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Monday, 24 November 2003
Page: 22564

Ms HOARE (7:49 PM) —I rise tonight to speak on the States Grants (Primary and Secondary Education Assistance) Amendment Bill 2003. The purpose of this legislation is to provide funding for capital grants to non-government schools to maintain the 2003 funding level for the next four years, and to continue funding in 2004 for targeted programs for educationally disadvantaged students and for literacy and numeracy projects. The bill provides funding of $41.8 million over four years, from 2004 to 2007, for approved projects in non-government schools. The effect of the bill is to maintain the 2003 funding level for the years from 2004 to 2007. Funding for non-government schools' capital grants in 2003 is $87.4 million. The current legislated allocation for 2004 and beyond is $76.94 million, a reduction of $41.84 million over four years. This reduction results from the termination of a previous government commitment.

The government is now proposing to extend that commitment for the period 2004-07. This would enable the capital grants program to be offered to approved projects under advanced approval arrangements, which have been in place for many years to enable schools to plan their capital projects prior to receiving public funds. But, as the shadow minister has outlined, the legislation raises a number of important issues. This bill does nothing about capital needs in government schools. On a recent visit to Edgeworth Public School in my electorate of Charlton, I was told how badly they needed a school hall. This bill does nothing to address that need. While I was a guest at West Wallsend High School, it was made clear to me that there are senior school students studying for their higher school certificate who have to share textbooks because there are not enough to go around. This is a disgrace, and there is nothing in this bill to address such an appalling state of affairs. Yet expenditure from all sources in non-government schools of $1,073 per student is well above the $355 per public school student.

The current arrangements do not adequately protect the public interest in the wealth created by Commonwealth funding for capital investment for churches and private organisations. Accountability in public reporting about the allocation of capital funds, particularly against needs criteria, is unclear and lacks transparency. The additional funding provided for high-fee schools under the government's general recurrent program could lead to increased capital investment in those schools, increasing the resources gap between them and other government and non-government schools.

The bill also provides for an additional $10.87 million in 2003-04 for national initiatives in literacy, which restores funding to the 2002 levels. This is of course welcome. However, the existing guidelines for national projects in literacy and numeracy are loose. Funding is used to promote conferences and publications, as well as a range of small research projects. These guidelines must be reformed and tightened and they must show evidence of improved learning outcomes for students in accountability for these projects. In one-third of OECD countries, including Australia, between 67 and 79 per cent of 15-year-old students are proficient at least at level 3 on the reading literacy scale. Although in Australia there are many students whose literacy is at the highest level on the scale, over 10 per cent of Australian students still have a literacy level at or below level 1. The government must address this serious issue. It should be addressed in this legislation.

We welcome the additional funding of $33.79 million for grants for Strategic Assistance for Improving Student Outcomes. This program is for schools and students in disadvantaged areas and for students with disabilities. Remembering the disproportionate funding from this bill that is being poured into private schools, it is very important to note that nearly 88 per cent of Indigenous students attend public schools. Some 4.5 per cent of students in public schools are Indigenous, compared to the 1.4 per cent who attend private schools. Around 82 per cent of students with disabilities attend a public school. Two per cent of private school students have a disability and over four per cent of students in public schools live with a disability. Of students attending public schools, 3.2 per cent live in remote areas, whereas the number attending private schools is 1.2 per cent.

It seems that once again we are having the state aid debate. In 1973 the Whitlam government established a system for funding non-government schools based on relative needs. The Education Resources Index operated successfully over the next quarter of a century, with various modifications. In 2000 the state grants bill changed the way the Commonwealth provided funding to schools. Those changes allowed the 62 category 1 schools around Australia to share up to $50 million per year in extra Commonwealth funding. That new scheme proposed the use of a socioeconomic status model and based federal funding for private schools on an estimate of the wealth of the parents of the students. This was based on the average income not of the parents of the students attending those schools but of the region in which they lived. Absolutely no account was taken of the individual wealth of the parents or the schools or any private support received. Of course, many kids attending the King's School come from rural New South Wales, where the average incomes are generally low.

A good example of how inequitable and plainly unfair this model is can be illustrated by Victorian media reports of the fact that in 2001 when the system was introduced the Worowa Aboriginal College in Healesville received an additional $23 per student, whereas Wesley College in Prahran in Melbourne was granted an extra $249 per student. Geelong Grammar was granted $402 and Haileybury College received an additional $452 per student. This comparison gets worse when we put it beside most non-government schools in Melbourne's western suburbs and country Victoria, and most of the state's Jewish schools, which received no additional funding at all. Queensland's Courier-Mail recorded in June that the state's eight grammar schools, which charge up to $10,000 a year in fees, collected more than $25.8 million in public money last year. It further reported the elite Brisbane Grammar School received $2.4 million from the federal government, which will increase to $3.2 million by 2004.

