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Thursday, 10 November 1983
Page: 2585

Mr MAHER —My question is directed to the Minister representing the Minister for Education and Youth Affairs. The Australian Labor Party's election speech pledged an additional $37m to State schools and an additional $16m to assist the most needy non-government schools. As the inherited Budget deficit prevented either grant being made in full this year-

Mr SPEAKER —Order! The honourable member knows that he should not include argument. I invite him to ask his question.

Mr MAHER —Certainly, Mr Speaker. Will the Minister refute the allegation made at a meeting in Sydney that the shortfall to non-government schools was paid to the state school system?

Mr DAWKINS —I thank the honourable member for his question. I acknowledge the assiduous nature with which the honourable member for Lowe has concentrated on the needs of all schools within his electorate. Indeed, very soon after he was elected he attempted to get Ministers for Education to visit the electorate of Lowe to look at some of the appalling circumstances which existed within government and non-government schools within that electorate. Minister after Minister refused to accept his invitation to visit Lowe and to examine the schools. I, on the other hand, accepted an invitation to visit the schools. I looked at the circumstances of one school by the name of the All Hallows school which would be a disgrace to any government which held out any pretence of having the objective of equality of educational opportunity. That school was, and still is, desperately in need of capital assistance from the Federal Government-that is where capital assistance for non-government schools comes from-in order to provide even an acceptable standard for the children attending it. The former Minister for Education, Senator Peter Baume, apparently one day during the election campaign happened across the All Hallows school, knocked on the door, said that he was just passing by and asked whether he could have a look. But apparently outside of the context of an election campaign it is impossible to get Liberals to face up to the depressed circumstances of these schools.

It is perfectly true that in the circumstances which we inherited we were not able to go as far as we wanted in relation either to government schools or non- government schools. But we have established the very important objective of applying the financial resources we have to the schools throughout the country, with the poorest circumstances, whether they are government schools or non- government schools. As the Prime Minister has already indicated, our policies have led to the fact that this year $5m has been provided for the poorest non- government schools in Australia in addition to what would have been available under the continuing policies of our predecessors. This also draws attention to the very close co-operation and involvement of both the government and non- government school systems in the decisions that are taken in relation to these matters.

In relation to the allocation of capital funds for non-government schools, I point out that representatives of the non-government schools sit on State planning and finance committees of the Commonwealth Schools Commission. They have been responsible for making recommendations on the allocation of some $51m for next year, including $9m for new places. So there has been an attempt to work up an hysterical campaign in relation to this matter. As the Prime Minister has said, we make no apologies at all for our objective of ensuring that all children throughout this country have an equal opportunity to achieve the highest possible educational standard that is available to them. That is in sharp contrast with the policies which were pursued by our predecessors.