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Tuesday, 29 November 1983
Page: 2990

Mr LUSHER(6.10) —This debate on the States Grants (Education Assistance- Participation and Equity) Bill and cognate Bills is of fundamental importance to people right across Australia and particularly to parents in Australia. That is what honourable members opposite have to understand about this debate. They can talk all they like about figures and percentages and that sort of thing, but the fact of the matter is that out there in grass roots Australia this is an issue. It is not an issue which is being drummed up or stirred up by us; but it has become an issue because of the actions of the Minister for Education and Youth Affairs (Senator Ryan) in the Hawke Government. It is as simple as that.

Last night in my electorate in the town of Cowra 700 people came along to a public meeting which had been organised by parents to express their concern about what is going on in the field of education in this country. Some 700 people attended. They came in buses from Dubbo, Nyngan, Warren, Junee, Wagga Wagga, West Wyalong and Cootamundra. All 700 of them came to Cowra to let this Government know what they think about its policies.

Mr Hunt —And that was not the only meeting.

Mr LUSHER —No. The Minister for Education did not come, but she sent the honourable member for Macquarie (Mr Free) as a representative and as a person from the Australian Labor Party who is interested in education. Some 20 people from the Government side are listed to speak in this debate and we assume that all of them have some interest in education. The honourable member for Macquarie is not one of the speakers on the list. It interests me that the honourable member for Macquarie was sent to Cowra by the Minister to defend her policy last night before 700 concerned parents and that he is not amongst the list of 15 of his colleagues who are to speak in the debate today. The honourable member for Gwydir (Mr Hunt) made the point-and so he should-that the meeting in Cowra was not the only meeting. That is true. There was a meeting in the Sydney Town Hall which he and I and some of our colleagues attended a couple of weeks ago. Some 5 ,000 parents went there to express their points of view on this Government's education policy. What has been going on in Albury, Dubbo, Ballarat, and I do not know how many other centres around Australia-

Mr Hunt —Bourke.

Mr LUSHER —Bourke.

Mr Hunt —Echuca.

Mr LUSHER —Echuca.

Mr Hodgman —Hobart.

Mr LUSHER —You name it. The fact of the matter is that parents do not come out in their hundreds and in their thousands to meetings of that nature unless they are concerned about what is going on. Honourable members opposite cannot say that the Leader of the Opposition (Mr Peacock), the honourable member for Bennelong (Mr Howard), the Leader of the National Party of Australia (Mr Anthony ) and I are out there stirring up trouble.

Mr Hand —You are.

Mr LUSHER —The honourable member for Melbourne says we are stirring up trouble. He is giving us great credit in saying that we are able to attract crowds of 5, 000 to listen to us. They are coming out because they are concerned about what is going on in the area of education policy. This is an issue on which emotions run hot, and so they should, because it is an issue which goes to one of the fundamental rights of the citizens of Australia.

Mr McVeigh —What is that?

Mr LUSHER —That is the fundamental freedom of choice of parents to be able to educate their children in the school of their choice and to receive some support in terms of a refund of their taxes for so doing. That is the issue and it is a simple one. Over a long period of years in Australia, education policy has developed around one simple and fundamental thing, that is that there will be a nexus between the cost of educating a child in a government school and the cost of educating a child in a non-government school. It cannot be much simpler than that. That formula has allowed certainty in the education policy of this country . It has allowed people who are involved with schools and councils to be able to plan.

What has been happening for years is simply this: A category 1 non-government school-that is a school where parents make the bigger effort in terms of sacrifice to pay fees-receives 20 per cent of the cost of educating a child. A category 2 school gets that 20 per cent plus 10 per cent more for need. A category 3 school-this category educates about 80 per cent of the children who are in non-government schools-gets the 20 per cent base grant plus 20 per cent for need. What Senator Ryan has done, and what has caused so much concern out there amongst the community of parents in Australia, is that she has busted that nexus. She has said: 'No more will there be any fixed relationship between the cost of educating a child in a government school and the cost of educating a child in a non-government school. From here on in it is arbitrary. You might get something, but I am not giving you any guarantees'. So all the certainty has gone out the window. All the planning has gone out the window.

The rights of parents and their freedom of choice are now under threat. Is it any wonder that people are now coming out in their hundreds and in their thousands to protest at what this Government and this Minister are doing? It does not surprise me a bit. Honourable members opposite cannot say that it is an issue which has been stirred up by the Opposition. It has been stirred up by parents who are fair dinkum and genuinely concerned about what is being done to their rights as parents. These are rights which have been fought for over years and years and which have been put under threat by the actions of this Government .

