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Wednesday, 29 August 2001
Page: 30504

Mrs DE-ANNE KELLY (1:01 PM) —I rise to speak to the States Grants (Primary and Secondary Education Assistance) Amendment Bill (No. 2) 2001. This is an important and urgent piece of legislation. It deals with the budgets of a large number of new schools in the Catholic, Lutheran, Anglican and other systems, as well as for new low-fee independent and community schools. This bill would not be necessary were it not for the difficulties the Labor Party and the Australian Democrats have placed in its path in the Senate.

The amendment contained in this bill was previously contained in the Innovation and Education Legislation Amendment Bill 2001. In the Senate on 29 June 2001 Labor and the Democrats voted to split the bill three ways. In doing this they effectively voted this bill down and denied five schools their full entitlement. I notice that the Labor Party has again moved an amendment in the House of Representatives to the effect that it will allow this bill through only if $30 million is also supplied to new government schools, and I will deal with that in a moment. If the opposition again fails to pass this bill it will result in the Commonwealth being unable to pay a total of 54 schools their second payment, which is due this coming October. These schools are across the spectrum of non-government schooling and include, as I said before, Catholic parish schools, Anglican schools, Christian schools, Montessori and Steiner schools, Jewish day schools and an indigenous community school.

The bill amends the States Grants (Primary and Secondary Education Assistance) Act 2000, which authorised establishment assistance funding for the 2001 to 2004 funding period to assist new non-government schools with costs incurred in their formative years. This bill amends the act by increasing the amount for establishment assistance funding for the 2001 to 2004 funding period to take account of demand estimates. The act provided for a total assistance of $4.726 million. This amendment increases that by $9.534 million to a total of $14.26 million over four years. This is to accommodate statistics revealed in the 2000 census data. It was found that, while the number of new school enrolments was relatively constant, average enrolments were nearly double those of 1999. This bill contains no policy change to funding arrangements for non-government schools. It is an additional appropriation to ensure that the government can fulfil its obligations to newly establishing non-government schools over the next four years.

If the opposition again refuses to pass this bill, it will mean that 54 new schools which will have budgeted to receive their funding will be forced either to turn to parents with higher fees or to become involved in other forms of fundraising. The opposition should note that many of these schools serve low and middle income communities and that further delay will only serve to disadvantage their school communities.

I would now like to turn to the question of school funding as a whole and in particular government or state school funding. As the House would be aware, the Queensland Teachers Union are running a deceptive and duplicitous campaign against the coalition government's school funding policy. I have no doubt that the education unions in other states are following the same approach. The basic tenet of their campaign is the portrayal of the coalition as taking money from government schools and giving it to non-government schools. Nothing could be further from the truth.

These are the facts. School funding in Australia is a shared responsibility between the Commonwealth and state governments. When I go to schools in my electorate, I see `state school'. That means what it says. Schools are a state responsibility primarily. State governments are responsible for around 90 per cent of funding for government or state schools. The Commonwealth government provides around 92 per cent of funding for all non-government schools. State governments provide to non-government schools generally in the area of some eight per cent.

Commonwealth funding for Queensland state schools has risen to a record $440 million in this financial year, an increase of 5.7 per cent over last year. This is, in fact, an incredible 52 per cent higher than the funding in 1996, the last year of a federal Labor government. Since 1996 federal funding for Queensland state schools has increased by $150 million. Queensland state government education has not kept pace with the Commonwealth increases. It increased this year by 4.1 per cent after an increase of less than one per cent last year. The major factor in this year's increase was a 4.5 per cent salary increase for teachers, which consumed some $214.9 million. While I do not begrudge the teachers in Queensland receiving a salary increase, I do begrudge their pointing the finger quite unfairly at the Commonwealth when they have been seeking to place the blame somewhere else.

