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Thursday, 21 March 1985
Page: 535

Senator MACKLIN(10.32) —I congratulate Senator Peter Baume for not letting this document entitled 'Planning and Funding Policies for New Non-Government Schools' get in the way of a very good speech. Having read this document, I would have thought that the private sector would be overjoyed with it. That is my major criticism of the document. I think Senator Baume will find himself in agreement with a group with whom he does not very often find himself in agreement, that is, the Australian Teachers Federation. I am quite sure that that group also will not find this document to its taste. I think the reaction from the Teachers Federation is a much more accurate presentation of what the document is about than what Senator Baume has just told us. He made some propositions about curbing freedom of choice in a budgetary context. The Government has always had the power to curb the development of any new school, if it wished to do so, by not funding that school. Not only does the Labor Government have that power but the Government of which Senator Baume was Minister for Education also had that power. Whether or not governments choose to exercise that power and the criteria they use to exercise that power are matters raised in this document.

Under the heading 'Funding to a Plan', which is basically the seventh recommendation in this document, the Commonwealth will be looking at material presented to it, it is hoped, from Commonwealth and State Ministers for Education. If those co-ordinating bodies are established at a State level-in my State of Queensland the chances of that happening will be pretty remote-the advice coming to the Minister for Education (Senator Ryan) must necessarily be superior advice to that which she is currently receiving. The reason it will be superior advice is that, at the moment, the type of advice she is receiving is coming from, as it were, the familiar contacts that departmental officers have one with another. This will be a formalised context where State governments will be involved in an exercise which they also have a fair budgetary commitment.

Any new school established, whether it be a private school or a State school, has implications not only for the Federal Budget but also for State Budgets. It seems to me that, at some stage or another in Australia's history, we have to get the Federal and State governments talking to one another about these types of commitments. All too often in the past one or other level of government has made commitments that it expects to be picked up by somebody else. I point out also that the private sector would be fairly happy with the abolition of impact statements. Impact statements have now been replaced by a more comprehensive structure that will allow an input and a priority to be given to each of the schools. It is entirely up to the Government to choose that listing of priorities. It has always been up to a government to decide where it will fund. Whether a school falls into the high priority area, the medium priority area or the low priority area for funding is a political decision.

Senator Walters —Should it be?

Senator MACKLIN —I say to Senator Walters that it has always been the case, both under her Government and every government. She should wake up to herself. She does not know what she is talking about most of the time and certainly does not on this issue. She should keep quiet or go outside. As Senator Walters would know, the current Labor Party Government has done more for private schools, oddly enough, than the previous Liberal Party Government. This was the basis of my objection last year when the Australian Democrats were the only group to oppose what the Labor Government did in setting in place an eight-year program of funding for private schools, which was basically open ended. The figures used in the Budget last year were undoubtedly fudged because the basis of those budgetary figures for government schools was the predicted growth in government schools and the basis of those for private schools was current enrolments. What this Government has done is to set up a structure with which people in private schools and people who run private schools-if Senator Walters cares to go and talk to them she will see this-are very happy.

Senator Walters —You obviously haven't done your homework.

Senator MACKLIN —I have talked to more teachers and principals than Senator Walters has ever met in her life.

Senator Walters —You are joking. You have no conception.

Senator Lewis —You have no idea.

Senator MACKLIN —That is very good coming from a person who probably has not seen inside a school since the last time he attended as a student.

The DEPUTY PRESIDENT —Senator Macklin, you should not reply to interjections.

Senator MACKLIN —No, I will not reply to those inane interjections which have certainly been coming forward. Senator Baume's thesis on this document could hold water only if the Labor Party was unwilling to support private schools. That thesis has to be supported by facts. Unfortunately for Senator Baume, the facts are not there in money terms.

Senator Peter Baume —It is the difference between new schools and existing schools.

Senator MACKLIN —Yes. But the point I was raising in relating to Senator Baume's speech is that it was predicated on the notion that the Australian Labor Party Government which is currently in office has shown in its budgetary allocations a bias against private schools. That cannot be substantiated. The budgetary allocations are there. In order to substantiate the type of thesis he is putting forward-in other words, that the Government would use the funding plan and the priority system to stop the development of private schools-one has to show bad feeling on the part of the Government, other than the type of thing that may exist in people's minds, or in the previous operations of the Labor Party when it was in opposition. I agree with him about the Labor Party's rhetoric in opposition. However, in government, I cannot find the budgetary basis for the types of proposition which have been put forward.

If we take the determining policies in the eighth recommendation, the priority listings, as an example, we can see that what we are looking at are schools in growing areas consistent with planned educational provision. I raise an issue that I think is important for private schools. When one looks at the development of private schools in new growth areas and suburbs, which of course are not and cannot be identified in this document with growing areas because the definition is different--

Senator Peter Baume —It's a funny definition, is it not?

