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Tuesday, 9 October 1984
Page: 1950


Mr MAHER(9.08) —The legislation which is before the House tonight contains the Government's widely acclaimed package of aid to government schools, non-government schools, universities and technical education. I was somewhat disappointed with the remarks made by some of the speakers for the Opposition because they did not really understand their own legislation which applies for this academic year. The honourable member for McPherson (Mr White) talked about and questioned how anyone could categorise a school or pupils. He has no knowledge that at present, under the Liberal Party's legislation which the Hawke Government inherited, all schools are put into one of three groups. This is the appalling situation that we see as we go around our electorates.

Essentially, there are only two groups: The schools are either deemed wealthy schools in group 1, which receive minimum funding-few of them are wealthy schools-and there are needy schools which are thrown into group 3. Very few schools are in group 2, except a few of the Church of England schools in the country areas. I know that in my own electorate there is a real mish-mash of funding schools. Many of them are battling to keep going in level one. They are equated with schools on the North Shore of Sydney and in the eastern suburbs which have substantial resources. The schools in my electorate are not in that category of resources and income. They will benefit greatly from the Labor Government's decision to establish 12 categories for funding schools. This provision is contained in the States Grants (Schools Assistance) Bill, which is part of the legislation before us tonight. The Bill provides that in future there will be 12 categories into which each school will be assessed, by an income test, and subsequently funded. The Government has guaranteed in the legislation that no school will be worse off or will receive less funding than it will receive in the 1984 academic year. This guarantee has provided a great assurance to the schools. They have been given a period in which to plan. In the non-government sector in particular, four years of funding has been guaranteed. The funding package of the Hawke Labor Government has been acclaimed by the non- government system. The school administrations in my electorate are delighted about these proposals.

I was disappointed with the comments made by the honourable member for McPherson. I was sorry that he had not read the second reading speech of the Minister for Education and Youth Affairs (Senator Ryan) about new schools, because the position is set out clearly in the legislation. New schools are being encouraged in the non-government sector and they will be funded. A special committee is looking at establishing guidelines concerning the impact of new schools on existing government and non-government schools. This is very difficult to work out and to assess legally because no one can say that in 1986 so many pupils will not go to a State school or to a catholic school if some other type of non-government school is opened in an area. I have spoken to the Minister about this matter. She has assured me of an eventual fair and equitable outcome and that the test that is to be applied will be sympathetic to schools and to the development of a non-government school system which the Government is committed to support.

The honourable member for McPherson talked about the grey mediocrity of education which he envisaged the Government as encouraging. That is not the case . When I visit schools-I have always visited schools in my electorate-I find that in many of them there is grey mediocrity. I find it in State schools that were neglected by the previous Government and in parish schools that were disgracefully neglected. The private schools in my electorate, the so-called wealthy schools, were also neglected by the previous Government. They were starved of adequate funds. I do not know how the teachers worked in some of them and how the pupils stay in these schools which are not pleasant places to be in.

To the credit of this Government, it is at last giving money-a decent shot in the arm-to the State schools, to the Catholic schools and to the private schools , all of which will have basic grants guaranteed. Members of the Opposition say they support the legislation, but really they are very annoyed that the Government has come forward with a decent policy of social justice and fairness and that the Minister has championed this policy and taken the matter out of the political arena and taken away the sectarianism that the honourable member for McPherson talked about.

The honourable member for Curtin (Mr Rocher) raised a few interesting points about residential colleges. The Government has a very positive proposal to help the residential colleges. At present, aid goes only to those tertiary students who live in a residential college. In future it will go to students who are in need, whether they live in a college or live in digs outside the college or university.