By 2004, government secondary schools will receive $8,172 per student per year. For those in non-government schools the amount will be $5,721. For students in the schools which the education unions and the Labor Party like to refer to as wealthy schools, the figure will be $1,120. I want the House to think about those figures per student per year: $8,172 in government secondary schools, $5,721 in non-government secondary schools and $1,120 in the so-called wealthy schools. The facts speak for themselves. The majority of overall government funding goes to government schools.

I note that the shadow minister referred to 70 per cent of the student population being enrolled in state or government schools. That is a correct figure and he is right in making that known. What he did not say, though, was that 78 per cent of the total combined funding goes to government schools. So the sector has 70 per cent of the students but receives 78 per cent of the total government funding. The reality is that government schools are well and truly catered for, as they should be, by the Commonwealth and perhaps less so by the states. Government schools receive around $13.5 billion in taxpayer funding for the two million students they enrol. Non-government schools receive $3.5 billion for the one million student population they have enrolled. That is $13.5 billion for two million students in government schools and $3.5 billion for one million in non-government schools. One cannot escape the facts.

Since 1996 student numbers have increased by 2.3 per cent—this is in government schools—while Commonwealth funding to government schools has increased by 52 per cent. The Queensland Teachers Union does not like these facts because they do not support the flawed proposition that they put forward, but facts they are and facts they remain. It is clear that government schools are not being discriminated against by the Commonwealth government, contrary to the propaganda being distributed by the QTU. It is not me alone saying this. In fact, Don Rolls from Mackay—someone who is highly respected in the city of Mackay, a councillor and a very hard worker for the local community—happens to be the chairman of the parents and friends state committee for Catholic Schools in Queensland. Recently in my local newspaper, the Daily Mercury, he stated that `the QTU were just being mischievous again' and that `the QTU should show the full picture.' Hear, hear to that!

But these campaigns by the education unions really do beg the question: what do they really want? What pressure are they going to put on the Labor Party if the Labor Party wins government federally? I think that is a realistic question for parents of children in non-government schools right across Australia to ask—particularly in my electorate of Dawson, which has a lot of non-government schools. What are the education unions really going to put the pressure on the Labor party for should it win government? We have an inkling of the answer, and it lies in the following public statements of the Australian Education Union in its submission to the Senate inquiry into the states grants bill in July 2000:

The AEU has long opposed any funding for private schools and will continue to do so.

They are opposed to any funding for private schools. On 15 March 2001, when asked by an ABC Radio presenter, `Now, do you want the government to stop funding private schools in all shapes and forms?' Sue Simpson of the New South Wales Teachers Federation said:

Well that's certainly the ideal position of the Teachers Federation.

So no funding for private schools. Further, Mike Poate, the AEU Tasmanian president, stated:

The federal government must redistribute the money that it is currently giving to private schools into the public sector. That way we can assure the future of Australian children.

Mr Poate seems to believe that he can assure the future of Australian children, but presumably only those in government schools. If you happen to be a child who goes to one of the small church or independent schools, then you will receive no assistance. None of the taxpayers' dollars that your parents pay will come back to you for schooling.

So there we have it. The end game of the education unions is no funding to anything other than government schools. This is a very serious situation. Such a proposal would decimate the Catholic and other church schools in my electorate of Dawson— schools that are held in high regard. It is a proposal with which I could never agree.

The question I would ask—and which I will be asking—of the Australian Labor Party and the education unions would be: `Which of my non-government schools is going to lose funding under a federal Labor government?' Is it going to be St Patrick's College in Mackay? Mercy College? Holy Spirit College? Emmanuel Catholic Primary School? St Joseph's? St Francis Xavier? Or perhaps St Mary's? All of those schools are based in Mackay. Or are they going to go a bit further afield? Are we looking perhaps at the Whitsunday Anglican School? Mackay Christian College? Or the Carlisle Christian College? Perhaps they are going to be looking at St John's at Walkerston or St Anne's at Sarina. There are other non-government schools in my electorate, such as St Catherine's in Proserpine; the Whitsunday Christian Community School in Cannonvale; St Mary's in Bowen; St Coleman's in Home Hill; and St Francis and the Burdekin Catholic High School in Ayr.

