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Thursday, 5 October 2000
Page: 20936

Dr KEMP (Minister for Education, Training and Youth Affairs and Minister Assisting the Prime Minister for the Public Service) (4:31 PM) —This is the MPI you have when you have the Australian Education Union riding very hard on your back. You have to offer them something and they love a bit of the politics of envy and the class-war rhetoric. The Labor Party are in a huge bind on this because the leader of the Labor Party and the member for Dobell have stated publicly that they intend to pass the government's legislation. The Democrats have said exactly the same thing. Of course the Australian Education Union are furious with the Labor Party over this. So before they pass the legislation the Labor Party have got to kick up a song and dance to tell Shazza, Denis Fitzgerald and all the others associated with the Australian Education Union that they are really serious—that they are really on their side. They know that unless they can get this message across the AEU will not contribute to the next election campaign, and they are deeply dependent on funding from the Australian Education Union for their election campaign. So no distortion is too great, no misrepresentation is too extreme. The AEU love to stir up a bit of division in the community. They love the class-war rhetoric and really welcome the attack on a school like King's, the parents of whom will be getting only 30 per cent of the cost of funding a child at a government school under this policy compared to the much higher funding for government schools. The Australian Education Union love this kind of rhetoric.

The member for Dobell has to please them, and he has to please some of the ideologues on the Labor Party backbench because he has the shadow of the member for Werriwa looming over him. The difference between them is that the member for Werriwa can actually understand some of the issues involved here, whereas the member for Dobell does not understand the issues or else is deliberately misrepresenting the issues. We are seeing here a pathetic attempt to suggest that there is something unfair about the government's new funding system for non-government schools. Just think about this: the Labor Party says this is unfair when every element of the non-government school sector, every representative voice in the non-government school sector, says this is fair. This is the most absurd MPI topic this House has seen for a long time—concerning `widespread community concern'! The community concern extends just beyond the backbench of the Labor Party into the ranks of the officials of the Australian Education Union, and that is about the limit of it.

The community concern I find is the concern of every element of the non-government sector about the Labor Party's activities. Let me just go through them. I have here a series of statements from every element in the non-government sector. They put on the record their concern, and their concern is with the Labor Party. As Fergus Thompson, the Executive Director of the National Council of Independent Schools Association, said on 28 August:

Any delay by the Senate in passing the schools funding legislation will cause serious problems for independent schools ... There is no reason to delay passage of the legislation. The SES funding system has been trialed. It has proved workable. This debate has gone on for years. It is now urgent for many schools. All school sectors depend on the legislation and all sectors would welcome its passage by the parliament without delay.

On 4 September he also said:

The families of the 300,000-plus students at independent schools around the nation will be seriously hurt by delays to reforming legislation that will means-test Commonwealth funding of non-government schools.

In a media release on 29 September the Association of Independent Schools of New South Wales said:

We urge Senators to pass the Bill without delay because all schools and parents need to know the funding levels as soon as possible to enable proper budgeting for next year.

In a media release on 29 September the Australian Parents Council said:

The States Grants legislation puts in place Commonwealth funding for Australian school students for 2001-2004. It should be passed without further delay so that all schools can adequately plan for 2001.

On 28 August, Mr Leo Dunn, OAM, President of the Australian Parents Council, said:

The Bill guarantees security of Commonwealth funding for non-government schools and students during the phasing in of the new funding mechanism. Commonwealth funding legislation for school education runs out at the end of this year. Legislation is necessary to ensure that Commonwealth funds flow for school education from 1 January 2001.

The Rev. Tom Doyle, the Deputy Chair of the National Catholic Education Commission, in a recent media release, on 22 August, said:

The Senate should pass the State Grants Bill 2000 intact.

That covers the entire non-government sector. The Christian controlled Parents Schools have issued a statement saying:

The Government is to be congratulated. Low income Australian parents and their families have been given a real chance to exercise genuine choice in the education of their children.

Dr Peter Tannock has said:

It will give them—

Catholic schools and systems—

real increases in resources, and a secure, long-term funding base. ... It will also help many Catholic schools to cope with cost pressures which are pushing up fees to levels which make it very difficult for families on low and moderate incomes.

As Peter Crimmins, the Executive Officer of the Australian Association of Christian Schools, said:

Choice in schooling is now a reality for working class Australian families.

