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Monday, 6 December 2004
Page: 125

Senator ALLISON (9:51 PM) —by leave—I move:

That the House of Representatives be requested to make the following amendments:

(2) Schedule 2, page 119 (cell at table item 1, columns 3 to 6), omit “586”, substitute “658”.

(3) Schedule 2, page 119 (cell at table item 1, column 2), omit “8.9”, substitute “10.0”.

These requests are for increased funding for primary schools. Primary schools have been funded at a much lower rate than secondary schools for some time. While the rationale for this difference has to do with the broader curriculum that must be offered to secondary schools, primary schools are critically important for giving children a good start in their education. The states provide schools in lower socioeconomic areas with, on average, an extra $1,000 per student, but these schools generally have much higher numbers of students with special learning needs and such schools require smaller class sizes and specialist assistance that cannot be delivered with just $1,000 extra per student.

Intervention in the earliest years of schooling is most effective, particularly for those students who are disadvantaged by language, poverty or parents who are not well educated. Considering the government's recent focus on literacy rates you would expect it to support greater funding allocations for early intervention. The department's report, The sufficiency of resources for Australian primary schools, found:

Without additional financial and other resources, these goals are outside the reach of many schools, particularly those with lower SES intakes unable to attract high-quality community support, adequate private contributions from parents and high-quality staff.

The Australian Primary Principals Association responded to this report saying:

... the current system is inconsistent and inequitable and must be reviewed immediately.

The point of these amendments is to change the current arrangements whereby the federal government funds primary schools at 8.9 per cent of average primary school funding—that is, AGSRC for primary schools—but gives secondary schools 10 per cent of the average secondary school funding. So, in effect, primary schools are getting a double penalty: they get a lower AGSRC, and the federal government discounts that by a further 1.1 per cent. That may not sound like a lot but I am sure that primary schools could do a great deal with it.

I understand that this is just a historical anomaly so it is not something that has been determined recently. It has gone on year after year, funding cycle after funding cycle without a great deal of attention being paid to it. It is obvious that resources are not sufficient in primary schools. This would be one way of redressing some of that inadequacy. It makes good commonsense. I do not know whether the minister has any arguments or whether her staff have been able to tell her why primary schools receive 8.9 per cent of AGSRC while secondary schools get 10 per cent. The minister has just left the chamber so we are probably in a bit of trouble getting an answer. I do not know whether we need to suspend proceedings while the minister absents herself.

Senator Ferris —By way of explanation, the minister has taken a very short comfort stop.