Mr Braithwaite —The Government did it itself. It stirred them up.

Mr LUSHER —That is the key issue in this debate. A range of other issues needs to be mentioned. In the category 1 schools, that is those schools which the Government regards as wealthy because the poor parents of the poor kids make a huge sacrifice to send those kids to those schools--

Ms Mayer —It costs $4,000 a year to do it. That is not a poor parent.

Mr Hodgman —They think it is funny.

Mr LUSHER —The Government thinks it is a joke. It might interest the honourable member for Chisholm (Ms Mayer) to know that in category 1 schools parents pay 51 per cent of the cost of educating their children. If those kids were to go to the local government high school, the Government would pick up 100 per cent of the cost. These parents make the sacrifice. They exercise their freedom of choice to get their kids away from the teachers federations. They want to get them into a system which has decent standards and some discipline, a system in which some effort is required of the children and some learning is done. The parents pay 51 per cent of the equivalent standard cost of educating a child in a government school. Because those parents are making that sacrifice and paying 51 per cent of the cost, the Government is saying to them: 'We are going to reduce the 20 per cent basic grant that you get by 25 per cent and we are going to reduce it by another 25 per cent next year. We are going to reduce it by another 25 per cent in year 3 and by another 25 per cent in year 4.'

Ms Mayer —Who said that?

Mr LUSHER —Senator Ryan. So by the time we get to year 4, those category 1 schools will not be getting any of the present 20 per cent basic grant from federal taxpayers' coffers. That means that parents who are now paying 51 per cent of the standard cost of educating children in those schools will be paying the lot, because the State government, at least in New South Wales, is withdrawing funding at the same rate from those schools. Across Australia there are 41 schools in that category. In the State of New South Wales there are 15. Those 15 schools in New South Wales are getting the same treatment that they are getting from Canberra. In the poorest possible schools, that is the schools where parents contribute 30 per cent or less of the standard cost--

Mr Lloyd —Madam Deputy Speaker, I raise a point of order. Can we have the microphones checked? The voice of the honourable member for Chisholm, who is speaking at just an ordinary level, seems to be coming through a microphone that should be turned off.

Madam DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mrs Darling) — Order! There is no point of order.

Mr LUSHER —There is that 25 per cent reduction in the basic grant to category 1 schools. In category 3 schools the private element is 30 per cent or less. That means that the Government is paying 20 per cent, there is a needs element of 20 per cent, the State government is giving 16 per cent and 30 per cent or less is coming from parents. If those schools try to do something to raise the standard of education available for the students in those schools so that parents are asked to pay an increased amount in fees and the private effort goes over 30 percent, what happens? I will tell honourable members what will happen. The needs grant goes from 20 per cent down to 10 per cent. So as a result of increasing the effort that the parents make on behalf of their children the Government says: 'Thanks very much. We will reduce the needs element of your grant from 20 to 10 per cent'. That is the sort of anomaly, that is the sort of stupidity, that this Government is implementing and which is being supported by its members. I think it is an absolute joke. If the honourable member for Chisholm wants to go around the schools in her electorate and tell them that, I will be happy to come along with her and make sure that she does not distort the truth.

What else has happened? Let me look at the cynicism. The other night I heard this story; it is absolutely delightful. When the Minister for Education and Youth Affairs was appointed by the Prime Minister (Mr Hawke) he called her in and said: 'There are only two things I want to tell you, Sue. The first thing is keep the tykes on side and the second thing is do not cross the Teachers Federation'. Was not that interesting? The Minister went away with her riding instructions and said: 'The Prime Minister does not want me to get the tykes off side so what I have to do is fix these wealthy schools without getting the tykes off side'. She worked out a way of making sure that there were no cuts in any of the 41 schools.

Mr Maher —Madam Deputy Speaker, I raise a point of order. I draw your attention to Standing Order 75 which states:

'No Member may use offensive words against either House of the Parliament or any Member thereof . . .'

I draw your attention to the Standing Orders because I believe the Leader of the Opposition got away with some considerable excesses. The honourable member for Hume is attacking personally in a most offensive manner the Minister in another place and that is in breach of Standing Orders.

