Note: Where available, the PDF/Word icon below is provided to view the complete and fully formatted document
 Download Current HansardDownload Current Hansard   

Previous Fragment    Next Fragment
Wednesday, 6 May 1987
Page: 2725

Mrs DARLING(5.16) —I am pleased to be able to speak to these amendment Bills concerning States grants education assistance-that is, the States Grants (Education Assistance-Participation and Equity) Amendment Bill 1987, the States Grants (Schools Assistance) Amendment Bill 1987 and the States Grants (Tertiary Education Assistance) Amendment Bill 1987-because of the tremendous contribution made to education by the Hawke Government. Before continuing, I would like to acknowledge the thoughtful contribution of the honourable member for Groom (Mr McVeigh) who preceded me.

The honourable member for Tangney (Mr Shack), however, criticised the Government. I comment on this because it reflects certain organised criticism in some sectors of our community at the moment aimed at the education policies and input of the Federal Government. It seems to me rather ironic that the very Government that has provided, I believe, more for education in its very broadest and most important sense than any previous Federal Government-although I must pay tribute to the Whitlam Government, under which tertiary education became available to people on merit, as it still is, basically-should be criticised as if in fact it was doing less. The legislation for the participating and equity program is a case in point. The States Grants (Education Assistance-Participation and Equity) Amendment Bill will provide an additional $1.097m in 1987, making a total of $45.819m for this year. The cost supplementation proposed by this Bill is in accordance with the Government's undertaking to provide retrospective cost supplementation for this program. (Quorum formed) I thank the Opposition for interrupting this important debate on education and for taking minutes out of the time allowed for the debate. I am sure that the general public will be intrigued to know that, as a matter of form, one Opposition member deliberately sits mute in the House while members of the Opposition take the full 20 minutes allocated to them and then, despite the fact that Government members have agreed to limit their speeches to a lesser time to hasten the business which must go through, he calls quorums not to get honourable members into the House but to interrupt the contribution of government members.

I was discussing the cost supplementation proposed by the States Grants (Education Assistance-Participation and Equity) Amendment Bill which is in accord with the Government's undertaking to provide retrospective cost supplementation for this program. The adjustments are consistent with those being made to the State Grants (Schools Assistance) Amendment Bill and the States Grants (Tertiary Education Assistance) Amendment Bill which are also before the House today. The important aspect of PEP is that it has done at least as much as any other single program in breaking down the discrimination that has existed in the education system in the past. The PEP aims to increase participation in education particularly by the most educationally disadvantaged groups-the groups which the honourable member for Groom mentioned-and to achieve greater equity in providing education. It is really based on the contention that money alone will not make education effective if it is not wisely spent. It must be targeted to fulfil needs. For instance, there is not any point, as has happened in the past, of providing academic subject or subjects which would well fit a student for a job in a city office if the student is living, and intends to work, in a rural area based on agriculture or in a fishing community. This is where the Federal Government feels it can assist with programs such as PEP.

PEP targets not just geographical or work-based needs but a variety of special needs such as those of women, Aborigines, special age groups and special cultural groups. An example of what PEP can do which may be of interest is the provision of a mobile information centre which is funded from PEP in Queensland. The centre reaches out to those who are isolated and who are in the vast expanses of north-west Queensland. These people are not getting the same quality of education because of the distances and a PEP grant enabled a Toyota Coaster mini-bus to be outfitted with an annex, tables and screens. It is able to take relevant educational programs and resources to people in that area.

Another important aspect of PEP and the way it works is the student representatives who are on the non-government PEP committees in Queensland. Fellow committee members are parents, teachers, senior bureaucrats and administrators. In the past student representatives on the committee were Tania Morris and Lisa Cranitch who are students at Corpus Christi College, a very well known Catholic girls school in Brisbane. That was one of the many schools that was advantaged by the use of a PEP scheme to broaden the type of education that students were receiving.

I also hope that Bracken Ridge community youth support scheme within my electorate will get PEP assistance to enable it to reach out and take education beyond the formalised situation to young people, who have already dropped out of school and, in some cases, to parents and mothers who have been looking after young children. They want retraining and they want to come back into a work situation but when they were at school there were no such things as computers, at least they were not used to the extent they are used now. I am hoping that a computer program system will be set up at Bracken Ridge through the PEP scheme.

Equality for girls is one area in which PEP has been highly successful. Under the Hawke Government the problems of education inequalities between the sexes have been virtually redressed although more has to be done in certain areas. This Government has fostered an educational environment that encourages girls to continue with their education. The Government has improved the educational opportunities for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students, rural students and, importantly, Australians from non-English speaking backgrounds who have particular problems getting into the educational system and making the best use of the resources which are available.

The results of PEP are seen in the fact that retention rates for females have risen from 39.9 per cent in 1982 to 52.1 per cent last year. The retention rate for males is now also on the increase, rising from 32.9 per cent in 1982 to 45.6 per cent in 1986. These figures speak for themselves but it is important to note that retention rates are not the only measure of success as far as the policies of this Government are concerned. What we in the Hawke Government wish to see is not merely a classroom full of students but a classroom full of students who are having their special educational and cultural needs met to the extent that they may be enabled to fulfil their personal potential thus contributing to society while also achieving personal satisfaction.

