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Thursday, 25 March 2004
Page: 27285

Mr LATHAM (2:31 PM) —My question is to the Prime Minister. Does the Prime Minister acknowledge that the William Carey Christian School in my electorate, with 1,300 students and an operational budget of $11 million, has a higher level of need than the King's School, with a similar number of students but a budget of $24 million—more than twice the resources of William Carey? Why is the government providing a funding increase of 280 per cent to the King's School but an increase of only 66 per cent to William Carey between 2001 and 2008? On the basis of need, shouldn't the government be moving resources from the King's School to William Carey?

Mr HOWARD (Prime Minister) —Even though I am at a disadvantage to the Leader of the Opposition—I do not carry around in my head or in my hand those financial comparisons—I will say something about the question of need. The government's policy in relation to independent schools is one based on an unswerving commitment to freedom of choice for Australian parents. You can be absolutely certain that one principle that will not be deviated from while ever I am Prime Minister of this country is a passionate belief in the right of parents to choose what school they send their children to. We believe that every parent who sends a child to an independent school takes a load off the general taxpayer.

As the Leader of the Opposition knows, there is already a needs based funding system in place, and that needs based funding system essentially says that, in relation to certain schools, you have a base amount of support and then, depending on the need of the school and the parents, that support will rise. In some cases the level of Commonwealth government support is about 13 to 14 per cent as a proportion of the cost of educating a child at a government school, and it will rise to something like 70 per cent in relation to the very poor Catholic parish schools and some of the poorer independent schools.

I think that is a very good system. It is a system that results in 76 per cent of all government money for schools going to the 68 per cent of children who attend government schools. It is a system that has given unrivalled choice to Australian parents. It is a system that recognises the choice of Australian parents, which is increasingly, particularly at a secondary level, to take advantage of the option, if they wish to, of sending their children to non-government schools.

I am very proud of our existing funding arrangements. They are based on the principle of freedom of choice. Once you start interfering with them, it is the thin end of the wedge. Take away from the parents of some independent schools and the parents of other independent schools will know that they may well be next in the rearrangement of Commonwealth government support.