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Tuesday, 4 September 1984
Page: 391

Senator MACKLIN —I address my question to the Minister for Education and Youth Affairs. I refer to the submission of the Australian Teachers Federation to the Minister for Finance dated 31 August this year concerning allocations to non- government schools. First, were the per capita amounts and the total expenditure estimates for non-government schools for 1985-88 checked by the Department of Finance? Secondly, has the aggregate cost of Commonwealth recurrent grants for non-government schools for the next seven years been underestimated because the Government failed to take into account the cost of non-government school enrolments above the 1983 level of enrolments; so that, consequently, the expected increase in 1985 expenditure on non-government schools will be $51.2m rather than $10.6m as previously indicated by the Minister?

Senator RYAN —I have seen the submission sent to Mr Dawkins because a copy was sent to me. I am, therefore, in a position to answer Senator Macklin's question. I must lay to rest the idea that the cost estimates in the guidelines were not thoroughly checked by the Department of Finance. The fact is that, as with all Budget figures, the estimates for this program were fully checked by the Department of Finance in the normal way. The Government was aware, when making its decisions, of the cost implications if the projected growth in non- government enrolments were to eventuate. The Government decided to include in the 1984-85 Budget a provision for such an increase. For years beyond that, however, it is felt that the projections are too uncertain for cost estimates to be based on them, particularly in view of the advice of the Commonwealth Schools Commission that enrolment growth in non-government schools is slowing down.

Senator Withers —Ha, ha!

Senator RYAN —The evidence is available from the Schools Commission, and I am happy to put it on the record. The enrolment growth in non-government schools is slowing down. I am pleased to say that, for the first time in many years, enrolments in government schools are increasing. Just as the figures set out in the guidelines underestimate the amount that will actually be expended in the government sector because of the enrolment growth, so too the figures on earlier projected enrolment growth have been revised and, judging by the 1983 data that is currently being analysed by the Schools Commission, will be lower.

In response to the grossly unwarranted reflection on the levels of assistance to government schools, I must say that the fact is that the per capita grants will increase during the next eight years by 37 per cent at the primary level and 100 per cent at the secondary level. Those increases will be made in real terms and will not be affected by any variation in the cost of grants for non- government schools. If government schools continue to increase their retention rates for students in upper levels of secondary schools their grants will rise accordingly.

I point out that early indications are that the Government's participation and equity program is having an effect. Senator Macklin previously expressed some scepticism about this. Enrolments in upper secondary levels in government schools are increasing, particularly in disadvantaged areas. Consequently, since government schools are now on a per capita basis of funding in terms of Commonwealth recurrent grants, increases in upper secondary, as is the case with increases in any level of government schooling, will involve higher grants and, of course, will be at those higher rates which I have just given.