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Estimates: Changes to ACARA - budget and streamlining of roles

Estimates & Committees
Penny Wright 20 Nov 2013

Education and Employment Legislation Committee 

20 November, 2013

Senator WRIGHT: Thank you. I just want to be really clear on the previous discussion that was had about the current budget strictures that you are operating under. I want to clarify first of all the amount of the cut. My understanding is that the coalition announced a cut of $23 million over the forward estimates to 2017 with the description of reducing additional funding for the Australian Curriculum and Reporting Authority. Is that the figure that you understood is being discussed?

Mr Randall: I am aware of the figure, but I will restate: in terms of any subsequent questions, at the moment that has not translated to advice to us about where we need to change our programs.

Senator WRIGHT: Thank you. I have been listening to the discussion, but I just wanted to be really clear on what the information is. As we have ascertained, the cut scheduled for this financial year—between now and June of next year—is a reduction in funding of $7 million. Is that your understanding about the situation?

Mr Randall: That is my understanding.

Senator WRIGHT: I might ask Ms Paul to respond to this too. Is there any suggestion that that is not a definite cut? In other estimates committees we have understood that things that have been previously announced might be subject to reconsideration under the commission of audit review. Is there any suggestion of that or is this a cut that you understand ACARA will need to accommodate between now and June?

Ms Paul: It is probably better for us to take it, because I do not think that Mr Randall can take it too much further. He has said what he knows. As I said to Senator Carr previously, the way in which this election commitment might be met is currently being considered by government.

Senator WRIGHT: It is actually the amount that I am interested in, because there have been clear responses in relation to other amounts during estimates. I will ask Mr Randall to respond, in terms of what he understands, and if he has any indication or is aware, being the CEO of ACARA, as to whether or not there is any possibility that that may not be the cut that ACARA is facing.

Mr Randall: I can deal with what I have read and what I am aware of. My previous answer was that, at the moment, we will deal with that when it becomes a more formal engagement. Prior to that it is—

Senator WRIGHT: Understandably the public would like to know. There is not a lot of lead time between now and June.

Ms Paul: Sure. But, as I said before, those are the matters which are currently under active consideration, so we probably cannot take it any further.

Senator WRIGHT: I will just continue with asking some more questions. We have to go with what is on the public record, apart from information that we can ascertain in this kind of process, of course. The Minister for Education has stated that he wants to streamline ACARA and reduce its various roles, apart from those that strictly relate to curriculum development. It is worth noting, as Senator Carr has noted, that ACARA receives directions from all education ministers in Australia and is also supported by a number of advisory groups. My specific question is: what guidance has ACARA received about the federal government's view that the authority's roles should be streamlined?

Mr Randall: Nothing formal.

Senator WRIGHT: There has been nothing formal. Has there been anything informal?

Mr Randall: I have read the announcement and things like that, but at the moment there has been nothing formal communicated to us about changes. We are aware of the discussions that are taking place, but, in terms of formal advice to us, that has not occurred.

Senator WRIGHT: I am just interested in the word 'formal'. When you talk about informal, I presume you mean what is in the public domain. I am just wondering whether there has been any informal discussions, as opposed to a formal brief or anything in writing.

Mr Randall: We will have a whole range of discussions with a whole range of people. From my point of view, though, and in answering Senator Carr's question, at the moment, in terms of my role as CEO, we have a work plan, the budget is allocated to that and I will continue to operate on that basis until I have—and that is where I will use the term—formal advice otherwise. I just want to elaborate. Of course, in the discussions as we work through a program with staff and others—and senators have asked me about staff—my advice to them is that the plan is there and the work program is there, and when we get something formal we will deal with it. Otherwise, the discussions that occur and that people will have—and, yes, I have had various discussions—are not something I am going to operate on or engage in more detailed discussion about.

Senator WRIGHT: Given that I have ascertained that there is no suggestion that this is not a cut that will be implemented or that it is subject to some other process, and given that you have had no guidance at all about how that might be implemented, it is a significant cut to implement in a period of seven months, isn't it?

Ms Paul: Let me reiterate. The point we are at now is that we are working through advising government on how that might best be done, and it is under active consideration. As I said before, we will go through exactly the same process we have been through each time there has been a federal government election commitment or policy commitment which has an impact on ACARA, which is, of course, to involve all of the ministers, because ACARA is a ministerial company, and, of course, to involve ACARA as well. But we are still in those first stages.

Senator WRIGHT: Thank you. Did I hear you say earlier, Ms Paul, that some of the functions of ACARA have been transferred, or will be transferred, to the department?

Ms Paul: They will be transferred; that is right.

Senator WRIGHT: Which functions would they be?

Ms Paul: The government's commitment was to transfer data reporting and compliance that are not so curriculum related, so as to free the authority to direct its resources to developing rigorous benchmarking processes to compare our curriculum against the world's best. The government's commitment is to allow ACARA to focus very clearly on curriculum and its development. There are many machinery of government changes. This is one of them. We have not yet worked through this one.

Senator Payne: From the government's point of view, there is no question that we will not provide enough funding for ACARA to do the work that it is asked to do by the standing council. That is stated position from the minister. We continue to liaise with the states on all of those matters, as has been indicated. Part of this process is about working through the details of the government's commitment to the reduction of duplication between agencies to reduce the red tape. The minister has made his position very clear in that regard.

Senator WRIGHT: Yes, I am just interested in that transfer of functions. Presumably, that has to be subject to some agreement or negotiation from the other interested parties—the other states.

Senator Payne: That is what I said. We will liaise with the states on all of those matters.

Senator WRIGHT: That has not been reached yet. If that were not to be agreed, then I am trying to work out how those functions could continue to be met with a reduction of $7 million over the forward estimates.

Senator Payne: I am not sure I am in the position to explore those hypotheticals in terms of relationship between the Commonwealth and the states and the territories. But the minister has made it quite clear that we will continue to liaise with the states and the territories, as the other stakeholders, and that we will ensure that ACARA is provided with enough funding to do the work that is asked of it by the standing council.


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