Federation Chamber – Appropriation Bill (No. 1) 2022-2023 – Consideration in Detail

Mr CLARE (Blaxland—Minister for Education) (11:42): The budget delivers on the government’s election commitments, and in particular the government’s plan for cheaper child care, funding for schools, the mental health and wellbeing of Australian students and more than 20,000 more university places for areas of skills shortage.

As members would know, the cheaper childcare legislation passed through all stages of the parliament this morning. It comes into effect on 1 July next year, and it will cut the cost of early childhood education and care for more than a million Australian families. That’s a good thing. It will help families with the cost of living and it will help parents, especially mothers, get back into the workforce, and to work more paid days and work more paid hours, and get more skilled workers back into the workforce.

As part of that legislation that passed through the parliament today, the government is also providing a minimum level of 36 hours per fortnight of subsidised early childhood education and care to Indigenous children to help meet the Closing the Gap targets for early childhood education and development. I thank both sides of the House and all members of the parliament for their support, in particular, of this measure. Evidence that came out only a couple of months ago showed that the developmental readiness of Indigenous children has gone backwards over the last four years, demonstrating quite clearly the need for us to act here. I think increasing from 24 hours to 36 hours is just the start, if we want to make sure that all of our children are developmentally ready to start school. If they’re not, then we’ve got to take steps like this.

The next step is the ACCC inquiry into childcare costs. That kicks off in January, and we’ll get their interim report in June. Next year we’ll also kick off a big and broad review of early education and care, which will be done by the Productivity Commission.

In the budget we’re also making a record investment in school education. The budget is supporting schools through extra investments in infrastructure and the mental health and wellbeing of students. In particular, the government will invest about $271 million over the next two years in a Schools Upgrade Fund to improve school facilities. The first round of that funding will open shortly.

We are also investing $200 million to help students bounce back from the mental health and wellbeing impacts of COVID. I am sure I share this view with all members of parliament who talk to schoolteachers and school principals: the aftershocks of COVID are still with us. We hope that the worst of the pandemic is behind us, but we’re still see its impact in our classrooms. To that end, that fund will help every school in the country. On average, depending on the population of the school and the need, every school will get about $20,000. That can go towards things like counsellors and psychologists and also things like camps and school excursions—the sort of things that will help to bring children together and have a bit of fun, apart from anything else, after the last couple of years. That funding will roll out next year.

A couple of weeks ago I also released the Draft National Teacher Workforce Action Plan. That includes a number of measures for which there is funding set out in the budget, including $159 million to train more teachers as part of the additional 20,000 university places announced recently; $56 million for scholarships or bursaries worth up to $40,000 to encourage our best and brightest to become teachers; $68 million to triple the number of midcareer professional shifting into teaching; $10 million to boost personal development; $10 million on a campaign to raise the status of the teaching profession; and $25 million on a teacher workload reduction fund to trial new ways for states and territories to reduce the workload on teachers and maximise their time to teach. That draft plan is out for consultation now.

It also includes a number of measures that fall out of the Quality Initial Teacher Education Review that was commissioned by the former minister and done by Lisa Paul, a former secretary of the department and somebody held in high regard by all of us in this Chamber. A number of initiatives that came out of that have made their way into this draft national teacher action plan. As I said, it’s out for consultation at the moment, and we’ve had so far about 300 submissions, mostly from teachers and principals. I would encourage anybody who might be tuning into consideration in detail to have a look at it and tell us what you think. Tell us what’s right about it and tell us what’s not right about it. Give us your feedback. I will have a little bit more to say about that a little later on.