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Extension School Program

Cassy O'Connor MP

Cassy O'Connor MP  -  Wednesday, 25 September 2019

Tags: Education, Social Enterprise, Speech Pathology, NAPLAN, Colleges

Ms O'CONNOR (Clark - Leader of the Greens) - Madam Speaker, I always have great faith in our young people, in their capacity to learn and to grow and to be active in our community and to drive change. That faith was reinforced last Friday on the lawns of Parliament House when at least 15 000 people gathered on the lawns. There were students there with their uniforms on from schools all over southern Tasmania, public, private and Catholic schools. Those young people deserve our wholehearted support. This afternoon at 5 p.m. the House will be given an opportunity to express their support for those young Tasmanians who are standing up to fight for their future.

We do not have a problem with the wording of this motion. We are not going to vote against it. It is galling to have a conservative government pat itself on the back over its record on public education and public education funding. No one will forget the double whammy of the first Abbott budget and the first Hodgman budget that came within two years of each other and gutted public education funding.

I remember going to school assemblies at the end of 2014 and seeing students in tears because they were having to say goodbye to their arts teacher or their music teacher. Every school that I went to was losing at least one teacher, much loved and valued within that school community. Some of the schools that I went to at that end-of-year school celebration were losing two teachers. That is the record of this Government. In that same year, from memory, an efficiency dividend was placed on public school funding. So there was a freeze on school resource package funding at the same time as there was an increase in funding given to private and independent schools in Tasmania. I remember having debates with the minister for Education over that flawed approach to funding.

We have seen the funding for public education eroded consistently since John Howard was prime minister. Graphs are available publicly which show that since John Howard became prime minister the level of public education funding has declined or the level of public funding for private education has increased over the same period. There is a school of thought that it suits conservative governments to under-invest in public education. The last thing they want are highly informed and engaged young people coming out of our public education system who will turn around and have a look at a conservative government and exercise their critical thinking and their rights in a democratic system and vote them out. It is the standard modus operandi of conservative governments to undermine public education around the country and in Tasmania.

What Ms White said is true. The extension of years 11 and 12 to rural and regional schools was when the now senator Nick McKim was the minister for education. The hub-and-spoke model was in place. It allowed for the extension of years 11 and 12 courses to students living in rural and regional areas. This is not new.

Mrs Rylah - But you didn't fund it.

Ms O'CONNOR - Mrs Rylah, you were not here. Senator McKim was a highly respected minister for education. There was funding available to schools to teach the extension courses in rural and regional areas like Huonville High, for example.

There is a legitimate concern about the future of our outstanding college system under a model which applies a one-size fits all to schools in Tasmania.

I am the proud parent of four young Tasmanians, three of whom went through the public education system and attended Taroona High and Hobart College. The richness of the educational offering at Hobart College is second to none. The culture, the inclusion, the creativity that flourishes at Hobart College is outstanding. Hobart College's academic results, each year they come in, in the top five or six schools in the state, are second to none. It is an outstanding college.

It has produced, for example, some of the great scientists. Stas Chewelah (TBC) is a Hobart College alumnus. He is the scientist who investigated black holes and contributed towards GPS technology right around the world. He has come back home to Tasmania after studying and working in the United Kingdom and is at the University of Tasmania.

We need to look after our colleges that are established, that are highly regarded, deeply valued by students and parents and that attract a quality of teacher that we should be working towards. It is a concern to the Greens that the Government is pretending you can have it both ways. That you can say you are going roll out years 11 and 12 to every high school in Tasmania and there will be no impact on the college system. It is not possible within the current funding envelope for public education.

We asked the minister for Education during Estimates this year, that if years 11 and 12 are rolled out to Taroona High, what happens to Hobart College? No clear answer, no spoken commitment to Hobart College's future.

Over the river, Rosny College, another great college which has a media and arts school is producing some of our best and brightest content producers. Again, a rich diversity of subject offering, high quality teachers and it should be supported.

I have spoken to educators on the north-west coast at the end of the assessment time when Don College could not find enough markers for their assessments because there were four students at Ulverstone High School who were doing extension 11 and 12 courses, 20 minutes down the road, who had already booked the assessment team. There is a problem here with the foundational underpinnings of a blasé commitment to roll out years 11 and 12 to every high school in Tasmania. You cannot have it both ways.

It would be rare, precious and probably not going to happen, to have the Government be really honest with parents about their plan for the future of the college system in Tasmania. Ms White is right, we have not seen the raw data. In the past five-and-a-half years, we have not heard a single word from this Government or the Education minister that sticks by the colleges that we have in major centres.

There is a compelling argument to make sure that you have years 11 and 12 in rural and regional schools so that students who are far from centres have access to that educational opportunity. But we cannot see any justification for doing away with colleges. When you look at the ACT, for example, they have a college system like ours and some of the best academic results and NAPLAN results in the country.

Dr Woodruff - Thanks. I went through it, along with thousands of other ACT students who loved it.

Ms O'CONNOR - Did you? Well done, Dr Woodruff, and well noted. Yes, and that is the thing about the colleges that we have. The students love it because it is an opportunity to not have to wear a uniform, to experience a rich diversity within the school community, to have an outstanding subject [Bookmark: _Hlk20317318] [Bookmark: _Hlk20317245] choice and you are not going to be able to have that in every high school that extends to years 11 and 12 in Tasmania.

We have not heard any meaningful response from Government to the issues that have been raised by the Australian Education Union about the unsustainable and unfair workloads that have been placed on teachers.

