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EMPLOYMENT, WORKPLACE RELATIONS AND EDUCATION REFERENCES COMMITTEE
Commonwealth funding for schools
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EMPLOYMENT, WORKPLACE RELATIONS AND EDUCATION REFERENCES COMMITTEE
Commonwealth funding for schools
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EMPLOYMENT, WORKPLACE RELATIONS AND EDUCATION REFERENCES COMMITTEE
(SENATE-Wednesday, 28 July 2004)
- Committee front matter
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Content WindowEMPLOYMENT, WORKPLACE RELATIONS AND EDUCATION REFERENCES COMMITTEE - 28/07/2004 - Commonwealth funding for schools
CHAIR —Welcome. The committee prefers all evidence to be given in public. It will however consider any request for all or part of your evidence to be given in camera. The committee has before it your submission, No. 49. Are there any changes or additions that you would like to make to that submission?
Mr Lee —No.
CHAIR —I now invite you to make a brief opening statement.
Mr Lee —Thank you. As part of the submission that we put into this inquiry, we included the transcript of our appearance before this committee four years ago. That transcript shows that a number of issues that we raised then as matters of concern and matters needing public redress remain so today. Our updated submission about those was prepared by our national secretary, Lynne Rolley, who gives her apologies; she is unable to be here as she is overseas.
The approach of our union in the broad—and it falls within the terms of reference of this committee—is that the national goals of schooling have been contributed to in a consensus fashion by all the governments of Australia, including the Commonwealth and the states. As such it formed, in a broad sense, a framework through which we could approach Australian schooling and the adequacy of its resourcing. From our point of view, we look at the national goals of schooling and see them as a statement or repository of entitlement for every child in this country—an entitlement the access of which would require some differential provision of resources, depending on the circumstances of schools and students. That whole approach implies a notion of a resource standard in schools which would allow the primary deliverers—the teachers—to give access to that entitlement.
It is our view that the national leadership role of the Commonwealth, which is one that we strongly support in education, should be based on a funding system which embodies a concept of sufficient resource standards to deliver that entitlement to every student. In our view, the current funding system does not do that. Its conceptual underpinnings are unrelated to the delivery of that entitlement because it does not deal with a package of resources that a school might need. There is the individualised notion of aggregating SES scores from collector districts and the like and the explicit acknowledgement by the Commonwealth, as I understand it, that the capacity to raise fees, the accumulated resources of schools and the like are irrelevant to the public policy underpinning the SES model. In our view, that is a less than satisfactory approach.
We believe that the SES model has flaws. We believe it is based on inadequate assumptions and, in the end, it generates payments to schools and systems which are highly contested in the community. We consider that to be a great misfortune for education in Australia. The degree of divisiveness at the moment is unpalatable and it militates against the forms of cooperation by teachers in different sectors, across schools and between systems, which we think would be desirable. We believe that a review of that system is necessary. We said that on the last occasion and, of course, we have seen it in operation over the last four years.
It is our view—while I think we would not disagree with some comments made by Monsignor Doyle a few moments ago that there is a reasonably high degree of cooperative relationship in a practical, administrative sense between the Catholic systems and state departments of education—that the degree of rancour in the community between schools and sectors, including between the public sector and the Catholic sector, as we have seen recently in New South Wales, is undesirable. I will leave my opening comments there, other than to say that it may well be that the level of resourcing that comes through Commonwealth government grants to schools and systems may be seen as a desirable amount of money in total or just less than that. Some big system might argue that 58 per cent of AGSRC should go to 60 or 61 per cent or whatever. The way we look at that is that it seems to be clearly and consistently said in the community—and I think before this inquiry—by those representing public systems in Australia that the resourcing of public systems is not sufficient to amply meet the national goals. That is more so in relation to children who are more remotely located, Aboriginal children, those with disabilities and the like. We imagine that that is true.
If it is so, then in terms of the resource standard that is necessary to deliver that entitlement to the children in government schools—which our union accepts is the dominant system and the benchmark, in a sense, of what government say they will spend on the education of their citizenry—in a proportional sense, depending on where the trade-off between fees and grants is, there is more resourcing needed for our own sector. That does not apply across the board, of course. Some schools in our sector are more than amply resourced to meet the national goals; others are not adequately resourced. Our view of the Catholic sector would be that it is not fully resourced sufficiently, through the combination of its funds, to meet the national goals either. The experience of our members, particularly in relation to the education of kids with disabilities, is that more support and resourcing is needed.
