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Wednesday, 27 March 1985
Page: 898

Senator TEAGUE(4.06) —In this debate on funding for schools I have been preceded by the Liberal spokesman on education, Senator Peter Baume, the Labor Minister for Education, Senator Ryan, and the Australian Democrats spokesman on education, Senator Macklin. I agree with my colleague Senator Peter Baume that last Thursday's announcement by this Government of its total acceptance of all the recommendations in the report on 'Planning and Funding Policies for Non-Government Schools' amounts to a further serious step in the cold war, the war of attrition, that the Labor Government has launched against non-government schools.

Senator Macklin made two major points. He made the first with some degree of sentiment-I trust it was entirely genuine-and said: 'Let us get past talking about money and resources and past a polarised debate about money going to schools; let us talk about the real issues, the children in need of remediation, the method of teaching English in schools, the needs of multicultural communities, adult illiteracy, the requirements of Aboriginal schools and so on'. I agree entirely with him. I am sure that Senator Ryan and Senator Peter Baume, the former Minister, also agree that they are vital issues. Senator Zakharov, who will follow me in this debate, was once a counsellor in schools and is very much aware of problems that exist at every point of the education system.

I refer Senator Macklin to the last three or four major reports of the Senate Standing Committee on Education and the Arts, not least the one put down a few months ago on all the language issues in Australia. It is a mine of suggestions and of positive input. I make the distinction for Senator Macklin's benefit that these recommendations were supported not just by me, as a Liberal senator, but by Labor senators and Liberal senators who were fully involved with the evidence taken. They brought that constructive set of suggestions to this Senate and to the Government, as well as to the profession-indeed, to the schools, higher education authorities and all those employed in this field. I would love to debate those issues of substance at great length but let us not, out of sentiment, put aside what I regard as an even higher priority issue-the resources made available within Australia for educational purposes. Without the resources, schools, universities and colleges do not exist.

The second point Senator Macklin made concerned the argument-the slanging match, as he called it-between the Government and the Opposition and in regard to which he prefers to sit on the side benches. He concurred with the Government last Thursday that the adoption of the recommendations contained in the report was a brave new step. I could not believe it. He has no credibility in putting forward such a view. He said that this was nibbling at the margins for the sake of a political debate.

Senator Ryan —Absolutely.

Senator TEAGUE —Senator Ryan agrees with Senator Macklin. I profoundly disagree, and let me tell you why. In 1983 when the Government, true to its policy and basic philosophy, wanted to cut back non-government schools and bring about uniformity and equality of outcome-I take the phrase from Senator Ryan's own speeches-and to take up the philosophy of the Australian Teachers Federation, the Marxist and socialists in the Labor movement, it wanted a certain outcome from political philosophy. I am not surprised by that, but when it started to implement that policy it was resisted because we did not want to see non-government schools denied resources. We want to see government schools and non-government schools flourish, according to Australian families' own decisions. When the Labor Government philosophy was being enacted in 1983 by Senator Ryan as the new Minister, there was uproar in this country and in the chamber. As a result of what Senator Macklin calls nibbling at the margins, or just fomenting a political debate, as a result of that argument-it was a big argument-the Prime Minister (Mr Hawke) stepped in and said to his Minister: 'Despite the momentum of your decisions in 1983 and 1984 implementing Labor Party philosophy, I will pragmatically declare that there will be an eight-year funding regime that will give real increases to government schools and non-government schools'. That was just prior to the election last year. It was done to try to win back some of that middle ground, because 25 per cent of the Australian public are directly involved with non-government schools and another third of the Australian public wants to be involved. Fifty per cent of Australian families want their children to attend non-government schools, because they believe they will have a better educational outcome, better discipline and more substance in their education.

Senator Ryan —What do you believe?

Senator TEAGUE —I refer you directly to the Australian Capital Territory Schools Authority report entitled 'The Choice of Schools Study'. It was in the headlines with some flourish on Monday of this week. Pages 5 and 15 of that report show that, of the 67 per cent of families whose children attend government secondary schools, one-quarter would prefer that their children attend non-government schools. Because of the policies of this Government the barriers are too high and are making those non-government schools available only for the elite or for families who go to great sacrifice to allow their children to be enrolled in those schools. The waiting list is still enormous for non-government schools but last Thursday's decision of this Government effectively put up the barriers to real new funding for non-government schools. When we take the 33 per cent of families involved with non-government schools and add a quarter of the other two-thirds, we see that 50 per cent of the families in the Australian Capital Territory would prefer their children to attend non-government schools.

