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Wednesday, 2 November 1983
Page: 2233

Mr SINCLAIR(6.03) —I think it is worth our recalling the state of play when this debate was interrupted. My colleague the honourable member for Ryan (Mr Moore) had moved one amendment and had foreshadowed two others covering a number of education papers which are now the subject of this debate. The amendment which has been moved relates to children's education and the other two relate to aspects of tertiary education and living away from home facilities for isolated children. Each one of those amendments seemed to me to personify my concern at the present state of play of the policies that, to my mind, have been an absolute disaster as far as the present Minister for Education and Youth Affairs (Senator Ryan) is concerned. The House will recall that the first amendment is a statement of principle. It states:

That all words after 'That' be omitted with a view to substituting the following words:

this House reaffirms the need for (a) all children in non-government schools to receive a basic grant of assistance for their schooling, and (b) grants to non- government schools to be calculated on a predictable percentage of standard costs in government schools.

I will address that subject specifically in a moment. I will refer to the other two amendments in this order. The second, reversing the order that I referred to a moment ago, relates to the report of the Commonwealth Schools Commission on living away from home facilities for isolated children. The second amendment, again a statement of principle, of which notice was given states:

That all words after 'That' be omitted with a view to substituting the following words:

'this House calls on the Government to implement, without delay, the recommendations of the Commonwealth Schools Commission to provide necessary additional funding for boarding schools and for hostels to meet the needs of isolated students'.

As one who represents a country electorate and whose children for so long have had to spend time in boarding schools and in colleges at a university, I know how difficult it is for those who live away from the capital cities to receive an adequate education. Indeed, there is absolutely no possibility of children who live away from the centres where particularly secondary education is available receiving education. It is of great concern that there should be, within the policies of this Government, an opportunity to provide funds to ensure that children, wherever they live, will receive an adequate education. The problem in New South Wales has been made somewhat more acute because of the changes to school bus timetables. This has meant that many children who previously were able to receive some assistance when travelling to school from remote homesteads to a central location are no longer eligible to be assisted. This means that many of them are now receiving their education at home by correspondence and that puts many of them at a significant disadvantage. The third amendment to which I will refer briefly relates to tertiary education. Again, it is a statement of principle. It states:

That all words after 'That' be omitted with a view to substituting the following words:

'This House calls on the Government to ensure that (a) adequate funding will be provided to maintain first enrolment levels in Australian universities and colleges of advanced education and (b) TEAS allowance is maintained against unemployment benefits'.

I will begin first of all with the question of education at the primary and secondary levels. An increasing concern is being expressed in the community at the consequences of the policies that the new Minister for Education and Youth Affairs has already introduced. The school funding year for 1984 is, of course, the subject of the papers which we are debating. Those funds will significantly prejudice many children. Perhaps it is not as great an immediate problem. Certainly we learn that only 41 schools will be affected. But quite properly those parents whose children are at those 41 schools and those who are responsible for the operation of those schools are concerned to know just why they should have been prejudiced. I want to speak a little of those. However, the other two problems bear consideration.

The first is that for those schools which now are not included in that list there must be a total uncertainty as to which schools will be affected next, to what degree other schools will be included, when they will be included and what will be the effect on their future funding arrangements. The Minister has already expressed publicly a philosophic commitment to change the support levels as they apply to independent schools. The consequence of that is the introduction of uncertainty in the planning of future education programming, of planning for the schools and the facilities that should be provided in those schools, whether they be boarding accommodation or whether they be education facilities per se. It is quite unsatisfactory to introduce in so many areas a total factor of uncertainty which I believe will prejudice future education development in the independent school system. The Coalition supports the maintenance of a base grant for schools. At the moment we have not adjusted the formula that applied pre-March when the Government changed but we believe there needs to be within that formula adjustment to accommodate inflation and also adjustment to accommodate some of the different pressures that exist within the school system. We certainly believe that all schools should be entitled to a base grant. We can see no basis for their exclusion in the papers before the House.

I draw honourable members' attention to a pastoral letter on education matters from the Bishop of Victoria which has been quoted before in this place but which to my mind sets out quite graphically the difficulties that beset a very significant number of independent schools. I will quote only one paragraph from that letter:

However, while there was an increase of 5.6% in the money for Government schools, the increase for independent schools was only 1.5%. But what is more important, and alarming, is that the Commonwealth Schools Commission guidelines have broken the automatic percentage link between Government school standard costs and the per capita grants to non-Government schools. This can be seen as the prelude to further assaults on the basic grant and an attempt to foster division among independent shools. The Catholic community feels strongly about the principle involved in the present substantial cuts to the basic grant.

