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Thursday, 28 February 1985
Page: 325

Senator PETER BAUME —I ask the Minister for Education: Has the processing of all applications for capital grants to non-government schools stopped pending the outcome of a review of the program? For how long has there been a stop on processing applications, and for how long will it continue? Does this mean that forward commitments for capital expenditure, allowing orderly school planning, are not now being made? Is this a prelude to reduced allocations for school capital works in the Budget later this year?

Senator RYAN —The decision of the Schools Commission, which I accepted, to have a short pause in the processing of applications under the capital program has been explained in great detail to all clients of the Schools Commission. They are well aware that it is a temporary pause of three months duration. The Commission decided to do this for two reasons. One is that we are in a transition phase with regard to a new non-government schools policy, the panel report in relation to which the Government is considering. The other is the Schools Commission review of the capital program. All the special purpose programs of the Schools Commission, including the capital program, have been reviewed and the reports are now becoming available.

Bearing in mind that some of the forward commitments of some projects would be affected by this, there is a very clear exemption for any projects which would be unfairly held up. Again, all major non-government school authorities have been advised of this. I understand that there have been discussions about a number of specific projects which will go ahead and be processed despite the temporary pause.

I should point out to honourable senators that, as this is a rolling triennial kind of program which allows forward commitment for up to three years, what the Commission is attempting to do at the moment is to have a pause in funds which would be committed for 1987. It is a temporary pause for three months, some weeks of which have already passed. Everybody affected by it has had the decision and the reasons for it explained to them. In any case, where there is a legitimate need for the application to be processed immediately, it is being so processed. I believe that in general the whole of this sector will benefit from a more rational and orderly treatment of the capital program.

Senator PETER BAUME —I ask a supplementary question. The Minister said that she has explained these matters to non-government school authorities. For the information of the Parliament, will she table the kind of letter that went out to the authorities? She also mentions three months as the period. Will the program recommence three months after it was halted?

Senator RYAN —Senator Baume has asked for a detailed explanation to be tabled in the Parliament, and I am happy to do that. The duration of the pause is definitely a three-month period, but should the Commission advise that it needs a few more weeks to get the new program properly into place, obviously that is a matter I will consider. But the Commission recommended a three-month pause and that is the decision that has been taken. I will see whether I am able to table a statement in the course of today's debate.