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Thursday, 15 September 1983
Page: 936

Mr CADMAN(8.20) —I wish to take the time of the House for a few moments this evening to discuss the funding of education in Australia. It has been a matter of some concern to me that Australia, over a period, has adopted a fairly equal and even-handed approach to the funding of education, but within the last 12 months or so there has been significant pressure for a change in the funding processes. I believe part of this pressure is from the former Defence of Government Schools organisation which was unsuccessful in a claim to the High Court of Australia against the Commonwealth. In part, I believe the pressure comes from teachers federations around Australia.

I think there is an element of envy and concern and an element of jealousy between the various types of education available that is completely unwarranted. This is not based on any real reasons or factual circumstances but is perhaps based on a fear of competition. It is a conservative attitude amongst teachers that seems to indicate that they do not wish to have equality of what they do really tested. One way of avoiding that test of competition between various sectors within the government sector and also within the non-government sector is to ensure that there is only one system of education. I think it is very unfortunate because, generally speaking, education in Australia has served the nation well.

I am aware of some factors within the government sector that do need attention. Some government schools do need additional assistance. The slow-moving difficult planning procedures of many departments of education makes it very difficult for those departments to meet effectively the needs of the community that they serve . On the other hand, in the non-government sector, there has been a growing interest in non-government education amongst parents. Parents see this as an alternative. Many of them see the prospect of giving their children non- government education as a capacity for them to choose a type of school that most closely reflects the home environment. That is an important aspect of education. It is an aspect that gives both parents and children confidence when they know that the standards, values and attitudes of the home are being expressed on a daily basis in the lives of the children whilst they are at study at school.

The matter that has caused me concern is the way in which the Minister for Education and Youth Affairs (Senator Ryan) has dealt with these vexed problems, the way in which she has chosen to make decisions and the funding of all education areas during the period that the Australian Labor Party has been in office. In my view, many people have a broader understanding and are not so narrow in their outlook as the Minister appears to be. I know that the Australian Labor Party has had some difficulty in finding a successful spokesman for education. I remember the honourable member for Perth made an attempt and then the honourable member for Adelaide (Mr Hurford) for a period was a spokesman--

Mr Barry Jones —Fremantle.

Mr CADMAN —The honourable member for Fremantle (Mr Dawkins).

Mr Howard —He was unloaded because he was an embarrassment.

Mr CADMAN —Yes, I felt that. I wanted to be non-

Mr SPEAKER —Order! I suggest the Deputy Leader of the Opposition allow his colleague to address the House.

Mr CADMAN —Thank you, Mr Speaker. It was not my intention to provoke anybody until later in my speech. I thank the Deputy Leader of the Opposition (Mr Howard ) for his assistance. The honourable member for Fremantle did prove to be a real embarrassment because his ideological attitudes in fact prevented him from coming to grips with the complexities of education. He went into his job as spokesman with very fixed ideas. It was impossible for him to shift his views and so he was removed. Then we had Mr Hurford who-

Mr SPEAKER —Order! The honourable member knows he should refer to the honourable member either by his electorate or ministry.

Mr CADMAN —Yes indeed, Mr Speaker. The current Minister for Housing and Construction for a period was in fact the spokesman for education. He blurred the edges sufficiently to make everybody moderately happy and yet moderately unhappy until the Labor Party was successfully through the elections. We have the third attempt in the Australian Labor Party to have a Minister or spokesperson on education. It is very worrying.

Mr Groom —I reckon Mr Jones should be the Minister.

Mr CADMAN —We would be entertained, informed and at least have a capacity within this House to discuss the real issues of education if the Minister for Science and Technology (Mr Barry Jones) who is at the table were in fact the Minister for Education. We would be able to explore education well, in detail and with a great deal of interest. It really does concern me that some of the commitments made by the Australian Labor Party before the election have not been met, despite the commitments made by the honourable member for Adelaide. I have with me a Press release from the honourable member for Adelaide who was shadow Minister for Education, which was issued on 28 February 1983. He stated:

As Bob Hawke stated in Labor's Policy Speech: 'I say frankly and unequivocally that under (Labor's) proposals 98% of children in the Catholic education system will be better off in terms of Commonwealth assistance'.

Indeed, he could have gone further and stated that not even the other 2% would be worse off under our proposals.

The facts are that in the Budget the figures do not meet those commitments. I know the Minister has recently made an additional $5m available to non- government education. This still does not reach the target figure that the shadow spokesman, the honourable member for Adelaide, spoke about, wrote about and issued to hundreds of school principals and schools. Those schools are extremely worried about how they will make ends meet during this financial year and the coming financial year. We have seen the chopping block process where a number of schools, from next year, will lose a considerable amount of their funds. I will not explore that area except to say that there has been an indication of another technique which may be used by the Government to reduce funding for non-government schools. This is the process of changing their categorisation, of taking schools which are currently categorised as poor or having low incomes, raising them to a different category and, by that technique, reducing the recurrent funding and the current funds that they depend upon to run their schools. Within the Sydney area a number of schools have been affected , or threatened with this process. That process has also been delayed.

I wish to warn the Government that it is embarking on a most dangerous course if it wishes to interfere with what has been an established process, an accepted process of choice in education. This is regarded by all Australians as their right. It is indeed a privilege that is experienced by a few parents in a few countries. Australians value the choice, the competition and the chance of sending their children to a school which does give them the opportunity to have some say in the type of education their children receive. Some comments have been made by the Australian Labor Party that the needs of schools will be met. I do not know how governments can make these decisions. To me a wealthy parent sending a child to a State school will probably have fewer needs than a poorer parent sending a child to a school which is a non-government school and making great sacrifices to do so. Governments cannot make these judgments well. The Government needs to adopt a great deal of caution and a sensitive understanding of the need for choice in education to meet the exciting challenge that can be provided to a government in developing education policies that are sound and practical and that serve the total community. That is certainly not the case at the moment, and the Government has embarked upon a most dangerous process.