Senator MACKLIN —It is a definition I am not at all happy with. I think it goes part of the way towards meeting the problems we have had regarding the growth of the new areas, but not as far as I would like it to go. Let us take the new growth areas, the new suburbs where we might find a fair amount of pressure building up for the development of private schools. In those circumstances we have seen already in Australia many private schools being pushed almost to the point of non-viability by the development of a further private school in the same area without any consultation. Senator Baume knows that has occurred because it was occurring when he was Minister.

Senator Peter Baume —That is just tough for them.

Senator MACKLIN —Fine. Senator Baume's interjection at least makes clear the context. It is an important clarification. I am grateful for it because it clarifies, and probably makes a lot easier, the debate in basic philosophical terms of where we stand. It is a useful interjection.

Senator Peter Baume —It is a market model.

Senator MACKLIN —It is a market model. The problem I raise now is that I am not quite sure whether Senator Baume would have very much luck in selling his idea certainly to the Catholic education officers in each State. I leave it at that. He would have a great deal of difficulty selling it to them. The Catholic education officers in each State are very keen, as Senator Baume knows, on a planned projection not only for their own schools but also for other schools in the area. That is simply because of the extremely limited resources available to the Catholic sector in terms of the development of new schools. The Catholic sector really cannot afford to take punts, as it were, in the free market. Senator Baume knows that.

Senator Lewis —That is their decision.

Senator MACKLIN —I am quite happy with that operation, which is the philosophical position of the members of the Opposition. I say only that they will find it hard selling it to the Catholic education officers. The other point I raise, unfortunately, does not get a great deal of attention here, yet it is fundamental to any planning of new schools, that is, what the definition of a school might eventually be. Senator Baume drew attention to paragraph 1 (c) of the first recommendation on the definition of new schools in the report. It refers to the various changes existing schools may make to their characters. Unfortunately, it contains no definition of a school. The reason I raise this matter-I think we may have some agreement on it by Senator Baume, the Government and me-is that there is a great deal of concern about schools and their registration. A small section at the end of the paragraph refers to this problem of registration.

Senator Peter Baume —The States have to lift their games.

Senator MACKLIN —Not only that. Unless we get a strong and rigid operation of the registration provisions at the State level we will run into enormous difficulties in implementing this recommendation. If States are willing to allow certain schools to operate pressures undoubtedly will build up on the Commonwealth to fund them. I refer to schools which operate in sub-standard conditions, in situations which are health and fire hazards to the children who inhabit these so-called schools. I refer to schools which often have only one registered teacher, where all the teaching is done by unregistered and unqualified teachers. These schools use programs which essentially prevent the children ever having a chance of going on to any further education. They use programs which often prevent those children ever having a chance of getting jobs in our community. Plenty of those so-called schools exist in Australia today. They are being established all over the place. They are essentially schools, so-called, which do enormous damage to a large number of young children in Australia.

Senator Walters —In your opinion.

Senator MACKLIN —It is not only in my opinion. I suggest that Senator Walters keep quiet as she knows nothing about education.

Senator Walters —You don't like them so you would get rid of them.

Senator MACKLIN —Yes, I would get rid of them. They are a health hazard, a fire danger and they deny children a chance of further development in their community. They are not registered by the States.

Senator Walters —Do not hide behind it. Give us some examples.

Senator Sir John Carrick —They are not funded if they are not registered.

Senator Peter Baume —That is one issue which the States have to address.

Senator MACKLIN —If the honourable senators who interjected, with the exception of Senator Baume, had not interjected, perhaps they would have discovered that what I was talking about is part of the report which is rehearsing the problem of the registration of schools. I point out that recommendation (1) (b) of the report provides that a new non-government school may be eligible for Commonwealth funding if it is an existing school not presently receiving Commonwealth assistance. My worry about that is that some of those schools may be moved into schools recognised by State governments. That is my concern.

Senator Peter Baume —They will have to be registered to get funding.

Senator MACKLIN —No. At the moment, unless we have a rigid series of criteria upon which those schools are registered, as Senator Baume knows as well as I do, there will be political pressures to register some schools which are not of any use to the students in them. Political pressure is currently being brought to bear, not only in Queensland but also in other States. I know of at least two other examples in two other States, one of which is a Labor State. Recommendation (1) (c) in relation to the definition of new schools eligible for Commonwealth funding was raised by Senator Baume. There will be problems with this definition if, for example, there is a significantly changed clientele, particularly if the school goes from being a single-sex school to a coed school. A more important example may be if a school drops out a boarding section because of the enormous and rapidly increasing costs of boarding students in Australia.

Senator Peter Baume —It might prevent schools going coed.