Let me assure honourable members that these are not wealthy schools. When I visit these schools it is quite plain that their only wealth lies in the community support for them. The parents support the schools. There is no doubt that they serve communities which struggle very hard to send these children to church based schools. Children who attend these schools do not come from wealthy families. These are not the so-called wealthy schools. As I said, many parents make great sacrifices to send their children to these schools. Of course, they send their children to non-government schools for a variety of reasons. Perhaps they wish them to attend a church based school. Perhaps the school happens to be the nearest one to them. For whatever reason, it is their choice. They have made their choice. They pay their taxpayer dollars and we as a government should support parents' choices, whether it is to send their child to a government school or to a non-government school.

The removal or reduction of Commonwealth funding from these schools would put them beyond the reach of many and would disadvantage many families in my electorate of Dawson. Let me say that it would also disadvantage many government schools. There would be no way that the government schools in my electorate of Dawson could accommodate the rush of students that would leave these schools if they received no Commonwealth funding. Yet this is the ultimate aim of the education unions: to ensure that there is no Commonwealth funding for these schools.

Our children—and I know that you will agree with this, Madam Deputy Speaker— should have the expectation of receiving the best education outcome regardless of where they live or their family circumstances. Every child should have the opportunity for a worthwhile education, a fulfilling career and a satisfying adulthood. I know that that is something with which all sound members of parliament would agree. I am totally opposed to the view of the education unions that want to see all Commonwealth government funding diverted away from what they call `private schools'—what I call `non-government schools'—many of which struggle in my electorate. I am very concerned that, were the Labor Party to win government, the unions would begin to pressure a Labor government to put that very unfair and discriminatory policy into place.

I have mentioned Don Rolls previously in my address. He is a most thoughtful man. I would like to quote from his letter—the article deserves to be aired. It states:

Mackay City Councillor Don Rolls has come to the defence of Catholic and all private schools in the ongoing debate on funding for private and public schools.

Cr Rolls is the chairman of the parents and friends state committee for Catholic Schools in Queensland and a delegate on the Australian Parents Council for parents of students in the non-state sector of education.

He said the Queensland Teachers Union was only telling part of the funding picture.

Cr Rolls said the state government has a constitutional role to education funding and it was only in the 1970s that funding to private schools was increased.

This was done to address the decline in religious teaching at Catholic schools.

He said it was the right of every child to be funded for education.

Hear, hear to that! It continues:

The joint parent body in Queensland is asking both levels of government to increase funding for all students.

Cr Rolls said about 90% of the Queensland education budget and 78% of the combined state and federal funds for education went to state schools, which had 70% of the student population.

He said the number of students going to private schools was not shown.

`We're not looking at full funding, just an equitable share of the taxes that we pay.'

`The QTU is just being mischievous once again,' he said.

Cr Rolls said the QTU should show the full picture and allow people to make up their own minds on the issue.

Hear, hear to that! Councillor Rolls should be commended for coming into what has been a very divisive and misleading debate.

I am disappointed today by the opposition's amendment, not because asking for funding for any level of schooling from any sector is necessarily a bad thing but because the Labor Party is letting the state premiers off the hook—78 per cent of combined government funding goes to government schools. If there is a need for funding for new government schools, that genuinely falls on the state sector.

The premiers, with their GST funding, should not be allowed to avoid their responsibilities. I simply ask: if there is a need to assist the states with funding for new government schools, as the opposition claims there is, what is being rolled back such that they do not have the funding from the GST to be able to do this themselves? Why is it that the Labor Party believes the states are not going to be able to properly fund education? It is their role constitutionally to do that. So I have grave concerns about this. I will be asking in my electorate which government schools are to be defunded were the education unions to have their way.

I fully support the minister, Dr David Kemp, in his efforts not only to assist new non-government schools but to ensure that that 52 per cent increase in funding from the Commonwealth to government schools continues and that non-government schools receive a fair and equitable share. I commend the bill to the House.