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Monday, 21 May 2012
Page: 4950

Mr McCORMACK (Riverina) (19:20): Education underpins a successful society. Funding is an important issue where education is concerned. We must have a strong public school system and we must ensure funding of non-government schools to allow parents to have a choice as to where their children are educated. The Director of Schools in the Catholic Schools Office, Wagga Wagga, Alan Bowyer, appropriately stated last year, 'Education is a basic entitlement and all students, whether they attend a Catholic, an independent or a state school, have the right to be funded by government at a level that provides a balanced, rigorous and properly resourced education.'

Government funding substantially favours public schools when all government funding is taken into account. Figures for 2012 from the Productivity Commission show government recurrent expenditure per government school student is $14,380 compared to $7,427 for non-government school students. Figures from the Australian Bureau of Statistics show the number of students in the independent sector has increased by 35 per cent since 2001 compared with just a 12 per cent growth in the Catholic school sector over the same time.

In 2011 the split of students between government and non-government schools was 65.4 per cent and 34.6 per cent respectively compared to 69 per cent and 31 per cent in 2010. These figures reinforce the long-term drift for students from government to non-government schools. As more students are moving to non-government schools it is unimaginable that this government is calling to reduce funding to non-government schools to 2003-04 levels. To do so would put at risk the financial viability of many non-government schools and leave many students disadvantaged.

In Australia 20 per cent of students attend a Catholic school. Statistics from 2010 show students in New South Wales were spread across the school system with most, 66 per cent, attending public schools, 22 per cent attending Catholic schools and 12 per cent attending independent schools. In my electorate of Riverina there is a strong Catholic school system and this is reflected on a wider scale, with 29 per cent of Catholic school students attending a Catholic school outside of metropolitan areas. Figures taken from the National report on schooling in Australia highlight that Catholic schools and non-government schools in general are underfunded when compared to state schools. In 2007-08 Catholic school students received on average only $7,865. Furthermore, the government, based on the same figures, provides 80 per cent of the recurrent funding needed for Catholic schools, with the remaining 20 per cent being raised by the schools and their communities.

Whilst non-government school critics cry foul over so-called overfunding for Catholic and non-government schools, the reality is that this is not the case at all. Many private schools depend on fundraising efforts by parents and friends associations. If the government were to remove funding from non-government schools it is likely they would be left with no choice but to close, leaving teachers without a job and forcing students to find a new school. Over the years 2003-04 to 2007-08, government funding to state schools increased 1.6 per cent a year in real terms, while funding to non-government schools decreased by 0.1 per cent.

This government believes that only the rich send their children to non-government schools and believes in the motto 'the rich can afford to pay it'. This government all too often lately has dealt the class warfare card, but families who choose to send their children to a non-government school are not necessarily rich and should not be treated differently to those who choose for their young ones to have a public school education. It is, as it should be, all about choice. Families with children in non-government schools, especially in regional areas, are not automatically privileged families. They are just hardworking Australian families. In fact many wealthy families choose to send their children to public schools due to the range of subject options.

There are many parents who start saving from the time their children are born or those who forgo the new car and family holidays to ensure that they can afford the best possible education for their child, an education they believe their children will receive at a non-government school. There are also many students in schools with a religious doctrine. Their parents should not be penalised for wanting to ensure, as well as an academic education, their children are also being taught the belief systems of their religion and receive a spiritual education. To decrease funding for non-government schools is to say to parents that they have no choice where to send their child, except to the local state school.

To take away funding from non-government schools would be a typical Labor attack on the rich, but the reality is that any removal of funding from non-government schools would have more widespread effects on a large group of middle-income Australians who are working hard to give their children the best start in life. This would be another slap in the face for Australians from this Labor government, which is hell-bent on imposing costs on Australian families, with no thought for the reality of its actions. Much has been said and written about the recent Gonski review, which gives this government the ideal opportunity to confirm its ongoing support for all education—government and non-government.