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Tuesday, 24 February 1987
Page: 489

Senator BOLKUS —I refer the Minister for Education to an article in the Canberra Times of 21 February 1987, entitled `Opposition to aid private schools'. Is the Minister aware of this and other reports to the effect that a coalition government would immediately restore the basic grant to non-government schools and provide supplementary funding according to need? Has the Minister also seen claims that Government policy ensures that non-government schools are allowed to raise only 3 per cent of their funding needs from private sources? Is this last allegation factual? What would be the cost of restoring the basic grant to non-government schools as promised by the Opposition? What would be the cost to fund the 42 new non-government schools which have not been approved for funding in 1988?

Senator RYAN —I did see some accounts of Mr Shack's statement along the lines outlined in Senator Bolkus's question. I have also seen a statement which purported to have come from his office, so my comments are not based solely on what has been reported in the Press but on a statement from his office. His statement contained a number of errors as well as a number of rather preposterous proposals. In terms of the errors let me be quite clear that it is not the case, as he claimed, that non-government schools are allowed by the Commonwealth to raise only 3 per cent of their funds privately. In fact, they raise in the vicinity of 45 per cent of their funds privately and are expected by the Commonwealth, under our funding policies, to maintain that effort. They are not expected to drop their private effort suddenly in order to attract more Commonwealth funds.

One of the understandings we have reached with the non-government schools is that they will retain their efforts. So that was the first and very major blunder in Mr Shack's understanding of schools funding. Also, he seems to be advocating that any school proposal that comes forth ought immediately to be agreed to regardless of any planning or other deficiencies in that proposal, and that all potential students in those schools should immediately attract a grant. He does not say how much that grant should be-so it is quite difficult to work out the costing of this proposition-nor does he say, of course, speaking as a member of a shadow ministry that is committed to real zero growth in public expenditure, at whose cost this extra funding would be made available. He does not say whether the extra funding would be taken away from the needy non-government schools-the parish schools or the independent Aboriginal schools. He does not say whether the funds would be taken away from special schools which are funded by the Commonwealth. He does not say whether the funds should be taken away from the disadvantaged schools program. Perhaps they would be taken away from recurrent funding to government schools.

Senator Teague —Because they won't be taken away from any of them.

Senator Walsh —Oh, you have done some mental arithmetic as well.

Senator RYAN —As my colleague Senator Walsh has pointed out, there seems to be not so much a suspension of disbelief but a suspension of arithmetic from the other side of the chamber, where shadow Ministers are running around promising to give more and more to groups they imagine might be persuaded to vote for them by these promises. At the same time their beleaguered temporary leader, Mr Howard, is saying `No, no, no, we won't increase public expenditure'. So if there is to be no increase in the Commonwealth education budget but there are to be new areas of funding, obviously something will have to go. I am waiting with great interest for Mr Shack to tell us which of the various Commonwealth programs he will cut in order to make way for these unplanned, non-approved new schools. I point out to the Senate that those new schools proposals which were not accepted by the Commonwealth in the recent round of announcements have been afforded a very low priority-in some cases the lowest priority available-by State committees comprising State education departments and non-government school authorities. So in the assessment of their own peers and of the State governments which have a constitutional responsibility to provide schools, these schools proposals were not such that they could attract support. These are the schools proposals that were not agreed to by us; these are the schools proposals which Mr Shack magnanimously offered to fund; these are the schools which had not received the support of their own systems, schools whose planning was at this stage so defective that they had not received the support of their State government. These schools, nonetheless, would attract funding from Mr Shack. At what level it is hard to say, since he talks about a basic right but he has refused to this point to say what amount that grant would be.

One of the great achievements of our Government has been to settle the longstanding divisions between the government and non-government sectors. We have done this through a number of measures: First, by giving both sectors long term planning stability. If there is anything that has been welcomed by the non-government system in Australia it has been the four-year funding plan which allowed schools for the first time to plan the appointment of teachers, the development of curriculum, and so on. Mr Shack would shatter all that if he ever got the chance by destroying our funding plan and replacing it with a renamed voucher system. What does that mean? Instead of schools knowing over a four-year period the level of Commonwealth grant that they would receive--

Senator Chaney —I raise a point of order, Mr President. The introduction to that question was out of order, but the questions actually posed were within the Minister's responsibility. She has now begun to debate various elements of what she claims to be Opposition policy, and I suggest that she is out of order. The points she is dealing with now have nothing to do with the direct questions she was asked. She is simply making a wide-ranging attack on the Opposition. I suggest that that is not part of the answer to the question.

The PRESIDENT —The Minister cannot accept responsibility for matters that are contained in or are alleged to be contained in the policies of the non-government parties. I remind her of that fact and ask her not to debate the issue but to answer specifically those questions raised.

Senator RYAN —Certainly, Mr President. I can understand why Senator Chaney wishes to resile from the statement Mr Shack put out yesterday. In conclusion, our funding of government and non-government schools has been needs based. The great increase in funding has been to the needier schools, the schools that serve the neediest communities, and of course there has been a significant percentage increase in funding going to government schools as well as to our maintenance of various special purpose programs. It is not our intention to throw this stability, security and planned growth to the winds and proceed along the kinds of libertarian, almost anarchistic lines proposed by other commentators from whom Senator Chaney wishes to dissociate himself.