamber about it. I am sorry if people on the other side think that is something which should be restricted to only those who agree with them. In terms of the interest people have in this place about education, there can be no question that there is a genuine interest. There is a genuine interest in ensuring that all children, all people who are seeking education across our nation, have effective options, real choice and well-resourced and accessible education at every level.
What we have before us is a bill that had to be brought in. Promises were made by the government, before the election, to the community, to people seeking education-to all of us-that there would not be a sliver of difference between the Gonski process supported by the then government and that of the opposition. There were outpourings of commitment all over the place. It was knee-deep in commitment to ensure that the changes, the improvements and the funding arrangements would be taken forward. That is what people were told, and many people believed it. They believed that the commitments made before the election would be maintained into the post-election period.
We have a bill that has come before us because those commitments have not been made. There is no doubt that senators on this side of the chamber will be supporting the changes in this bill. I am sure that will allay the concern put forward so forcibly by Senator Back that there would be an attempt from people on this side of the chamber to knock off the amendments in this bill-that are there because the promises made before the election have not been brought forward.
We know what the key elements of this bill are because we have heard a range of speakers on this topic. There is support for Indigenous students in boarding schools-as if there is anyone in this chamber who does not support effective funding around a range of options for education, particularly for Indigenous students. In this case, we are being asked through this amendment to ensure that funding flows to boarding schools, for Indigenous students, that have over 50 students.
Every one of us who has had the honour, the privilege, of visiting some of the Indigenous communities in our country, of course, will be supporting it. I am a Queenslander and I have had the privilege of visiting a number of schools across Queensland that focus on offering education to young people in a boarding facility, to allow them and their parents to make that choice. The reason we are here is that the funding that was supposed to be going through there did not flow in the original act, which came through from this government after it came to office.
Naturally, on this side of the chamber we will be bringing that to the attention of the people who are sitting now on government benches. We will be bringing it to the attention of people in the wider community. But we will not be blocking any funding that ensures young people in Indigenous communities who believe their best option for the future is to have a boarding option should have that facility provided effectively by their government. That is what we are supporting in this bill. We need to ensure that the funding announced in the budget will flow and that they will facilitate the payment of $6.8 million in 2014-15 to non-government boarding schools with more than 50 Indigenous borders or more than 50 per cent of boarders who are Indigenous. We will be supporting that part of the bill.
We will also be talking about the need for a commitment and trust that Indigenous communities will have options, that they can consider the best way for their children to be educated and know that the facilities will be there. This ensures that discussions continue between providers of education and Indigenous communities and that children are not forced to seek a certain path. We must ensure that every child has the option of effective schooling, where they are. For some people, that will be schooling in their own communities. For others, it will be the option of boarding. We have seen this work so well. The previous government was responsible for providing boarding colleges and housing so that young people would have safe and accessible housing close to where they receive their education.
The other change that has to be talked about in this place, because the funding did not come through originally, is the issue of transitional fees for independent special schools so that funding is indexed by at least three per cent a year, the guaranteed level that was under the Gonski reforms. It is a change that would not have been brought to the parliament if the government had kept its original promise to fully implement the Gonski disability loading for 2015 and allocate additional resources. It is very straightforward.
There were six additional funding loadings under the Gonski reforms. They were talked about throughout the community. There were special sessions to ensure that people understood how the loading system would work. The loadings were for small schools, remote schools, Indigenous students, students with low English, students from a disadvantaged background and students with disabilities.
These were the needs that were expressed to us, to all of us. This is not a party issue. These were the needs that were being expressed by the community about the children, the students, who needed extra support. This was negotiated at length with the independent schools, with Catholic ed, with public schools and with the appropriate unions to ensure that people understood how it would work and how the benefits would flow through to the schools so that the kids with these needs and these backgrounds would have the support they needed-again, effective options so that every child would have the opportunity for an effective, responsible and very much a personal education.
The loadings with the exception of the loading for students with disabilities were fully defined in the original act. The full implementation for the loading for students with disabilities was scheduled for 2015. This was to allow time for effective data collection and further work with the states and school systems to make the final disability loading work to give students the resources they needed to achieve their best-understandable because this is a contested area as to the best way to provide this support. So the decision in the original act was to ensure that this funding would be delayed until 2015, the full rollout, so that that further data could be collected, information shared and that consultation and dialogue maintained.