So the Labor Party has been abandoned by absolutely everybody who is affected by the new system. We have got the pathetic sight of the member for Dobell marching up and down here saying, `It's not fair to low income Catholic schools, it's not fair to low income independent schools, and it would be fairer if we changed it,' and yet all those who represent those schools say it is fair. Who should they believe? Should they believe the member for Dobell, the spokesman for the education policy that the member for Werriwa walked away from because it is so bad, or should they believe the people who represent them? The fact is the Labor Party stands alone with the Australian Education Union, opposing on its old class war grounds, its old left-wing ideology, legislation to give schools fair funding.

The fact is that we have put in place for the first time a fair measure against which the funding of schools can be determined. That fair measure is never better illustrated than by this fact: when you look at the schools which are servicing the wealthiest communities in Australia, according to the SES system—the system supported by every expert in Australia as fairer, and supported by all the school systems as fairer—when you look at the schools that are funded by this system, you find that the schools serving the wealthiest communities are funded at a lower level under our system than the level at which they were funded under Labor's system. About half the 67 schools serving the wealthiest communities will be funded at Labor's level, because we have agreed to maintain past levels of funding, and half will be funded at our level under our new system. The schools that are funded under Labor's system get 50 per cent more funding per student than the schools funded under our system. Why is that? It is because Labor's system was so absurdly corrupted by Labor's political manipulation over the years to gratify its base, without any regard to fairness, without any regard to justice.

Dr KEMP —I can tell the member for Dobell that it is a base that is shrinking all the time, and every time the member for Dobell opens his mouth it shrinks further. He and the member for Werriwa together have attacked virtually everybody in the non-government sector, and they are trying to mislead everybody in the government sector, but fortunately people can see through them. The reason we get these high funding levels for these wealthy schools from Labor's system is because Labor's system did not pay any real attention to equity, and that is why it has been abandoned by everybody in the non-government sector. Nobody supports it except the member for Dobell.

Dr KEMP —The Catholics do not support it either. The Catholics have made very clear to us that they support the new legislation. The member for Dobell has now put the Labor Party in the most extraordinary situation, because he is saying that parents who receive 30 per cent, 35 per cent or 25 per cent of the cost of education at a government school for their child are overfunded—they are being overpaid by the government. They would get much more support for their children if they sent their child to the local government school; they would get 100 per cent of the cost of educating a child at a government school. They are only going to get about 35 per cent. So a school like King's School is saving the taxpayer—the parent at that school—millions of dollars. That money that they save the taxpayer is available for government schools, and that is why these schools are deserving of the funding that they get under this new system because it is a new, fair system. But Labor is going to cut their funding. Let us be quite clear, so that the message goes out to all the parents at these schools, that Labor is going to cut their funding because they are overfunded; according to Labor, it is unfair that they get even 30 per cent of the cost of educating a child at a government school.

This new funding system that we have introduced is going to produce, finally and at last, a funding system which has credibility with those who are subject to it. The Labor Party not only is going to cut funding to these schools but also is going to reintroduce the new schools policy—the infamous new schools policy.

Dr KEMP —There we are; it is confirmed by the member for Port Adelaide. The member for Port Adelaide has confirmed the fact—let Hansard record this—that the Labor Party intends to reintroduce the new schools policy.

That policy was designed by the unions to prevent new low fee schools opening up because people in the Labor Party think that the best way to protect public education is to stop parents on low incomes having a choice. He has no idea about proper reform of the public education system; he has nothing to do with proper reporting to parents. During their 13 years in office Labor did nothing to raise literacy standards. They left 30 per cent of young Australians unable to read and write properly. They do not believe in more autonomy for school principals and for parents. They do everything possible to bias parents against the public school system by making sure that it remains under the centralised bureaucratic controls that can be influenced by union officials. They do not really care about public education. They do not care about students in need. That is why, when they were in office, they did not do anything about the most important social justice issue in education—literacy. They do not really care about the need in schools. And they say the new system is unfair. The new system funds the schools serving the wealthiest communities at about 13.7 per cent of the cost of educating a child at a government school. It funds every student at a government school at 100 per cent. It funds the schools serving the neediest communities in the non-government sector at 70 per cent. That is a funding system that is based on need and on a recognition of need; not on need as I judge it or as the member for Dobell judges it. It is a funding system based on need and recognised in an objective and transparent way. (Time expired)