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Wednesday, 27 March 1985
Page: 892

Senator RYAN (Minister for Education)(3.32) —The Senate has been subjected in the last 20 minutes or so to a tired and tiresome regurgitation by Senator Peter Baume of his worst examples of hysterical rhetoric that he inflicted on various communities around the countryside in 1983 and early 1984. At that time his motive was, and still is, to stir up trouble between the government and non-government education sectors. If Senator Baume has one recurring theme in his comments on education-I am afraid that he does have only one recurring theme-it is to attack and undermine public education in this country. As far as Senator Baume is concerned, all private schools are entitled to limitless support; all public schools must be harassed, criticised, despised and forced out of existence. It is very tedious. It is not only that, it is also very unsuccessful. The Australian public does not agree with Senator Baume.

All surveys known to me show that a majority of people are happy with the choices that they are able to make in education. The majority of people choose public schools for their children. A minority of Australians choose private schools for their children and they, too, report high levels of satisfaction with their choices. Indeed, they are generously supported by the Commonwealth Government in making those choices-more generously by this Commonwealth Government than by any preceding one, including the Government that Senator Baume was once a part of. So what do we have here today? We have Senator Baume, who has been left without a feather to fly with in the education debate since the hysteria that he was involved in whipping up disappeared once we announced our new funding formula for non-government schools. Senator Baume has been left with nothing to say about education because, as is obvious to any of us who have to sit in this chamber day after day, Senator Baume is not interested in the fundamental matters concerning education. He is not interested in curriculum reform. He is not interested in how we can train teachers better to get better outcomes in schools. He is not interested in the plethora of programs the Commonwealth supports through the Schools Commission to overcome disadvantage, be it geographic, physical socio-economic, or based on rates.

Senator Baume is not interested in any of those things. His interest is only in trying to whip up trouble between the Government and non-government sectors, in trying to recreate for himself the heady experience of screaming in an hysterical fashion at hundreds of parents who had been mislead by him and others on his side of the chamber into believing that somehow our Government was to undermine private schools. It did not happen. What happened when we developed our new recurrent funding policy? We provided for non-government schools the most stable form of funding they had experienced since this country was settled by Europeans. An eight-year funding plan, worked out on an equitable basis, provides that four years of those funds are guaranteed in legislation for government and non-government schools alike. That was the outcome of the dire predictions by Senator Baume that somehow the private school sector would be brought to its knees.

It was never the intention of our Government to undermine private education. It was the intention of our Government to ensure that Commonwealth funds were distributed equitably between the government and non-government sectors and that within the non-government sector we would reintroduce a principle of equity in the allocation of funds. We have done that. People listening to Senator Baume today might think that there is something in our approach to the development of non-government schools that is dangerous or suggests unfair restrictions. I remind the Senate of a few facts concerning our Government's record for new non-government schools.

Since coming to office our Government, with me as Minister, has granted funding approval to 164 new non-government schools. This figure excludes relocations and extensions. The funding of 164 new non-government schools in a two-year period can hardly be described as putting the screws on as guerilla warfare. In case honourable senators are wondering what the level of financial commitment such expansion in the non-government sector represents, the total recurrent grants to these schools for the two-year period is estimated at $50m, and capital grants paid or offered to these new schools are estimated at about $30m-that is $80m for new schools started under this Hawke Government-yet there is still this hysterical, dishonest, distorting outburst from Senator Baume, who is trying to get back the heady days of the Sydney Town Hall rally, one of the more disgraceful public performances that I am aware of in recent years.

The total dollars to be spent on non-government schools by our Government over the next four-year period is $2.517 billion. That is an enormous amount of money. Everybody is very well aware these days of how difficult it is for the Government to make massive public expenditures of that order, yet we have made that commitment-secure, set in legislation for four years-of that vast amount of money to support the schools outside the government system chosen and supported by the various community groups. There has been no greater evidence of our good faith towards that sector than that series of decisions. All schools will benefit from our four-year funding plan. The most needy schools-for example, the category 12 schools-will receive real increases of up to 37 per cent in per capita grants over the period.

