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Thursday, 11 May 1972
Page: 1608


Senator Sir KENNETH ANDERSON (New South Wales) (Minister for Health) (5.36) - by leave - The following statement was made by the Prime Minister, (Mr McMahon) in another place about an hour ago. Honourable senators will understand that where I use the first person singular pronoun it refers to the Prime Minister.

In this House on 9th December 1971, 1 announced measures for additional assistance to both government and independent schools to help them in areas of particular and immediate concern. Honourable members will recall that those proposals, for which legislation has since been enacted, involved unmatched capital grants totalling $20m for government schools in the States over the 18 months to June 1973, together with an increase in the rates of per capita Commonwealth grants towards the running costs of independent schools in the States estimated to cost $9.7m in 1972. There was also an increase in the per capita grants to independent schools in the Australian Capital Territory and the Northern Territory.

The Government has now decided on longer term measures for direct assistance to both government and independent schools throughout Australia. Our decision has been taken against the background of the direct and indirect contribution which the Commonwealth is already making to education in schools. I remind honourable members that under the general financial assistance arrangements with the States, the Commonwealth is meeting approximately half of the recurrent expenditure on government schools. In almost every year for a number of years, the Commonwealth has made a substantial contribution by way of special loans to support the overall works and housing programmes of the States from which the States finance capital construction in schools. State schools have also had the benefit of unmatched Commonwealth capital grants for science laboratories and libraries in secondary schools.

The independent schools in the States have received capital grants from the Commonwealth for science laboratories and libraries in secondary schools. Since 1970 the Commonwealth has been making per capita grants towards the running costs of both primary and secondary independent schools and, under the measures announced last December, those per capita grants were increased to their present rates of $50 per head in primary schools and $68 per head in secondary schools.

Notwithstanding the assistance already being given to the States, we are convinced of the need for the States, on a longer term basis, to devote more resources to the building of new schools and the replacement of outmoded and crowded accommodation than they are likely to be able to make available from their general purpose funds. Therefore, as a measure of assistance which will facilitate forward planning, we have decided to offer unmatched capital grants over a 5-year period for government primary and secondary schools. These grants will commence in July 1973 and carry on when the present $20m programme has been completed. Over the 5 years to June 1978 the Commonwealth will provide $167m, and the annual rate will be $31m in the first 2 years rising to $3 5m in the 3 later years of the programme.

This increase in the annual rate from 1975-76 is in recognition of the fact that the grants specifically for science laboratories will cease in June 1975. It is part of the Commonwealth's intention that outstanding demands for science laboratories for government schools be met thereafter from within this new programme I have just announced. These unmatched capital grants will be divided among the States on the basis of school enrolments.

Over the 5-year period, each State will receive the following:

 

As these grants are intended to increase expenditure on school buildings, we wish to have an understanding with each State that it will maintain the present share of total Joan funds being devoted to schools construction. We also wish 70 per cent of the funds to be used for additional facilities rather than replacement facilities. However, beyond these conditions, each State will be free to develop its own programme, including the provision of science laboratories and libraries in secondary schools. It is the Commonwealth's objective in making these general capital grants to permit flexibility, so that each State can select the priority areas for school construction as it sees them.

I turn now to the position of the independent schools about which the Government has stated its policy position clearly and precisely. Our policy is that, relying on their own efforts and with assistance from governments, the independent schools should be able to continue to provide places at a reasonable standard for that proportion of school population which in the past has sought education in nongovernment schools. It has become increasingly apparent that to give full effect to this policy the independent schools need assurances for the future, including assistance of a capital nature as well as continuing help with running costs on a basis that will take positive account of cost increases.

While the per capita grants towards running costs from both the Commonwealth and the States have been a major factor in keeping existing independent schools in operation, there are many newlydeveloping residential areas where parents are not able to exercise the choice between government and independent schools which is available to them elsewhere. There are also many independent schools which badly need to extend their classroom accommodation and other basic facilities or to replace temporary and outmoded buildings.

To assist in meeting this need for capital facilities, the Government has decided to make available a total of $48m over the 5 years commencing July 1973 in capital grants for the construction of classrooms and associated facilities in independent schools. For the first 2 years, these grants will be at an annual rate of $9m rising to $ 10m in the final 3 years. As with the government schools, the increase in the latter years is in recognition of the fact that the special funds for science laboratories will run out in June 1975.

Let me interpose at this point to explain that although the funds specifically for science laboratories in both government and independent schools will cease in 1975, the special programme for libraries for both government and independent schools for which funds have been approved to December 1974 will continue as an addition to this new general purpose programme because of the large outstanding requirement for libraries in both government and independent schools.