We welcome this inquiry. In broad terms we conclude our opening statement by saying that a more transparent and well-researched resource standard that is accepted by the community, that embraces all schools and that is the basis for the funding of non-government schools, on agreed bases, in partnerships between the Commonwealth, the states and schools would do the national politics of schooling no end of good.
Senator TIERNEY —Do you have any level of contact or dialogue with the teachers federation or equivalent bodies representing staff in the state schools around the country to discuss educational funding issues?
Mr Lee —Yes, we do. Would you like me to comment on those?
Senator TIERNEY —Yes.
—Our national office and the national office of the public teachers union, the Australian Education Union, have made some renewed efforts over the last year to try and reach if not agreement around an approach to school funding then at least something that might have some measure of agreement. We had some measure of success in the context of the Australian Council of Trade Unions policy process. Lynne Rolley refers to that in point 1.9 in our submission.
Firstly, the success, limited as it was, embodied commitments to the notion of a resource standard that was adequate to meet the national goals. I think that if you ask the public teachers—I understand that you have and I am aware of their submission—you would find that that broadly is a position that they hold. It is one that we hold. Secondly, we would agree that that would be a more adequate conceptual underpinning to the distribution of funds. Thirdly, I think we would agree that the leadership role of the Commonwealth is important and something that should not be dissolved by remittance of the funding back to states. The reasons that the Commonwealth entered into funding in the early seventies in the way that it did remain valid, and they remain valid for both the public and the non-government sectors. There would be some other items of agreement.
That pact, if you like, to reach some kind of measure of agreement of course is tested by the view of some in our colleague union organisations that we should receive no funding. That gets stated from time to time, and I think it has been referred to. There is no measure of agreement around that. Indeed, when I was here four years ago I followed Mr Fitzgerald, the president of that organisation. I think Senator Brandis made a point of asking him seven times whether he would ever agree with any funding of our organisation, and after seven times he still had not said yes.
Senator TIERNEY —The P and Cs very clearly said no yesterday to us.
Mr Lee —Yes. So we have no agreement at that level. However, I think the practical submissions that come forward from a lot of the state affiliates of the public teachers union do not say that. For example, I am aware that the Queensland Teachers Union when appearing before this committee in Brisbane did not say that at all.
CHAIR —The national office of the AEU did not say that either.
Mr Lee —And the national office did not say that. So, yes, we do have discussions. Secondly, there are measures of agreement. Thirdly, there are measures of disagreement. And, to be open, in the context of publicly running advertisements this year, the capacity to reach some agreement was put under some strain.
Senator TIERNEY —With an approaching federal election. Have you discussed with people in the public school unions the revival of the threat to federal government funding for independent schools by the suggestion of mounting another court case, like the DOGS case in the early eighties? What is your assessment of the possible significance of such a challenge? Do you think such a challenge will happen?
—I began my union career just as the DOGS case was being decided, and now we are coming back to it. We have not seriously discussed the prosecution of such a case with the Teachers Federation. I have had some generalised and informal discussions with the national office of the AEU. That largely took the form of me providing my views and some academic material about the matter that they might take some note of.
Our view is that it is not easy to see that anything has happened that would severely change the legal principles which underpinned the DOGS case and the approach taken by the High Court insofar as the majority decision, as we understand it, across the six judges made it clear that the interpretation of section 116 turned on an understanding of the term `establishment', and that establishment had to connote the establishment of a religion, rather like the standing of the Church of England in the United Kingdom, or, alternatively, the provision of resources to a religious operation that was done in a discriminatory way, favouring one against the other. That is a far cry from the provision of funds to organisations or programs which have a religious dimension. It was clear that the court said it did not mean that, and it is not clear what has changed.
If that is true, the second area of attack would have to be upon a reinterpretation of section 96 and the basis for state grants. It was clear in the original decision that education is a state responsibility. It still is. Funding is still given to the states. The registration and authorisation of non-government schools are done by all states in Australia and are part of state provision of education.
