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Wednesday, 27 November 1996
Page: 6118

Senator ALLISON(1.13 p.m.) —I want to take this opportunity to place on the record my response to Senator Abetz's highly distorted and misleading representation of comments made by me during the second reading debate yesterday on the schools bill. I was very careful to say that the Democrats could have lived with the abolition of the new schools policy provided it did not proceed at the expense of the public school sector. We do not have a problem with new non-government schools starting up; we have a problem, firstly, with allowing those schools to start up in a completely unplanned, ad hoc and unrestricted manner and, secondly, with funding those schools by taking money from the public sector.

It is very clear that, without any restrictions, a number of the new schools which seek to start operation will be small. They will be much smaller than those state schools in Victoria, for example, which are being forced to close down. It is quite clear that a number of them will come from fundamentalist religious backgrounds.

I simply asked the Senate to consider whether it was good policy to fund those sorts of schools and that size of school at the expense of mainstream public education in this country. I believe the answer to that question should be no. If Senator Abetz supports that proposition, then he is seriously out of touch with the vast majority of Australians. He is certainly seriously out of touch with Australian parents who have children in both government and non-government schools.

I also want to address Senator Tierney's remarks about the re-emergence of the divisive state aid debate. One thing which was very clear at the two days of hearings of the education committee—and is also very clear to me when I talk to parents and educators around the country—is that very few people know about this bill and its impact on public education. Senator Tierney is correct in saying that people are not marching in the streets, but I suggest that they will be. It will not perhaps be in the next few weeks. It may not even be in the next few months. But right now the letters are pouring into my office and they are coming from people who would have wanted to have appeared before that committee but did not do so because there simply was not time.

I take the opportunity today to put on the public record some of the remarks made by people out there. A letter from the Queanbeyan East Public School says:

Despite your coalition's promises about a `fair go' for lower and middle income Australians, this legislation attacks one of the basic tenets of our society—the right to a decent education.

If this Bill is passed, then Australia's expenditure on education will be greatly eroded. This Bill will entrench two levels of Government schools in Australia—elite and second class. Only when a country's expenditure on education moves away from patronage for the elite does that country's ability to control their future approach reality. We would like to know the numbers of the Liberal and National Party sitting members who attended private schools. Has the Government considered the impact on all Australian schools, particularly in rural areas? Could you please consider the damage this reduction in expenditure will cause to our community's value for education.

A letter from Rozelle from Ms Jeanette Holloway says:

The government is wrong in saying that there will be a greater choice by removing the restrictions that have been in place to assess the quality of a new school before it opens. The predicted increase in the number of subsidised non-government schools will lead to the closure of public schools and so reduce the CHOICE that parents will have within their areas.

Specifically I call for:

1. The removal of the `Enrolment Adjustment Benchmark'. It is false to say that the government saves several thousand dollars every time a student transfers to a non-government school and it will start a snowball effect of decreasing standards within the public school education system due to under-funding.

2. The enshrinement in legislation of the provision that school education be planned, so that all can be involved in the decision making processes. The quality of education and training will affect the long-term upgrading of industry. This should not be left to market forces.

3. The enshrinement in legislation of the principle of UNIVERSAL FREE PUBLIC SCHOOLING.

A letter from Leeton High School in New South Wales says:

The Leeton High School Council would like to register its opposition to the proposed changes to the States Grants (Primary and Secondary Assistance) Bill 1996.

We believe that it is the right for all individuals to receive a quality education. Reduction to funding to Government Schools, for whatever purpose, can only be detrimental to the equality of opportunity for all. The proposed change to the legislation has the potential to create a two class system whereby Government Schools will become second rate institutions. We urge you to reconsider the proposals that will see a reduction in the per capita grant to Government Schools under the Recurrent Grants Program.

Our community will not blindly accept such a loss to its school.

A short excerpt from a quite long and well argued letter from the Sydney Road Community School says:

Firstly, we are concerned at what we see as the lack of timely consultation regarding the government's intentions with this bill. As a school community, we pride ourselves on the democratic participation that is a priority in decision making in school. It is a great shock—

Senator O'Chee —I raise a point of order, Madam Acting Deputy President. Standing order 194 prevents a senator from discussing any question under discussion or anticipating the discussion of any question which appears on the Notice Paper. This contribution—and I have listened to it for some period of time—is quite clearly aimed at Senator Allison having a second chop at a bill which is currently being debated and which is on the Notice Paper for continuing debate at a later hour today. Therefore, I would suggest this speech is very much out of order. It is taking time from other senators on both sides of the chamber who wish to address matters of public interest.

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT (Senator Crowley) —Senator O'Chee, the point you raise is well taken. I also appreciate that considerable leeway is provided in this place from both sides of the chamber, particularly to expedite the contributions senators want to make in their speeches in the second reading debate.

Senator Allison, there is no doubt that you are very close to completely flouting the standing orders. If you wish to modify your contribution at this point, I will allow you to continue. Otherwise, we would have to say the point of order is correct and we would have to rule you out of order.

Senator ALLISON —Thank you, Madam Acting Deputy President. I will resume the quotations from this correspondence at another time—perhaps in a further adjournment speech.

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT —The Senate appreciates that remark, Senator Allison. Thank you.