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Wednesday, 11 August 2004
Page: 2092

Ms KING (4:01 PM) —I heartily support the statements by the shadow minister for education in her contribution to the MPI. It follows a failure by the Prime Minister to be honest with the Australian people about the massive inequality created by his funding system, particularly that created between independent schools. There is a wide divergence of schooling across this country. That divergence has become even more apparent under this government's flawed funding system.

Since the introduction of the Howard-Costello flawed funding model, we have seen massive increases in Commonwealth funding to some of the wealthiest schools. Schools that charge the highest fees have been given the highest increases under this government—in some cases funding increases of up to 300 per cent. In comparison Catholic and lower fee independent schools have received smaller amounts, with Catholic schools receiving only 25 per cent funding increases. Under what basis can this be justified? Absolutely none. Schools funding should not promote further inequality in schools resources by giving the largest funding increases to the schools with the highest levels of resources, yet this is exactly what the Howard government's policy has done.

The SES model introduced by the government is not achieving its stated objective of allocating funding according to need. It is a fundamentally flawed model. The SES system uses socioeconomic status as an indicator of capacity to pay school fees. But the socioeconomic status information used to calculate schools ranking is not based on the actual incomes of the actual parents of the actual students who go to the actual schools. It is an estimate based on the average socioeconomic status of families in the areas in which they live, as determined by the five-yearly census.

The SES model makes a couple of assumptions. It assumes that all families within a census collector district have similar socioeconomic characteristics. An oddity of the job we do is that many of us actually doorknock on a CCD basis. Not many Australians, I suspect, actually do this—census collectors and the postal service would. Many of us have seen first-hand how widely inaccurate this assumption is. The second assumption in the SES model is that self-reported income—not verified—in the census is completely accurate. Both of these assumptions are incorrect.

It is like taking the average ages and incomes of all the people in a census collector district and determining that, in areas where there is a high proportion eligible for the age pension, everyone in that area should get the age pension. It is a nonsense. The Senate Employment, Workplace Relations and Education References Committee's inquiry into the Commonwealth funding for schools is looking at this very issue. Far from saying there is general satisfaction with the SES model, in the 72 submissions to the inquiry to date there is a divergence of opinions, particularly between independent schools. It is not a fair system, and it is not achieving its objective.

Funding to schools is not being distributed on the basis of need. We have seen, and will see again, a concerted campaign by the Prime Minister and the Minister for Education, Science and Training to provide a smokescreen and a scare campaign about Labor's policies. There will be, as we have seen recently, campaigns by some principals of wealthy private schools who seek to defend what they now see as an entitlement to receive greater shares of funding then less well-off independent and Catholic schools.

The next election is going to be an important one for parents of children at our schools. Labor wants a constructive debate about education and the resources needed by schools to provide the best opportunity for all our kids to achieve. The government is totally incapable of defending its own model on this basis. We have some extraordinary schools in our country. I, like many other members of parliament, have had the opportunity to visit the 150 or so in my electorate. Not all of them are the same. We have terrific schools and we have struggling schools, not all of them in the same sector.

Setting a national resource standard is at the heart of our approach—setting a resource bar and funding all schools to meet it is at the heart of our approach. This national resource standard will drive our needs based funding for all schools by allocating funding so that schools get the resources needed to provide a great education. This means that the vast majority of government, Catholic and independent schools will be better off under Labor's school funding policy. Labor is not against the right of parents to choose what school they send their children to. But Labor does not support the Howard government policy of dramatically increasing the funding to the wealthiest schools at the expense of less well-off Catholic or other non-government schools.

The Howard government's model is fundamentally divisive and fundamentally unfair. Across the country we have situations where parents have joined together to form their own schools. These are new schools with an outstanding reputation in Victoria for achieving constantly high marks in the VCE and providing a high-quality learning environment. Parents have established Christian, Jewish or Muslim schools. Many of these newer independent schools are struggling to find capital funding to improve learning facilities. They struggle to get the best teachers. Many of them are still teaching out of demountable classrooms. They struggle to cater for growth and to resource even their basic needs in libraries.

It is fundamentally unfair to these schools that since 2001 the government has skewed funding increases to schools such as King's in Sydney by over 200 per cent. That school already has vast playing fields, a rifle range, a swimming pool, a boatshed, a museum, a full-time archivist and a multimillion-dollar Centre for Leadership and Learning, amongst a host of other top-of-the-line resources. The non-government school sector as a whole will not lose money under a Latham Labor government. Labor will redistribute funding within the non-government sector away from high-fee schools towards Catholic and other low-fee independent schools.

Labor will also increase funding to government schools. We have promised, and will deliver when in government, more capital support for government schools. We are committed to attracting and retaining teachers in schools that are struggling. We will provide male role models in primary schools and will back this up with a recruitment campaign. Labor will be more than happy to take our policy to the voters when the Prime Minister calls the election. We will be happy to tell them that there is a choice. If the Howard government are re-elected they will continue to give private schools like King's in Sydney and Geelong Grammar increased funding. It is not fair to give schools that already have huge amounts of resources even more money when there are so many other schools with greater needs. If we want to give all children a great education, the Howard government's unfair policy must end. Most Catholic and independent schools will benefit from our needs based funding model.

Labor introduced major federal funding of non-government schools in the 1970s, under the Whitlam government. We extended this commitment through further increases under the Hawke and Keating governments. A Latham Labor government will continue in this tradition of supporting non-government schools. Only a Latham Labor government will restore balance and fairness to school funding. I look forward to the contribution from the member for Aston. I am quite convinced that, in the same tradition that we just heard from the minister for education, we will hear a number of mistruths and scaremongering about Labor's policy. I look forward to debating this issue in the election campaign. We will be debunking some of the myths that this government is intending to spread.