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Thursday, 24 June 2004
Page: 31772

Mr NEVILLE (11:44 AM) —We have all thoroughly debated the private-public school funding exercise this week, but I would like to add to my previous contributions—notably on the MPI, which reveals my core position. Let me make it perfectly clear, as I have in the past: I am not an apologist for either the private or the public system, but I am a fierce advocate of choice and equity in education. This week, two representatives of the Queensland Teachers Union paid me a visit. While not doubting their personal sincerity, it is my firm conviction that the campaign being driven by the Australian Education Union and its state body, the QTU, is misleading, biased and divisive. It does not try to inject fairness or rational debate into the argument; rather it skews the campaign's attention to the minority funding component, namely the Commonwealth's. It does not refer to the states contribution to ensure funding for the schools that they are charged to resource.

Using Queensland as an example, this is evidenced by funding over the past two years. In the first instance the Commonwealth's contribution increased by 5.4 per cent but the state's contribution increased by only 2.4 per cent. If the Queensland government had simply matched the Commonwealth's contribution in percentage terms, Queensland state schools would have enjoyed another $116 million. In the second of the two years, after a record budget and a $2.3 billion surplus, the Queensland government's contribution to state schools increased by only 3.9 per cent whereas the Commonwealth's contribution rose by 4.8 per cent—another $25 million shortfall. In other words, over two years state schools had suffered a $141 million shortfall during a period which returned a record surplus budget. That is neglect. The money could have built new classrooms, renovated run-down state schools—which Labor members are always talking about—airconditioned oppressively hot classrooms and replaced demountable buildings.

I am a fierce advocate of all the schools in my electorate. There have been more ministerial visits to my schools since I have been the member than under any previous representation. Education minister Brendan Nelson has even called Bundaberg's Kepnock State High School one of the finest in Australia. In Gladstone in recent years the comparatively new Tannum Sands State High School received $8.82 million in public funds—more than triple the funds of the three private schools combined. My next target is the Gladstone State High School, which has done all the heavy lifting over the last 30 or so years to make sure its facilities are up with the best. Ultimately, of course, the Commonwealth's recommendation goes to the state minister, and it will be her choice. My children have attended both education systems so I am familiar with the strengths and the weaknesses of both.

We must recognise that taxation, whether it be income tax, GST or state taxes, all comes from the pockets of the average taxpayer in the end. The ultimate test of fairness is seeing where the money ends up after going through the state and federal systems. The 2.25 million students in state schools get $19.9 billion in funding, whereas $6.2 billion goes to 1.1 million children in private schools, which also receive $4.1 billion, or 40 per cent of their total revenue, from the fees paid by parents. It is also true that the bulk of federal funding goes to the less wealthy Catholic, Anglican, Christian and Aboriginal community schools—not to the so-called rich schools. The general principle is that private school students are paid on a socioeconomic basis according to residential census collection districts. It is not a matter of rich or poor schools; it is a matter of a family's need based on the socioeconomic profile of its neighbourhood.

I put it to the two QTU representatives that to validate their organisation's argument they should surely argue that the state also support the private schools. I was met with adamant opposition. Ninety-one or 92 per cent of state funding goes to state schools and eight or nine per cent goes to private schools. The AEU has not yet come to the inescapable conclusion that any alteration to this system by the ALP would destroy equity and fairness. (Time expired)