At their meeting in July this year, all state and territory education ministers demanded that the Howard government scrap the socioeconomic status funding index, which they said was delivering massive increases to the wealthiest private schools at the expense of many public schools. Commonwealth funding to private schools increased by an average of $996 per student from 1999 to 2003. That was more than seven times the increase to government schools. By 2007 government schools will be getting $828 per student and private schools will be getting $4,531. This is yet another reason for the Australian people to toss out this government for the rich and replace it with a Labor government, who will govern for all.

Figures indicate that, since the budget for 1995-96, Commonwealth specific purpose payments for schools have increased. However, this increase has been greatest for non-government schools, with an increase of 134.6 per cent, compared to a 66.7 per cent increase for government schools. The current budget papers show total Commonwealth expenditure by function and sub-function and indicate that by 2006-07 total Commonwealth funding for non-government schools will reach $5,425 million, compared to $2,647 million for government schools. Government schools will get less than half the money. In percentage terms, by 2006-07 non-government schools will be receiving 67.2 per cent of all Commonwealth funding for schools. We should also remember that from this financial year the federal government's funding for non-government schools will surpass its total expenditure on higher education. And this is a government that denies that there is a crisis in Australia's education system.

Forward estimates indicate that by 2006-07 the Howard government will spend nearly $5.5 billion on private schools, $5.3 billion on universities and only $2.6 billion on public schools. I would like to note that the proportion of Commonwealth specific purpose payments for schools in 1995-96 was 55.6 per cent for non-government schools and 40.4 per cent for government schools. That has changed dramatically with this government's policies. Now, in 2003, 66 per cent of specific purpose payments are directed at the non-government sector. Public schools get a paltry 34 per cent of that funding.

I would like to take a moment to showcase a couple of public schools in my electorate of Charlton. Over the past month I have had the privilege of attending the 50th birthdays of two local primary schools: Argenton Public School and Blackalls Park Public School. I attended Blackalls Park's on Saturday. Both of these schools, along with all other schools in my electorate, have a fine tradition of delivering good education and good values to the children in my electorate. I congratulate both Blackalls Park Public School and Argenton Public School on achieving this magnificent milestone. I congratulate all the teachers, students, support staff and the whole communities of those schools on achieving this great milestone and I wish them all the very best for the next 50 years. I am looking forward to supporting those schools and all other schools in my electorate over the coming years.

Another school in my electorate, Speers Point Public School, topped the nation this year in receiving an award in the 2003 National Awards for Quality Schooling. Speers Point School was selected to win a prize of $24,000 for outstanding achievement in the area of safe school environments. Apparently the quality of applications received for the awards was of an exceptionally high standard, so I was able to commend Speers Point Public School for its considerable achievement. I think its prize was one of only 16 prizes awarded for outstanding achievement right across the nation. It is great and deserving as well that it went to a public school in my electorate. I had the opportunity to host the principal of Speers Point Public School when school members came here in the last parliamentary sitting to receive their prize. They were justifiably proud, as were the other teachers, staff, students and members of the whole school community that worked together on this project. Once again I congratulate them on it.

We on the Labor side of parliament will support this bill, but we have moved amendments relating to the capital funding of non-government schools. These concern the explicit provision within the act that eligibility for capital grants requires schools to demonstrate education and financial need and that evidence for this be made publicly available through appropriate accountability arrangements. Labor's amendments also seek to address provision for the tabling of annual reports in the parliament on all projects supported by this capital program.

In 2002 an independent report was released following an inquiry into education which was conducted by Professor Tony Vinson. Professor Vinson noted the following conclusions from his independent inquiry. Australia's investment in education now ranks in the bottom quarter of OECD countries. Federal funding to private schools, however, has increased by 128 per cent. Australia appeared to be the only OECD country in which school participation rates had been falling in the 1990s, yet we lavishly funded those private school systems with high participation and retention rates. Public schools educate the vast majority of children with special education needs, children from Indigenous communities and those who are socially disadvantaged. The great bulk of federal schools money now goes to private schools. Some private schools `operate at levels of recurrent expenditure that is more than double that of many government schools', yet still taxpayers' money pours into them. The federal government spends 0.75 per cent of GDP on schools but expenditure on public schools within this has declined to 0.26 per cent as the private school share has risen to 0.49 per cent.

I think this is a pretty telling picture. Public education has suffered considerably at the hands of the government, whereas rich elite private schools—such as the King's School with its rugby and soccer fields, cross-country tracks, 50-metre swimming pools, cricket facilities and indoor shooting range—have seen extraordinary increases in funds provided by the taxes of my constituents in Lake Macquarie and Newcastle. We will be emphasising and reiterating these facts in the lead-up to next year's election. We will be reminding the Australian people and government marginal seat holders that there are over 2.2 million students in public schools and over 190,000 public school teachers. There are nearly 200,000 public school staff, over 1.3 million TAFE students and nearly 46,000 TAFE teaching staff. Coalition members need to remember that public education is now the largest institution in Australia as we embark on the debate as to the direction for education in this country.