I suppose what has changed in an empirical sense is that in the seventies, at the time of the evidence being taken for the DOGS case, Commonwealth funding was not so disproportionate between the two sectors. That is an empirical change. Whether it has any legal implications or not I suppose will be tested if and when there is such a case.
Senator TIERNEY —So it a bit of sabre rattling. It may not happen if they get good legal advice.
Mr Lee —Possibly. I suppose it is one indicator of the degree of tension in the community about funding. While I would not want to put too much weight on it, I suppose that among other things it is an indicator that we do not have a settled community consensus around these issues. I think we would be better off if we did. We might not be able to please everybody, however.
Senator TIERNEY —Perhaps part of that is the way situations are misrepresented. As we moved from the ERI to the SES, because we were measuring things in a different way—perhaps in a fairer way in terms of the capacity of communities to pay—the funding of certain schools that had been trapped in various ERI categories changed. Money to some schools went up notionally and money to others went down, but of course there was maintenance of funding so in reality that did not happen. But in all the debate and comment in the media, particularly when they kept picking on King's School and others like that, they talked about the percentage rise. Shouldn't we really be looking at the absolute amount of government dollars going in and wouldn't that show across the system that the amount is way below the public resources provided to public schools? Isn't that the essence of what we should be focusing on?
—I think greater transparency in the total amount of resources that are available to any particular school or system and an honest reflection of that in the public is important. From time to time we have had concerns that things have been manipulated to give an impression that perhaps some schools receive more in absolute dollars than they do. What you refer to, Senator Tierney, is that if a grant of $600 goes to $1,200 it is a 100 per cent increase.
Senator TIERNEY —A 100 per cent rise.
Mr Lee —I understand that point. Nonetheless, the schools which largely feature in that approach are also schools where the total level of resources available is very considerable. There are schools that have fees between $14,000 and $18,000, to which are added grants from the Commonwealth and the state, even though those grants are smaller than the level of public money that goes to government schools—of course that is true. But if it ends up assisting a school to be resourced at perhaps twice AGSRC, then there is going to be debate about that.
Senator TIERNEY —But, given that the public purse does not totally fund the education of that child in a private school, what parents top up for their school is surely between the school and the parents. If they want to put more money in, why should people object to that?
Mr Lee —Our union dissents from that proposition, I have to say. We say that the totality of resources that are available should be taken into account, among other things, in government deciding what it will contribute to the schooling of a student. We do say that there should be a base grant for every student irrespective of the total resources of the school that they are in. We do say that. We say it on the basis that we believe that all schools should remain within a system of regulation that is state based in this country, that requires commitment to meeting the common curriculum of the state. In the view of our union, that would make them subject to antidiscrimination laws that see them as part of a common industrial system and part of the professional life of all schools and teachers. We say that that participation in the common educational enterprise entitles each school or each student to have a base grant attracted to their school. But we do not say that a funding system should be erected that issues grants to schools on behalf of students and then, after that, no longer pays any attention to the accumulation of resources that are able to be dragged in and that are dragged in. We say that that is not an appropriate approach.
Senator TIERNEY —In your union, do you have members right across the non-government sector?
Mr Lee —Yes, we have a good set of members in the King's School—very good members, too.
Senator TIERNEY —So do those members in the King's School agree with what you have just proposed?
Mr Lee —Yes. I think that the general approach that we take is always open for—
CHAIR —They employ left-wing people occasionally in the establishment.
—Yes, it is very disturbing, Senator—that must be the reason! Can I clarify what you mean by resource standard. Are you saying that every child in the same situation, say in year 6 or whatever, should attract a certain level of public funding regardless of whether they are in private or public schools or whatever system they are in? Is that what you mean by resource standard?
Mr Lee —No, I do not mean that. That approach would be to say that there should be full funding, according to the resource standard, of every student irrespective of their school or system. We do not say that.
Senator TIERNEY —Do you say that it should get to that?
Mr Lee —We say that there should be—
Senator TIERNEY —A public-private mix?
Mr Lee —Yes, a public-private mix. One can go back to chapter 1 of the rather large document issued by the Commonwealth Schools Commission in August 1981—it was the triennial report for 1982-1984, and I would urge the committee to have a look at that. At that time, under the leadership of Dr Ken McKinnon, there was I suppose a forecasting of where Commonwealth funding was going to go and the predicaments that were going to face schools. The matter that you have raised, Senator Tierney, was raised there. In fact it was raised in terms of `Will we end up having a system where schools will actually choose or select their level of need?' The level of need is that gap between what they have and a resource standard defined by whatever technical or political process is used. Essentially, as private inputs are higher, grants should be lower.
