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Monday, 4 July 2011
Page: 7283

Ms O'DWYER (Higgins) (11:44): I rise in support of the motion put forward by the member for Sturt, the shadow minister for education, and I would advise the member for Fraser, who I was listening to very carefully before, to read very carefully the motion that is before the House. It appears to me that in his entire speech he did not talk about the funding mentioned in the motion, the risk to independent schools because the government is not prepared to guarantee funding.

When the Prime Minister said that she was going to undertake the Review of Funding for Schooling she said that school funding should be based on 'simplicity, flexibility, stability, equity, value for money, transparency and best practice'. That might all sound fine but, sadly for the parents of Australia and particularly for the parents in my electorate of Higgins, she neglected to include in that list of items what has been a touchstone in education funding since Menzies first provided government funding for non-government schools—that is, the fundamental principle of choice. This side of the House very strongly believes that it is fundamental for parents to have the choice as to where they send their child to school. Parents best understand the needs of their child. They best understand what school will meet their child's academic needs, sporting needs and extracurricular needs. They also best understand the values that they hold dear, the school that they think best reflects those values and the sorts of innovative educational practices that they would like their child to experience.

The mantra from the opposite side of the House has been that government funding should be focused on schools not on students. I think it is important for us to look at the facts. In my home state of Victoria, according to the 2008-09 figures, indep­endent schools received $5,143.25 per student. By contrast, government schools—and this is the combined government funding—received $12,381.53 per student. So, when you look at the funding per student, independent school students in Victoria receive less than half the amount that government school students receive. The majority of funding for independent schools, around 66 per cent, comes from parents and from the school community. It is estimated that in the state of Victoria this saves taxpayers around $1 billion and that when you look at it nationwide it saves just over $3 billion. Yet it is clear from the latest funding review and from the lack of government commitment to maintain funding for schools in real terms—in particular they are completely silent on the issue of index­ation—that Latham's ghost still haunts the policy mantra of the government. In fact, Julia Gillard is haunted by Latham a little bit like Banquo's ghost.

We are seeing here the revival of the hit list on schools. Of the 42 schools in my electorate of Higgins, 19 are already on that hit list—schools like St Mary's School, St Joseph's Primary School, The Currajong School, Holy Eucharist School, Korowa Anglican Girls School, Lauriston Girls School, Loreto Mandeville Hall, Our Lady of Lourdes School, Our Lady of Victories Primary School, Presentation College, St Anthony's Primary School, St Catherine's School, St Cecilia's Primary School, St Roch's Primary School, Geelong Grammar School Glamorgan, The King David School, Sacre Coeur, De La Salle College and St Kevin's College. Combined, these schools are going to lose $29 million, if they lose the indexation going into 2017. This is going to come at significant cost. Of course these schools will have to either increase fees or cut what they are offering. In some cases schools have told me that they will in fact close their doors.

But this is only the start of the govern­ment's radical agenda. It is very fitting that we should be discussing this motion today because of course the Greens hold the balance of power in the Senate. Lee Rhiannon has had a lot to say on the issue of school funding. We know already that the Greens would like to stop all government funding for independent schools. They have brought motions before the New South Wales parliament in order to be able to achieve that. We are going to see similar motions introduced into the Senate. This government are in coalition with the Greens. They need to stand up for Australian students. They need to guarantee funding; otherwise, education is at risk.