Returning to the capital grants for independent schools, these will be distributed among the States in proportion to enrolments in independent schools on the following basis over the 5 year period:

 

As for the government schools, it will be a condition of the grants that at least 70 per cent of the funds will be used for additional facilities rather than for replacement facilities. For the independent schools, the Minister for Education and Science (Mr Malcolm Fraser) will approve the individual projects and authorise the amount of assistance to each of them. It is the Government's intention that he have advice from a committee of experts on the facilities to be provided in particular schools together with advice from committees in the States on priorities among projects in individual independent schools.

This new measure of Commonwealth capital grants for both .government and independent schools will be the subject of legislation for specific purpose payments of a capital nature to the States. I am inviting the Premiers to accept the grants for their own schools and to co-operate in making payments, as approved by the Commonwealth, for the independent schools.

I come now to the important question of running costs in independent schools. The Commonwealth first entered this field in 1970 to help arrest a financial crisis which had developed for many independent schools. Following a review of the situation with which independent schools would be faced in 1972, we took action at the end of 1971 to increase the rates of our pe : capita grants. In our further consideration of the position of the independent schools, we have been impressed with the fact that they have no guarantees for the future. Although faced with rapidly increasing costs, they have had to rely on decisions taken by Commonwealth and State Governments independently and usually at different times in the spring ot one year about the funds to be available to those schools a few months later when the next school year commences.

Over the last 2 years, running costs in government schools have risen by over #80 per pupil at the primary level and by over $130 per pupil at the secondary level. Many independent schools have had to face even larger increases because of the higher rate of salary increases in their schools. Grants from Governments, although they have been substantially increased, have not kept pace with these increases in costs.

We believe the difficulties facing 'he independent schools can be resolved if the Commonwealth and the States join in assuring the independent schools that they will receive grants towards running costs on a continuing basis. These grants should be expressed in per capita terms and be set at a nominated percentage of the assessed cost of educating a child in government schools. After careful consideration of the level of support which would be appropriate in all the circumstances, the Government has decided to recommend to each State that it join with the Commonwealth in sharing equally the cost of making per capita grants to independent schools at a rate equivalent to 40 per cent of the assessed Australia-wide cost of educating a child in the government primary and secondary schools. We propose that this arrangement should operate for a period of 5 years from the beginning of 1973 and that the combined Commonwealth and State per capita rates be assessed and announced in the latter part of each calendar year for application from the beginning of the following calendar year.

I have written to the Premiers inviting them to join with the Commonwealth in a joint operation along these lines. I emphasise that the Commonwealth intends to meet its share of the proposed assistance to independent schools irrespective of the decision of the States. We hope that all States will join with the Commonwealth in this new measure because we and they share the responsibility to assist the independent schools. However, the Commonwealth will contribute its full half share from the outset even if a particular State feels obliged to move to its half share of assistance over a period of perhaps 2 or 3 years.

The assessment of the actual rates of assistance will require consultation with the States to determine an appropriate figure for the Australia-wide average of the per capita cost of running government schools. However, as an approximation we would expect that for 1973. the present Australian average of the combined Commonwealth and State per capita grants of around $92 per primary pupil and $119 per secondary pupil would increase to about $125 per primary pupil and $210 per secondary pupil. Putting it another way, the present rates of Commonwealth and State assistance are equivalent to about 29 per cent of the cost of educating a child in a government primary school and 23 per cent for a government secondary school compared with the 40 per cent for both primary and secondary schools the Government now proposes.

The following table illustrates the approximate cost to the Commonwealth and to the States of these increased per capita grants to independent schools in the full year 1973. I reiterate that these figures are subject to detailed assessment.

I am suggesting to the Premiers that my colleague, the Minister for Education and Science, the Honourable Malcolm Fraser, discuss the detailed application of these proposals for both government and independent schools with his colleagues in the States. One particular element in these discussions will be the determination of the conditions to be attached to the proposed combined per capita grants to independent schools. Discussions will also be required with the independent school authorities. lt is the Government's intention to introduce legislation during the Budget session to authorise special purpose grants to the States for these new' programmes.

These measures represent a new era in Commonwealth aid to all Australian schools. On the one hand we will now be providing general capital grants for the whole fabric of school buildings, both primary and secondary, and on the other hand, we will also be prepared to join with the States in ensuring that independent schools have a guaranteed level of support towards their running costs. We have been impressed by the arguments advanced by the States for their need to have, available general capital funds for their schools so that they might develop programmes tailored to their own individual needs. We have also accepted their argument that they should have a programme extending over a sufficient forward period to enable proper planning and systematic commitment of resources. Likewise we have accepted the arguments put forward by the independent schools about the necessity for assurances of continuing support in the face of cost increases so that they, too, could face the future with confidence in their ability to survive and to expand in step with the growth of the nation.

The Government is satisfied that the new measures I have outlined will represent a milestone in improving the education of all Australian children.

I move:

The the Senate take note of the Statement.

Debate (on motion by Senator O'Byrne) adjourned.

Sitting suspended from 5.52 to 8 p.m.

General Business Taking Precedence of Government Business at 8 p.m.







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