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Tuesday, 29 November 1983
Page: 2997

Mr PORTER(8.20) —The States Grants (Education Assistance-Participation and Equity) Bill, the States Grants (Schools Assistance) Bill and the States Grants (Tertiary Education Assistance) Amendment Bill are being debated at a time of enormous public concern about the Government's intentions regarding the availability of funds to educate young people in Australia. Two matters I want to refer to in particular are the funding of non-government schools and the funding made available to residential university colleges. The funding for residential university colleges is dealt with under the States Grants (Tertiary Education Assistance) Bill, one of the three Bills which we are debating cognately tonight. At present collegiate residences at universities and colleges of advanced education receive an operating subsidy of about $9 per student per week. This subsidy will be reduced by 25 per cent in 1984 pending a review by the Commonwealth Tertiary Education Commission of future arrangements for support for student accommodation.

Before I talk about university colleges I suppose I ought to declare an interest. I went to such a college and, as such, am an old collegian. I also continue to have an interest in that I do, on occasions, make contributions when they are seeking donations in order that the college may continue its work and in order that student fees may be kept down to enable as many students as possible to receive the benefits of accommodation and other facilities which are provided for students during their university studies. The Minister for Education and Youth Affairs (Senator Ryan) has decided to review the future funding arrangements for such student accommodation. But before the review body has had a chance to put in a report she has taken unilateral action to reduce the Government assistance provided. That is totally consistent with this Government's irresponsible and non-sensical approach to these issues. First, the Government has cut the funding, then it has set up a review to see whether it should have cut the funding. One could not find a more incoherent approach to Government policy making. Mark you, this is not the only area in which this is being done. The Minister for Education and Youth Affairs has taken the same attitude to the funding of non-government schools. But I shall deal with that in a moment.

University residential colleges are places where university students, especially from country areas, can be accommodated whilst undertaking their university courses. Because of the limited number of universities and CAE's in country areas, if country students want to pursue tertiary education more often than not they have to go to the city and, therefore, they have to find accommodation. Universities and CAE's provide a residential base where life is oriented around the educational institution in such a way as to be supportive of these young men and women trying to attain tertiary education qualifications. I know that some country parents whose daughters especially are going to the city perhaps for the first time feel more at ease, at least in the first few years, to know that their children have a residential base at a university college which provides a supportive and relatively secure environment. This is particularly the case where the family has in the city no relations on whom they can rely.

No doubt the Government will argue that country people should be able to afford this increase in fees because the drought has broken. Let me tell the Government that just because the drought has broken it does not mean that farming families are suddenly out of their financial difficulties. Certainly for the grain growers the prospects are brighter than they were, but most have not yet got their crop off, nor have they been paid. When they do get their grain cheque, where will the money go? Of course, after the hard years we have had it will go to repay debts and reduce mortgages. Some farmers will make a start on maintenance which has been put off for so many years, or perhaps they will try to replace old equipment. Other sections of the industry have yet to see the benefits of the breaking of the drought. Lamb prices have been down, wool prices are flat and many cattle prices have fallen since March-April when the drought broke. Of course, many farmers are in the process of rebuilding their sheep flocks and cattle herds. In addition, they face problems which have been incurred recently as a result of the Government's selective action in imposing large new burdens on the rural sector. I will give a few examples: The Government imposed a 200 per cent increase on meat inspection charges; it has imposed a new wine tax.

Mr Maher —Stick to the Bill, for goodness sake.

Mr PORTER —I can understand the honourable member's embarrassment. Not only is he from a city electorate, he also amply represents the Government. He has no idea of what is happening out in the bush and the problems the people there face . This education Bill will affect the country people. Their children go to university colleges and the honourable member just does not care. That is the problem with this Government. The honourable member is a very good example. He sits smug in his electorate in Sydney and thinks the rest of Australia can go to hell. Well I am telling the honourable member that the rural people will not let him allow the rest of Australia to go to hell and he will be reminded of that at the next election. As I was saying, despite the promise made by this Government to impose no wine tax, it has imposed a wine tax. It has increased phone charges . The Government has broken nearly every promise it made to the rural industry. For example, promises made in respect of wool promotion funding, the national soil conservation program-

Mr SPEAKER —Order! Really, the honourable member is getting rather away from the education Bills that are before the House. He can make passing reference of the sort he has, but I would ask him to come back to the education Bills.

Mr PORTER —Thank you, Mr Speaker. The problem is that the list is so long that in trying to mention just a few of the--

Mr SPEAKER —The problem is the nature of the Standing Orders. I invite the honourable member for Barker to get on with the debate.

Mr PORTER —Thank you, Mr Speaker. The point I make is that all these charges which have been imposed on the rural sector have made it very difficult for farming families. The issue is that the outrageous increases in costs which have been imposed on rural families has been added to now by this legislation which again will represent an outrageous increase in the cost of student accommodation imposed by the Government. It will have its greatest effect on a group of people -that is, the sons and daughters of farmers-at a time when farmers are fighting to ensure that every dollar earned is spent in ensuring that there is a recovery in the rural sector and economic growth which will benefit all Australians, even those in the city electorate of Sydney. This added burden on the rural sector is yet another indication of this Government's prejudice against the battling farming families. I will quote to the House the heartless words of this socialist Government in the second reading speech on this Bill. It states:

As announced in the guidelines, the Government decided on a 25 per cent reduction in grants for collegiate residences in 1984 to be applied pro-rata to all residences presently in receipt of Commonwealth grants pending the Commission's review of future arrangements for support for student accommodation . The reduction will result in an estimated saving of $1.7m in 1984.

There is not to be a 1 or 2 per cent reduction in funding but a 25 per cent reduction, with not a word of explanation, and the Government wonders why it is losing the confidence of the Australian community.

