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Tuesday, 29 November 1983
Page: 3008


Mr ANTHONY (Leader of the National Party of Australia)(9.17) —I am very pleased to be able to support my colleagues the honourable member for Farrer (Mr Fife) and the Leader of the Opposition (Mr Peacock) in this debate on the Government's discriminatory, destructive and divisive proposals on education in Australia. I believe the divisions which this legislation has caused are absolutely disgraceful. The resentment and bitterness that is now being generated by divisions within our society are contrary to the ethos of the Australian Labor Party campaign-the so-called 'bringing Australia together' campaign. That was absolutely phoney.


Mr Ruddock —A charade.


Mr ANTHONY —It was a deception and a charade. Nothing shows it up better than the legislation that is before the House at the moment. I enter this debate on the States Grants (Education Assistance-Participation and Equity) Bill, the States Grants (Schools Assistance) Bill and the States Grants (Tertiary Education Assistance) Bill to express my very grave concern at the direction the Government is taking with its education policy and the effects that this policy is having on the education of Australian children. The quality of education is important for the future of our children. Quality of education is very much a matter for the judgment of parents. I hope parents continue to have the right to that judgment. The range of opportunities that is available is now coming under threat by the action of the Government. It is fundamental to the Australian way of life that Australians be given the opportunity to choose the sort of education they wish to have. Yet this sort of legislation is casting doubts on that matter.


Mr Holding —What do you know? Oh, God! You would say anything.


Mr ANTHONY —I listen to the Minister for Aboriginal Affairs, who is prattling away. But he is obviously very sensitive about it. He knows that the direction in which the left wing of the Labor Party wishes to take education in this country. Like my colleagues, I am very concerned about the three Bills which are before the House. But, like the Leader of the Opposition, I want to concentrate my remarks tonight on the States Grants (Schools Assistance) Bill 1983. I believe that this Bill, very simply, is the despicable pay-off to the Australian Teachers Federation for its $750,000 election bribe to the Labor Party; the biggest electoral donation in Australia's history. It was so big that nobody can look at it as being a donation to the Labor Party; it is buying the Labor Party. It is bribery and corruption in the worst form. The propositions of this sort of donation make it quite clear that it is not a donation. The Teachers Federation is buying the Government so that it will do exactly what it wants it to do.

This Bill is a pay-off to the various unions-I emphasise 'the unions'-not the teachers as a whole for the campaign of distortion and outright deception they waged against the former Liberal-National Party Government. This Government came to power with the support of a group of unions which wanted the education system of this country destroyed. They wanted it destroyed because as long as it exists it puts the spotlight on the absurdity and the destructiveness of their policies . They are being embarrassed by more and more parents opting to send their children to non-government schools, even though in many cases they have to make a considerable sacrifice to do so. This Government is obliging the unions by its support in destroying the non-government schools. The teachers unions have handed over the cheques. This Bill is the Government's receipt.

The Government is not game to move immediately to implement the policies of the Teachers Federation. It knows how unpopular these policies are and how they have brought education in this country into disrepute. The Government knows that if it endorses them lock, stock and barrel there will be a reaction across Australia which will put it out of office. So with the State Grants (Schools Assistance) Bill it is digging a hole, a tunnel, under the foundations of the bipartisan educational policy that has served this country very well since the 1950s. Its aim is to so weaken those foundations that the policy will collapse. Thus it will achieve the aims of the Teachers Federation without bringing blame to itself.

This Bill sets out to achieve that aim in two main ways. The first is to destroy the long established percentage link between Commonwealth funding for independent and government schools. Instead of this fixed predictable basis for funding, the Government proposes that the level of funding for independent schools should be in the hands of the Minister for Education and Youth Affairs ( Senator Ryan). Instead of independent schools being able to depend upon a basic level of per capita support, they now have to depend on a yearly bargaining process involving a Minister for Education and Youth Affairs who has made no secret of her bitter rejection of non-government education in Australia and of her willingness to be influenced by the Teachers Federation.

