Education Programs in the ACT (Appropriation Bills) 2011

I am very pleased to speak today on these appropriation bills, because I am very aware of the impact they will have on my electorate of Canberra. I have been privileged to have seen the outcomes of some of the programs that will be funded through this appropriation, and I am keen to ensure that they continue—not only for the ongoing benefit to Canberra but to ensure other communities around Australia will also benefit.

I draw the chamber’s attention to the provision for trades training centres in non-government schools. This appropriation will ensure that funding is available for schools once specific milestones in their plans have been achieved. Training in trades is an important component for the future productivity and economic growth of this country and is a key component of this government’s education revolution.

I can attest to the fact that in my own electorate here in Canberra there is a massive shortage of people skilled in trades. This has an inflationary effect on the local economy and is forcing local families to pay higher rates for basic services. For instance I remember, when we were looking at renovating a few years ago, finding that Canberrans pay about 25 per cent more for building and renovation work than people in other cities pay. I know it is a challenge getting a plumber in most metropolitan cities in Australia, but try getting one at short notice in Canberra. It is a very challenging task, as most Canberrans in this room could attest.

I therefore welcome any plan to expand trades in my electorate and to provide an alternative career path for students while they are still in school. Already this program has seen an investment of more than $1 billion to create 288 projects, benefiting 927 schools across the country. This includes some schools in my own electorate.

I was particularly impressed with the plans for a $5.7 million centre at St Mary MacKillop College in Tuggeranong, which is acting as the lead school, in conjunction with St Clare’s College, St Francis Xavier College and Merici College. The centre will provide a certificate III in hospitality. This practical program will help local students and boost local productivity. It will mean that we will not have to import skills, particularly trades, because we will be able to grow our own, and that is particularly important for a place like Canberra. Yet this was under threat at the last election, with those opposite threatening to cut almost $1 billion from this program. As a consequence, over 1.2 million students from over 1,000 secondary schools would have missed the opportunity to engage in education that have would lead to pathways to becoming the next generation of electricians, plumbers, bricklayers, hairdressers, chefs or carpenters.

I come to this House as a passionate advocate for education. I made special mention of it in my first speech in this place and my life is testimony to the truth that education is the great transformer. That is why we desperately need the Gillard government’s education revolution, of which this program is part. Without it, the opportunities, the choices and options of future generations and our future are diminished.

My sisters and I had a great public education that set us up for life. That is why I am a strong defender of government schools and a staunch advocate of access to education and support through it, no matter what your background. Education is the great empowerer, particularly when it encourages a quest for broad and continuous learning. But a quality secondary education is not one that only prepares a person for university. A quality education is multidimensional. It lays the foundation for a successful future in a vocation or a trade. It lays the foundation for a quality life and a better quality of life.

I want to see a return to an understanding of the dignity of work that values every job well done, because each job, no matter what it is, adds to the common good. I believe that education is the silver bullet that leads people out of poverty and economic and social disadvantage. As my colleague Andrew Leigh has said in the past, it is the poverty vaccine—and that is true. It is a social disadvantage vaccine and economic disadvantage vaccine. I will support in this place all policy and legislative measures that enhance the educational opportunities of Australians, which is why I support the trades training centres—a core feature of this government’s education revolution.

I would also like to make mention of the provision in this legislation of $21.6 million for the continuation of the Active After-school Communities program. The Active After-school Communities program is a free government initiative that gives school-age children the opportunity to experience more than 70 different sports and up to 20 other structured physical activities. The program aims to help establish health habits in primary school-age children in recognition that those children who develop these habits are more likely to continue them as they get older. Without the program over 80 per cent of participating children would not be engaged in any structured physical activity outside of school. The program is running at capacity, with over 3,200 schools involved in it.

I was fortunate late last year to present an award to Curtin Primary School, who won the school-age care program here in the ACT for 2010. The program received the 2010 territory’s Super Site Award for delivering safe, fun and inclusive sports activities to children. The award is presented each year to those locations delivering the Australian Sports Commission’s Active After-school Communities program. Curtin’s school-age care beat 49 other sites in the ACT to win the award. The students absolutely love and delight in the program, and they have great student teachers and teachers who are already part of the school showing the students a range of things. The students participate in a diverse range of activities, including dance, taekwondo, softball, cheerleading, cricket, soccer, rugby league, AFL and touch football.

