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Thursday, 7 May 1987
Page: 2785

Mr MILES(12.24) —In his reply to the second reading debate a little while ago the Minister said that the delivery of education was primarily a State matter. In relation to the funding of non-government schools covered by this clause, I point out that no funding is provided unless those schools are registered by the State, and yet this part of the legislation deals with the functioning of a school. Why is it necessary for the Commonwealth, once it accepts registration of a school, to then interfere in the activities of that school? The registration aspect should be sufficient. The Minister said that, primarily, the delivery of education was a State function, but in this legislation there is a regulatory approach imposed on those bodies involved. I refer specifically to the provision which stipulates that money should be made equally available for the provision of facilities for both male and female students at a school.

I agree entirely with that in principle, but in practice how will one judge that that is the real case? For example, a school might want to build an industrial arts facility or a home science block and, as students are given a choice as to what subjects they want to take, both girls and boys are freely available to go to either facility. However, if over a period the girls, for example, choose home science in preference to industrial arts, does that give the Minister a basis on which to argue that the funds have not really been applied equally to boys and girls? That is the situation in practice: It is not due to the school not offering the opportunity. So, how does one really judge whether a facility is equally available to the boys and the girls? This is a difficult question.

Mr Price —As far as practicable.

Mr MILES —As far as practicable, as the honourable member said; this really illustrates the point that this provision is totally unnecessary regulation, because schools and communities have applied that sort of pressure already. The social change has occurred and therefore there is no need for this type of regulation to be introduced. My last point relates to the part of the legislation relating to the provision of facilities `for use, wholly or partly, for or in relation to religious worship'. The honourable member for Tangney (Mr Shack) pointed out that religious worship is fundamental to many of our private schools in Australia. It is the premise on which those schools operate. I make the point that what the Government is saying here to these schools, the teachers, the parents and the children, is that they can have a belief but that they should not practise their belief. It is saying that they can have such a belief but that the Government will not in any way provide facilities, even those used only partly in the practise of that belief. I think that that distinction is very important, as the people who do have beliefs in life want to be able to practise them. The parents who send their children to religious schools want that opportunity.

By bringing in this type of legislation the Government is signifying that one can have a belief but that one should not practise it, that it will not give a person any support to practise a belief. I think it is very important for the Australian community to understand that that is the direction in which this Government is going in imposing totally unnecessary regulation on private schools. The Opposition opposes this; we are firmly opposed to this type of legislation. An important role of these schools is to impart religious values, whether Christian, Muslim or otherwise. By bringing in this legislation, the Government is signifying that it considers that these values, whether Muslim, Christian, Confucian--

Mr Hunt —Jewish.

Mr MILES —Jewish, or whatever it might be are not important in those religious schools. That is what the Government is signifying by not providing money for these facilities. I was not able to complete the point that I began to make earlier in debate about how one distinguishes between the facilities that are available nowadays in the schools for worship. However, I point out that some of the schools use the classrooms that they also use to teach science, english, mathematics, and so forth. So, what is the Government really saying? Is it saying that those facilities are used only partly and therefore not able to be funded? This is a very important point, because no longer is worship of whatever religion in those schools just something that occurs down at the chapel. It is ongoing and integrated into the whole program of the schools so that the values, whether Jewish or Christian, et cetera, are moulded into those children because that is what the parents want when they send their children to those schools. This Government is setting its face against what parents desire for their children. I ask the Government to think very carefully again about this part of the Bill and not be intrusive into the beliefs and the practice of those beliefs by people in Australia. I ask the Government to accept the amendments which we are proposing. I am sure that would be greeted with pleasure by many thousands of parents around this country.