The issue of debate in 1983 was perceived rightly by the Prime Minister as an issue that could alienate very substantial numbers of votes from his Government, so he stepped in and announced an eight-year plan which saved the bacon. Senator Ryan was using that as her argument here today. She says: 'There is no dispute. Our record is better than yours in supporting non-government schools'. This is what she tried to maintain. Is she able to sustain her argument? No, she is not. The Prime Minister stepped in with this program. One of Senator Ryan's predecessors, Mr Dawkins in another place, was the shadow Minister for Education. In much the same way, he was faithful and true to Labor Party philosophy on schools funding. He went about the country alienating lots and lots of people in the middle ground, so the Leader of the Opposition of the day, Mr Hayden, put in, not the Centre Left spokesman, Mr Dawkins, but Mr Hurford. Mr Hurford was the shadow Minister for Education in the last months before the 1983 election. After Senator Ryan alienated not only this Senate in terms of the argument Senator Macklin complains about, but also the public at large, Mr Hawke from the Centre and Right of his Party stepped in and smoothed the waters until the election. So we have seen an on-again, off-again approach of divergence to and from Labor Party philosophy on schools funding.

Can Senator Ryan-or, for that matter, Senator Aulich, who has enormous experience in the education system in Tasmania, or Senator Cooney, who is about to speak in this debate-deny that there are greater numbers of persons within the Labor Party who want to annihilate non-government schools than there are in the Liberal Party? I do not know anyone in the Liberal Party who is putting forward that view, but many people in the Labor Party are. I am not saying they are a majority, but they are a significant lobby within the Labor Party that cannot be put aside. Maybe they are not in Senator Ryan's faction, but they want to deny the opportunity for non-government schools. That is a point on which the Government in office has diverged-on again, off again-and the decision last Thursday to put down every kind of barrier before the Government will provide capital funds for new non-government schools is the continuation of a war of attrition. We will, bit by bit, application by application, administrative decision by administrative decision, make it difficult for there to be any new non-government schools.

Last Thursday in a debate on this subject-Senator Ryan was absent at the time-I made some remarks along the lines that this decision is really to stop any real growth in enrolments in non-government schools. Senator Ryan wants to say to her own Party: 'We have put on the ceiling, we have put up the barriers; there will not be new non-government schools; they will have to go through this series of vetoes; they have to give two years notice; they have to show they are financially viable, but with increased stringency. Of course, they will have to meet the regulations of the State' we agree with this part 'in terms of educational standards. They will have to show that they will not interfere with the enrolment of any other neighbouring school. They will have to be established only in growth areas'. All of these vetoes will continue the attrition against non-government schools. I believe, contrary to Senator Macklin, that this argument-an argument between the Government and the Opposition-is not a trivial matter. It should be persisted in and we will persist in it because we want the Government again to turn around. The on-again, off-again dialectic has to go back off again to allow the legitimate concerns of Australian families to be met. When there is an increasing pressure of applications from parents to enrol their children in schools of their choice, why should a big brother government apply a bureaucracy to stop, put barriers, put vetoes, against the choices of individual families?

Senator Ryan, with Brownie badges all over her, said: 'We have given $50m in capital funds in the course of the Hawke Government to new non-government schools'. I put it to the Minister that the majority of that money was already in train through commitments made by the former Fraser Government. Under the Minister's first guidelines for non-government schools she backdated to the date of the election in March 1983 no new capital funding for non-government schools. I put it to the Minister that the majority of the money allocated was grants that had already gone through the stages of prior commitment in the Fraser Government period.

The second matter is that Senator Ryan claimed that from 1976 to 1982-during the period of the Fraser Government-that Liberal Government increased funding to non-government schools in recurrent terms and there was a real decline in the funding to government schools. 'Horror, horror, horror', she said. I put a question to the Minister and to the Senate: What about the enrolments? How is it possible for it to be otherwise when the enrolments in non-government schools during that period were increasing so rapidly because Australian families were exercising their right of choice? When there is a percentage link, a non-government school can gain only a certain per capita percentage of what a government school is receiving. A non-government school can receive only 20 per cent or 30 per cent of what a government school is receiving. Therefore, I ask the Minister to put it in per capita terms. I believe that in this attack upon non-government schools the Government is again buying an argument with the Opposition. We will defend the right of Australian families to enrol their children in schools of their choice. This debate will continue.

The DEPUTY PRESIDENT —Order! The honourable senator's time has expired.