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Wednesday, 11 August 2004
Page: 2080

Mr LATHAM (3:06 PM) —Speaking of Chifley, let us talk about a school in the Chifley electorate. My question is to the Prime Minister. Is the Prime Minister aware that primary school students at the 26-year-old Bethel Christian School in Mount Druitt are largely taught in demountable classrooms? Prime Minister, doesn't this neighbourhood Christian school have greater need than the King's School, which has an estimated annual budget of $26 million, vast playing fields, an indoor rifle range, a swimming pool, a boat shed, a museum, a full-time archivist—and has recently had a $16 million capital upgrade? Prime Minister, why has the government provided the King's School with a 215 per cent funding increase—more than three times the increase for the needy Bethel Christian school? Prime Minister, how about putting some fairness into the school funding system and giving schools like Bethel a fair go?

Mr HOWARD (Prime Minister) —The Leader of the Opposition asks me about fairness in education funding. There is fairness in education funding—68 per cent of Australian schoolchildren attend government schools and 76 per cent of all federal government funding goes to government schools. This is about aggregate government funding—that is, federal and state—and bear in mind that 44.5 per cent of all state revenue for their responsibilities comes from the goods and services tax or from Commonwealth payments to the states. So every time a state spends a dollar on a state school, over 40 per cent of that—close to 44 per cent of that—has come from the Commonwealth government. This is something which is conveniently left out of every analysis. I know the teacher unions of this country hate state aid.

The SPEAKER —I warn the member for Lingiari!

Mr HOWARD —I note incidentally that we are yet to hear a denunciation from the member for Jagajaga of the challenge by the New South Wales Teachers Federation—

Mr Beazley —Mr Speaker, on a point of order—

The SPEAKER —The member for O'Connor is warned! The member for Brand has the same opportunities as anyone else to make a point of order.

Mr Beazley —The question did not refer to state schools. It referred to the Bethel Christian School against the King's School. The Prime Minister has not—

The SPEAKER —The member for Brand will resume his seat. I return to my earlier response to the member for Brand. He has been in the parliament longer than I have. He knows perfectly well that the only opportunity the chair has to determine an answer is standing order 145, which says the answer shall be relevant to the question. The answer in this case, by every preceding Speaker's ruling, is relevant to the question.

Mr HOWARD —I repeat that the New South Wales Teachers Federation has planned a challenge to the 1981 High Court ruling that there is no constitutional barrier to federal government funding of religious schools.

Mr McMullan —Mr Speaker, on a point of order: it is inconceivable that a High Court case—

The SPEAKER —Is the member for Fraser's point of order about relevance?

Mr McMullan —Yes, of course it is about relevance. It is inconceivable that a High Court case about whether or not money should be paid to private schools can be relevant to an answer about the distribution of funding between private schools.

The SPEAKER —Nothing has happened since the member for Brand raised his point of order that can change my ruling. The Prime Minister is in order.

Mr HOWARD —The executive director of Catholic education in Victoria has said that the state's 485 Catholic schools would be devastated if this legal action were successful. Why therefore doesn't the member for Jagajaga denounce the Teachers Federation, or doesn't she care whether the Catholic education system in Victoria is devastated?

The reality is that the Labor Party have failed to provide certainty to those parents who contribute over $4 billion to the education of their children in the non-government sector. When will the Labor Party get it into their collective heads that every time a parent in this country decides to send a child to an independent school—be it a Catholic school, a school like the King's School or a school like Bethel Christian School—they save the Australian taxpayer, on average, $3,000 per child per year. There is no justice—

Mr Beazley —Mr Speaker, on a point of order that goes to relevance: this is about the private Bethel Christian School versus the King's School and about why the King's School should get more than the Bethel Christian School.

The SPEAKER —The member for Brand will resume his seat. The Hansards of this parliament are replete with examples of, normally, oppositions seeking for more precise answers and Speakers ruling as I have ruled. Standing order 145 simply says the answer shall be relevant.

Honourable members interjecting

The SPEAKER —Clearly there are some people on both sides who are anxious to join the member for Fowler. Has the Prime Minister concluded his answer?

Mr HOWARD —No, no, no, I have not. I warm to the task every time the member for Brand makes a point of order—because he tried to run this envy argument three years ago and he fell on his face. You fell on your face in the western suburbs of Sydney, because the reality is that the folk out there on the periphery of the cities of Australia want to have the choice of sending their children to independent schools. There is only one party in Australia that is threatening choice, and that is the Australian Labor Party. The parents in those aspirational suburbs know that their choice and their educational aspirations are guaranteed by the coalition. They know that their choice and their educational aspirations are threatened by Labor because Labor is still driven by a union ideology which, when stripped of all the rhetoric, has a deep prejudice against independent schools. Labor has a deep aversion to parental choice, and it has a deep hostility to the aspirations of parents who want to exercise a right of choice.

This government stand for a dual system of education. We stand for a strong government sector. We stand for a government sector that continues to be preferentially financed. We stand for a government sector that says the 68 per cent of the children of this country that go to government schools should get 76 per cent of all government funding. But we also stand for a system that says that, if you exercise the right to send your child to an independent school and you are a taxpayer of this country, you are entitled to some support from the government in the exercise of that choice. That level of support will vary according to the need of the school. I simply say to the Labor Party: give us your hit list. Name the schools that you are going to take money from. Let us have a look at the list, and let us stack it up and see how fair it is. Then the parents of Australia will have further proof that, when it comes to choice in education, their real friends are the Liberal and National parties.