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Tuesday, 13 December 1983
Page: 3674

Senator PETER BAUME(4.57) —It is necessary to respond to the significant point made by Senator Macklin, namely, why last year's legislation did not contain a declaratory statement. It will come as no news to anyone listening to this broadcast that the situation is different this year from what it was last year. Further, there was no suggestion last year that we should need to include those words. What we have this year is considerable uncertainty among non-government schools. I will just set out some reasons why this year it is necessary to have a statement on the principle. I say to Senator Macklin that, to people outside this place, a vote against the Opposition's amendment means no credibility. The Prime Minister (Mr Hawke) declared a week or two ago that the education policy of the Government is the education policy it took to the election.

Senator Ryan —Right.

Senator PETER BAUME —'Right', says the Minister. The policy the Government took to the election is quite clear. That policy talks about phasing out support for some children. It is quite clear that support is to be reduced from 20 per cent, to 15 per cent, to 10 per cent, to 5 per cent and then to nothing. That is the policy on which the Australian Labor Party went to the people. If the Prime Minister was telling the truth and if that is the Government's education policy, that policy is moving towards a position of no support for some children. That is why it is necessary to include this statement in the legislation. We need to find out who supports and who does not support a basic grant for all children.

The Prime Minister told us that the Government's education policy is the one that it took to the people. He gave us a clear signal that it is a policy which will result in the total phasing out of support for some children, if not next year, the year after or the year after that. However, that is the program. The policy is clear. It is a policy of progressive reduction and the future for non- government schools is, therefore, uncertain. I say to Senator Macklin that the circumstances of that policy, taken to the people by this Government at the election in March, has made it necessary for a statement to be produced. I go further and say: The Minister for Education and Youth Affairs (Senator Ryan) has been offered, in many places and in many ways, every opportunity to give assurances that a basic grant for each person will be maintained. A couple of moments ago, in responding, the Minister actually said that it would be inappropriate to give that assurance ahead of the work that is being done within the Commonwealth Schools Commission. The only interpretation of that answer is that the 'no funding' option for some children is a real possibility. If the 'no funding' option is not a possibility, this statement could be agreed to irrespective of what the Schools Commission is doing.

Everything this Government is doing-the Minister's answer two or three minutes ago and the statement of the Prime Minister-makes it quite clear that no child can be certain of a basic grant. The Minister has made it clear that the Commonwealth Schools Commission considerations, which she asked us not to pre- empt, do not necessarily promise a basic grant for every child. It is very necessary then that these amendments be considered.

I raise one final matter. The Senate is meeting this week to consider several pieces of legislation. I cannot accept the assertion that was put to this Committee that it is not possible to agree to any words in amendments such as these because the House of Representatives is not sitting. The House of Representatives can be brought back. The legislation can--

Senator Macklin —I never said anything about the House of Representatives.

Senator PETER BAUME —The honourable senator said that he did not want to delay the legislation. It would only be delayed for as long as it would take the House of Representatives to meet again. If this Senate is meeting this week and considering legislation it is possible in one piece of legislation or in several pieces of legislation that amendments or requests will be necessary. The fact that the House of Representatives is not sitting should have no place in our considerations. What we should look at are the principles and whether they are right.

Some honourable senators in this Committee do not believe in a basic grant. That is fine; they will vote that way. Some do believe in it and they will vote that way. But one thing we cannot do is say that we believe in it and refuse to support it when we are put to the test. These are very important amendments. They are necessary this year. They have been made more necessary by the recent statements of the Prime Minister. The Opposition seeks support in the Committee for these two amendments which seek to add certain words, which will make it clear that the commitment to a basic grant for support for every Australian child is a support based on justice and is something with which this Senate wishes to be associated.