The second way in which the Bill works to undermine the foundations of national education policy is by ensuring that in future Commonwealth capital funding will not be available automatically for new independent schools if there is a possibility that these schools will take pupils away from existing government schools. The aim of this measure is to put a brake on the growth of independent schools. It is designed to ensure over time that no more independent schools are built, or at least very few. It places enormous power in the hands of the Minister. It does not matter whether the people wish to have an independent school; the Minister can override their wishes. There is a two-pronged assault: Firstly, to reduce slowly the funding for independent schools, thus limiting their ability to grow; secondly, to ensure that as few new schools as possible will be built. We can all be sure that whatever new independent schools are proposed, this Government and its cronies in the Teachers Federation will find reasons why the schools should not be built. We can also be sure that the reduction in funding for independent schools which has already begun will continue to accelerate.

As we have seen so often since March, the Government has done its best to conceal its real intentions. It has cloaked its efforts to undermine education in Australia with the usual campaign of deception and propaganda both in regard to its own policies and those of the former Government. If the public were to believe the claim of the Minister for Education and Youth Affairs and the Minister for Finance (Mr Dawkins), the Liberal-National Party Government was an unrelenting enemy of government schools and the Labor Government was their so called champion. Only a Labor government was supposed to be able to look after education. The facts are very different. The Liberal-National Party Government, of which I was proud to be a part, increased aid to government schools in real terms on a per capita basis during its seven years in office. This Labor Government, in its first Budget, despite all the rhetoric that we have heard-and it is so strong on rhetoric-cut total education spending as a proportion of total outlays by 0.3 per cent in real terms. It cut spending on all student assistance schemes by 2 per cent in real terms and it cut assistance for tertiary students under the tertiary education assistance scheme by 6 per cent in real terms. It also made a number of other cuts. I will point out three in particular: Spending on the Aboriginal secondary grants scheme, the Aboriginal study grants scheme and the assistance for isolated children. In the latter case assistance was cut by 4 per cent in real terms. If this is the record on which this Government rests its claim of showing concern for education, it is a very flimsy one indeed.

The fact is that this Government is not concerned with improving the standard of education in Australia. What it is concerned about is putting its own ideology into practice. That ideology is expressed in the policies bought and paid for by the Teachers Federation in providing a cool $750,000 in the last election campaign. I have already noted two major thrusts on the part of the Government in its attempt to undermine the national education policy. A third one is also provided in this legislation-that is that cuts will occur in the 1984 Commonwealth recurring grants for the 41 independent schools on the Government's now infamous hit list. The nature of the schools chosen for this hit list is interesting. The list was clearly intended to drive a wedge between the churches involved in independent schools. Rivalry and sectarian tension once again has been brought forward and is now bedevilling the education system within Australia. Fortunately, the Government's efforts to cause this division have been stifled and have failed. For instance, the Archbishop of Melbourne, Sir Frank Little, condemned the Government's blatant resort to promoting sectarianism. The Central Commission of the Catholic Bishops of Australia condemned out of hand the Government's action as being wrong in principle.

The Government and particularly the Minister for Education and Youth Affairs have attempted to justify the hit list by claiming that all schools involved are wealthy schools. The Government has tried to create the impression-Labor always tries to divide groups within the community-that only a small number of wealthy people will be affected. I will return to these claims in a moment. However, the Government has not been able to conceal the fact that the 41 schools on its hit list are only just the beginning. The Minister for Education and Youth Affairs has confirmed that in future more and more schools will be affected-not just 41, but more schools. Of course, the very existence of this hit list is a disgrace to a government which claims that it governs for all Australians. It is also a clear breach of election promises, but we are used to the breaking of promises by this Government.

What concerns me most is the way in which this Government is trying to justify that hit list. We are all told that only a small number of people will be involved, but according to the Government's figures, the 1982 enrolments of students in the schools involved totals over 36,500. We are told that they are all wealthy schools. I am not sure what that really means. What I do know is that a great many of those 36,500 students do not come from wealthy families; they come from families who are prepared to work hard and to give their children the sort of education they believe they need and which is not available to them in the public school system. They come from families which are prepared to make considerable sacrifices to give their children the best education they believe is available for them and they come from families which pay taxes, just like all of us, to the Government to provide funds for services such as education.