I now turn to an equally serious matter which is the subject of growing concern both in rural electorates such as mine and in the rest of Australia. I refer to the breaking of the funding link for non-government schools. I want to take a moment of the time of the House to explain just what this socialist Government has done. In the past, every non-government school student received a grant payable to the school equivalent to 20 per cent of the standard cost of educating a student in a government school. In other words, whilst the former Government had an obligation to ensure that children had access to education in Australia, it did not fund all children alike; rather, those children who went to non-government schools were funded to the extent of 20 per cent of the cost of a student in a government school. In other words, the taxpayer was saving 80 per cent of the cost of education of a child if he or she went to a non- government school. Of course, government schools are virtually fully funded by the taxpayer through the Government although many parents and friends committees assist in the provision of some extra facilities. I welcome the work that those committees do. In addition to the 20 per cent grant which was paid to the non- government schools an extra 10 per cent was paid to needy non-government schools and an extra 10 per cent was payable on top of that to the very needy non- government schools.

This method of grant gave people the freedom of choice between a government school and a non-government school. They knew that they would have to pay fees to make up the difference if they sent their children to a non-government school . The amount they would have to make up was obviously the difference between the grant that was being paid by the Government and the actual cost of running the school. The non-government schools planned their budgets and parents acted on the certain knowledge of the likely liability that they would face if they sent their children to non-government schools. As has been said in this debate, many people who choose for one reason or another to send their children to a non- government school do so often at enormous personal cost.

But now, under the socialist Minister for Education, Senator Ryan, all that has changed. Perhaps we should have expected it, bearing in mind that Senator Ryan comes from the employ of the Australian Council of State School Organisations, which is implacably opposed to providing a 20 per cent grant to non-government schools. She is also not known for her moderate political views. Recently she told the Queensland Teachers Union that she looked to the education system to ' enable the individual to resist manipulation by the massive institutions of capitalism'. That is good stuff, I must say. I suppose it is no wonder that she has cut the nexus between the standard cost of educating a student in a government school and the 20 per cent grant paid to the non-government schools. Guaranteed funding has gone out the window.

So far 41 non-government schools have been told that their funding has been cut -not held but cut. They will no longer get 20 per cent of the cost of educating a student in a government school. The Minister now arbitrarily decides which schools are to be funded. So far 41 schools have been affected and we are not told how many more are to go. The dark cloud hangs over our non-government school system. Which schools are to be next? Will the parents have to withdraw students because of the increase in student fees? These are the sorts of questions which have been raised in the wider community.

Mr Andrew —Who will educate them then?

Mr PORTER —That is the point. Let me relate to the House the sorts of expressions of genuine and sincere concern which I am receiving. I shall read two paragraphs of a letter I have received from the Catholic ladies auxiliary of a small non-government school in the Mallee area of my electorate. It stated:

As parents of children who have exercised our right of freedom of choice of education we wish to state our alarm and abhorrence at the proposals currently being passed.

It went on to say:

Could you please advise of any further funding cuts and what we might expect for the future of our children if we continue to exercise our right and keep them in non-government schools.

Mr Gear —You will get more money; that is what you will get.

Mr PORTER —That is interesting, because in a moment--

Mr Maher —An increase in funding is what they will get.

Mr PORTER —I wonder whether the honourable member will guarantee that. His promises so far have not been too good. He suggests that that school, as a Catholic school, will get more money. It is interesting to hear what the Catholic bishops say about that. Let me read to the House what the Most Reverend John Kelly, Roman Catholic Auxiliary Bishop of Melbourne, has said about the Government's proposal that supposedly other more needy independent schools will receive the funds. These are his words:

It has been announced that cuts will be made from the so called 'wealthy' independent schools. But note the cunning inbuilt contradiction, the money from these cuts will not be given to indigent government schools, rather it will go to 'poorer' independent schools, i.e., mainly Catholic schools.

That is what the Catholic bishop said. He continued:

In the face of that blatant sectarian tactic I challenge any Catholic independent school to accept this Judas money.

The Government is saying that this concern is false and has been beaten up by right wing groups in the community. We have heard all the excuses but the letter from the ladies' auxiliary of a school in a very small Mallee town in my electorate indicates the concern and worry the parents there have for the future of their children. I wish to give the House just one more quotation. The Central Commission of the Catholic Bishops of Australia sent me a statement dated 1 September explaining its views about the Government's changes in funding to non- government schools. It said:

The Government has decided to abolish the nexus between the cost of educating a child in a government school and the level of the recurrent grants to non- government schools.

I ask the House to note the following:

This is against the Bishops' stated policy and is potentially destructive of non-government schooling. The removal of this automatic linking also minimises the capacity of non-government schools to plan.

The Bishops went on to say:

. . . they affirmed the right of every child to educational justice and the duty of Government to protect the right of parents to choose the kind of education that will be given to their children.

That was not the Liberal Party or the National Party talking; it was the Central Commission of the Catholic Bishops of Australia. There is genuine concern in the community and the Bishops are reflecting that concern. A number of very plain questions are left unanswered by this socialist Minister for Education's breaking of the nexus. Let me recount them very quickly to the House. First, funding for non-government schools is now up to the arbitrary decision of the Minister. Secondly, schools, the administrator of schools, teachers, parents and students are now constantly under threat. They have no certainty as to the extent of the funding that they will receive or whether their funding will continue. Thirdly, the decision has been made before the review which the Minister has implemented has reported. Fourthly, 25 per cent of the school population goes to non-government schools. For some reason or other they have left the government school system or never started in it. The final point I want to make is that many of the non-government schools are boarding schools.

Madam DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mrs Darling) —Order! The honourable member's time has expired.