Senator TIERNEY —Doesn't that then create a perverse incentive for schools to say, `If you're going to meet an overall level of resources in a public-private mix, we'll just lower all our fees'? Then the government has to come in and make that up to get to the standard and, therefore, in effect you will be shifting the balance of public resources to the private sector.
Mr Lee —I understand the point. In a sense, the dilemma that you refer to is encapsulated in the different approaches of the Catholic Education Office in Perth in some answers to the questions of this committee and one of the papers that came from the Victorian Catholic Education Office. The Victorian Catholic Education Office, in a paper on the affordability of Catholic schools, draws attention to the fact that fees are something of a barrier to accessing Catholic schools and that that reflects itself in the socio-economic composition. Despite the fact that the Victorian Catholic system is across the board and there are many poor students in it, by and large, if you have fees of $2,000, that operates as a barrier. It does in every other area of life—that is not surprising.
In Western Australia, the Catholic Education Office was asked whether it would support the removal of fees and its total replacement by grants. The answer was no, and the reason given—which is not one that our union supports—was that there needs to be a fee to underpin or ensure a degree of ownership of a school system. We do not support that approach. There are many schools in which there are no fees and there is a high degree of involvement, participation and the like in that sense of ownership, so we dissent from that reason. The answer to the conundrum is this: there need to be agreements between the federal and state funding regimes and the school based on the capacity of that community to deliver in partnership the resources which are necessary for the education of that child. As the grants become the dominant part, that should be part of a regulatory framework which embraces a number of other matters.
The Commonwealth is happy with some regulatory matters. There is a list of 10 things or something like that in the current bill. I heard from the earlier discussion that some parts of that were discussed in a fairly elaborate way with the Catholic Education Commission; I do not know that they were with us, although they apply to all of our employees. That the Commonwealth put some industrial matters into this bill is a matter that gives us concern. Nonetheless, matters of the enrolment of students, a `fair share' requirement of accepting kids with disabilities and all those things that can be built into agreements are the basis for saying to a school or a schooling system, `The grants will be 80 or 85 per cent of the standard. You're committed to this share; you've got to find it.' It used to be called maintenance of effort. That could be legislated for.
Senator TIERNEY —And you would determine that on some sort of SES or variation of SES for each community.
Mr Lee —Certainly a variation, Senator, because the provision of the entitlement embodied in the national goals of schooling contains a whole lot of things, and they are things which should turn up in the classroom or be present in the school. They are things like a reasonable class size and reasonable access to technology. They are not SES matters; they are matters which should be there in the school or in the hands of the teacher to deliver. The resource standard is made up of a number of those components. In fact, the Commonwealth Schools Commission in the eighties produced studies on how you might build those kinds of composite indices up. It was an input system—I accept that. That should be revisited and, in our view, it should be.
CHAIR —Is it true that most of your members are employed in Catholic Education Commission schools?
Mr Watt —That is correct. It reflects the majority of schools in that sector.
CHAIR —As you have heard, it was explained to us how the Catholic Education Commission allocates moneys received. Do you disagree with that method?
Mr Watt —Without knowing the full details of exactly how they go about it—
CHAIR —Do you disagree with the principles?
Mr Watt —It is within our submission and it was four years ago that we believe there needs to be an enhancement of the current modelling through SES. What I believe the Catholics were referring to in their presentation earlier was the need to look at the resources at the local level, the capacity to raise those resources and the capacity to raise and set fees as well as the particular nature of schools—for example, the Indigenous population of that school, kids with particular socioeconomic needs and literacy and numeracy needs. Those are the sorts of things that we are saying need to go into a reasonable calculation of the needs of all schools.
CHAIR —But, in essence, the Catholic Education Commission has a needs based system. Do you support a needs based system?
CHAIR —That includes a calculation of income available from fees. Do you support that?
Mr Watt —Yes, that is one of the components that should be in there.
