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Tuesday, 8 May 1984
Page: 1751


Senator PETER BAUME(8.37) —I move:

That the Senate take note of the paper.

This report, which appeared within the last fortnight, is a very important document laying down the advice given by the Commonwealth Schools Commission to the Federal Government in relation to the funding of government schools. This report was attacked violently by certain interests-by Mr Van Davey, by Mrs Joan Brown and by interests from the Australian Council of State School Organisations -who claimed that the commissioners of the Commonwealth Schools Commission had failed to discharge their duty. Five minutes ago in this place the Minister for Education and Youth Affairs (Senator Ryan), when invited so to do, refused to endorse the action of her own commissioners or to endorse the position they had taken. I am sure that they will read the Hansard and note the lack of support they got from their Minister.

This report, on which the Government has to take a position, has done a number of things. It has recommended a grant from the Commonwealth Government for every Australian school child. That is something with which the Government will have to wrestle because there are within the Government elements which do not endorse that view. Yet it is the view of the Commonwealth Schools Commission that for every school child in Australia some support from government is a right. The Commonwealth Schools Commission, which is made up of many commissioners who were appointed by the present Government, has recommended that that should be the case. Of course, there will be some argument about what the exact level of that funding may be or how it may be disbursed between different groups of schools.

The report has endorsed the linking of funding to some kind of cost structure. The Commission has talked about a community standard although the exact nature of that community standard is not set out. Until we see that and until the Government responds and identifies that, we cannot say what the exact quanta recommended by the Schools Commission really mean. However, it has recommended the linking of grants to some kind of cost structure. It has recommended, of course, an increase in the number of funding groups. I will comment on that for one moment. When I was Minister for Education I was very concerned about the problems that existed at the two existing boundaries-the boundary between group 3 and group 2 schools and between group 2 and group one schools. As I recall, the previous Government was examining with the Schools Commission different kinds of grouping structures that might have allowed those boundary problems to be addressed more equitably.

The present recommendations of the Schools Commission are ones which we will have to examine but until we know exactly what they are related to-what community standards they are related to, and what that is worth and what it will mean in terms of the effects of inflation or what it will mean in terms of guarantees for the future-we will not be able to comment. However, if it results in some resolution of the boundary problems between group 3 and group 2 schools and between group 2 and group one schools where there are sudden losses in real terms for small increases in real resources it may have contributed something. This report has recommended a modest real growth in the Commonwealth Government' s contribution to grants for government schools. It has recommended several options each of which would mean that government schools would receive an increase in money. The sad thing is that the present Commonwealth Government went to the people with specific promises for improving the lot of government schools but those promises have not yet been honoured.

While we might argue on particular points, the total public funding mix which may result from this kind of program will remain equitable in the sense that all children will receive some grants. It is therefore of some concern to the Opposition that a campaign of enormous violence has been mounted against this report, against the commissioners and against the Commonwealth Schools Commission by certain groups which are still implacably opposed to any kind of aid for anyone in a non-government school. I refer first to the two commissioners who put in minority reports. I acknowledge their right to put in those minority reports. It is the correct thing to do if they feel that they are unable to sign the majority report. But I find their arguments to be the arguments of 20 years ago. They are resurrecting a debate which was resolved by the Australian people in the 1970s and in the resolution of which a former Labor Prime Minister, Mr Gough Whitlam, played a very honourable role. They are trying to resurrect those arguments to divide the community. Moving away from the minority reports, I think the Press statements which these people have made, the Press campaign which they have been conducting and the distortions which are going on in that campaign threaten to break down what has been a useful coalition of interests by many Australian parents in the interests of their children. I say to the Government: This report is important. I hope it is considered carefully and that a resolution is arrived at to the benefit of Australian school children.

(Quorum formed)