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Wednesday, 11 August 2004
Page: 2085

Ms MACKLIN (3:31 PM) —The Prime Minister protesteth too much. In question time today we had an enormous amount of noise and very little light from the Prime Minister. He completely ignored the two questions from the Leader of the Opposition, which were designed to draw attention to the unfairness of this government's school funding system. How can it possibly be fair to give a 215 per cent increase in funding to the King's School—which is what the Howard government gave the King's School over the last four years, which is actually $5 million more going to a very wealthy school—while Bethel Christian School out in Mount Druitt gets an increase one-third of that of the King's School? How on earth can that be fair? Nobody thinks it is fair. I imagine not even the parents of children at the King's School think it is fair.

I must say the Prime Minister also tried very hard to make a lot of noise to cover up the reality of Labor's policy. The reality of Labor's policy is this: we will be maintaining the overall level of funding to non-government schools. The overall funding to non-government schools will be maintained by a Latham Labor government. What will that mean in reality? We will introduce a fair system of funding based on need. We will be taking money off the King's School and giving it to much more needy non-government schools that need increased funding.

How many of us have been to little parish Catholic schools or Christian schools or other non-government schools that are far more in need of the extra $5 million that this government has given to the King's School? I can think of so many non-government schools around Australia that need that additional funding. It is only Labor that will deliver that increase in funding to needy schools in the non-government school sector.

We know that this government is determined to oppose that policy. I wonder why that might be? When you look up the government cabinet in Who's Who you can see how many of them went to these sorts of schools. How many of them actually went to schools that only about two per cent of Australian children ever see the inside of? The previous minister for education—the one who designed this outrageously unfair policy—went to Scotch College in Melbourne. That got a massive increase in funding over the last four years of over 90 per cent. We know the Deputy Prime Minister is an old boy of the King's School. They got their 215 per cent. The list goes on. The previous minister for health is also an old boy of Scotch College. About half of the government frontbench went to these very wealthy private schools.

These private schools do not need these massive increases in funding. By contrast, many non-government schools do need increases in funding and it is Labor that will make sure that those schools are lifted up to enable them to meet a decent national standard of education for the children whom they teach.

We also recognise, unlike the Howard government, that a national government—and this will certainly be true of a Latham Labor government—has a special responsibility for public schools. So a Labor government will increase funding to public education. We will make sure that public education is in fact a national responsibility, something that we will take proudly to the election. We will be members of parliament who actually stand up for public schools. We will not go out there and deride them in the way that this Prime Minister does. We will not deride our public schools. We will be proud of our public schools—proud of what they do—and they will be a national priority under a Latham Labor government.

It will be needy schools in both the government and the non-government sectors that will receive additional funding. So we can put paid to the rubbish that we heard from the Prime Minister today that suggested that the more needy non-government schools will be worse off under Labor. In fact, they will be better off under Labor because they will get the benefit of a redistribution of funding away from wealthy schools to much more needy non-government schools.

I was rather horrified to see in the Financial Review yesterday that the King's School has decided to—and I quote the Financial Review—give Labor `a caning'. The Financial Review quoted the principal of the King's School. He said:

... we could bring to bear quite a formidable amount of influence ...

An opposition member—Half the cabinet.

Ms MACKLIN —That is exactly right—half the cabinet, starting with the Deputy Prime Minister, an old boy of the King's School. Maybe that explains how it got its $5 million. Maybe it was that formidable influence. I do not think that is a fair way of deciding how much money should go to a particular school. I do not think bringing formidable influence to bear on a government or a cabinet is the way that schools funding should be decided. I am sure the parents and students at Bethel Christian School in Mount Druitt would like to have some of that formidable influence. I am sure that the school I went to, Wangaratta High School, would like to have some of that formidable influence. It got a 20 per cent increase out of this government. It did not get 215 per cent, which is what the King's School got, with its vast playing fields and all the rest of it. We know where the formidable influence is. I must say the old boy network would be better advised going off and watching rugby matches rather than thinking that their job is to try and produce a very unfair system of funding for our schools.

When we last raised the King's School in parliament, the Minister for Education, Science and Training got incredibly hot under the collar and said that we should not be criticising the capital upgrade at the King's School because the parents—and probably the old boys as well—had gone to enormous effort in raising money for this capital upgrade and had in fact raised the money through cake stalls. They must be the most extraordinary cupcakes down there at the King's School to raise $16 million. There is $16 million for a capital upgrade at the King's School, and this minister wants us to believe that that school has raised it from cake stalls.

