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Tuesday, 16 October 1984
Page: 1736

Senator BOLKUS —I ask the Minister for Eduction and Youth Affairs whether she has seen a somewhat bizarre proposal to sell public schools in Australia to private interests? If so, can the Minister say whether such a step would be of any value or benefit to Australian school children and whether she can see any advantages at all coming out of this proposal?

Senator RYAN —My attention has been drawn to what Senator Bolkus rightly describes as a bizarre proposal emanating from the upper echelons of the Liberal Party, namely, that public schools in this country should be sold out to private interests. I waste the time of honourable senators at Question Time to comment on this matter only because no doubt many people will be concerned as to what this might mean in the unlikely event of this country ever having a Liberal government again.

Senator Button —Will they sell the children too?

Senator RYAN —Whether the children go with the schools is something on which the Liberal Party Forward Planning Group, I think it was called, might give us further elucidation. Apparently the report containing the bizarre suggestion recommends that a Liberal government:

Consider various means (not only sale) of transfer to the private sector: e.g. education can be progressively privatised by assisting parents to make their own choice. Where sale is the preferred method, the price obtained is less important than the resulting consumer benefits.

We have heard a lot of exaggerated and crude consumerism coming from the other side of the chamber in our time, but I cannot think of anything worse than this. I would simply place on the record the point that in the view of our Government education is not a service which can be bought by those who are able to pay the highest fees. It is not a part of social policy which lends itself to consumerism. The kinds of suggestions of privatisation which have been forthcoming from the Liberal Party leave out entirely any consideration of the benefits to a democratic society of a public education system. It happens to be the case that 75 per cent of the nation's children are educated in the public school system, and have been for all of this century and, I believe, will continue to be. It happens to be the case that the public education system can provide benefits to a democratic society, such as the opportunity for children to learn and be educated amongst children from diverse backgrounds, which no private school, however good, can offer in quite the same way. It is also the case that if education were to be privatised in this country there would be many children whose parents, not being high wage earners, would be unable to buy for their children what we in the Labor Government consider is their right-the highest possible standard of education.

Some spokespersons in the public education sector have expressed some disappointment at the level of funding that we have been able to make available for public education. Although we have greatly increased public support for public education via Commonwealth recurrent and special purpose programs, it is still the case that there has been some disappointment expressed with regard to the level of funding. I simply draw to the attention of those spokespersons who have been expressing disappointment what the real agenda of any possible future Liberal government is. It is an absolutely absurd suggestion and would destroy the education system as we have developed it over a century in this country. In the view of our Government it runs completely contrary to what we see as our responsibility, which is assisting the public sector to provide the highest possible standard of education which is open to all children without fees and without any other form of selectivity.