Wednesday 13 October 2010
Hansard of the Legislative Council

AMENDMENT BILL 2010 (No. 39)

Mr FINCH (Rosevears) - Madam President, the abandoned reforms were not all bad but they were badly understood, resented by some and resisted by some, particularly teaching staff. I suppose that is stating the obvious. I believe this happened because the changes were rushed. I remember that was expressed during our briefings and during our consideration of Tasmania Tomorrow. In fact, does my memory serve me correctly, did some members vote against the Tasmania Tomorrow reforms?

Mr Dean - Maybe spoke harshly about it, I don't know.

Mr FINCH - Yes, maybe spoke harshly but we must have generally been in agreement.

Mr Wilkinson - I think the previous member for Elwick had a lot of concerns about it.

Mr FINCH - About the way it was coming through and that it was being rushed. We had that complaint about a lot of bills of course but we did feel that there was insufficient consultation and insufficient public education about the process. However, because of assurances that we had been given by the Government, we were prepared to support the changes. We were involved in a lot of briefings and were given access to a lot of information which perhaps the general public did not have access to. We felt assured that we were making the right decision when we agreed to the Tasmania Tomorrow reforms.

Ms Thorp - You did.

Mr FINCH - Yes. Blame us. But, Madam President, it has been clear for years that something has to be done with the structure of secondary education to help that transition into employment, particularly for young male students. I might have expressed that in my second reading speech at that time. They tend to disengage from the system. They disengage, they resist training, they end up in the unskilled job scrap heap. However, as the member for Rumney and our minister pointed out in her second reading speech, there were early indications that changes were starting to have a positive impact on retention and completion rates and the number of students who were doing vocational education and training. As you have been through in your second reading speech.

The minister did acknowledge that there had been some issues with the introduction of the reforms including issues of identity, collaboration and implementation. She did acknowledge that to gain community and staff confidence in the system there needs to be greater identity given at the local level.

In our briefing we did focus on that particular local level of operation. I am all for the operation at the local level but my concern, and it may come through in our Committee stage as we start to question the process here, my concern is that this bill could lead to greater centralisation. We did touch upon that to a certain extent when we were questioning during the briefing but we might explore that a little bit more. What we do not want to end up with is the Department of Education extending the bureaucracy and the centralisation of education. I think that is something that we do need to avoid.

Will the college association still have the same say? I know that in the briefings the secretary did allay our fears to a certain extent, that nothing has changed in these bills in respect of the college associations being able to have their voice heard through the system to the secretary. I hope that is the case. Some feedback that I have had is that there are some elements of concern that this may not be case. The more local that it has become, the more the school association has to concentrate on their local issues. That is where they will stay. There is a bit of a feeling about that so let us hope that it will be as the secretary did assure us, that there will be that conduit through to the secretary who is going to take responsibility as it does mention in the other statutes that she is the person responsible.

Mr Wing - It does not seem to be actually expressed anywhere.

Mr FINCH - But I think that it is there in the parameters under which she does function, that she does have the responsibility for the operations at the college level. As I say, I got a sense of her acceptance of that responsibility. One of the reservations that we did hear about from the member for Windermere was the redistribution of funding from the proposed academy to college campuses at the instigation of the executive officer. That is something that may be explored even more in our Committee stage, those funds that are raised from the hiring out of the college situation. There was a concern that that money would go into a pool and not be used locally.

Ms Thorp - Through you, Madam President, if I may - I will reiterate in the Committee stage that that is not the case. It is an unfounded fear. Fees raised by any individual college stay in that college.

Mr Wing - Through you, Madam President - they have to be paid to the secretary.

Madam PRESIDENT - I might advise that in a second reading debate you speak and the minister has the right to close. At that stage it might be the best time.

Mr FINCH - Thanks, Madam President. I am happy to accept that acknowledgment by the minister that she will address that at the closing. That may allay some fears that we have heard about.

Let us go back to the original argument about education. There is a short quote that I thought might be of interest from Anatole Kaletsky, who is a British economist and author. He said:

'The education of children raises many questions, perhaps more than any other human activity, and no one can claim to have answers to them all.'

I am sure we are not getting all the answers here but as we try to find more answers, more questions will arise.

I did speak earlier of the disengagement of some young people with education and training making them turn off and ending up trying to enter the workplace with few skills and that, in this day and age particularly, has to be avoided. I do not want to digress too far back to my own educational upbringing -

Mr Wing - It's been entertaining so far.

Mr FINCH - I, for one, did enter the workforce with few skills, let me tell you. Once my principal - a wonderful educator, C. Dwight Brown, from the Hobart High School - decided that we needed to part ways. He said that Hobart High School was not big enough for the two of us, one of us had to go and he liked it there.

Members laughing.

