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Wednesday, 22 March 1972
Page: 804

Senator Sir KENNETH ANDERSON (New South Wales) (Minister for Health) 8.6) - I move:

That the Bill be now read a second time.

On 9th December 1971, the Prime Minister (Mr McMahon) announced additional measures of special assistance to government and independent schools. As far as independent schools were concerned, the Commonwealth had decided to increase the rates of per capita grants from the commencement of the 1972 school year, from $35 to $50 per annum for each pupil receiving primary education, and from $50 to $68 per annum for each pupil receiving secondary education.

The purpose of this Bill is to amend the principal Act - States Grants (Independent Schools) Act 1969 - to implement the Government's undertaking to independent schools. The proposed amendment restricts the application of the rates specified in the principal Act to the 1970 and 1971 school years, and makes provision for the payment of the new rates from January 1972.

The independent schools, as the Prime Minister pointed out in his statement to the House of Representatives on 9th December, have been facing increasing difficulties in their efforts to remain viable. Not only have teachers' salaries increased generally thoughout Australia in recent years, but there have been a number of awards requiring independent schools to increase their teachers' salaries to full parity with the operative rates in government schools over a short period. This latter development has had the effect of placing upon independent schools a proportionately greater burden of cost increases than that placed upon government schools. There is a limit to the extent to which independent schools can charge higher fees, and for boarding schools in particular there are further problems resulting from the current situation of rural industries.

Our policy objective for the independent schools is that, relying on their own efforts and with assistance from governments, they should be able to continue to provide an adequate standard of education for that proportion of the school population which has in the past attended independent schools. The Government sees the maintenance of a viable alternative system of schools, with assurances of continuing financial support, as essential to the health and vigour of Australian education generally.

Where capital funds are made available to independent schools, the Commonwealth has established objective standards against which the entitlement of an individual school can be judged. This is clearly necessary where capital funds are involved.

When the question of recurrent expenditure in independent schools is considered, a different set of circumstances applies. The method which the Government has chosen for the provision of recurrent aid to independent schools has been, and remains, the per capita grant, without any kind of means test. This method of assistance is the preferred policy of the National Council for Independent Schools, the Federal Catholic Schools Committee, and the Australian Parents Council; it is also the policy of most of our State governments.

Those who argue for a means test to be applied to assistance with recurrent expenditure in independent schools have not been able to establish principles or critieria which can clearly be applied with equity and justice to the range of independent schools and to their students and parents. Various possible methods have been suggested, such as basing payments on pupil/teacher ratios, on the level of fees charged, or on academic standards at particular schools; but these methods would be difficult to put into practice objectively, and without running the risk of encouraging schools to maintain standards at , a lower level than would otherwise be the case to attract grants.

The present measure is intended to assist the independent schools with their immediate problems arising from increasing running costs. The Government recognises the need for further attention to be given to measures which the Commonwealth and the States might take to assist the indepen-dent schools on a longer term basis. They need assurances of continuity of support if they are to maintain their existing services and to expand these as the school-going population grows.

The Government will continue to keep these questions under close review, as part of its policy of improving education in all schools. It will also maintain close liaison with the States on progress in the construction of government schools with the $20m in capital grants to be made available in the period up to 30th June 1973 and on future needs in this area. At these increased rates, the total Commonwealth payments of per capita grants to independent schools in each State, for the 1972 school year, will be:

Separate legislation has been introduced by my colleague the Treasurer (Mr Snedden) to deal with the additional capital grants for government schools announced by the Prime Minister in December last. I comment this Bill to the Senate.

Debate (on motion by Senator Wheeldon) adjourned.

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