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Thursday, 7 May 1987
Page: 2784

Mr SHACK(12.16) —I move:

Clause 8, page 3, proposed section 25b, omit subsection (4).

For the benefit of the Chamber I will read sub-section (4). This relates to the approval or non-approval of capital moneys for particular projects. It reads:

A project shall not be approved under subsection (1) if:

(a) the project is in connection with a co-educational school and the Minister is of the opinion that the benefits of, and the opportunities created by, the project will not, as far as practicable, be equally available to male students and female students at the school; or

(b) the sole or principal object, or one of the principal objects, of the project is:

(i) to provide housing or other residential accommodation for teaching or other staff; or

(ii) to provide facilities for use, wholly or partly, for or in relation to religious worship.

It is our contention that the Bill should be passed at this stage with the omission of that particular sub-section. We argue in favour of our amendment on the following grounds: Firstly, if the Minister for Trade (Mr Dawkins), who is at the table, is seeking an example of government intrusion into the operations of non-government schools, he need look no further than this sub-section because it provides a direct opportunity for the Minister for Education (Senator Ryan), in the allocation of capital grants, to make approvals or non-approvals on her assessment of a school's operations and its use of the money.

The provision of facilities for co-education, the provision of housing facilities for teaching staff and the provision of facilities for or in relation to religious worship are, in many cases, central to the operations of non-government schools around Australia. I take the three provisions in turn. Firstly, co-educational non-government schools are as aware as all non-government schools that there is not a surplus of capital funds. These funds are not unlimited, indeed they are hard to come by for any school for any project. Co-educational non-government schools stand in the wider educational market-place, having to satisfy both male and female students in the operation of the school and the way in which they spend the funds that they receive, whether these be recurrent or capital funds. It is not the place of the Minister for Education to enshrine in legislation the opportunity for her to knock on the head funding of a particular project because in her opinion-and her opinion alone-the benefits of and the opportunities created by the project will not, as far as practicable, be equally available to male and female students at the school. One can think of any number of examples where there may be expenditure on a particular project which, for the purpose of that project, may benefit boys or, for the purpose of another particular type of project, may benefit girls, simply because of the circumstances of that particular school. The Opposition opposes this provision because it simply leaves the entire question up to ministerial fiat, or, in the case of Senator Ryan, might I say ministerial whim on this particular article of faith in her makeup, and that is, whether it will equally favour male or female students. We would prefer to extend responsibility to the schools, knowing full well that they are accountable to their parental community, the student community and the wider community. They are better placed to be able to make judgments about how they can spend their money on various projects that they put forward.

Secondly, in terms of housing, this Government has attacked non-government schooling through its fringe benefits tax legislation, as it impacts on non-government schools in rural and isolated communities. A central feature of the operation of those schools in the delivery of their educational services is that they be able to attract, and in many cases house, staff. Capital projects which have as one of their principal objects to provide housing or other residential accommodation are central to the provision of educational services at the relevant schools. This clause strikes directly at many non-government schools in isolated or rural area communities around Australia.

The last point that I wish to make in this short contribution concerns the provision of facilities for use, wholly or partly, for or in relation to religious worship. The expression of religious worship in respect of many non-government schools in Australia is central; it is the essence of those schools in the delivery of their education. The Opposition objects to and opposes violently any Commonwealth Minister in making a decision in the allocation of capital funding for particular projects to rule out the allocation of funding on those grounds. I am not talking about a certain religion versus another religion but about cases where schools exist, where they are supported by parents because religious worship and the expression of it is not some adjunct to the school-they do not simply go to the chapel or down the road-but is central to the delivery of education provided by that school. The essence of such schools is their religious foundation. The Opposition objects violently and most strongly to the inclusion of this clause in the Bill. Hence, we have moved the amendment in the hope that the Government even at this late stage will accept our argument and support the exclusion of this clause from the Bill.