Catholic schools, as indeed every independent school, will henceforth be prejudiced in any certainty that they may have in knowing the direction of forward planning for those children who today are or, in the future, may be accommodated within their schools. Of course, it is not sufficient to look only at those restraints. We are all aware of that other policy statement by the Minister which laid down for future implementation that there are to be no capital funds for future independent schools in places where a public school is already available. From the coalition parties' point of view that is an unacceptable statement of principle. We believe that there needs to be choice for all parents and that that type of exclusion will deny a large number of children that type of alternative education. Of course, as far as the parents are concerned, it means that they must contribute at an extraordinarily generous level-well beyond the capacity of most citizens in this country-to enable such schools to be established were they to be so, and if they were the product would certainly be to have schools of a standard which would exclude by far the largest percentage of young Australians. That would make those schools even more exclusive. Frankly, to my mind it would not preserve that alternative quality of education in which we, in the coalition parties, so strongly believe.

I mention that 41 schools are immediately to be denied in part or entirely the funds to be provided by the Commonwealth for 1984. In most cases, I believe, it is only some part of the past recurrent grant. I quote from a letter signed by Dr Ian Paterson, who is the Chairman of the New South Wales Branch of the Headmasters Conference of the Independent Schools of Australia, dated 20 October and written to the New South Wales Premier, Mr Wran. I quote from it because, while today we are debating a Federal grant, it needs to be remembered that the Australian Labor Party around Australia is unanimous in its desire to remove this opportunity for choice.

Mr Lloyd —Victoria too.

Mr SINCLAIR —Victoria too, as my friend, the honourable member for Murray, says. Our difficulty is that at present there seems to be a deliberate attempt by the Labor Party around Australia to reduce the opportunity for parents' choice and to significantly prejudice education in those schools that have in the past depended on some level of recurrent grants so that school fees could be kept at a reasonable level. I quote from Mr Paterson's letter:

We are alarmed at the inequitable discrimination against those parents in 'Hit- list' schools who can least afford to pay fees; the consequent inequitable subsidy to similar parents whose children attend similar schools not recognized on the 'Hit-list'; the consequent reduction in parental opportunities for choice ; but most of all at the savage break with the established practice of standard basic funding for all parents through the various schools and school systems.

While that letter might have been addressed to Premier Wran, how applicable it is to the education policy of the Labor Government at the Federal level. In the tertiary field there are similar concerns. I mentioned the resolution very briefly a moment ago. I have two concerns within the tertiary sphere. One is in part related to the resolution from which I quoted with respect to isolated children, which, of course, applies not only to secondary schools but also to tertiary institutions. I also have a concern relating to student intake in universities and colleges around Australia as a result of the policies of this Government. With respect to isolated children, I think we need to remember that there is to be a significant cut in the funds to be provided for collegiate residences. The product of this 25 per cent cut is to make equal educational opportunity for country children no longer a fact. Already there are significaant additional costs for parents in country areas trying to educate their children, as a result of the necessity for their children to travel long distances to receive education, to board away from home and so on. These cuts will both reduce the standard of accommodation for children in such centres and increase the costs to those students receiving education. For those who have no parents and who are trying to receive an education the product of that cut is even more severe.

In the University of New England and in the College of Advanced Education at Armidale there is particular concern that those cuts in recurrent funding will prejudice their ability to provide the educational opportunity that has been traditional in those two very excellent centres of education. It concerns me greatly that there is likely to be that cut in educational opportunity in a centre such as Armidale, which has provided a very high level of education in the past. One factor with which I find myself in rare agreement with the Government is that I certainly support the continued operation of the CAE at Armidale and the University of New England as separate tertiary education institutions. I believe that it is essential that they should remain in that fashion. I believe that the two institutions provide a different kind of education and that the product of that different kind of education is better education for all those throughout Australia who attend either of those institutions. I might add that the CAE has very significantly broadened the range of courses available. In nursing, for example, it has provided a type of education that I believe is excellent, given the need for nurses to upgrade the tertiary theoretical education component. I believe that the courses there for migrants and for those teaching Aborigines and any other extension of the traditional educational pattern have provided excellently for the community. In my view it is necessary that they remain separate institutions and are funded as such.

However, the cut of recurrent grants to collegiate residences by this Government will significantly deny each institution the opportunity to recruit adequately students for the future. It also seems to me a problem that this Government policy is designed to increase student intake but not to provide any funds for additional capital. The product of that is that the universities and colleges of advanced education are expected to take more students, but not to have the funds to provide the facilities to meet proper educational standards. I do not believe that that is an appropriate course. I believe that it is essential that more people be educated at the tertiary level. I regret that this Government has not adequately provided in this way. I might add that Labor has also failed to deliver its promise to provide 300 postgraduate awards, to introduce any type of student loan scheme and to establish the adult migrant education service on a permanent footing. In all, the product of this Government 's policy is to reduce the number of students who can be given a tertiary education in 1984. It will certainly prejudice those who need to travel in order to receive a tertiary education. I believe that the amendment moved and the two foreshadowed by my colleague, the honourable member for Ryan (Mr Moore), should receive the support of all members of this House.