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Tuesday, 29 November 1983
Page: 3001


Mr MAHER(8.40) —The honourable member for Barker (Mr Porter) was really defending the indefensible in his speech tonight. He used the discussion on needy schools and aid for poor schools to try to justify the continuation of maximum aid to university colleges when the whole purpose of this exercise is to increase the equity and participation of young boys and girls in Australian schools in which there is no opportunity to sit for even the final two years of secondary school. Instead of debate on that part of the legislation, we heard argument about why university colleges should keep their funding. I think they are very lucky to have any funding at all. I do not know how it is justified. When the Liberal Government in New South Wales of which the honourable member for Wentworth (Mr Coleman) was a member found out that the Government was contributing to the salary or stipend of university college principals, the first thing it did was to chop that off. Suddenly someone pointed out that the Government was still paying, as it had for 100 years, something towards the salaries of college principals. The first thing Eric Willis did was to cut that out.

In my electorate there is no systemic school that goes to year 11 and 12. Ninety per cent of the non-government schools are systemic schools-Catholic, Lutheran or Jewish, but mainly Catholic. No systemic school in the whole electorate goes to year 11 and 12. At Christian Brothers, Burwood, and at the two Catholic girls high schools students are kicked out at year 10 and have to fend for themselves. They have to try to fit into another school in the Catholic system in another area or they have to go to one of the private Catholic schools . Under this legislation these schools will now have a chance-I hope they act on it-to offer courses to years 11 and 12. This tremendously important legislation will give this opportunity to young people in these schools, mainly from ethnic families. The honourable member for Barker would never have seen ethnics. They are people who were born overseas and who came here to make this country the great nation it is. The children of these people should not be disadvantaged just because they speak a language other than English at home.

In the junior school at Christian Brothers, Burwood, there are 188 boys. They play in a playground smaller than this chamber. The teachers told me that because it is so tiny the boys have to play sedentary games such as marbles. These people in the Opposition who ruled this nation until recently did nothing for the small schools like Christian Brothers, Burwood, which is the only systemic Catholic boys school in the whole of my electorate. I went to the junior school of Christian Brothers, Burwood, to talk about the Parliament. The noise from the traffic on Parramatta Road was such that I could not be heard. I was shouting. Suddenly the outdoor telephone in the car yard next door started to ring, and that totally destroyed my concentration. It was a high pitched scream from an outside telephone right next door to a boys school. The lady teacher told me that the noise from the outside telephone and from the roar of the traffic was the despair of all of the teachers. She said that, because of the noise, they cannot even open the classroom windows in the heat of summer.

This is a disadvantaged school. It is a school that we will help. By breaking the nexus, this school will get more money. Members opposite certainly did not talk this evening about poor schools. For the Leader of the Opposition (Mr Peacock) poor schools, the 90 per cent of parish and systemic schools, do not even exist. Honourable members opposite talked about the 41 schools, 14 in New South Wales, that have lost a little of their funding. They also talked about meetings held all over the nation. In the Australian the headline was: 'Applause not boos for Senator Ryan at the state-aid meeting at Ballarat'. I was at a meeting of the Parents and Friends Association at Strathfield where I represented the Minister for Education and Youth Affairs (Senator Ryan). The Sydney Morning Herald said that a resolution was passed condemning the Minister for not being there. It was passed, but no one was given a chance to speak against it. I pointed out to the chairman that it was just put and passed and that, because the Minister was not there, the meeting carried it. That meeting was not a nasty meeting. A lot of information came from Dr Tannock. It was explained to all present that the Catholic system or any other school system can go on opening schools as long as the schools have adequate facilities and are properly run. I am delighted that in my electorate next year a ballet school will open which will offer boys and girls the opportunity to learn ballet whilst they continue secondary studies when previously they might have left school at 15 or have finished their education at year 10. I congratulate the Government for looking at the way in which money is spent in this regard.

We have heard a lot about 'Judas money' allegedly mentioned by Bishop Kelly in Victoria. This gentleman is not known to me and I have not seen his statement, but if he believes the money given by the taxpayers through the Government to needy schools is Judas money, his diocese should not take it or he should send it back. I assure the honourable member for Barker that many schools in my electorate, government schools, Catholic schools and other non-government schools, would welcome any surplus funds from Victoria. I have talked to the Catholic Archbishop in Canberra about the statement put out by the Catholic bishops. None of the Opposition speakers tonight have mentioned the second part of that statement. The Catholic bishops put out a statement which not only spoke about equal grants to schools but also pointed out the importance of the need aspect. I took the opportunity to ring Archbishop Carroll at his residence here and to ask him about the statement. He said that the statement contained two aspects, the second of which is that needy schools must get aid. In my electorate practically every non-government school is needy. Even non-government schools in the higher categories have very old buildings. They have inadequate playgrounds. Some of them have very poor facilities. Because some of them have small class sizes, unfortunately that one test has rated them as level one or level two schools, but the overwhelming majority of non-government schools in my electorate and in the electorates of most honourable members are level three schools. Many of these are very needy.

