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Monday, 27 June 1994
Page: 1991

Senator BELL —My question is directed to the Minister representing the Minister for Schools, Vocational Education and Training. I ask: does the minister agree with the New South Wales education minister that equity can be delivered to all schools by directing sponsorship funds to a central committee? Does the federal government condone the increasing level of private enterprise funding of public education? What will the government do to ensure that state governments will meet their responsibility to provide free compulsory and secular education to all Australian children?

Senator SCHACHT —First of all, the administration of schools is a state matter and the issue of accepting sponsorship is administered by state education departments. Private sector schools make their own individual arrangements. But the government believes it is appropriate that business, as one of the main beneficiaries of our school system, should make an investment in a suitable way—but we emphasise `in a suitable way'.

  All education ministers, Commonwealth and state, have agreed to a national voluntary code of conduct governing sponsorship in school education. There are some points of principle here about access for all students, the conditions associated with participation and whether the types of sponsorship activity involved are suitable for schools. I think all education ministers are aware of the need to monitor activities in this area. At the end of this answer, I will table the national code of practice for sponsorship and promotion in school education for the information of senators.

  The federal government has had discussions in the appropriate forums with state ministers of education. One of the areas of emphasis, as is outlined in the code, is to ensure that there is equity about any such sponsorship and that it is set within appropriate guidelines and rules. If there is debate about those, it ought quite rightly to be a community debate taken up with state and federal ministers. The federal government does not oppose outright sponsorship but believes that if there is to be sponsorship it is to be done within the code, open and transparent, and as part of community debate.

  I would also say, in case anybody makes the comment that sponsorship is required because of the lack of federal government involvement and spending in education, that since 1983 in real terms this government has increased the funding to schools by $1 billion. That means that there is now an annual budget of some $3 billion to schools in Australia from the federal government. This increase has now been legislated to 1996, giving schools security and stability in their arrangements for Commonwealth funding.

Senator BELL —Mr President, I ask a supplementary question. That is all very well, but the minister did not answer the question about what this government sees its role to be to ensure that all state governments deliver free compulsory and secular education to all Australian children. The minister seems to indicate that it is the role of business to be involved in that. Does he not agree that this sponsorship has occurred only because governments have abrogated that role themselves? They have walked away from it, allowing the hole for businesses to fill.

Senator SCHACHT —I certainly believe there may be some evidence that state governments have reduced funding and, therefore, may find it convenient to find extra money through sponsorship. But, as I indicated, in real terms this government has increased the money for schools in Australia by $1 billion. The allocation of resources of state budgets is a matter for state governments and that is a matter which Senator Bell and other senators or members of parliament may wish to take up with their appropriate state governments.

Senator Kernot —That is the way you pass the buck all the time.

Senator SCHACHT —Senator Kernot says that that is how we pass the buck all the time. When we do make judgments to give indications and to direct state funds through tied grants, there is a political outcry that this is creeping centralism. It is not a view that we have in this federal government, but where appropriate we do give guidelines and we do indicate how we think our money should be spent for the benefit of the overall community, particularly for schools.