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Thursday, 7 May 1987
Page: 2773

Mr MAHER(10.56) —I was surprised at the remarks made by the previous Opposition speaker. His remarks were really quite hysterical rubbish and nonsensical. The Federal Government cannot give money for establishing any religion. Obviously the honourable member for Braddon (Mr Miles) has not heard of the Commonwealth Constitution, which in section 116 specifically prohibits the Commonwealth from making any law for the:

. . . establishing of any religion or imposing any religious observance or for prohibiting the free exercise of any religion, and no religious test shall be required as a qualification for office or public trust.

Our Constitution prohibits grants for a religious purpose. The oath of office that the honourable member took is set forth in the Schedule to the Constitution. Unlike the United States Constitution, the Commonwealth of Australia has always supported religions and we do not have total separation of church and State. The Catholic hospitals and other church hospitals, for example, have always been supported in Australia, and religious schools have received enormous amounts of funding, as they receive today. The actual legislation, to which the honourable member hardly referred, extends the amount of subsidy to the non-government schools, which in this country make up a significant proportion of schools; about 27 per cent of pupils attending school in Australia attend non-government schools. Even in the United Kingdom, where there is no separation of church and state, private schools make up only some 7 per cent of schools. I noted that in an article in the Economist dated 2 May 1987. The points that the honourable member rather feebly made to try to bolster his very uninspiring speech were wrong. He talked about 30 schools not being registered. The registration of schools has nothing to do with the Commonwealth Government. In this Parliament we have no power to register schools in New South Wales, Queensland, Tasmania or anywhere else. Schools are registered and are supervised for their standards of education by the State governments. That is the responsibility of State governments. I take great exception to the inference of the honourable member for Braddon that state schools are somehow inferior. The state schools educate three-quarters of the children in this country. Any of us who do our job properly visit state schools and see what excellent work they do. The teachers take all comers; there are no selection tests; they are responsible for teaching all the children who are isolated in country areas; they take them all in; and they teach the pupils tossed out of non-government schools because they are unruly. Honourable members who visit state schools will note the uses to which state schools are put. I am astounded at what the teachers and the principals put up with in my electorate. The weekend use of schools is considerable, with every classroom and playground being used for community activities, ethnic language work, and sporting pursuits. State school administrators have to put up with a difficult situation. It does not help their cause to have a member here inferring that there is something wrong with the state schools. I pay a tribute to the people who serve on parents and citizens associations and who do what they can for the state schools. This is coming from a party which is talking about cutting $16 billion off the estimates; it is proposing cutting expenditure in all directions but it wants an open-ended arrangement for new non-government schools to start whenever they like no matter what waste and unnecessary duplication of facilities may occur.

Last year an application was made to establish a new school at Homebush in my electorate of Lowe. It was to be a Moslem school, but the application was refused. I talked to the people in the Department of Education. They are not amateurs; they are very dedicated professional officers. They said that they had no guarantee that this proposed non-government school could give young Australian children an adequate education. My friend the honourable member for Braddon was talking about how well a school could operate with jam tins, of all things. What sort of standards does a school have if it is teaching children science by using jam tins as beakers? He said that this is a good thing. He may think that.

We have to consider the children, not the people who want to start the school. Someone may want a private school of some sort, a money making school or a community school. The Department is dealing with big amounts of money in funding schools. Some of the schools in my electorate receive Commonwealth funding in excess of $1m. Many of the schools receive between $500,000 and $1m in federal funding. Every secondary pupil attracts funding of $1,300 a year. For a school with 1,000 pupils that is a lot of money. Yet my friend on the Opposition side talked about having no accountability. He says that the Commonwealth has no right even to ask a school to fill out forms. That is outrageous. All the time the Opposition is talking about our giving small amounts of money to community groups, perhaps to create employment. Yet here today we are told that if one is running a non-government school one should have a blank cheque, that no one should ask one to account for anything, that one should be able to start a school anywhere. If one is not happy with the local Catholic school or a state school one should start a school and get automatic funding.