I well remember that when I was a member of the New South Wales Parliament and Sir Eric Willis was Minister for Education, someone brought to his attention the fact that principals of university colleges in New South Wales received a substantial grant towards their salaries from the New South Wales Government. This had gone on for over 50 years. As soon as he found out about this grant he cut it out. That occurred in about 1975. He took the attitude that the Federal Government should pay all tertiary funds. That curtailment of grants towards the principals' salaries nearly closed some of the residential colleges within the universities and the colleges of advanced education. Fortunately, they are all on a much sounder footing now. As the Minister explained in her second reading speech, the increase in the tertiary education assistance scheme allowance to students will well and truly cover any additional costs that a college student would have to face because of increased fees in a residential college.

The honourable member for Bennelong (Mr Howard) dealt with a number of matters. He stated that Senator Peter Baume would be saying much about new schools. I well remember the difficulties I had when Senator Baume was the Minister for Education, in getting him to visit my electorate. Despite many requests, he never came until an election was announced. Then he came out unannounced to the little run-down parish school where I have four children enrolled. I thought this was a bit political.

The honourable member for Bennelong talked about Santa Sabina College in Strathfield, which has a large number of pupils from my electorate. That college has lost funding because of legislation brought in by the previous Government, which created three groups for funding purposes. If a school went from one group into another group it lost an enormous amount of funding. Santa Sabina, unfortunately, has lost funding amounting to nearly $500,000. Its entitlement has been assessed on an income test which the previous Government brought in and it has been subject to that test since 1981. The Commonwealth Schools Commission has been through the books checking on that school. Its funding has been lost under Liberal-National Party legislation. It is a shame that the honourable member for Bennelong mentioned that school tonight. A number of parents whose children attend that school are naturally very upset about the possible increase in school fees. I have great sympathy for them. I have suggested to the college authorities that they should appeal to a review tribunal.

One thing I wish to mention briefly relates to an article in a Sydney newspaper , the Sunday Telegraph, in which the President of the Parents and Friends Association of Santa Sabina, Mr Michael Coffey, who is known to me, was reported to have said that he believed that the Federal Government was picking off Catholic schools one by one. I do not believe Mr Coffey said that. I know him to be an intelligent man. I think somebody else said that and that the reporter mixed up the comments. But if Mr Coffey were to read clause 29 of the Bill he would see a guarantee that no school will lose funding when schools pass from the Liberal Party's present legislation, which covers funding for this academic year of 1984, to the Labor Party's funding involving 12 categories of schools which will apply next year and until 1988. To make a silly comment like that is out of character for Mr Coffey. It is contrary to the legislation that the Government is bringing in, which has been announced and which has been applauded by the state and non-state schools systems.

I have a very active interest in the funding of government and non-government schools. There are 19,500 pupils in my electorate. Many pupils come to my electorate every day. Over 7,000 school children coming from other suburbs go through Strathfield station every day. Education is a subject that I have worked on and that I have taken an interest in, and I applaud this legislation. I believe the government schools will be recognised and assisted. When one goes into some of the government schools one sees their needs and the results of the years of appalling neglect when State governments were starved of funds. When one goes into parish schools one sees a similar situation. In my electorate some of the parish schools are nearly entirely composed of students who come from families in which English is not spoken. The teachers have a very difficult time at such schools. The situation is the same in state schools.

This legislation will give the schools certainty. They will have four years of certain knowledge of what funding they will get. They will have four years in which to plan for the future and work out their budgets. Non-government schools will have a sliding scale of funding with 12 categories of schools. So if a school moves from one category to another it will not face bankruptcy, the parents will not be totally distressed and the pupils will not have to leave the school. This is a very sensible scheme that the Government has brought forward.

I congratulate the Commonwealth Schools Commission on suggesting this scheme. I am sorry that a great Australian civil servant, Dr Peter Tannock, will be leaving the Schools Commission in the near future. I have got to know very few Federal civil servants-they tend to avoid members and senators-but I have got to know Peter Tannock well. He is a most impressive, most creative and most dedicated man. His work in advising the Government in regard to this scheme will always be remembered by the education authorities in Australia. I have much pleasure in supporting the legislation.