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Tuesday, 9 October 1984
Page: 1947

Mr WHITE(8.47) —I commence by making some remarks to the current Minister for Education and Youth Affairs (Senator Ryan) about her philosophy and the Government's policies in a broad sense. It is obvious from the debate that has gone on here tonight and from previous actions of the Minister that she has this absolute obsession with the equality of the outcome of education. How equality of outcome is achieved is beyond most of us in Australia, particularly those on this side of the House. Equality of opportunity is one thing, but equality of outcome is considerably different because that depends on the ability and the efforts of the people who are in the education system. The Minister has an absolute obsession with private schools in this country. She sees them as the bastion of the privileged. The fact is that one out of four students in Australia now go to private schools and many of them do not come from privileged backgrounds at all, whatever that might mean. They come from ordinary Australian families, perhaps two parents working to get their children through school-supporting them while they are at that school-so they will have the opportunity that their parents believe they need. That is called freedom of choice and that is something that we strongly support. The Minister is saying that she wants this grey mediocrity, the great socialist philosophy that everyone comes out exactly the same. There may be people on that side of the House who genuinely believe-I suspect there are-that this is the best sort of Australia that could be achieved. That is not our view and it is certainly not my view.

We have heard a lot tonight about what the Government intends to do for private education, but no one on the Government side has yet addressed the question of the decision taken by the Australian Labor Party at its national conference to phase out funding for private schools. That is the Labor Party's philosophy. It was overturned, quite sensibly in political terms, by the Prime Minister (Mr Hawke), who took over the portfolio for a while from the Minister for Education and Youth Affairs and said: 'You are not going to do this as we are having an early election. This is what will happen because one in four of the students in Australia go to private schools and each of those students has two parents. There are too many parents involved who might oppose what we are doing'. So the decision was taken by the Prime Minister to reverse the national conference's decision and to take what might be called a very pragmatic view of the funding of private schools. That was a sensible decision in terms of an early election, but I would hope that the people of Australia were not fooled and that they do not think that that short term decision to support private schooling in this country will continue because the Minister for Education will not give up; neither will the left wing nor the teachers federations around Australia. Any education debate in this place or any other place should be conducted with that in mind. This is a short term decision for a short term electoral gain and it will be reversed after the next election-it will certainly be reversed, because we will reverse it. Should the Labor Party win the election the question of private school funding will be opened again. Nobody need think that it is sealed in, because the whole debate on education will erupt again.

While we are talking about the Minister's attitude, we should take note of her second reading speech on the States Grants (Schools Assistance) Bill. In that speech she said:

We believe that we have buried for good the futile debate on state aid which has proved so debilitating in our society over many generations.

That was what she said. She said that she was burying the state aid debate which has gone on in this country for nearly 200 years. It has been a debilitating debate and in recent years it has been laid to rest. Who raised it again? It was not anyone on this side of the House. It was the Minister for Education and Youth Affairs who raised it again by her absolute obsession and determination to put the private school system in this country to rest. Now she has the hide to go into the Senate and say that she believes she has buried for good the futile debate. What hypocrisy! She was the one who raised it again with all sectarian issues that it involves, and she has the hide to say: 'We believe we have buried it for good'. It was not the Minister who buried it; it was buried by the Prime Minister in the interests of short term political expediency. What will happen should Labor get back into government after the next election? The whole issue will be raised again. All the sectarian issues and all the issues about funding of private schools will come back again. The Minister will ensure that they come back again, as will the teachers federations and the left wing of the Labor Party. They will not let it rest.

I turn to the States Grants (Schools Assistance) Bill in some detail. It appropriates $1,385m for school programs. The private schools will be divided into 12 categories. I ask the House: How does one divide private schools into 12 different categories? Does one take the land they own, the private buildings they own, the amount that the parents give to those schools? Are they guides? Does one take how much the schools have in their bank accounts, especially if they have been saving for a number of years so that they can build a new building? As I understand it, the Government is saying that all those things should be taken into account. If so, it will give a very false picture because one cannot categorise schools on any of those criteria. It might be possible to categorise students in terms of how much money their parents have, but how does one categorise a school established in, say, 1982 or 1983, compared with a school that may have been going for 100 years? How does one put those sorts of schools into any category? It is an absolute nonsense. The Government is doing this only because of its obsession that someone who goes to a private school comes from a privileged background. That is an absolute obsession. The Government wants to cut out all private schooling in this country. It is impossible to categorise schools on those criteria.

This obsession is similar to that of the Minister for Health (Dr Blewett) about wiping out private hospitals and private medicine. It might be a great socialist ideal to get away from all private enterprise altogether, but the Government will not be able to do it without a debate and without a fight. One must ask why the Minister and the Government are trying to force people into government schools all the time and close down private schools. It is trying to force people into the government system, force them to be dependent on the government, because that way people get used to handouts from government and they lose their enterprise and their initiative.

Mr Steedman —It is like being in the Army for many years-you lose your initiative.

Mr WHITE —As I have said before in the House, and I do not mind saying it again, if there is one person in the House who would benefit from a week, a month or a year in the Army, especially if I was still in the Army, it would be the honourable member for Casey. Nothing would give me more delight than taking the honourable member for Casey quietly off to an Army camp for a week.

