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Thursday, 7 May 1987
Page: 2780

Mr DAWKINS (Minister for Trade)(11.43) —in reply-It is my pleasant task to respond to the debate on these measures and to congratulate those honourable members who contributed to the debate. This has obviously been a very wide ranging debate covering not only the funding of schools but also the funding of tertiary education. Of course, I do not intend to take the points that were made in the debate one by one. I just make the observation that some of the speeches may well have been made in the State parliaments rather than here.

As far as the government school system is concerned, the Commonwealth has a minimal role in funding government schools and even less of a role in terms of influencing their direction or conduct. There has been a very substantial increase in the amount of total public funding going to the government school system over the last couple of decades. But, the schools remain very much in the hands of State governments in terms of their policy, their direction and their conduct. While State governments have given a greatly increased priority to the government school system-I think that would generally be considered to be a good thing-the Commonwealth has a very small role in influencing what happens in State government schools largely as a consequence of it being involved in a small way in the funding of government schools. Some people might regret the fact that we have such a small role in influencing what happens in state schools, but that remains the fact. So speeches and views expressed in this place about what should be happening in the government school system might well be better directed towards the State governments.

I understand that it is the intention of the Opposition to move an amendment to the second reading of the States Grants (Schools Assistance) Amendment Bill 1987. This rather absurd motion asks the Government to withdraw and redraft the Bill to provide for certain measures. If the Opposition ever has the chance of introducing Bills as a government, I suppose that it can then introduce whatever Bill it likes. But the Government has given a lot of thought to this Bill and has no intention of withdrawing and redrafting it in a way that might suit the Opposition. The fact of the matter is that that would only delay the provision of funds to government and non-government schools. But, in any event, the amendment has been totally misconstrued.

The Opposition is trying to maintain that the provisions of this Bill in some way massively constrain non-government schools throughout Australia. Of course, that is absurd. The Commonwealth is currently providing some $780m a year in recurrent funds to non-government schools and some $50m a year in capital for non-government schools. We do not try to use that very generous funding of non-government schools to influence what those non-government schools do. Quite properly, we have accountability provisions because when one is responsible for the expenditure of those massive amounts it is necessary to ensure that they are properly spent. But we do try not to use those funds to direct the course of non-government schools which continue to have a high degree of independence in terms of the content of their curriculum and their other internal policies. Whilst the amendment intends to make a cheap political point, it is totally misconstrued and the Government has no intention of accepting it.

Question resolved in the affirmative.

Bill read a second time.

Message from the Governor-General recommending appropriation announced.