Definitions of the disabilities that attract extra support vary significantly between states and so does, as a result, the average levels of support, which range from the current situation from $4,000 in South Australia to $40,000 in Tasmania-an enormous scope and reflective of the need for more consultation and discussion. While the work continued because there is an acknowledgement that this work would need to continue, Labor funded the $100 million per year More Support for Students With Disabilities program to make sure that those students who needed the most assistance got the assistance they needed while work continued to finalise the full Gonski disability loading. The expectation and the promise was that this was going to be introduced in 2015.
Before the election, this process, just like the Gonski overall process, had full support across the board. But, as I said, as a result of the election that support has waned. I am not going to go through all the quotations which people know and I am not going through all that argument. But what we do know is that that funding did not flow. So the funding in this bill will change the transitional rules so that their funding is indexed. I think Senator Back was talking about the people and the schools who would miss out if somehow this side of the chamber actually rejected this legislation. Well, we are not and the schools will not, because we actually believe that there must be this understanding and support for students, for teachers, for educators and for communities to ensure that they have the special needs that they must have to ensure that they have their education options.
Again, all of us share a commitment to ensure that there is an effective education process. We can talk about the teachers we have met, the students we have met and the schools we have attended. I would think most senators would be able to share those experiences. But there is a clear expectation that this will be fulfilled and the disability loading or process will happen. So this part of the bill we are supporting.
Another element of the bill is delaying the implementation of the school improvement plans by one year. For me, this is just so frustrating because there was so much work done in developing agreements around the school improvement plans. We talked with teachers because they actually had raised concerns about whether this was going to be a large impost on them and their workloads. We talked with families about how they would operate. We talked with state education departments, who already had systems in place that demanded teachers write individual plans for students. That work was done. The process was in place. No process receives absolute joyous acceptance in its first rollout. But the absolute need to have this relationship and this clear, defined school improvement plan presented by teachers working with their students was agreed. So that was the process that was rolling out, that was going to be part of the introduction.
What we have here is a delay by one year. That is to facilitate further changes to the school improvement plans as a consequence of the minister's review of command and control requirements of the school funding system.
Senator MOORE (Queensland) (12:33): I am in continuation on the Australian Education Amendment Bill 2014, Mr President. I just felt that as I finished in the middle of a sentence it would be appropriate to come back and wrap it up, just for the history!
What I was saying last night about this bill was that, of course, this side of the parliament is supporting the bill. It raises important issues about support for Indigenous students in boarding schools. It also talks about the incredibly important element of providing effective support for students with disabilities and it talks about maintaining discussion so that there can be effective discussion about what happens in this area.
As I was saying last night: despite efforts from people on the other side there has never been any doubt about our position on this bill. What we have said consistently, though, is that we wish that the bill did not have to be discussed. If, in fact, the promises that were made, not just to us but to the community, around the Gonski reforms were actually maintained by the government of the day there would be no need to be discussing this bill. Each of the elements that are the core elements of this bill were part of the agreed Gonski process. There was a clear understanding around the issues of Indigenous education and boarding school support. There was an acknowledgement of the special needs for people with disabilities and the need to ensure that that was actually tied down so that the appropriate support would be identified, resourced and implemented.
As I was saying last night, a practical issue-an issue that actually did take sensitive negotiations over a period of time-was the implementation of school improvement plans. This was actually a practical aspect of making sure that across the board-across all elements of schooling and across state borders-there would be an agreed process. One of the ideas was-and we said it consistently through our process in education-that it does not matter what kind of school you go to and it does not matter where you live; you should be confident that you will have an effective, a responsive and a personal education that gave you options. That was the basis of the Gonski process. I know I should be talking about 'Better Schools' but I think Professor Gonski is now going to be in history as linked to these school reforms! So just for the sake of process I will continue using that term.
There is no doubt about our position. We continue to raise our concerns. We continue to hope that many of the things that were negotiated through those many years of discussions-with considerable difficulty in some cases-will be implemented and that through the ongoing process of funding, not just in the first four years but in the following years of a long-term investment in the nation, that the outcomes will be achieved; that the effort and hope that went into the development of the education plan will be fulfilled and that we will have the kinds of adaptations that are in this bill as a matter of course.
So we support the bill. We regret that we had to be doing this process, but there has never been any doubt that we would put it in danger. It has been said that we were somehow 'endangering the future' by not supporting it. That was never a point, and I hope that will be understood when we vote on the process.