Madam DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mrs Child) —The honourable member for McPherson might like to return to the Bill now.

Mr WHITE —I turn to the question of support for new independent schools. The Government has again turned its face against any support for the introduction and building of new independent schools. It will be very difficult for new schools to be established anywhere in Australia in the next two years and, I suspect, even more difficult after that if this Government lasts through the next election. There are many areas in Australia that are crying out for more private schools. I come from an area where such is the case. The waiting lists for all private schools in my area are tremendous. Why should there not be some encouragement for more private schools to be set up if that is what people want?

Mr Milton —At the expense of government schools.

Mr WHITE —The honourable member for La Trobe says: 'At the expense of public schools'. That is a timely comment, because even he must know that it is far cheaper for the Government to educate people in private schools than it is in public schools. I can only assume that he does not want to see people in private schools. He wants to see everyone in the same sort of grey mediocrity where one has to go to a certain school whether one likes it or not. Why would the honourable member for La Trobe not encourage the setting up of private schools if it is cheaper for the Government to educate people this way? Why would he not give people the choice of where they send their children to school, especially if their choice makes it cheaper for the Government?

But no, we have this demand for private schools-a freedom of choice as to where one sends one's children. The honourable member for La Trobe does not want any of that. He just wants to see them all force fed into one system. With the increasing population in Australia, people in many areas would like to see additional private schools set up, and this will continue. But not the honourable member for La Trobe. He will force them all into government schools.

Mr Cowan —I wonder whether he sends his own kids to private schools.

Mr WHITE —Many of them do, of course. We have had the hypocritical debate from that side of the House that public school education is the only way. It would be very interesting to take a count of the members of the Government to see whose children go to private schools.

Mr Cadman —The Teachers Federation too.

Mr WHITE —The honourable member for Mitchell said: 'The Teachers Federation too' . The Teachers Federation is in the same mould as the Government. I suspect that the number of its membership whose children go to private schools would be considerable also.

There is no doubt that the funding of private schools for three years, which provision has come forward in these Bills, is a step in the right direction because that will afford them some stability in their funding arrangements. But I know, from talking to many of them, that they are very wary about what might happen after the next election if the Government is returned to office. There is no confidence that all the Government's undertakings in the tertiary funding area will continue. The schools know very well the power of the Teachers Federation and the left wing of the Labor Party, not to mention the Minister for Education and Youth Affairs who, I suspect, will never give up. I wish to quote again from the second reading speech of the Minister for Education and Youth Affairs to try to emphasise what the private schools are getting into. Certainly they have been given funding, on the face of it for three years, but many thorns and conditions attach to that sort of funding. Regarding the criteria which will have to be met, the Minister said:

Grants are appropriated . . . on the condition that they will adequately maintain their private cash recurrent expenditure.

Secondly she said:

Schools which fail to maintain their private effort . . . may be assigned to a lower grant category.

Thirdly, she said:

Schools will need to satisfactorily explain to the Commonwealth any circumstances where they are unable to offset any declines in the value of contributed services.

Fourthly, she said:

Schools which are unable to operate from private sources at or above the community standard are expected to avoid imposing additional charges-

so the Government is telling the schools how they will have to charge their students-

or taking any other steps which further widen the resources gap between themselves and other schools.

She continued:

The Commission has been asked to monitor and report on schools' responses during the 1985-88 funding period.

I repeat:

The Commission has been asked to monitor and report on schools' responses during the 1985-88 funding period.

In other words, there will be a big brother looking over their shoulders to see whether they are doing the right thing as far as the Government is concerned. That is what it amounts to. Big brother will be looking over their shoulders.

Mr Fisher —They might even be teaching.

Mr WHITE —That is very doubtful. It is all very well for the Government to bring forward these Bills. On the face of it they look as if they are a step in the right direction for education in this country.

One of the points I wish to raise-I hope the Government will consider it- concerns the relationship, the priorities and the funding between our schools, tertiary institutions, colleges of advanced education and technical colleges. It seems to me that the Government, to its credit, has made a great effort to keep students at schools much longer than was the case a few years ago. But it is no use keeping students at school if they have nowhere to go when they leave. That is the great problem which faces Australia right now. Students complete their secondary schooling but they cannot get places in colleges of advanced education , universities, technical colleges or technical and further education colleges. That is a great tragedy. This situation will be accentuated in the years to come .

As an example, I take the apprenticeship system. We are forcing students to find an employer before they can obtain an apprenticeship. We have to look at placing those apprenticeships in colleges, whereby the college becomes the master and the apprentice does not have to find an employer. Until we do that, unemployment will continue and one in four of our under 19-year-olds will be out of work. It is a tragedy for Australia. I ask the Government to look sensibly at providing places in technical and higher education for those whom it has successfully encouraged to stay on at school. It is no use setting up a system in which students finish their higher school education at a grade 11 or grade 12 level and then find themselves floundering in the community because they have nowhere to go. It seems to me that over recent years the resources of schools have reached a very satisfactory level. It is now time to look at the priority of funding and perhaps channel some of that money that now goes into schools into higher and technical education. In that way we might provide some satisfactory future for our young people in this country.