Our scheme provides incentives for increased private effort, compared with disincentives in the past. Our new non-government schools policy announced last week, about which Senator Baume is now trying to make cheap political capital, will provide for greater planning and a more systematic approach to the provision of educational services in this country. Our planned, positive and sensible approach to the financing of non-government schools and other relationship to government schools is a complete turnaround from the ad hoc, unplanned and negligent policies of the previous Government. Where we believe in a balanced development of the dual system of schools, the previous Government indiscriminately poured buckets of money into one part of one sector only, that is, to the wealthier schools in the private sector. Everybody else did very badly.

Senator Teague —That is not true.

Senator RYAN —Senator Teague is challenging that assertion. Let me back up my assertion with some facts which were supplied by the Schools Commission. It is a body to which Senator Baume accords the highest credibility, so let us not have any arguments about the facts. From 1976 to 1982 general recurrent grants to government schools were cut in real terms by 6 per cent or $19m. The previous Government actually cut funding to the schools which educate 75 per cent of the nation's children, which was absolute negligence. Capital grants to government schools were cut in real terms by over 35 per cent; that is, $88m was cut from grants to government schools over this period.

Honourable senators may have thought that all sectors were faring equally badly and perhaps it was necessary for the Government to make those cuts, but that was not the case. From 1976 to 1983 per capita grants for the wealthiest non-government schools increased by about 120 per cent. Whereas the recurrent and capital grants to government schools were being cut, the wealthiest non-government schools-the schools that least needed government assistance by any definition-had their grants increased by 120 per cent. What happened to the poorest schools in the private sector? Certainly they got some increased funding but only 60 per cent. The wealthiest schools in the non-government sector got a 120 per cent increase in funding; the poorest schools got only a 60 per cent increase and, of course, funding for government schools-the public schools that are available to all children in all parts of the country regardless of the children's ability, background, race, religion or anything else-got cut.

That is the situation that the Government inherited, that it the situation from which it had to start moving in order to redress inequities and that is the situation about which Senator Baume tried to create absolute hysteria amongst parents and teachers in the non-government sector. What did the Government do? It restored the balance. It certainly did not diminish in any way any provision for education but it did some redistributing. In 1984 the Government provided for a real increase of 2.8 per cent--

Senator Teague —Don't trust politicians.

Senator RYAN —These figures were supplied by the Schools Commission and the honourable senator has heard how much Senator Baume trusts the Schools Commission. There was nearly a 3 per cent increase in real funding. That increase was made up of a 5.6 per cent increase for government schools, which had fared so badly, a 1.5 per cent increase for non-government schools and a redistribution of funds about which we heard a great deal from Senator Baume. Redressing that balance is something for which the Government makes no apologies; it is something which I now think is widely accepted throughout the government and non-government sectors alike. Subsequent to the first reorganisation, the Government is now committed to total general recurrent outlays to non-government schools for the next four-year period of $2.517 billion. At the same time, the total general recurrent outlay for government schools will be $1.456 billion, which is a more balanced situation than the one the Government inherited.

That outstanding record of equitable and generous treatment to both sectors was widely acclaimed throughout the non-government sector at the time. It was very disappointing for Senator Baume to have to face up to that but he had to because that treatment was widely acclaimed as being fair and equitable and giving the schools the stability and security that they wanted. Why in the face of those facts did Senator Baume come in here today with this hysterically worded matter of public importance about a cold war of attrition? He did so because the Government has announced a new approach to the planning and expansion of the non-government sector. It is an approach which is based in its entirety on a report received from a panel of commissioners of the Schools Commission, again a body for which Senator Baume professed only a few minutes ago to have the highest regard.

Senator Peter Baume —My praise was for the officers.

Senator RYAN —I must put that on the record. Senator Baume now wishes to withdraw his praise for the Schools Commission; his praise is reserved only for the officers. Apparently the commissioners are under some suspicion from Senator Baume. Who are the commissioners who drew up this report which is being described as guerilla warfare and in other exaggerated terms? One of them is Sister Denise Desmarchelier, who is a principal of a Catholic school in Western Australia. In fact, I think it is the Catholic school which is the choice of Senator Baume's colleague, Senator Chaney. She is a very well regarded educationist, a person totally and absolutely involved in the Catholic education system. She was one of the commissioners who brought down this horrendous report! Another commissioner was Mr Vin Faulkner, Planning Officer of the Catholic Education Office in Victoria and a former Deputy Chairman of the National Catholic Education Commission. He is another of the authors of this report about which we are hearing such draconian criticism. Another commissioner is a person who Senator Baume probably knows very well, Professor Ronald Sackville, who is Co-Chairman of the Australian Co-ordinating Committee of Jewish Day Schools. He is another of the authors of this report which the Government has adopted in its entirety. The other two commissioners were the chairperson, Lindsay Connors, who is the Acting Chairperson of the Schools Commission, and Mr Doug Swan, who is Director-General of the New South Wales Department of Education.