Senator MACKLIN —If a school drops out, it drops out of the system. If it drops a boarding section it may very well be in difficulty. I would agree with Senator Baume on that point. That certainly could flow through. However, I point to the recent history of funding and to the pressures that have built up on governments providing funds. Recommendation (1) (c) merely brings back into the determining system those schools which have a significant change. For example, it would be highly unlikely that, if a school amalgamated or if there were a significant change in clientele from a single-sex school to a coed school, the Commonwealth would withdraw funds. The fact that the schools are brought back into consideration probably flows from a further recommendation in the document that outlines the need to be consistent; that is, when putting in initial plans, schools are required to plan a fair way ahead. As Senator Baume realised, schools have to be able to predict their enrolments for a number of years. In many ways, that is probably an unrealistic requirement. Given the fact that the Commonwealth Government, with its enormous range of bureaucracies, finds it very difficult to predict what will happen with the Budget deficit in 12 months time, it is a bit much to ask a private organisation to make predictions for two, three, or four years time about the number of kids who might want to come into a school. There are significant movements in Australia with regard to schools and the pressures on them. There are significant growth areas, particularly on the fringes of our capital cities. These areas have sustained enormous growth over a short time.

Let us acknowledge that a State education authority would have a much broader range of statistics and predicting tools available to it than would most private organisations. Nevertheless, much of this rapid development which has taken place on the fringes of our capital cities has left State education departments completely flat-footed. In fact, they do not have the schools to provide for the students who want to go to them. Enrolments at some schools have leapt from 800 or 900 to 1,500 in the space of a 12-month period. They have had to import wholesale so-called temporary accommodation to try to cope with the enormous influx. If a State education authority with all the planning tools available to it cannot make those types of predictions even 12 months ahead, private schools should not be expected to make long range predictions of enrolments. The report seems to expect them to do so. If predictions do not fall within a 'reasonable tolerance level' they may lose funding. That is a harsh requirement. Quite frankly, I think that the information to make that type of predicting statement is not available to private organisations. It is an unrealistic and unwarranted onus to place on private schools.

The report itself is a useful product of a range of discussions that have gone on for quite some time with the private schools sector. Those discussions have been about how best to generate a planning structure that is predictable and understood by all concerned. When we are talking about millions of dollars for one institution alone, it is reasonable to expect a fair amount of predictability in the system. I would have thought that most private school organisations would also be relatively happy with a predictable system. As can be seen from reading the text of the report, the private school sector was happy with a number of the recommendations which have been brought forward and with the generation of a range of safety nets which are included in the propositions. The last point I raise is that of the appeal mechanism. Recommendation (14) reads:

That an appropriate appeals mechanism be developed to hear appeals-

Senator Harradine —Where is that?

Senator MACKLIN —It is recommendation (14), paragraph 113 to 114.

Senator Harradine —It is in the Minister's statement, is it?

Senator MACKLIN —No. It is in the panel's report. Recommendation (14) reads:

That an appropriate appeals mechanism be developed to hear appeals against decisions relating to new schools' eligibility or priority for funding.

The appeals mechanism envisaged here is the one about which, as honourable senators may remember, we had some debate the last time we discussed the States Grants (Schools Assistance) Bill last year. In that debate we discussed the need for private schools to have a better appeals mechanism than they had previously. I moved that such an appeals mechanism for private schools be established and that it be a specialised appeals mechanism. The mode that I originally suggested was not the one which was finally adopted. The one which was finally adopted, with the complete concurrence of the private school sector, allows private schools the services of an expert body and a range of appeals at all levels over funding.

Senator Peter Baume —It may still be seen to be an appeal from Caesar to Caesar. That is what the people are worried about.

Senator MACKLIN —When I put forward my proposal, I was also worried that the appeals mechanism could be seen as going from Caesar to Caesar. I was somewhat surprised that the private school sector was happy enough with that new appeal mechanism that was adopted. I imagine Senator Baume was too.

Senator Peter Baume —Very surprised.

Senator MACKLIN —Nevertheless, there it is. I would have thought that an appeals mechanism of the kind I suggested would have obviated that situation. I merely foreshadow that we are happy to allow the appeals mechanism that has been adopted to run, since it has been accepted by the private schools sector. If there are problems, we shall seek to move again for the type of appeal mechanism that was discussed and supported last time, by this side of the Senate at least. I recommend that honourable senators read this document in detail. As Senator Baume has already foreshadowed, the document will be the basis of very spirited debate in the community. I think that is extremely useful.

Senator Harradine —For how long have you had it?

Senator MACKLIN —I have had it for the normal two hours provided to Opposition spokespeople in relation to these documents. The document will undoubtedly suffer a number of changes. I foreshadow one change that I should like to take place; that is, to drop the definition of increases and decreases based merely on government schools and not on all schools in the area. I think we now have a useful base document. Hopefully, when people address themselves to the document, they will do so in a way which will enable us to look forward to a predictable context for what is a billion dollar operation.

I am certainly pleased that the clarification which has come from Senator Baume in this debate might, probably for the first time, start to spell out a distinct policy with regard to the sinking and falling of private schools. I have never before heard it expressed in quite such a definitive way. That may be very useful because the private school sector, at least the various groups I deal with-I must admit that, to a very large extent, that is the majority private school sector, that sector being much easier to address oneself to because it is organised-has been asking me, in the years I have been in this job, for predictability of planning. Hence, it will certainly make for very interesting debate in the community over the next few months.