Mr FINCH - I did enter the workforce at a very young age but that was back at a time when in fact given that challenge at 15 years of age I simply went down to the CES and at the counter was offered a choice of three jobs. They were the good old days - three jobs.

Mr Gaffney - That was the last century, though, wasn't it.

Members laughing.

Mr FINCH - I did set myself up for that. But the point was: here was Newton James, offsider on a furniture van, Cripps Bakery or a control operator at radio station 7HT and I remember saying that I would take the job at the radio station until something better came up. They were my words. I was not being cheeky, that was just my acceptance of the way the circumstances were then.

Mr Wing - And that something better happened to be Parliament.

Mr FINCH - Then of course I happened on a career that has served me very well and beaten my pathway here to Parliament, but they were the good old days. It is not the same landscape now. If you enter the workforce with few skills as a young man or a young woman, you are really behind the eight ball and you have to really have a lot of good natural intelligence and commonsense to survive that setback in your start. It is important and I agree with the Government and what the minister is trying to achieve here.

The failed restructuring of Tasmanian education was partly directed at solving this problem but where does the problem start? As we agreed, Minister, well before year 10 there are many non-school factors behind Tasmania's poor retention rates. To name a few: gender, family wealth, community health, employment, regional locality, regional economy, the youth labour market, community involvement, parental attitudes to education, school resourcing and the list can just go on.

If I could just pick out parental attitudes to education, I would say that that is a primary factor. There is an argument that disengagement with education starts in primary schools. If primary school students do not leave with a positive attitude to education and to school, they are unlikely to pick one up in a secondary school and they will remain turned off from learning. I know it is all too easy to blame parents but parents are indeed a major factor in engendering a respect for education in their children. It is so important for them to be positive and encouraging to young children about that and some have a laissez-faire attitude in respect of that encouragement.

Without wishing to digress too far again, let us look at the high academic record of the children of refugees from, say, Vietnam and China. Their parents were convinced that education was the key to success in a new country and of course they still are. That is the reason for their high success rate and their application to education that sees them go a long way.

Mr Wing - Similarly with international students.

Mr FINCH - Yes, and that is a grab bag really of those people who come and recognise the importance of it. It is a bit like us in respect of our scenery in Tasmania; we just take it all for granted. We have to stand alongside somebody who comes to visit us from the mainland or from overseas and then they are just gobsmacked by what they see in Tasmania, whereas for us it is there and we just accept that it is there and we roll with it.

Madam President, I suggest that we Tasmanians and parents have become complacent and that complacency is a big factor in our poor retention rates and the low standard of education and training. Let us look at factors like these as well as restructuring secondary education, which is not a panacea if the other factors I have mentioned are not addressed as well. It is a big issue, a bigger problem. In the meantime, Madam President -

Ms Thorp - A challenge.

Mr FINCH - A challenge, thank you. Let us get our words right and let us get this bill through the process.

Mr Wilkinson - So we are not mentally challenged.

Mr FINCH - Well, some are, as you can tell. We need to make sure that there is some certainty for the coming new school year and I think that may have even been the imperative that we felt with the first Tasmania Tomorrow process.

I think we felt the imperative of needing to get the changes in place so that there was that certainty for students - and this reminds me about the other point I raised during our briefing: sure, the bottom line is students and their outcomes but we must through that consider the staff - the teachers and the administrators who need to put these processes in place.

I realise some see it as a golden opportunity and wonderful and they are progressing with it and they want to move on to this new age, this new era, and we have heard that reflected with the minister telling us about the union people and the people she has engaged with through a heavy consultation process that she does get generally that positive feedback. But we need to be mindful of other people out there who are not as engaged as you would like them to be. They do feel the uncertainty, they do feel the fact that nothing is settled, it is not how it used to be where they knew what their agenda was - the programs they were teaching and where they were placed in the system. Now it is as if all the balls have been thrown up in the air and when they land, what is the new landscape going to look like for them? I am cognisant of and I am concerned about that uncertainty that some people have. Sure, there might be some people who will always be uncertain, who will always not be able to be catered for in any system. Okay, let us hope that that is a minority of people and they can move on successfully.

However, I want to just put on record that my concern is about teachers and the spirit that they have moving forward - their positivity - and that they are strongly considered in these reforms so that they can enjoy their work. If they are enjoying their work, surely the kids are going to benefit from that. The kids, the students, are going to have better outcomes and better involvement with the education system if their teachers are more involved and enjoying their work.

In closing, Madam President, I would like to recognise the dedication of the Minister for Education to the wellbeing of our young people and working hard through this process to resurrect, I would say, the spirit in which these reforms were intended and seeing her way through the problems that have arisen in people's minds and finding a new way forward. I am of a mind to support these bills for that certainty. It is needed for the next school year and I look forward to the committee process