CHAIR —That is the important principle that I think is in question here. There are a number of other matters and there are always matters at the edges, but the critical issue in the current debate is whether fees should be included in the total resources available to the child's education.
Mr Watt —I think we go a step further, in fact. We would say it is not just fees but also other private revenue raising capacity.
CHAIR —So you would go the whole hog, if you like—that is, the total resources available for the education of the child should be calculated in a needs based system. That is your submission to the committee?
Mr Watt —Yes.
CHAIR —You refer here to the ACTU developing a schools funding policy which was adopted unanimously by the ACTU at its last congress. You think that this is particularly significant. Can you explain to the committee why that is?
Mr Lee —The ACTU, as you would know, is a broad church. In fact, educational policy has been pretty sharply fought over within the forums of the ACTU over the 23 or 24 years that we have been affiliated to it. Between left and right you could not get agreement. We thought it pretty significant that between the two major teaching unions and the whole of the major unions across the political spectrum there could be some consensus around some key principles, given that the working movement of Australia also represents a huge number of students. We have not died yet as a movement. We have an awful lot of students who are children of the men and women who make up the trade unions of Australia. Getting some commitment around some broad principles might start to model the kind of consensus that might be available in the wider Australian community if we could get there. I listed for Senator Tierney some of the key elements before. They included agreements across the teaching unions, which have some differences. We think that is significant.
CHAIR —Was it difficult to get that agreement?
Mr Watt —Around the broad principles we got there. It took a little while. The difficulty really flows from the disappointment and anger, I suppose, that people within the trade union movement otherwise feel about the current system. So you have to get through that and say, `Can we put that aside and start to look at what might be the underpinning principles that can lead us out of it?' It involves a bit of mutual trust. Trust is not total but, if you can build on it, you can actually get to a set of principles which can get some consensus. It was done within a year so it certainly was not impossible.
—That is quite important. It has been proposed that there should be a further step in that process. Would you consider it a further step in that process to have a national commission of inquiry to try to break this logjam that now is obviously evident within the education community?
Mr Lee —I have seen the suggestion in the public teachers union submission to that effect. There is a list of four or five points there. Our position is not to be opposed to such an approach. We do think that there is a need for more public data and greater transparency. For example, almost nobody can reach agreement about what the real components of AGSRC are. A number of submissions acknowledge that. That is a pity.
There are differences in the average government costs in each state—the cost of running public schools in the Northern Territory compared to Melbourne is considerable—so the relevance of a national AGSRC when there are those regional disparities is something that might be unpacked a little. An AGSRC is a useful measure insofar as it gives a measure of what governments are prepared to spend on public schoolkids, which are the 68 per cent, and it is a measure of what governments say they will commit. How that would relate to a resources standard needs to be unpacked and there perhaps needs to be some public inquiry into that.
The last point is that there are various other more specific matters around the resources available to schools that we would like to know a little more about. One matter is the actual money that is available in different schools and systems for kids with disabilities. The quantity of fees which are charged in the public sector is a matter that gets raised from our side of the line from time to time. If we are looking at the total resources which are available, a bit of light being thrown on that would not be a bad thing. I only have this qualification, Senator: a national inquiry into those matters should not be one that holds up the appropriate review of the funding system that we have now.
CHAIR —Frankly, I have not heard that suggestion from any quarter. If it has been made, it is not a practical suggestion.
Mr Watt —I add that part of the discussion with the National Catholic Education Commission previously was instructive in a sense about our preference for a process that was open and transparent around looking at the development of an appropriate resource index and resourcing standard for schools and the inclusion of all stakeholders. I refer to that point made by the Catholics and to the point that Mr Lee made earlier to Senator Tierney that any discussion about what other parameters or accountability measures might go around a funding regime appear to be discussed with some stakeholders and not others. Opening up that whole issue of funding and what is tied to it in terms of accountability and transparency would be a useful thing, and it would certainly be welcomed by our members.
CHAIR —And you think it is possible to genuinely build a consensus around an outcome?
Mr Watt —I think the first step is establishing a process by which people can participate and get access to the information. If you look at the recent report on the sufficiency of resources in primary schools, one of the points it makes is that there has been a wealth of data collected primarily in-house and primarily by governments around the whole funding issue, but outside of that sphere people do not know. Teachers in schools certainly do not know. It makes some pretty strong recommendations in that regard.