Madam DEPUTY SPEAKER —Order! I take the point made by the honourable member for Lowe. It is a point of order. I believe that a word was used in a derogatory manner and I ask the honourable member for Hume to use the Queen's language when he is speaking of people.

Mr Lloyd —What is a tycoon then?

Mr LUSHER —I am not too sure what the word means. The honourable member for Lowe (Mr Maher) has graduated from bus stops to parish schools. It is about time, because he has a lot of poor parish schools in his area and the bishops who are in charge of them are expressing inordinate concern. I am sure that half of the 5,000 people who came to the Sydney Town Hall came from the electorate of Lowe. It is about time that the honourable member stood up and took notice of that and tried to talk some sense into this Government. All it is doing is creating a divisive issue in the community and it is doing it in such a way that it will re -open the wounds that have been healed for years and years in relation to State aid. What I want to say and what is important is that no Catholic schools were included in the 41 which were on the hit list. However, what the Government did was to tip the whole of the couple of million dollars that it took off the 41 schools into category 3 schools which are almost exclusively Catholic parish schools. If that is not designed to cause disruption in the education community I do not know what is. If it was done without malice and if it was not done deliberately-I am prepared to admit that it may have been-all I can say is that Senator Ryan needs to have her political head read because she ought to have foreseen the sorts of problems that might arise as a result of that action.

The next point of concern is the fact that next year is going to be an interim year for school funding. Regardless of whatever funding the schools get there are absolutely no guarantees about where we will go from there. The Commonwealth Schools Commission has been told to go away and bring back some guidelines, I understand, by early next year. The Minister has given undertakings that there will be consultation. There is a lot of concern as to whether in the time frame that is available that consultation will be adequate. In any event that is a cause for concern because there is absolutely no certainty about where we are going.

The next point of concern is the impact statement which has been developed by Senator Ryan so that there can be controls over the new places in non-government schools and over the establishment of new non-government schools. That ought to be of concern to the honourable member for Lowe, the honourable member for Chisholm and a range of honourable members on the other side of the House. If the growth in the number of students at the Concord parish school is such that it demands a new classroom or a new classroom block there is no way in the world that that is going to be done if the local teachers federation says that that will have an adverse effect on the local government school. That is what it is all about, that is why parents are concerned and why would they not be concerned ?

Mr Maher —I will tell you about the Concord parish school.

Mr LUSHER —The honourable member ought to be concerned because he has kids at such schools. What is happening? What is happening is simply this: Kids are leaving government schools in droves and they are going into non-government schools. My colleague the honourable member for Darling Downs (Mr McVeigh) told me this morning about a school where 157 parents in Queensland had applied to send their children to a local Catholic school and the headmaster had to turn them away. There was no room. That is indicative of the extent of the problem. What is wrong with education in Australia today is simply this: It is not doing the job. It is not meeting the aspirations of parents, it is not meeting the needs of the children and it is not meeting the needs of the employer. People in the market-place are trying to send signals, as clearly as possible, to governments at Federal and State levels, that they are dissatisfied with education in this country. Why do honourable members think that in ever increasing numbers parents are sending their children to the non-government school sector and getting them out of the government school sector? Is it because they are happy about what they are getting in the government sector? It is time the government sector sat back and took notice of this and said: 'What are we doing wrong? Why are we losing customers? Why are we losing community support?' It is about time the Government had a good look at the matter and started to understand it instead of saying: 'What we have to do is victimise the system to which those parents choose to send their children.' They are exercising their free democratic choice by sending their children to the schools at which they prefer to have them educated and they pay money for it. That is the laugh. The Government wants to have us believe that this wonderful system, this government school system, is such that everyone will want to be educated in it.

Mr Maher —What do you have against government schools? What is wrong with government schools?

Mr LUSHER —I say to the honourable member that parents are leaving that system in droves and are putting their children into independent schools. They have the freedom of choice to put their children in schools that have lower resource levels than the government schools and they have to pay money for the privilege to do it. If that does not indicate to the Government that there is something fundamentally wrong with the system I do not know what does. The fact of the matter is that there is a burning issue in the community about the quality of education and the funding for education. The longer this Government tries to sweep the matter under the carpet, the longer this Government says that there is nothing wrong with the system, the longer this Government seeks to discriminate against the non-government school sector and the longer this Government seeks to impinge upon the freedom of choice of parents, the sooner this Government is going to meet its just deserts at the ballot box.

Sitting suspended from 6.30 to 8 p.m.