We have not heard anything meaningful from this Government about how you skill your young people for a future in which robots will be able to perform most tasks. The workplace is increasingly automated. Industries like the salmon farming industry in Tasmania and around the world are increasingly being automated. I saw a short documentary about all the things robots can do. Robots can write journalistic text. There are very few jobs we know of that cannot be dealt with through automation in some way or another. We are probably one of the protected species because, if you have robots making decisions about legislation and policy and people's lives, we are ruined.

It is about priorities. The massive cuts to public education in the 2014-15 Budget left public schools, primary schools, high schools and colleges reeling. I do not believe they have recovered from those cuts, yet we have a budget that allocates $1.4 billion toward roads and bridges. Imagine if we invested even a fraction of that back into our public education system and back into making sure that we retain young people in public education.

We should also recognise that young people are increasingly afflicted with depression, anxiety and a deep worry about the world that they are growing up into. We need to have climate resilient education. We need to make sure there are the psychologists and social workers in place in our schools to support students who are worried about their future.

We are not seeing any acknowledgement from the Education minister or any of his colleagues that this generation of young people has it harder, I would argue, than any generation in modern times. We grew up with the threat of the Cold War. I, as a young person, thought that we were going to be nuked to oblivion by the Russians but the existential challenges facing our kids are inconceivable by the standards we grew up under and circumstances we grew up in. We need to make sure that, right from the beginning of a child's education, we are teaching them about it, we are giving them psychological resilience tools, we are making sure they feel connected to their communities, they feel valued and that they are ready for their future. A hard century faces our young people and we can help them prepare for that in our education system. I am agnostic as to whether it is in our public or private education system, independent or Catholic schools. Every school community has a responsibility to make sure this stressed generation of young people is supported and they know the adults are standing with them.

We will not be voting against this motion. There is nothing obnoxious in it except for the vague selfcongratulatory tone but we are used to that in here. In our alternative budget we acknowledge that every young Tasmanian deserves a high-quality public education that nourishes their potential and they deserve clear training and career pathways in an age of increasing automation in which there are jobs coming down the line that we have never even countenanced before. We need to teach our young people skills for rewilding, reforesting, social enterprise, new ways of working and new business models. We need a strong investment in public education to ensure that Tasmania's social and economic wellbeing is protected to the greatest extent possible in future.

In our alternative budget that we prepare each year, as members know, we commit to developing a quality guarantee for Tasmanian schools, setting annual minimum standards for all schools and holding government to account for lifting standards. We will resource the quality guarantee through investing $32 million for 90 additional teachers and 80 support staff to ease pressure on educators and to lift educational outcomes. We will also allocate an additional $30 million towards quality school infrastructure.

We recognise that some students need extra support to reach their potential and would provide funding for 30 hours of tutoring for each student who falls below the national standard for each standard they fall behind in. There is also a pressing need for extra speech pathologists within our school system. We would invest in 50 full-time equivalent speech pathologists, doubling the current number in the public system. This will ensure each speech pathologist works with two schools on average, ensuring they have adequate time to work with all the students who need them.

Young people are experiencing depression and anxiety in increasing numbers. As research that was released last week tells us, the increase in depression and anxiety is not confined to young people. GPs are reporting an increasing number of adults presenting to them with depression and anxiety, which is related to a world that seems less stable, more chaotic and more threatened than it has ever before. We recognise that a quality education is not solely about academic performance. It is also very much about student wellbeing. Our alternative budget invests $8 million into extra school psychologists, $6 million for social workers and establishes a climate-resilience program across the public education system.

We want young Tasmanians to be ready for the future in every possible way. We allocate resources toward introducing comprehensive civics education to the school curriculum to ensure young people are engaged and aware of this nation's democratic foundations. We need to recognise that Tasmania's schools are fostering the leaders of tomorrow and we see civics education across the school curriculum as a fundamental reform.

The Greens also recognise something this Liberal Government, particularly the federal Liberal National Party Coalition, has a poor track record on, which is the need to invest in skills and training through TAFE. We recognise the vital role TasTAFE plays in preparing young people for the jobs of today and tomorrow. Our alternative budget revitalises an under-funded TAFE system and establishes a centre of excellence in aged and disability care, an area of rapid and increasing jobs growth. When you speak to people who work in the aged and disability care sector they will tell you there is a chronic skills and staffing shortage in that sector and it is projected that around 10 000 jobs in aged and disability care will be needed over the next 10 years.

I was lucky enough a few weeks ago to attend the Disability Expo out at the Derwent Entertainment Centre. I walked around the stalls and spoke to old friends and associates. There is a persistent theme that the NDIS has been undermined by the federal government and that there is a skill shortage in disability care. I cannot let this moment go past without noting this federal government is crowing about a surplus that is built off the back of a $4.6 billion underspend on the NDIS. That is immoral, it is criminal and it is harming people who place their faith in the National Disability Insurance Scheme to provide them with that choice, control and access to quality services that enable inclusion and participation in all those areas of life that able-bodied people take for granted. A $4.6 billion underspend on the NDIS is criminal and immoral and tells you everything you need to know about the Morrison Government's disregard for vulnerable and marginalised people.

Madam Speaker, we will not be voting against the motion. We recognise it has been written somewhere in or around the eleventh floor in order to try to reach, I would assume, Labor, because every time it is government members' time, the motion is all about the wedge; 'Wedge Wednesday', as Ms White says. We should be having good constructive dialogue about how we can improve our public education system and improve public education outcomes, but this is not an ideal way to do that because it is written in a self-congratulatory way and does not acknowledge our outstanding college system and the teachers and staff who work in that system to deliver the best possible public education to young Tasmanians and prepare them for the future and a century which will be, on the evidence, the hardest in human history.