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Thursday, 24 June 2004
Page: 31752


Mr JOHN COBB (10:23 AM) —On Monday I had a visit from a representative of the teachers union, a teacher from Dubbo College Senior Campus and a parent who had children at Dubbo College Senior Campus. They wanted to discuss Commonwealth funding of state schools and private, or non-government, schools. While we did not agree on everything, we did agree that every Australian should have the opportunity to have the best free education at the school level. I certainly agree with that and the government does too. I would like to see us be able to put maximum funding into government schools. I do believe, as I think the majority in this House believe, that children at private, or non-government, schools also have a right to support from the general community. The issue that recently has been so dishonest—not to put too fine a point upon it—in the recent advertising by the teachers union, as I think the Minister for Education, Science and Training, Brendan Nelson, showed yesterday, was showing two schools of approximately the same size and saying that one is getting $3 million and the other is getting $1 million or so from the federal government and failing to mention that the total tax dollars going to the government school is seven times greater—$21 million or more. That is a total misrepresentation, and the teachers union does stand condemned for it. Having said that, of course the government want to give every bit of funding to government schools that we can.

That reminds me: I am very proud of a program called the Country Areas Program, which is obviously a Commonwealth government program. In country areas of New South Wales, $1.3 million in grants has been given to country schools. I say with a lot of pride that, of that $1.3 million, $750,000 is going to schools in the Parkes electorate—and that is for geographically isolated schools. In the far west of New South Wales, in places like Tibooburra, Menindee, Wilcannia and Broken Hill, the really isolated schools are getting grants out of this program. In the central west of New South Wales, in places like Hillston, Lake Cargelligo and Condobolin, and in the south in places like West Wyalong, Barmedman, Weethalle, Tallimba and Corinella, all the schools are getting funds which they have the opportunity to use on small projects.

Regarding the announcement by the Minister for Education, Science and Training and the Prime Minister about the enormous amount of funding—up, I think, by $8 billion over the next four years in the next rollout—that the Commonwealth is putting towards primary and secondary school education in Australia, I would have to say I absolutely welcome its being contingent upon flag ceremonies and exercise. I think it is fantastic. I do not believe in everything American, but I do love their nationalism. I am sure Australians have that same nationalism, but we are much quieter about it. Whether or not the flag is your particular favourite is not the issue: it is a symbol of our country and it will give those children a sense of community and a sense of security that will stay with them all their lives. I believe, far and away, that the average parent and the average Australian will be very pleased that we are going to show that kind of commitment, that kind of belief in our nation.

On the exercise side, I am an enormous believer in sport. This is not so much about government schools; this is about all schools. By and large in New South Wales, government schools do make sure their students exercise. However, this means not just government schools, not just Catholic schools, but all schools—whether they be private, non-government or whatever they are—will have to ensure that at least two hours of exercise is carried out by those students a week. I hope with all my heart that that exercise revolves around team sports, which are such a wonderful communication tool. They help children to learn to work together, to live together, to be a team—and that is what it is about. I think it is a wonderful program, and I am also very proud of the Country Areas Program, which has done so well for my electorate. (Time expired)