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Friday, 9 December 1983
Page: 3595

Senator PETER BAUME(11.47) —I move:

(2) Page 10, sub-clause 3 (9), lines 13 to 30, leave out all words after '' systemic school'' (line 13).

This amendment raises another part of the unsatisfactory provisions which are being introduced. This sub-clause seeks to provide arrangements to allow the Minister to review the status of a school if it has undergone a substantial change in character. The document the Minister for Education and Youth Affairs ( Senator Ryan) has just circulated-she chided me, in a way, for not having some knowledge about it-says that a change in character of an existing school from a profit making to a non-profit making character would be sufficient to bring that school within this provision. It provides that the school, if it changes its character, will need to undergo certain review procedures for consideration by the Minister.

This may mean that a school which falls within that definition ceases to be a systemic school-this is the section relating to systemic schools-and may be removed from the system. It is possible for part of the school, the whole school or none of the school to be redeclared a systemic school, depending upon the change which has taken place. Of course, that will affect the recurrent support the system can attract for application on behalf of the children at that school. These are quite worrying provisions. If a school, which has been a primary school, starts a secondary stream it may be quite proper for the Minister to say in respect of that secondary stream: 'We want to have some negotiations and to talk'. But this provides an unfettered capacity for the Minister if she so wished. It does not matter what advice the Minister receives. In the end it is her decision to declare no part of a school as being a systemic school and in fact to declare none of the school for purposes of recurrent funding.

The uncertainties in this clause as it is written are giving grave concern to some non-government school authorities and representatives. The clause refers to a substantial change-a substantially different body of students attending the school. What does 'substantial' mean? It means what the Minister thinks it means in the end. The clause also refers to an announced plan for the school. What is a plan for the school? Does it mean that every new school that is developed will immediately put out a plan covering its development from kindergarten to year 12 to guard against the possibility of being caught not having included in some plan its possible extension to a broad and comprehensive educational provision? What constitutes a public announcement in terms of the clause? The difficulty about this clause is that established schools which may wish to alter, upgrade or improve what they are doing are placed at risk.

We think that one of the purposes of this provision is to prevent existing schools, particularly existing Catholic schools, from expanding their capacity, the number of places they offer and their offerings in certain districts. I moved around Sydney and visited government schools and non-government schools. Among the non-government schools I visited Catholic systemic schools. I have yet to go to a Catholic systemic school that is not bursting at the seams because of the number of children. I have yet to go to a Catholic systemic school that is not desperate for the opportunity to offer more places-they have long waiting lists-and I have yet to go to an opening at which the bishops do not advise me of the large numbers of people who are unable to get admission for their children into the Catholic school system.

Parents in many areas feel cheated because they cannot find places in the parochial school system. They want the schools to expand and to add new streams. They do not like the idea that when their children get to sixth grade, for example, in a Catholic parochial school there will be no Catholic high school available to them. I am reminded of a visit I made to Marayong recently, which is in the Chairman's and my electorate. I went to a very good parochial school there and talked to the sisters. Adjacent is the regional Catholic high school which is bursting at the seams. There is a worry emerging that next year, the year after or very soon it will not be possible to offer automatic progression to those children in the primary school-children already in the system.

I move the amendment to take out all the words after 'systemic school' because the words that follow in clause 3 (9) impose restrictions upon the schools' opportunity to expand. It is our belief that we should encourage them to expand, and we should facilitate their expansion. We think that because of the uncertainties, the vaguenesses and the imprecision of some of the words, and because they give unfettered discretion to the Minister, the words following ' systemic school' should be struck out.