Note: Where available, the PDF/Word icon below is provided to view the complete and fully formatted document
 Download Current HansardDownload Current Hansard   

Previous Fragment    Next Fragment
Wednesday, 8 May 1985
Page: 1517

Senator PETER BAUME —My question is directed to the Minister for Education. I refer to the recent school funding classifications released last week. Is it correct, as the Minister said in Adelaide on 5 May, that schools that increase their income levels may face penalties for this when they are next classified a couple of years down the track? On the other hand, is it not also true that the Government has determined that any school that fails to maintain its income level may be penalised for a failure to maintain effort in real terms? Does this mean that schools are locked into their present or lower funding categories?

Senator RYAN —Senator Peter Baume has taken a close interest in this matter since the decision was first announced. Since the guidelines announcing the formula and the way in which the formula would be applied have been matters of extensive discussion with schools, school representatives and, indeed, the public, I would have thought that he would have understood the system. The Schools Commission has categorised schools on the basis of their total income, with some allowances for capital expenditure and so forth, for a period of four years. At the end of the four-year period schools will have their circumstances reviewed. It is implied in the system, since it is a needs based system and needs are determined by a measurement of income, that if a school has for some reason a loss of income it could apply to be recategorised at a higher level of grant. If it has had a drastic increase in income it is implied in the scheme that it perhaps could be recategorised at a lower level of grant.

Another circumstance that may occur is that some disaster may befall the school. It may be burnt down or it could be in an area which is suddenly afflicted by high unemployment whereby parents are unable to pay fees; so during the four-year period there would be circumstances in which a school could have its position reviewed. However, in general the categorisation which the Commission has made after a very careful consideration of the incomes of schools will prevail for four years. As has been a matter of public knowledge for many months, at the end of the four-year period the circumstances of schools will be reassessed.

I would have thought that by now it would have been a publicly understood fact that schools are expected to maintain their effort. If a school has the capacity to achieve a certain amount of income by fees or other means, it is expected to maintain that effort. I suppose there is an assumption of goodwill by all parties concerned. If a certain school is able to operate at a certain level, and has been doing so for a number of years, it has a certain level of income and it ought to be able to maintain that effort, it will be required to maintain that effort by the Schools Commission.

If some involuntary circumstance prevented a school from maintaining its effort, of course there will be no penalty, but if a school simply chose not to maintain its effort then it would not be acting in accordance with the scheme. Senator Baume is very well aware that the scheme that was announced is basically the scheme recommended by the Schools Commission. It was widely accepted throughout the non-government sector-all of the key organisations in the non-government sector welcomed it and all of them said it was a considerable advance-that it would give them security and stability. All of them understood that because we were moving from a four-category system to a 12-category system there would be readjustments, that not every school would be readjusted favourably but that all schools would be categorised on a fair and thorough assessment of their circumstances.

My advice from the Schools Commission is that that has happened. A number of schools are appealing, which they are perfectly entitled to do. A number of other schools have not been categorised finally because they have not been able to provide the information the Schools Commission needs. In summary, the scheme which was announced last year, and which was understood and welcomed by the non-government sector, has now been put into place. Its essential features should remain in that form for four years.

Senator PETER BAUME —Mr President, I wish to ask a supplementary question. Did I understand correctly that the Minister said that if the schools voluntarily increase their cash income they stand to go to lower subsidy funding and if they voluntarily do not maintain their effort they also face going to a lower subsidy group?

Senator RYAN —If a school voluntarily increases its income to an extent which actually changes the income profile of the shcool, at the end of four years that will be taken into account. It must be. It is an inevitable consequence of the scheme. That is widely understood.

Senator Peter Baume —And if it voluntarily reduces it?

Senator RYAN —If it decides to voluntarily reduce its income-that is, not because of accidents or unforseen circumstances, but voluntarily-by drastic lowering of fees, of course that will be taken into account too. It is an income-based scheme, accepted by the non-government community.

Senator Peter Baume —They lose both ways.

Senator RYAN —We know Senator Baume's performance in this place. Senator Baume understands the scheme. He understands that the scheme was recommended by the Schools Commission after consultation with the non-government sector. He understands that the non-government sector accepted the scheme and the implications of the scheme which is a needs-based income tested scheme. Obviously, if we accept that we have a needs-based scheme-need being determined by income-then changes up or down will change the assessment of needs.