Australians want the choice. They do not want to be deprived by Labor's dogma and subservience to the militant teachers union which does not want to have the competition from non-government schools. It seems to make economic folly to want to be restricting people from going to non-government schools when it costs $1, 000 less for a child to go to a non-government school than a Government school. What is the rationale? What is the sense of it? Of course we all know that the Government is tied, ball and chain, to the teachers union of this country which is one of the most militant unions and which has been one of the communist led unions of this country. The Government is bowing to that union. Why? It is because the union has bought off the Government with $750,000.

What annoys me is that many of the hit schools-indeed the great bulk of them- happen to be boarding schools. They are schools that provide accommodation for children from country areas where there are no secondary schools, where there is no opportunity other than for their parents to send them away to schools. Here again is another classic example of this Labor Government wanting to discriminate against country people. It talks in terms of country people, who have suffered drought, who have suffered low prices, who have suffered all the adversity of many years, as being wealthy. Such people have a belief in their children. They want to see them get a good education, in many cases a Christian education, and education opportunities which are not available in the public system.

However, this Government by its means-I have mentioned the three means-is now putting strict limitations on the growth of the non-school systems in this country and it is doing it for only one reason and that is that it is bowing to the pressures of the teachers union which bought it for $750,000 in the last election campaign. Nobody could ever claim that that is a donation. It is buying the Australian Labor Party. There has never been a donation of that nature in Australia. I think it is a disgrace and it is a disgrace that the Government so blatantly brings this legislation into this House tonight and expects us to allow it to pass without condemning it in the severest terms we possibly can. The breakage of the link which operated automatically between non-government and government schools was the greatest degree of confidence that one could give to non-government schools. They knew exactly where they were going and how to plan.

Giving the Minister the power of being able to use a discretion whether a new school is allowed to be built because it might have some interference in public schools is again an example of the doctrinaire policies of the Labor Party to reduce or suppress the growth of independent schools in this country. I believe independent schools ought to be a right of this country, that people ought to have the right of making a judgment where they send their children to school. Today the fact is that more and more children are going to independent schools and that is what is hurting the teachers union. It cannot understand, it cannot bear the competition. The non-government schools are providing a quality of education, they are providing the discipline and they are providing the guidance that the parents feel confident the children are getting but are not getting in many cases from the public schools. Why try to restrict them? It ought to be the right of Australians. Certainly as I mentioned in economic terms it makes no sense at all to be trying to force more and more children into the public education system because every extra student that one moves from an independent school to a government school is going to cost the taxpayer of this country another $1,000. That is an enormous amount. It cost more than double to send-


Mr Hollis —That is not right.


Mr ANTHONY —That is absolutely right. Here the Government is with the blatant propaganda, the lies and deceptions trying to defend the public school system. I am all for the public school system.


Mr Holding —It didn't do much for you, mate.


Mr ANTHONY —I happened to go to both school systems so my faults lie with both. It is interesting to note that in 1982 to send a pupil to a government school cost the Commonwealth and the States $1,974. To send a pupil to a non-government school cost the State and the Commonwealth $940. That is less than $1,000. Yet the logic of this Labor Party in wanting to try to save the taxpayers money is so totally false and it is based on the wrong premise. We know why it is doing it. It is an ideological belief that there should not be the independent school system in this country. We know that the Minister for Education and Youth Affairs has a bitter feeling against non-government schools and it is a great pity that we have this sort of legislation coming into the Parliament. It is causing such enormous resentment and divisions amongst the Australian people particularly when the Labor Party went to the Australian people and said: 'This Government will bring Australians together'. It is doing exactly the opposite. Government members have already seen the great protest meetings that are being held across Australia. If they are not getting the message already they will certainly get it at the next Federal election.