—A good example of why the answer to shared studies is yes is the process under way in Victoria at the moment between the Catholic Education Office in Victoria and the state government there around revising the way of funding all schools. It is floating notions of an integrated public system that might be a bit too much to have as an outcome, but the underpinning of the joint studies and the forums which are being conducted is to look at a common resource standard across the Catholic and the government schools in Victoria. You would be pushing up to 90 per cent of all schools then. To have some framework of commonality governing 90 per cent of schools would change the terms of debate considerably, knowing that of the other 10 or 12 per cent there would be a number of smaller schools and systems like the Lutherans which might find themselves in no different position from the consensus of the 90 per cent anyway, because they are not all that different. That would leave eight per cent of—
CHAIR —That is a fairly substantial body of opinion, if you think that that is possible. It just strikes me that under this government we have seen a breakdown in what we might call the Karmel settlement. There has been this explosion of dissent around the current model, and there needs to be a mechanism to get some discussion going to get a renewed settlement for the current period. I am not certain we have had too many other suggestions come forward yet. It is just an idea. Private school parents are saying it is worthy of consideration. The unions and some of the school authority groups are not hostile. Others are a bit more nervous about it.
Mr Lee —The other model that is current and before us is the MCEETYA process. It is not complete, but there is a school resourcing task force. It includes the Catholic and independent school authorities on it. Teaching unions do not get invited to that particular table. Nonetheless, we do get access to the papers and we have input to it. We have been consulted on it. The Commonwealth does not participate properly, I might say, which is regrettable. But there are some studies emerging which are attempting to put some figures on what might be the per capita amount that is necessary at both the primary and secondary levels to deliver what might be considered to be the entitlement under the national goals.
CHAIR —That is a very valid point. There have been some concerns expressed as to whether or not that is inclusive enough. I am not saying yea or nay to that; I am just making the point to you that that is a counterproposal. Further, the issues that go to the question of the arrangements for schooling are broader than just funding.
Mr Lee —Yes, absolutely.
CHAIR —There are some additional questions there about the Adelaide declaration. It strikes me that, if we are serious about building a consensus around what our objectives of schooling are in this country, we have to look at a range of factors other than money. Clearly money is the big motivator.
Mr Lee —My reference to MCEETYA is simply to show that there is some evidence that parties can talk to one another about their common work. I entirely agree with the point and that the kind of consensus that we need has to be broader than the technical measures of the resource standards.
—But you take the view that where we stand at the moment is totally unacceptable, given the levels of division that are now apparent.
Mr Lee —Absolutely. Mr Watt has said, in answer to your questions, that we support a more properly founded needs basis for funding. We do not have it. The broader community knows that we do not have it. Catholic authorities want to go from 58 per cent to 60 per cent, not because it makes any sense in terms of the SES but because it is an extra two per cent that would perhaps allow class sizes in Catholic schools to become a bit lower. It is pragmatic; it makes sense. The pupil-teacher ratio in Catholic schools is higher than that in public schools. That is where the difference is. That confronts our members day by day. We would like that to be a bit lower, but that has nothing to do with refinements of the SES model. The SES system has ended up giving an amount of money. As Monsignor Doyle said, on each occasion there was some betterment; there was a bit more. Generally, whether you agree with its underpinnings or not, you support a process that gives you a bit more.
Mr Watt —It is not just the divisiveness of this current model; it is what Mr Lee is alluding to. We have members working in particularly disadvantaged work environments where not only do they have large class sizes but there is a lack of access to resources, lack of access to the Internet and lack of access to professional development. So they are schools that are clearly, by any measure, under-resourced. They are not high-fee schools, obviously, and an appropriate mechanism that would ensure that the kids attending those schools got a standard of education that allowed them to achieve the national goals would be a reasonable focus.
CHAIR —It is beyond any question that teaching in some areas is more difficult than teaching in other areas, and that is often related to socioeconomic factors. Would you agree?
Mr Watt —Absolutely. There is no question that there are major correlations there. In addition, there is the issue about rural and remote. Often that is an SES matter as well. There are Indigenous areas. So that answer is yes, without question.
CHAIR —But the Commonwealth role traditionally has been to even up the score a bit, to provide a community standard, to ensure equity in the system. Is it your submission that they have moved away from that?