If one were trying to assess the panel in terms of crude numbers, the non-government sector certainly had the numbers on that panel. However, it was not necessary to go into a crude numbers procedure with regard to the report because it was a unanimous report. The five commissioners consulted widely throughout the non-government sector and drew up a unanimous report which had the in-principle approval of all organisations in the non-government sector. This is the report which the Government intends to put into legislation and about which I made a statement last week. It is a report which provides for rational planning of the expansion of the non-government sector. Anyone would think from Senator Baume's remarks that it had something to do with restriction. It is a plan for expansion; that is what it is all about. It is about how to manage the growth of the non-government sector in such a way as to be fair to the people who start schools, fair to the people who have already invested a lot of time and energy in building up schools, be they government or non-government, and fair to the children themselves. Those children deserve better than what has happened to some children in the past when Senator Baume was Minister for Education and schools were set up by inexperienced groups and immediately got massive Commonwealth funding but, within a few short months, collapsed with disastrous effects for the children, who then had to be replaced in other schools. Senator Baume cannot deny that under the libertarian, ad hoc approach of his Government this kind of thing happened. Nor can Senator Baume claim that that kind of disruptive experience is good for the children. It is certainly not fair to the schools from which the children are withdrawn or the schools which have to re-accommodate the children. It certainly involves a waste of public and private money and private effort. Nobody's interest is served by an ad hoc, ill-planned approach to something as important as starting a school.

The fact that the Government has had as a policy since August of last year 24 months requirement for notice to be given of a new school seems to me-I am sure it does to all reasonable people-to be a perfectly reasonable approach. Anybody who has had anything to do with a school knows that one could not properly plan, organise and get a school started in less than 24 months. The task is simply too big. If one does hire a hall somewhere, put a few kids in it and start a school overnight, the likelihood is that that school will not last very long. The Government now has a new approach to the planning of the expansion of the non-government sector. It is an approach based on the broadest possible consultation with that sector and other interested parties. It is an approach which led to a report which was a complete consensus document and a report which has not, in its contents, been criticised by any major non-government group. Certainly reservations have been expressed from some quarters about how it will work out in practice, but I think that the principles of co-operative planning between the government and non-government sectors and of rational use of scarce resources to prevent unnecessary duplication or to prevent the collapse of schools, have not been challenged by anyone. The only challenge has come from Senator Baume, who chooses to ignore all the good work done by those commissioners, all the co-operation and constructive effort of the various groups in the community who made submissions to that panel and the benefits that will flow both to existing schools and to schools as they get established in this rational and properly planned way. Senator Baume chooses to ignore all this in the hope that he can whip up a bit of a frenzy and attract a few votes for himself over the next few months. I am afraid that Senator Baume's attempts will be just as unsuccessful as they were in 1983 and 1984 because the new arrangements will provide a much higher degree of satisfaction to all people seeking Commonwealth funding than the previous arrangements ever did.

I must make another comment on the implication of the line Senator Baume takes on this matter, not only here in the chamber but publicly. He seems to suggest that there should be no limit at all on the funding of non-government schools. His very distorted and selective response to a report that has just come from the Australian Capital Territory Schools Authority about the sort of choices that people make in the Australian Capital Territory was simply to say that there should be more money for private schools. That is his sole contribution to education policy. We think that there should be more money for all schools. We believe that all schools in Australia are entitled to support from us and we are providing that support. But we know, too, that there are limits to public spending and because we recognise that and we are not going to pretend that all people can have exactly the amount of dollars that they have decided to ask for, we have brought down properly worked out, balanced and equitable policies which will bring about an unprecedented period of harmony and co-operation for schools throughout Australia.