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Monday, 21 May 2012
Page: 4947

Mrs PRENTICE (Ryan) (19:09): I rise today to support this very important motion from the member for Kooyong which rejects calls to reduce funding to non-government schools to 2003-04 levels. As the motion rightly states, such a move would leave thousands of Australian school students at a great disadvantage.

School funding is a very important issue for the thousands of school children and their parents across the 19 non-government schools in the electorate of Ryan. At the time of the Gonski review these schools expected one of the most significant announcements on school funding for over 30 years. Instead, it is now more than three months since the Gonski review was released and non-government schools still do not have a firm commitment of support from this Labor government. Non-government schools had their expectations trashed and the end result is not clarity but confusion and not hope but despair at this government's failure to support non-government schools.

I support maintaining funding to non-government schools because doing so achieves two key aims. Firstly, it serves as a very important avenue for providing choice for Australian parents. Australia has seen a strong shift away from government to non-government schools in the last two decades because parents are becoming more and more involved in local schooling communities and want to invest their own after-tax funds on their children's education. Parents know and understand the value of holistic and comprehensive primary and secondary schooling. The non-government school sector is an integral way of ensuring that parents across Australia have a choice about the type of school to which they want to send their children. With a severe lack of autonomy in government schools across the country, non-government schools are the only way of matching the preferences of how they want their children educated.

Secondly, private schooling saves the government and the taxpayer money. As the Presbyterian and Methodist Schools Association has noted, their schools receive an average of $4,902 per student in the current government funding compared to an average of $14,380 for students at government schools. As such, the PMSA schools, including Brisbane Boys' College in Ryan, save the Commonwealth and state governments more than $47 million in annual funding. The disparity in overall funding for all non-government schools across the country is then filled in the form of school fees, donations, fundraising and levies. Every year taxpayers are saved an estimated $5.1 billion as a consequence of parents choosing to send their children to non-government schools.

It is not a surprise, coming from a Labor government trying to ignite class warfare in Australia, that they want to attack non-government schools. Many parents already have it tough, with increasing cost-of-living pressures even before the onerous carbon tax. A reduction in funding would place huge pressures on the level of school fees now expected to be paid for out of parents' pockets.

I recently held an education forum in conjunction with the member for Brisbane, and I thank the shadow minister for education, the member for Sturt, for coming to Ryan and participating in that forum. On that day question after question was from concerned principals and parents, asking what the Gillard government plans to do with their funding. They wanted to know if the government is going to reduce funding back to the failed and unsatisfactory education resource index model. Parents and educators at non-government schools are rightly worried that the Gillard government will not commit to maintaining funding. They are worried that this will reduce government assistance in real terms and that, if parents are not able to meet the consequent forced rise in school fees, then their children will not be receiving the best education possible.

There are three questions that the coalition asks in a test for any new funding model. Those questions are: does it support choice in education? Does it encourage private investment? And is the new model based on need, using an objective allocation method? The recommendations and the proposed funding model in the Gonski review do not satisfy these three basic tests.

Firstly, there is no guarantee about indexation, which could push up fees and diminish the ability of parents to afford the school of their choice. Secondly, it is possible that schools may in fact be penalised for private investment and private contributions, which would act as a disincentive for parents to invest in their own schooling communities and would add to the burden of the average taxpayer. Thirdly, the coalition continues to support a statistically objective measure of using a school's socioeconomic status as a funding model.

All parents are concerned about the quality of education in this country. Education is the great enabler. At the federal level that means fulfilling our responsibility to provide sufficient funding to non-government schools to ensure that the Australian education system is world-class. We must therefore maintain funding to non-government schools so that Australian school students are not disadvantaged.