I am pleased to say that the parents of students who go to some of these schools agree with the Labor Party's policy. One such parent is a caller to the Jon Faine talkback program on the ABC in Melbourne. I have the transcript of that call here. If the minister is happy, I will table it afterwards. Peter was on the mobile, and he said:

Hello, Jon. I think you're a bit too cynical about people's voting habits. I have three children at Geelong Grammar—

which, by the way, also received a huge increase in funding from this government—

which is a fairly big sacrifice for my wife and I, but I will be voting Labor. I very much believe in Labor policy on education, and I accept that money should go where the need is.

That is what Peter said. He accepts that money should go where the need is, which is all that Labor's policy is about. Jon Faine said:

If you believe in the Labor policy on education, why do you send your kids to a school like Geelong Grammar?

He went on, then Peter said:

I am prepared to pay for that education, and I think it is a good education. I think it is one that instils good values. But the point is that's my choice, but in terms of the government spending on education, I clearly think it should go where need is. I am happy to have to pay for the choice that I have made.

That is what Peter said, because he actually understands that. If we are to have a fair system of funding in this country, more people need to be like Peter. He wants to send his children to Geelong Grammar—that is his choice—but he recognises that it certainly does not come with huge increases in funding from the federal government. Peter went on to say:

Yes, well, I accept that it might cost me more in the future, and I think the private schools have had a pretty good run with the Howard government, but I think—

get this—

the country is very much the poorer for what the Howard government has done.

This is a father with three children at Geelong Grammar who said that the country is very much the poorer for what the Howard government has done. Jon Faine then said:

Now Peter, if you stood up and said that at a meeting of Geelong Grammar parents I think they'd pretty much shout you down, wouldn't they?

Peter said:

I don't know. I think it's quite an eclectic group actually, but you'd be surprised where Labor voters pop up, Jon.

I think Peter had it dead right. The critical issue that Peter had dead right is that our schools funding should be on the basis of need. It is not only parents like Peter, parents at needy schools like Bethel Christian School and parents who send their children to government schools who think that. In fact, at the Senate inquiry we had evidence from the Catholic Education Commission and the Associations of Christian Schools, and both of those organisations made it very plain what they thought. I will quote first of all from the Associations of Christian Schools. Their submission to the Senate inquiry said:

To maintain the integrity of the SES—

that is the system of funding that this government has introduced—

and to ensure the accessibility of Australian families to Christian schools, some consideration may need to be given to private income per capita for recurrent purposes in assessing need.

Whose policy is that? That is Labor policy. It is not Howard government policy, because they know if the total resources of a school, including fees charged—the $16,000, $17,000 or $18,000 that is paid per child at these wealthy schools—were taken into account there would be no way that any of these schools should be granted increases in funding. The Christian schools are certainly arguing that they support the policy that Labor has put forward of making sure that the total resources available to private schools are counted. The same sort of conversation took place with the Catholic Education Commission. The chair of the Senate inquiry asked:

Would it be fair to say that that distribution system takes into account a measure of need?

Monsignor Doyle said:

It very much takes need into account.

This is where they were talking about how the Catholic schools distribute their money. The chair said:

And that need is predicated on the total resources available to a school?

Monsignor Doyle said:

Total recurrent resources ...

So the Catholic Education Commission distributes the money that it gets from the Commonwealth not on the basis that the government gives it to them but on the basis of need, which takes into account the total resources available to the school.

The Minister for Education, Science and Training nods. Maybe he has had a change of heart. No, he is shaking his head again. He has changed his mind. He does not agree with Monsignor Doyle. He does not agree that the total resources should be counted. That is Labor Party policy. That is the only way in which we can guarantee that the needs principle is actually delivered on. One thing is for sure: we have seen from this Howard government that need is a very long way away from its schools policy. The Howard government and its schools policy have absolutely nothing to do with need and everything to do with entrenching privilege. That is why we have seen these massive increases in funding going to the richest schools in the country.

Under a Latham Labor government, that will end. We will take money away from these schools and give it to needy non-government schools. We will, of course, make sure that every student gets a basic level of support but, above that basic level of support in non-government schools, we will fund on the basis of need. We will make sure that government schools receive the extra money they need, we will make sure that those government schools are a national priority, but we will not stand for this outrageous increase in funding that has gone to the wealthier schools in this country. That will end under a Labor government.