I was also pleased to learn that this program is not just being rolled out to metropolitan constituents here in Canberra; the program is also actively embraced on Norfolk Island, where I was just recently with the Minister for Regional Australia, Regional Development and Local Government. The program has received rave reviews from the teachers and parents on the island.

I would like to take this opportunity to report that I was recently informed that this program will now take place in the new $3.3 million multipurpose hall at Garran Primary School. The hall was built under the Building the Education Revolution scheme and I had the privilege of opening it with my ACT colleague, Senator Kate Lundy, a few weeks ago, where I learned of its many planned uses.

The BER is a scheme that draws much derision from those opposite, despite the fact that it is supporting the infrastructure needs of our schools. However, in Canberra, the BER has drawn nothing but praise—from parents, teachers, staff and students. Government and non-government schools alike are incredibly grateful for the libraries, the outdoor learning areas, the ICT and language rooms, the multipurpose halls, the garden centres and the millions of dollars invested in Australia’s future.

The BER program has also generated thousands of jobs and trained hundreds of apprentices in Canberra. That is vitally important, and that was the whole idea. In the true Labor tradition, the BER program was introduced to ensure that the children of today and tomorrow have the facilities they need to help them excel and create a knowledge economy. In the true Labor tradition, the BER program was introduced to ensure that Australians and Canberrans had work and that our economy did not succumb to recession like nearly every other nation on the planet. It was designed to ensure our economy did not have to be bailed out.

Contrast this with the Howard government’s chronic underfunding of education and education infrastructure. Those opposite failed to invest in the future of this nation: the children and their education. They are the backbone of our future growth, our future economy and our future productivity and prosperity. Unfortunately, those opposite were lazy, and it has fallen to this government to fix the problems caused by their laziness. The after-school program is another innovative educational program that enhances the lives of young Australians. It encourages teamwork, collaboration and healthy habits and stems the rate of obesity among our young. Having seen it in action at Curtin Primary School, I am keen to see it continue in my electorate and across others around Australia.

I laud the funding being made available for high-speed rail. In particular, I draw the chamber’s attention to the provisions for a feasibility study into high-speed rail. This $20 million study will look at high-speed rail along Australia’s east coast. This study is crucial to the economic development and future of Canberra. As many in this place would know, there has been an argument for some time for a high-speed rail link between Canberra and Sydney. In the short time I have been in this place I have been asked by many of my constituents, particularly the business community, to advocate this rail link. It has the potential to bring many economic benefits to the people of Canberra and the region and, as such, I am absolutely delighted that Canberra will be included in the feasibility study.

Finally, I turn to the funding provisions for the Australian Civilian Corps deployment to Haiti. These bills appropriate some $377,000 to support the operation by the civilian corps in Haiti. The operation will deploy a civilian specialist to fill the role of a donor liaison officer in the Interim Haiti Recovery Commission. This deployment complements Australia’s commitments to assisting in the rebuilding of Haiti, to which the Australian government has already committed $24 million. As a former DFAT employee, I was very proud to speak in this place on the creation of the Australian Civilian Corps. Foreign aid and development is important to me as a result of my firsthand experience of working in the Asia-Pacific region and living for a year in India.

The Australian Civilian Corps is a select group of civilian specialists who deploy to countries experiencing or emerging from natural disaster or conflict. Members of the corps are drawn from a register of screened and trained civilian specialists. They are selected from all levels of government and from the broader community for their technical skills and ability to work in some challenging environments overseas. They are tasked with providing advice, assistance and capability building in public administration, finance, law and justice, agriculture, engineering and health administration.

The Australian Civilian Corps will support stabilisation, recovery and development planning with a view towards the long-term viability of countries in need. It is all too easy to forget the people of these countries once the immediate crisis is over, and I am acutely aware of the need to provide support to our fellow Australians affected by the floods. That is why spoke in favour of the flood levy and why I am encouraging my constituents to give to Lifeline. We need to provide support now that the houses and the mess are being cleaned up, and I am very concerned about the welfare of the people who have been left behind with this emptiness in their lives.

How many people in these countries ask themselves: ‘What happens next? Who will restore the water and the power? Who will provide the experience to restore good governance?’ These are all fundamental questions that nations that have gone through terrible circumstances, terrible natural disasters, ask themselves. The Australian Civilian Corps will play a major and significant part in answering these questions. The present situation in Haiti is exactly what the Australian Civilian Corps is designed for and so I am pleased to see that its role is being funded in this appropriation. I support this bill.

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