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Monday, 2 December 1985
Page: 2642

Senator ZAKHAROV —Has the Minister for Education read an article by Kenneth Davidson in the Age of last Thursday which questioned the Government's commitment to full accountability for funds provided to non-government schools? What measures have been taken and will be taken in the future to ensure full accountability for these funds?

Senator RYAN —I did read Kenneth Davidson's article. While I had a great deal of sympathy with the general tenor of his article, namely, that funds spent on non-government schools should be accounted for in the same way as any other public expenditure of funds, I think that Mr Davidson, along with a few other organisations and journalists who have interested themselves in this topic, is confusing a number of issues. There was an implication in Kenneth Davidson's article that our Government had not increased the accountability requirements for non-government schools in receipt of Commonwealth funds and that the fact that we had not yet made decisions on the 1986 report of the Commonwealth Schools Commission meant that we had not made decisions at all about increasing accountability. These assumptions or implications are quite wrong.

When our Government came to office one of the things we were determined to do was to ensure that there were better and more thorough accountability requirements. I think this is a very important principle. Expenditure on non-government schools this year will be in excess of $806m, a very large amount of public money indeed and considerably more than is spent directly by the Commonwealth on the government school system, which educates 75 per cent of Australia's children. So it is entirely right and proper that our Government should ensure that the expenditure of that $806m is appropriately accounted for.

Senator Teague —You are intruding too far already.

Senator RYAN —I need no assistance from Senator Teague in this matter. Senator Teague has always displayed a total ignorance--

Opposition senators interjecting-

Senator RYAN —It is very interesting that honourable senators opposite start interjecting, grumbling and groaning whenever the word `accountability' is mentioned.

Senator Chaney —I don't want your sticky fingers in my children's school.

Senator RYAN —There you are; did the House hear what Senator Chaney said? His children's school does not need to account for the funds that it receives. Unlike any other recipient of government funding, the recipients that have responsibility for the education of Senator Chaney's children need not account. I might say that that is typical of the double standards that we expect from the other side of the chamber in this matter. Honourable senators in this place sit for hours, days, weeks and sometimes even months examining in minute detail expenditure of public money. There is no reason at all why the very large amount of money that goes to non-government schools ought not similarly to be subject to proper examination. In my dealings with non-government schools authorities I have heard no responsible authorities arguing against the principle of accountability. They have nothing to hide, and I must say in defence of Senator Chaney's school that I do not believe that it has anything to hide. No properly run non-government school has any reason not to account for the funds that it receives. It is quite unreason- able and quite mischievous to suggest that by requiring proper accountability our Government is doing anything other than what it ought to do and does in every area of public expenditure.

As to the particular provisions for increased accountability, I draw the Senate's attention, and Mr Davidson's attention if he is listening, to the fact that in 1984 the States Grants (Schools) Act provided for a whole new range of areas where further information could be required from non-government schools. Those requirements were not implemented in the first year because the Schools Commission was very busy with the task of getting the new 12-category system in place, getting the information whereby the schools could be categorised, and developing the new non-government schools policy. But for next year's grants those new criteria, which have already been legislated for, will be applied. The Commonwealth Department of Education and the Schools Commission are currently involved in extensive consultation with non-government schools authorities and, indeed, with State governments with regard to accountability for government schools-because we are interested in that too-about those criteria. There is currently being implemented new and more thorough accountability requirements in accordance with the States Grants (Schools) Act. Whether next year the Government needs to add further accountability provisions along the lines that have been recommended by the Schools Commission remains to be seen. We may have a complete enough picture in terms of the present States Grants (Schools) Act; it may emerge that we need to require further information if we are to be properly accountable. But those questions have not yet been answered. The recommendations of the Schools Commission 1986 report have not been considered by the Government. When they are, they will be considered in consultation with non-government schools authorities and State governments, as all matters of education policy are.

In conclusion, I would say that our Government is taking proper steps and increased steps-increased in their comprehensiveness and thoroughness-to ensure that public money spent in the non-government school sector is properly accounted for, and that after the new provisions are applied we will then consider whether the recommendations of the 1986 report need to be implemented.