Mr Watt —We certainly have not improved the equity. If anything, there is data around showing, for example, the gap between Indigenous kids of Australia and kids in strong SES areas is a growing gap.
CHAIR —It is going backwards.
Mr Watt —That is much to our shame. The current regime of funding does not allow for that major national issue to be resolved at this time.
CHAIR —I would have thought that this is the sort of question that goes beyond, as you said, the SES system. Maybe an inquiry could look at what we used to call the targeted equity groups. All those indicators are showing a decline, so the present system is not producing the goods.
—The whole pattern of Commonwealth funding, as you have just alluded to, was not just about the recurrent grants program but the special purpose programs and, by and large, they targeted special areas of need. I think there is a huge case for those to be expanded. In terms of equity, that is where the Commonwealth is able to send its dollars to where the need is. In the case of Indigenous students the figure seems to show that 88 per cent are in the public system, which is not the same percentage as the breakdown in the public and private systems, where the dollars go where they are needed. If there are kids with disabilities and particular needs in non-government schools then the programs go there. There is a case for those programs to be enhanced and better coordinated with the general recurrent grant.
CHAIR —I have one final question and it goes to conditions in the bill—the micromanagement of the systems. I have raised this question whenever witnesses come forward. It seems to me that we now have a much higher level of discretion being exercised by the Commonwealth minister. It amounts to cutting through all the nonsense. Does the union have areas of concern with regard to particular funding conditions for the operation of non-government schools?
Mr Lee —I wonder what was really intended by some of them on the list. I do not have the bill in front of me, but one essentially refers to occupational health and safety. Our members have a very great concern with health and safety, but I am a bit puzzled as to what the Commonwealth minister is going to do about the health and safety of our members in schools. Will he threaten to cut off the funding to a particular school following a report saying it is deficient? I wonder what he is actually going to do about it. It is the same with the flagpole issue. The flagpole issue is trivial. It is not a question about whether one believes that schools should have flagpoles. We are as nationalistic as anybody else. Father Doyle's comment that perhaps we could have two or three flagpoles is fairly appropriate in our sector, but essentially it is a trivial issue.
We do not dissent from accountability and public reporting measures, but we do question the fact that in showing its leadership role the Commonwealth does not really reach agreement with the state authorities in an open and transparent way. After all, every time that a question is raised about why the Commonwealth does not give more money to public schools, it says, `That's not the Commonwealth's business; that's the states' business,' and yet it is quite happy to overlay these 10 matters without consultation in any adequate sense. That is a problem with the process. It is not that there should not be a framework within which the leadership role of the Commonwealth is matched by public accountability, provision of data and the like. In essence that is not offensive. The question is about its content, how it is arrived at and whether it is serious or not. You get the sense that that is not what has underpinned this.
Equally, when we look at the particular provision that was raised earlier about the incursion of what is really an industrial matter, the appointment of staff is an industrial matter. To put in this bill that one of the matters to requite the grants is that staff should be appointed in a certain fashion, one asks: why? We have a diverse system. There should be the ability for an evolution in the employment structures. That might change. Why would we be inhibited by something stuck in a bill of the federal parliament?
CHAIR —How do you read that?
—I take the point that was raised in the discussion earlier about the second part of, I think, (21)(e)—I do not have it in front of me—apart from the fact that there are Rudolf Steiner schools which do not have school principals. If the first part of the thing says that the employing authority should approve the appointment of staff, you would wonder why that is there. I do not know who else would approve it. Systems and schools have differentiated forms of authorities. For example, in some cases the bishop in the Catholic system is said to be the ultimate employer. That is the case in Sydney and Brisbane, but in Victorian Catholic primary schools the parish priest is said to be the employer to the extent that the service of a federal log of claims in Victoria must be served on a parish priest. That does not happen in Sydney or Queensland. So there are differences even within the Catholic church. Islamic schools are structured differently. Generally a board will be the employing authority, but in some cases there might be bodies behind the board that exercise authority. Why would this complexity be attempted to be simplified in this bill at all? It should be pulled out. What public purpose is being satisfied?
CHAIR —Thank you very much. It is much appreciated. That concludes proceedings today.
Subcommittee adjourned at 3.00 p.m.