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Thursday, 18 October 1984
Page: 1977

Senator JONES —Is the Minister for Education and Youth Affairs aware of claims by the Australian Capital Territory Teachers Federation that the Australian Capital Territory Schools Authority budget has been reduced by over $1m? Will the Minister comment on whether that has happened and, if so, what has been the result?

Senator RYAN —I am aware of the claims the Teachers Federation is making. I am at a loss to know why it is continuing to make those claims when those claims are quite wrong. The Federation has had the benefit of several briefings with me when I have explained to it the situation regarding the Australian Capital Territory Schools Authority budget. The Australian Capital Territory Schools Authority budget was not cut. In fact, it was increased. It was increased to take account of the need for new schools which will be starting next year and for other purposes. Where there seems to be some confusion in the Teachers Federation is that the Australian Capital Territory Schools Authority, in its Budget bid for extra staff, made a bid for an extra 29 staff positions. It was not successful in that bid or, I might say, I was not successful in making that bid on its behalf. The Australian Capital Territory Schools Authority had had several significant increases in staff levels over the last 18 months and it had had some significant upgrading of staff over that period.

In the final Budget consideration the bid for an extra 29 staff positions was not agreed to by the Cabinet. However, the Cabinet made it quite clear that any adjustments that might need to take place as a result of that bid failing should not affect school-based formula determined staff. In other words, there would be no reduction in the number of teachers or the formula by which teachers are provided to schools; nor would there be any reduction in ancillary staff for schools because that staffing was also formula based. Because the Authority had made some appointments prior to the Cabinet considering its bid for the extra 29 positions, it will need to do some adjustments in terms of reallocation and redistribution of staff. However, the Government has been quite clear in announcing its intention that any such adjustments should not affect school- based staff and should not affect programs. In other words, any adjustments are to be made at head office. Although there may be some difficulty in the Authority making those adjustments, those adjustments can and will be made. I have had several meetings with the Chairman and the chief executive officer of the Schools Authority.

I think it is very misleading of the Teachers Federation to claim that there have been cuts. There have been no cuts. There has been no cut in staffing levels; there has been a bid for extra staff which the Cabinet was not able to agree to at this stage. I should point out too that it is now a matter of record after the tabling of the Commonwealth Grants Commission report that government schools in the Australian Capital Territory are funded at a much higher level than government schools throughout the rest of Australia. This is of course a matter of satisfaction for the citizens of the Australian Capital Territory, especially for students who go to government schools, for their parents and for their teachers. I believe that here in the Australian Capital Territory we have the highest standard of public education available in Australia. That is something that I am determined to maintain and something which I believe the citizens of the Australian Capital Territory support. We have that high level of education standards not only because of the much higher level of expenditure on Australian Capital Territory government schools but also because of the dedication and commitment of the Australian Capital Territory teaching service.

I would not like my remarks to be interpreted as any criticism of the professional performance of the teachers in the Australian Capital Territory, which is outstanding, and which contributes to the high standard of education available. However, the particular campaign that the leadership of the Australian Capital Territory teachers union has decided to embark upon is misguided in the extreme. It has no credibility, and I am concerned about it because it will undermine the credibility of the Teachers Federation, a body with which I have had in the past and with which I would wish to continue to have a constructive relationship.