I say that that could well be wasteful; it is an irresponsible policy, and I am surprised that the Liberal Party of Australia and the National Party of Australia, or whatever they are, should come forward and put such a proposition to this House and be so foolish as to allege the Government is being anti-religion. I know of no other nation that gives so much support to religious schools. In my electorate more than half the schools are non-government, and they receive very substantial funding. If they were not receiving the great amounts of funding they would not exist. I know the parents, and they could not afford to send their children to religious schools otherwise. Yet today we are told the Government is hurting them. That is the reversal of the truth.

I had best get on to the States Grants (Schools Assistance) Amendment Bill 1987, having given a few answers to my friend the honourable member for Braddon. The legislation is of great importance. It is amending the States Grants (Schools Assistance) Act. The idea is to allow block grants to be made to the different systems. About 90 per cent of the non-government schools in Australia are Catholic systemic schools. They will be given block grants on the basis that they want them and that they will be able to operate in a more efficient manner. The Minister, Senator Ryan, has assured me personally that the old Catholic parish inner-city schools will not be neglected and that the whole scheme of funding will be monitored so that at least 50 per cent of the money given in block grants will go to refurbishing schools that are run down in areas where playgrounds are too small, classrooms are old and there are few facilities.

For the benefit of Opposition members I might add that when I took out statistics on government block grants given to the electorate of Lowe over the past 10 or 12 years I found that in an inner city area of Sydney practically no capital grants of any significance were given, except during the Whitlam period. It is appalling. To the credit of this Government, it has allocated large sums of money to refurbish schools in the inner city areas of Sydney, Melbourne and the other capitals and in the older provincial areas. In my electorate two schools have been given very substantial grants. One is St Dominic's School, Flemington, and the other Domremy College at Five Dock, at which about 80 per cent of the girls speak Italian, Greek or Lebanese at home. That school has a building grant of more than $600,000 to allow girls to complete their education by going on to years 11 and 12. That is what the Government has been trying to do. When it came to office in 1983 only 36 per cent of Australian children went into year 12. That figure has been pushed up to nearly 50 per cent so that nearly half of young Australian people at least finish school. If they do that they will have more opportunity to finds jobs and more chances of changing jobs and retraining in later life. That is one of the greatest achievements of this Government. We should have been ashamed when the Liberal and National parties were in government that so few of our youth were completing their education.

The legislation being dealt with today will allow the funding of block grants to the government and non-government sectors. The Minister for Trade (Mr Dawkins) representing the Minister for Education, in his second reading speech, pointed out that the Government has increased Austudy by $10 a week above the old secondary allowances scheme to encourage young people who are over 16 years of age to stay at school.

The States Grants (Education Assistance-Participation and Equity) Amendment Bill 1987 gives grants to government and non-government schools for the participation and equity program. There is a commitment of $45m for this scheme. The Governments's philosophy and policy have been ones of social justice. I notice that time is getting on and that I cannot develop what I was going to say. I point out that in some of the schools in my electorate teachers have told me that many young people finish school unable to read to their chronological age level. This is where the Government is giving funding to ensure that young Australians-perhaps not the brighter ones-in state schools, Catholic schools and others have the ability to come out of school reading to their age level.

The last thing that I wanted to do today on education is to congratulate the Christian Brothers in my electorate who will be celebrating this weekend the centenary of their work in New South Wales. They run two high schools in Lowe and a college of advanced education. They are tremendous men whose order was founded in 1802 by Brother Edmund Ignatius Rice, an Irish merchant in Waterford. They run a teachers college in my electorate-the Sydney Catholic College of Education-and they run excellent high schools, such as St Patrick's College at Strathfield which the Minister for Sport, Recreation and Tourism (Mr John Brown), who is at the table, attended. There is also a Christian Brothers high school at Burwood. This weekend their contribution to education in New South Wales will be acknowledged. I pay tribute to what they have done in the tradition of their great founder to educate young Australians and young boys all over the world in Christian principles.