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Monday, 6 December 2004
Page: 117

Senator NETTLE (9:24 PM) —I want to comment generally on the issue of the regulation of non-government schools to which this clause particularly refers. I, and others, have commented on several occasions that this is currently in the domain of the state governments to regulate and the Greens certainly have criticisms about the way in which they regulate that. My colleague in New South Wales Lee Rhiannon has introduced legislation into the parliament which has sought to remove the capability of non-government schools to discriminate against the students they enrol or, indeed, the teachers they employ on the basis of sexuality or other grounds that are currently allowed to private schools under the discrimination legislation in New South Wales.

Whilst the Greens have criticisms of the way in which state governments regulate and require accountability for public funds from those private schools, it is in the domain of the states. The Australian Greens do not believe that it is appropriate that these clauses throughout the legislation that seek to regulate the operations of non-government schools should be done by the Commonwealth. They are done by the states. If the Commonwealth wants to have arguments about whether or not non-government schools get their funding, and the conditions and the requirements for that funding, at the very least it should be done in conversation and consultation with the states rather than simply being imposed as in the attempt by this legislation to say, `You don't get the funding if you don't meet these requirements.' The Greens have a lot to contribute about the sorts of requirements that non-government schools should have placed on them for public accountability for the public funds that they receive, but the middle of a funding bill is not the place to do it. We do not support these clauses about the regulation of non-government schools; they should be dealt with elsewhere.

I want to touch on the other issue that the minister mentioned, which was about the location of schools and the state governments again having some say as to where that may be. There used to be a concept that existed in public schooling in this country which was called planned provision. That was where governments said of an area, for example, parts of south-west Sydney, `This area is a growth area and we need schools to be put in this area.' That is a decision that the Greens think is entirely appropriate. The government should have some input and decision-making ability when a private organisation, a private company or a private school provider decides that there is growth in an area and an opportunity for its profit margins so it will set up a school there. Obviously, that is a business decision that it may make but the Greens think it is far more appropriate, when ensuring that we get quality education outcomes, that the government have a say in that. That is the process of planned provision that used to exist.

Indeed the Australian Greens come from the position of saying, `We don't think it is appropriate that private schools should be provided with government funding where they are going to set up in one of these growth areas and by setting up are going to damage the enrolments and viability of local public schools that exist in that area.' There are fantastic local public schools that exist, for example, in the south-western areas of Sydney. Currently under this government's support for the proliferation of private schools wherever they may choose to set up, public schools are being forced to compete with a whole range of often very small and low-fee religious schools that are being set up by the private sector. The very much needed public schools in those areas simply do not have the capacity to compete with private schools that are getting substantial subsidies from the federal government.

In my speech in the second reading debate, I talked about the fact that, just since 1993, we have seen the amount of funding going from the federal government into private schools absolutely skyrocket. The increases have been phenomenal; we have not seen them in any other sector. We have not seen them in the provision of funding to the public school sector, to the independent schools or to Catholic schools. We have never before seen the size of the increases that we have seen coming out of the actions of this federal government since it was elected. The issue of planned provision is something that the Australian Greens would love to return to. We would love to return to a process whereby the government made decisions about the needs of children in a particular area to have a quality public school and public education there. This amendment put forward by the Democrats does not reintroduce that whole concept of planned provision but it goes some way to try to instil some involvement in the decision-making process about where these private schools pop their heads up. The Australian Greens are supportive of this amendment.

Question negatived.