Since the Labor Government has come to power there have been vast improvements in participation and equity in Australia. Primary responsibility for funding government schools-this matter is not always addressed-lies with State governments which provide about 93 per cent of general running costs. The Commonwealth contribution is about 7 per cent. While we can certainly target this funding to ensure that education is coming in its broadest context to students, it is not reasonable to blame all of the deficiencies of the system on a government which contributes the minority of the funding and has the minority of responsibility for the policies-State responsibility is 93 per cent. The Commonwealth provides about 65 per cent of non-government school funding against the States' 35 per cent.

Recurrent funding for all schools in 1987 amounted to over $758m. In 1984 the Government recurrent school funding plan brought unprecedented stability to school funding and the funding for schools was guaranteed for eight years. We were very pleased to oversee this plan. Funding for the first four years-1985-88-was set in Commonwealth legislation. This meant that even in the last Budget, when the Commonwealth faced tough decisions in all areas of public expenditure, recurrent school funding was protected. The eight-year funding plan envisages a real increase of 50 per cent in general recurrent funds for government schools and 17 per cent for non-government schools. The 1986-87 Budget allowed for an increase in non-government schools funding by $31.5m to a yearly commitment of $849m. Given the known needs for restraint that is not a bad effort at all. Non-government schools make up 7 per cent of the total Budget outlays of the Federal Government and 35 per cent of total education spending.

In this context, I allude to clause 8 of the States Grants (Schools Assistance) Amendment Bill 1987. As noted by the honourable member for Groom, clause 8 which deals with approval of block grant authorities should be very well received by non-government schools that wish for greater management of their funding. They will be able to determine their own priorities instead of having them determined by State committees. The clause inserts new sections 25a and 25b to provide for the approval of a body corporate as a block grant authority for the distribution of capital grants for non-government schools and to provide the framework for the capital grants program for non-government schools from 1988. At the moment there is a Catholic system funding-that is, recurrent funding-but from 1988 there will be a block grant authority to distribute capital funding. There are two categories-Catholic schools and independent schools. It must be remembered that if a school is unhappy with the block authority it can apply directly to the Commonwealth Department for its capital grants.

Before concluding my comments on these important Bills I would like to make a brief comment on the points, arguments and criticisms that have followed the implementation of Austudy. Austudy is an excellent program. It introduces greater equity and more Commonwealth funding. All students aged over 16 years will get similar funding. It resolves past problems of some people not being able to stay at school because the unemployment benefit was so much more than the tertiary education assistance scheme allowance. I often came across cases in which this inequity meant that someone with academic merit was being pushed out of the education system because his or her parents-often a single parent, a low income parent-could not afford to keep his or her children at school. Austudy is meeting that enormous problem. It sets a new system which will benefit everyone for years to come. There have been administrative teething problems.

Mr Tuckey —That is an understatement.

Mrs DARLING —An understatement. There has been very late payment of Austudy to certain people. We acknowledge that, and we were very pleased when the Minister for Education (Senator Ryan) provided the `fast lane' so that in crisis cases people would be able to get immediate payment of Austudy. There was a serious problem also when social security payments were stopped before Austudy became available. But I point out that the Government deserves commendation for introducing Austudy and for what it will do to bring education even more within the gamut of people, regardless of the amount of money they have. I do not have time to comment on the $250 administration fee. I know there are problems for some people regarding this administration fee. But I think it is fair to say, and it should be said time and again, that Austudy eligibility means that no administration fee has to be paid. So it is not really accurate to say that the people in receipt of the very lowest incomes are being hurt by the introduction of the administration fee.

The primary goal of the Hawke Government's education policy is to increase participation and equity in all levels of education. It has never let go of that ideal. It is not an unidealistic government. Government members want to follow the opening up of free tertiary education, which was introduced by a Labor government, with the broadening of the value of that education. I think that a comparison of the Hawke Government's achievements with those of the previous Liberal Administration aptly demonstrates that it has stuck to its principles and is achieving its goals. In 1986 year 12 school retention rates rose to a high of 48.7 per cent compared to the 1982 figure of 36.3 per cent when the Opposition was in power. We must remember the policy document that was leaked and mentioned in this Parliament which showed that a Liberal government, in its own words, within its first 100 days in government would actually stop education funding through the Federal Government. The Hawke Government expressed its desire for an increasing quality of education for all Australians through its education initiatives in 1983. Those initiatives proved highly successful over the triennium 1984 to 1986. Certainly the Party's policies, promoting opportunities for quality of life at many levels, including schooling should never be criticised for party political purposes as breaking down systems of equity. It is hypocritical to say so when one looks at the other parties which form the alternative. It is inaccurate and unjust.

This Government's role has been to build up opportunities and increase access to education for all. That is precisely what we have been doing since we came to office. In saying that I seriously acknowledge the problems which have surrounded the introduction of Austudy, but with a sincere belief that people will benefit tremendously through that program. I also acknowledge and thank the Minister for considering the 15-year-olds in Queensland and in some other States who are moving into grade 11. Students from the age of 16 are getting the new payment, which is extra money in the hand. But because of the requirement that the student must be 16 years or older, those who are under 16-the 15-year-olds in grade 11-may see their school mates, or the parents of their school mates, getting the Austudy payment. I believe that in the long term it will be proven that this program shows our credibility in supporting low income people.

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