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Thursday, 15 September 1983
Page: 948


Mr MAHER(9.28) —Mr Deputy Speaker, I congratulate the honourable members who have just made their maiden speeches. (Quorum formed) I was in the process of congratulating the honourable members who have just made their maiden speeches. They gave quite impressive orations to the House. I was most impressed by the calibre of their performances and by the subject matter they presented to the Parliament. I wish them all well for their futures in this Parliament. I know they will be here for a long time, just as this Government will be in power for a record term, the longest term since Federation.

I have an important grievance to raise, but in passing I must not let the rather frivolous remarks of the honourable member for Darling Downs (Mr McVeigh) pass without pointing out to him that the Ministers reviewing the future of the Australian National Animal Health Laboratory are the ones most closely involved in its work. They are the Minister for Trade (Mr Lionel Bowen), the Minister for Health (Dr Blewett), the Minister for Primary Industry (Mr Kerin), and the Minister for Science and Technology (Mr Barry Jones). There will be a full review of the way in which this huge facility can best meet the needs of the 1980s. There has been no prejudgment of the outcome. I should also like to touch briefly on the matter he mentioned about public funding of political parties in New South Wales. I point out to him that any moneys I have received from public funding are the property of the Australian Labor Party and are in the hands of the Australian Labor Party. I wrote a letter today to the Sydney Morning Herald pointing this out. The item in the Sydney Morning Herald was quite erroneous.

Since my election to Parliament I have on many occasions had the opportunity to raise the needs and problems of schools, both state and non-state. Tonight I wish to canvass the funding problems which beset two non-government schools within the electorate of Lowe. The Catholic Education Office does not operate any secondary school in Lowe to the matriculation level. However, in the same area six state high schools enrol boys and girls to the level of matriculation. The main reason why there is no Catholic Education Office systemic high school is that there are two long-established private Catholic high schools, in the suburb of Strathfield, namely Santa Sabina College, a girls' school administered by the Dominican Sisters, and Saint Patrick's College, a boys' school run by the Christian Brothers. It is the funding program for these schools on which I wish to comment tonight.

Both Santa Sabina and Saint Patrick's draw pupils from across the entire economic spectrum of Lowe, that is, from rich families, poor families and middle income families. The fees of these schools equate to the systemic high schools run by the Catholic Education Office. Being private schools, each of the colleges must do all the paper work involved in applying each year for recurrent funding. They are subject to an annual income test, the guidelines for which were laid down by the previous Government. In the past two or three years each college has raised considerable funds for essential extensions, unfortunately, in raising this money each of the colleges technically breached the funding guidelines. Parents panicked and became very distressed when they thought the schools were to lose funding. Letters were fowarded to the schools stating that they might go out of the most needy category into category 2. In the case of Santa Sabina College, this meant a funding loss of $108,000.

The shock of this has been resolved and the matter has been settled because it was a technicality. In the process many families explained to me that had the schools lost funding they would have had to take away their daughters. They could not have afforded a possible increase in the vicinity of $130 a pupil per term. Through my contact with these parents I got the impression that many of them were struggling to send their children to school and to pay the fees. I appreciate the real financial sacrifice that many people make for secondary education. In the short term the problems have been resolved, but I wish to raise the problem of the revenue guidelines set by the Schools Commission.

In these schools, of the 55 teachers at Santa Sabina 10 are teaching nuns. These sisters, the same as the brothers at the Christian Brothers College, receive a stipend set by the archdiocese of $8,000 per annum. The stipend is low because the religious teachers have taken a vow of poverty. Regrettably, the formula used by the Schools Commission to determine a school's resources deems every teacher, whether that teacher be a religious teacher or a lay teacher, to get a certain salary within the award range. There is an averaging provision which discriminates against schools which have religious teachers or other teachers who work in a voluntary capacity or receive less than the award wage. The schools suffer because the salary forgone by these dedicated teachers is deemed to be income even though the schools do not ever receive the money.

The most glaring example of discrimination in this formula is obvious when we consider the case of the principal of each school. Sister Rosemary Lewins, the principal of Santa Sabina, and Brother O'Shea each receive the standard diocesan stipend, yet the Schools Commission deems them to be in receipt of a notional salary of $40,000 per year. I recognise that the Schools Commission has a hard task in establishing fair levels of funding to the various non-government schools.


Mr Fisher —Mr Deputy Speaker, I raise a point of order. I ask how the honourable member for Lowe can justify this statement when your Government has removed so much money from the non-government schools.


Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr Mildren) —Order! There is no point of order.


Mr MAHER —I said that the Schools Commission has a hard task, but non-profit, non-government schools have to operate as efficiently as possible. In my opinion the present school system leaves much to be desired, and in my opinion it would not stand up if it were challenged in legal proceedings. Non-government schools either have recurrent resources or they do not. The concept of contributed services works against the private school, be it Anglican, Catholic, Presbyterian, Uniting Church, Lutheran or non-denominational. In any of these schools where teachers or anyone else give their services those are called contributed services and they act to discriminate against the school when funding is being considered.

The Schools Commission has a duty to establish the real economic situation in each non-government school because it is distributing government funds. It must accept the reality that many dedicated Australian men and women will work for a pittance to educate young people, often in old buildings, in overcrowded class rooms, and without adequate teaching aids or remedial assistance. Our Federal Labor Government is committed to assisting non-government schools in accordance with their needs. This is a policy which is firmly based upon principles of social justice. I congratulate the Minister for Education (Senator Ryan) for launching a participation and equity program to encourage boys and girls to complete their secondary education. The Minister has certainly done her bit for many young men and women in Lowe, who will now be able to finish their secondary education. I also pay tribute to the former shadow Minister, the Minister for Finance (Mr Dawkins), for the work he did in establishing Labor's philosophy in regard to education and for visiting needy schools in my electorate. When the former Minister refused to come out to the schools he visited them and was shocked by what he saw.


Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr Mildren) —Order! the honourable member's time has expired.