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Thursday, 8 December 1983
Page: 3544

Senator BJELKE-PETERSEN(6.26) —I would like to add a few comments to the cognate debate on the States Grants (Education Assistance-Participation and Equity) Bill 1983, the States Grants (Schools Assistance) Bill 1983 and the States Grants (Tertiary Education Assistance) Amendment Bill 1983 which are now before the Senate. I have listened with interest to the case that has been put by honourable senators from this side of the chamber. I agree with what has been said by those honourable senators. I would like to raise one or two points. Senator Zakharov just said that 75 per cent of children go to government schools and only 25 per cent go to non-goverment independent schools and they have not been hurt. I suppose that is why those schools have been particularly mentioned by honourable senators on this side of the chamber. We have all heard a lot about the hit list of 41 wealthy non-government schools, as they are called, whose funding is to be reduced, whose basic grant is to be taken away. I would like to point out to the Senate that many parents who send their children to these schools are not necessarily wealthy parents. They scrimp and save so that their children can go to the school of their choice. The parents might have gone to those schools, the parents might feel there is better discipline at those schools or they might feel that their children can get religious instruction at those schools. For some reason or other they want to send their children to those schools and they make an effort to do so. I know of one family which had a home worth $80,000. The family sold it and moved into a house worth $50,000, so the $30,000 left could be used to pay for the education of their children.

I received a copy of a letter in the mail just recently in which I was told that it was estimated that 65 per cent of mothers of private school children work to keep their children at those schools. These mothers cannot really be classed as wealthy. I think it is probably a matter of priorities. A lot of people feel that the education of their children is a priority. Some people buy new cars, caravans or whatever they want to buy. I would like to say that I do not think-

Senator Walsh —How many of the 65 per cent have kids at the 41 schools? You have not got the faintest idea.

Senator BJELKE-PETERSEN —I do not interrupt Senator Walsh all the time. I wish that he would refrain from interrupting me.

Senator Walsh —I just wish you would provide relevant information.

Senator BJELKE-PETERSEN —I am saying to Senator Walsh that education is very important to these people. I feel that this is something that needs to be said. Many parents make a real sacrifice to be able to choose the school to which they send their children. The trouble, as I see it, is that after the 41 schools have had their funds cut the next thing that will happen will be of course, that funds will be cut to other private schools. As a matter of fact the grammar schools in Queensland have written to me. They have been very concerned about the cutting back of funds for boarders. I see this as a penalty, in the main, for rural people throughout Australia. I was at the speech day for Scots College in Warwick just recently and many of the parents-

Senator Ryan —Its funds were not cut.

Senator BJELKE-PETERSEN —I realise, Senator Ryan, that its funds have not been cut. It is very concerned because although it is not on the hit list of 41 schools, it is sure that the funding for the boarding facilities eventually will be cut for children who are going to board at the school. It seems to me that this is a matter of regret. I feel that this reflects in many ways the way that the Government seems to hit at people who live in the country. People with children at boarding schools certainly feel that there is a need to help them with their education costs. Through the years people living in the far outback of Australia have had problems with education. They have had to employ governesses and the children have had to work through the School of the Air and have correspondence lessons.

Parents who live in isolated areas have to send their children to boarding school out of pure necessity, yet these people, like others, will be faced with prohibitive fees. This needs to be taken into consideration. I feel sure that help from the Federal Government to these schools will eventually be reduced. Of course, if the funds are reduced, fees will have to rise. Some principals claim that one of the side effects will be the isolation of children of lower income earners from the independent school system. This will make the private schools more elitist because any places left vacant in those schools by withdrawals will immediately be filled by pupils whose parents are better able to bear the cost of sending their children to these schools. It was recently reported in one of the Brisbane newspapers that the Isolated Children's Parents Association in Queensland, the children of whose members are dependent on boarding schools for most of their education, wrote to the Minister because they were worried about this problem. The article reported:

A resolution was sent to Canberra . . . saying the education of isolated children would be jeopardised if the cuts went ahead.

Some schools have already closed their boarding sections because of the financial strain. Others have reduced their capacity and are faced with big increases in fees.

This is why the grammar school representatives are very concerned about it.

Senator Ryan —Are these schools in Queensland?

Senator BJELKE-PETERSEN —They had a meeting in Toowoomba not so very long ago.

Senator Ryan —No schools in Queensland were cut.

Senator BJELKE-PETERSEN —I am saying that in future there could be further cuts to these schools and that that needs to be taken into consideration. At the meeting in Toowoomba it was reported that the grammar school representatives said:

. . . non-government schools were receiving only 13 per cent of government funds to finance 25 per cent of the school population.

One leading Brisbane school, attended mainly by children of middle-class families, will lose $240,000.

Senator Ryan —Which school?

Senator BJELKE-PETERSEN —As the paper did not name the school, I cannot inform the Minister of that. I feel sure that the Minister must recognise that if parents have to pay increased fees because of cuts in government funding, many children will be taken away from private schools and sent to government schools. Of course, the cost then comes back to the Government. I chose to send my children to state primary and high schools. I was quite satisfied with them, but perhaps I was not in the same situation as many people in outback Australia.

Senator Peter Baume —Tell Senator Ryan what they were like.

Senator BJELKE-PETERSEN —Our government schools were actually very good at Kingaroy. I was very pleased to be able to get a bus that went from my door to the school. I like to feel that my children got good educational training. But I think it should be the right of every parent to choose the type of education that they want for their children. I believe it is the right of every child to educational justice and it is the duty of the Government to protect the right of parents to choose the type of education that they want for their children. As I said earlier, some parents want their children to receive religious education at school. That might be the only way, regrettably, that they ever get it and it is not always available within the State system. I believe that an equal share of tax to help in educating children no matter where they attend school is a democratic right for all parents. Therefore, I join with other senators on our side-Senator Baume and Senator Teague and other speakers-in opposing the proposals in this legislation and in supporting the Opposition's amendments.