Tonight a quite outrageous statement was made by the honourable member for Hume (Mr Lusher) and the honourable member for Gwydir (Mr Hunt) about a school in Bourke. Apparently a meeting was held at Bourke. I have been to St Ignatius School in Bourke. I have a cousin, a nun, who teaches there and I have seen the school. I know how bad the facilities are. One-third of the kiddies are Aborigines who for various reasons, mainly because their parents are out of work , pay no fees. There is a notion that a school gets 20 per cent government funding and the rest is supposed to be made up by parents. Well, if the parents cannot pay fees no one makes up the funding. Yet tonight we heard this bleating from the Opposition about how we are taking away a bit of money from schools which have wonderful facilities and which have higher incomes than any state schools and most of the non-government schools.

My wife has been to Cranbrook School in the electorate of Wentworth. She did a week's course there some years ago as a scientist. Cranbrook School is a wonderful school which I greatly admire. I know the headmaster and I say good luck to anyone who can afford to send his child there. My wife told me that the laboratories at Cranbrook were better than the laboratories at the University of Sydney where she taught. It is very good that the boys at Cranbrook have these facilities, yet honourable members tonight were saying in the House that Cranbrook deserves the same amount of money per child as Christian Brothers at Burwood. This is absolutely outrageous. Under the Liberal Government needy non- government schools which were lacking space and facilities were getting worse and were going backwards at a great pace. I believe that if the non-government schools, the poor schools, keep deterioriating, the whole nation will eventually turn against state aid because people will see money being wasted with only the well-off schools benefiting from the taxpayers dollar. I have always believed that the people will eventually turn against waste and any system of funding which does nothing for the poor.

In a sense all schools in the non-government bracket have ridden on the back of the poor parish schools. I do not always support the concepts of editorial writers in the Sydney Morning Herald, but I was attracted by one comment in the newspaper which said that people with a lot of money have a great deal more freedom of choice than those who are less well off. The editorial stated that it should have been pointed out to the meeting at the Sydney Town Hall that both Mr Mulock and Senator Ryan were not reducing the amount of money to be given to non -government schools but have in fact increased the amount of money going to non- government schools. They have, in fact, increased the amount of money going to non-government schools.

We in the Labor Party and people throughout the nation know the debt we owe to Kim Beazley Sr, the man who did an enormous amount to take the whole question of sectarianism out of state aid. It has come back only with this phoney campaign that is being whipped up by people who have not been inside any school except the one school which they may have their children attending. If we really want to know something about schools we have to look at government and non-government schools in our areas. It will be seen, as some of the other speakers have said, that some of them are not too bad but that most are very poor. In my electorate of Lowe most of the non-government and government schools are very much in need. At one state school, a very big primary school in Burwood, every child in kindergarten is housed in a demountable classroom. That is an appalling situation in hot weather. Little kiddies, many of them Vietnamese, Chinese or Lebanese, are housed in these demountable classrooms. What a start to school, an introduction to education! It is most depressing to have to put little kids into these situations.

In the parish schools the situation is even worse. This does not apply just to Christian Brothers schools. Umpteen schools are without fire escapes or proper playgrounds. Even at level 2 have no playgrounds. The Christian Brothers school at Strathfield, Saint Patrick's College, has been trying to get a bit of roadway that runs through that school just to increase the size of the playground-there are 1,200 or 1,300 boys there-but the local council will not co-operate at all. This may be beyond the scope of the Federal Government, but we have a Schools Commission. It should look at these older suburbs of Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane and see the problems of children who have nowhere to play and who, like the boys at the Christian Brothers junior school in Burwood, have to sit down, as the teacher told me. There are classrooms such as those at North Strathfield Public School which are right on a highway. The teachers cannot be heard and windows cannot be opened to let in a bit of a breeze in the school which was built without air-conditioning.

I could talk all night about the problems of the schools in my electorate, but I must not do that because the legislation is extremely important and many honourable members wish to contribute to the debate. I commend the Government for getting its priorities right. Very limited funds are available to the Government in the present difficult financial position, with many people out of work. The Government has many other pressing commitments. The Government is committed to building up the poor schools and to making sure, through this legislation, that young Australians will have a chance at least to enjoy school. The Government is making sure that teachers will not be depressed and despondent about their school situation and that parents will at least be interested in the school, that the school will look like an interesting and exciting place with a stimulating atmosphere.

The Government is making sure that the young people will be able to stay on at school. In the whole of my electorate, which was a Liberal electorate until recently, not one Catholic systemic school goes to year 11 or year 12. Only private schools do that, and even those private schools have to accommodate vast numbers of children from all over Sydney. There are two private schools, one Catholic private school for boys and one for girls, but neither can accommodate any additional pupils. I do not believe any school in Australia should chop off the last two years of schooling. I look forward to seeing some activities by the Catholic Education Office in the electorate of Lowe. I commend this legislation to the House.