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Wednesday, 2 November 1983
Page: 2247

Mr DAWKINS (Minister for Finance)(7.19) —I close this debate by thanking those who contributed to it. The debate has obviously been wide-ranging . It has been fascinating to see so many members of the Opposition making what I suspect is their first contribution to an education debate-and my, how it showed ! However, many of the contributions from those opposite had a disappointing aspect. They revealed a determination on the part of those honourable members to further inflame the State aid controversy which they had meticulously rekindled during their period of office. One of the basic thrusts of the approach that this Government has taken has been to try to quell the passion in that debate which everyone will recognise has been a great diversion in relation to sensible discussions of the funding of schools throughout Australia. Indeed, the policies we have pursued have been designed more than anything to heal that rift and to ensure that we are able to pursue a policy which is fair and equitable and which addresses the needs of children and schools throughout Australia.

Our policy is not designed to advantage particular classes of schools. It is not designed to disadvantage any class of school. Yet, particularly the contribution of the honourable member for Denison (Mr Hodgman) really revealed how miserable this debate can become when it is pursued in the way he chose to pursue it. I do not think the interests of school children, schools or parents are advanced by honourable members of this House deliberately deciding to inflame passions on either side of that debate. Because a number of quotations were used by honourable members opposite I will briefly quote from a letter from the Catholic Education Office of Victoria. It states:

It is my hope that a major achievement of the guidelines will be to forestall the divisive debates that have occurred in the education community over recent years. The reasonable balance of funding for government and non-government schools should ensure that result.

I think that is a very important accolade the Minister for Education and Youth Affairs (Senator Ryan) has received from a very important element of the school community. The basic proposition the Government starts from is that all schools are eligible for funding, whether they be government or non-government schools. But the Governments sees no justification, particularly at a time of great budgetary restraint, for providing substantial subsidies to a small group of schools whose resource standards and facilities vastly exceed that standard which we support in government schools or which we tolerate in the vast majority of non-government schools. As a result of the policies of our predecessors we have seen a growing gap between those schools which have excellent resources and the vast majority of schools, whether they be government or non-government, which have quite unacceptably low standards. The whole approach of the Government's funding of schools this year has been designed to close that gap and to provide a very real and important increase to those schools which have the poorer circumstances.

It is worth noting that group 3 schools, which are the most disadvantaged of all schools in the country, in fact have received $5m under this Government's policies than they would have received under the policies of our predecessors. I think that has to be kept in mind when people are assessing the criticisms that have been levelled by honourable members opposite. There have been a number of important new initiatives including $9m in 1983 for new places. A new computer education program has been introduced. There has been a return to restrospective cost supplementation which will be of enormous advantage to education administrators because it will restore the notion of certainty in the level of funding which has been absent over the last few years.

The important point is that the Government had less than four months to review and reform the funding policies for schools because of the time at which the election was held and the time when we came into office. Notwithstanding the very constraining budgetary circumstances, the Minister for Education and Youth Affairs has really taken giant strides in terms of extending the notions of equity and fairness into the funding of schools and restoring a sense of purpose and progress into the education policies throughout this country. I think that as a result of these policies we will see more kids staying longer at schools and the schools they stay in will, by and large, be better schools. Surely that is an objective about which we can all agree.

I want to address a couple of points. The honourable member for Mallee (Mr Fisher) particularly made much of the fact that my colleague, the Minister for Education and Youth Affairs, is absent. He ought to be aware that she is attending very important conferences including one of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation in Paris. He will be delighted to know that she will in fact be returning on Sunday and will be able to participate actively in the debate on those important funding Bills to which he made reference.

Mr Ruddock —She was supposed to go to a parents' meeting in Sydney.

Mr DAWKINS —I am sure she will have time to go to even those sorts of meetings as well. She has no qualms about attending those kinds of meetings. Most of the parents who have kids at those non-government schools will very quickly realise that those schools will improve much more rapidly under the policies of this Government than they would have under the policies of our predecessors. I thought it was fairly fatuous for honourable members opposite to raise the question of enrolments in tertiary education. We have seen participation rates fall in tertiary education. In fact, 25,000 kids are missing from universities and colleges of advanced education around Australia as a result of the policies of our predecessors. This year we have provided an additional $10m to take the first steps towards opening new places in universities and colleges.

It is true that many colleges and universities have been over-enrolling-that is , they have more students than they have been funded for. Part of these additional funds will assist the circumstances of those universities and colleges. But by and large we will see an increase in enrolments next year and I am sure that will be a very welcome development. Of course, we have not had the opportunity to provide much additional funding in the form of capital assistance for universities and CAEs but that is largely because in many universities and colleges there is an unused capacity which can be used to take up these new enrolments. The development of capital programs, which the Government acknowledges are very urgent and have been sadly neglected in recent times, will be addressed in future Budgets.

The other fatuous point, I think, is to criticise the moves the Government has made in relation to tertiary education assistance scheme allowances. For three out of the last five years or so our predecessors made no changes to the level of TEAS and for a long time TEAS languished in a state of ever-reducing allowances. We have been able more or less to maintain the value of TEAS and, indeed, to extend the eligibility so that nobody who received TEAS last year would be denied it this year. Clearly we have not gone as far as we would like to go but the circumstances of the Budget and the priorities of the Government were such that we decided to give greatest priority to support for kids in secondary schools to encourage them to stay at school so that there is a greater capacity to increase tertiary enrolments thereafter.

On the matter of isolated students and so on the Government is giving full consideration to the report on living away from home facilities for isolated children and will be making decisions in due course. However, in the meantime, there has been a 7 per cent increase in the boarding allowance and also some increase in relation to the eligibility or the means test arrangements for it. All in all, I think we have seen the beginning of a very great deal of progress, a great deal of reform in the area of education, which will mean that the opportunities for all kids will be greatly enhanced regardless of wherever kids live and whatever schools they go to throughout Australia. To claim that this in some way inhibits or limits the capacity of parents to choose is just quite untrue. What will happen is that the vast majority of kids in poorer quality schools will see the circumstances of their schools improve in a way which will vastly improve educational opportunities throughout the country. I indicate that the Government does not accept the amendment that has been moved and the amendments that were foreshadowed by the Opposition. I suggest that we move to deal with the matter now.

Amendment negatived.

Original question resolved in the affirmative.