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Wednesday, 7 September 1983
Page: 527

Ms MAYER(7.34) —Last night, the honourable member for Wentworth (Mr Coleman) drew a bow across his violin strings on behalf of the six group 1 non- government schools in his electorate which are to experience a 25 per cent cut in their per capita funding. To have six of those schools in his electorate says something to all of us about the nature of the electorate. Having done that, the honourable member then donned his armour, leapt on to his horse and galloped off to attack that fearful threat to the poverty-stricken people in his electorate, the Minister for Education (Senator Ryan). His attack consisted of a number of misstatements about the intentions of the Minister and of the Government and a knowing misquotation of a review of a book written by Shirley Williams. I shall quote from a letter from the Minister published in the Canberra Times. The letter states:

On October 10, 1981, The Sydney Morning Herald published a review by me of Shirley Williams' book 'Politics is for People'. In the course of that review I referred to the following judgment made by Shirley Williams in her book: ''It is with reluctance that I for one conclude that the freedom to send one's children to an independent school is bought at too high a price for the rest of society.' '

Unfortunately, an editing error resulted in this comment being attributed to me .

That letter was in the Canberra Times yesterday, and I believe the honourable member for Wentworth had his attention drawn to it last night. However, his attack continued. The honourable member for Wentworth said that the Government is penalising the people who can least afford the increased fees that must result from the funding cuts.

Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER —Order! I remind the honourable member that under the Standing Orders it is not proper to refer to a previous debate.

Ms MAYER —My apologies. If parents who are paying $3,000 and more a year in fees for each of their children cannot pay any more than that, the school needs to look for ways to cut its excess spending. Freedom of choice in education is confined now to those people who are able to pay high school fees. Parents whose income is too low to pay those enormous fees charged by no less than six non- government schools in the electorate of Wentworth do not have the freedom of choice which the Opposition apparently holds dear. This Government wants to extend the freedom of choice of a higher quality of education to all Australian parents. We are aware that many families have both parents working simply to give their children a home to live in and three meals a day. Their children deserve and need a good education.

This Government has shown its commitment to real freedom of choice by the programs it is funding, by raising the level of per capita grants in all groups 2 and 3 non-government schools, and by maintaining the level of grant to the over 200 group 1 schools which do not have the large cash incomes of the 41 schools which will now have to make minor adjustments in their programs or ask the parents to pay more. If those schools raise their fees the parents have every right to complain to the school.

The Government has a Minister for Education who knows about education-a refreshing change for all of us who for so long had to deal with people whose understanding of education is limited to their school days experience. The participation and equity program, the computer education program, and the re- funding of the Curriculum Development Centre, all say something about our commitment to education for all children. Non-government schools are not denied participation in any of those programs. They are not denied access to the Curriculum Development Centre. It is because we understand the necessity for a high level of education for every Australian child that we have made it perfectly clear that our intention is not to destroy the non-government schools or any part of that system but indeed to support it and to support a level of education in government schools that makes freedom of choice a reality and not what it is at the moment-something confined to a very small proportion of the population.