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Thursday, 17 October 1996
Page: 4356

Senator CARR(10.00 a.m.) —The opposition will be agreeing with this motion. I think we need to state a few matters so that they are clearly on the record. When this matter was presented to the Selection of Bills Committee, a report came back to this chamber concerning the reporting date. It was originally proposed by me, in terms of the reference of this very important bill, that the reporting date be 28 November.

I received assurances from the Manager of Government Business in the Senate that the committee ought to be able to extend the amended date if it could be found that that reporting date could not be accommodated within the program of the committee or the program of the chamber. It was clear to me at that time that the proposal could not and would not work because it would not be possible to do justice to the issues involved in the inquiry in that time and, given the sitting patterns established by this chamber, that it would not be possible to report within that time.

I want to emphasise just how important this inquiry is. It will involve the expenditure of some $14 billion. It goes to a matter whereby the government will be introducing probably the most radical change in education policy in 30 years—that is, its plan to abolish the new schools policy. It will see an extraordinarily radical shift in the allocation of resources between the public and private education sectors in this country. It will involve very significant changes to targeted education programs. It will quite adversely affect a number of states, particularly my own, where in recent times we have seen substantial attacks upon the education system by the Kennett government, which to some extent have been alleviated by the actions of the federal Labor government.

Under these proposals that protection will be lifted. We will see a dramatic movement in funds from the state education system to the private education system and, in particular, a shift of funds to Queensland where it just so happens that there are a very large number of marginal seats. We will see the introduction of a new allocation mechanism for the distribution of public moneys to the private sector on a basis which I believe has not been subjected to proper scrutiny by this parliament or by the education community at large. In the estimates process we have already seen revealed the fact that the department has not given adequate consideration to the technical issues involved in the distribution of moneys from the targeted educational programs.

It is not just state systems that will be adversely affected in my state as a result of these changes; the Catholic education system will be affected as well. It is not just public schools but Catholic schools as well which will see a dramatic shift in resources to private schools.

When we put that on top of the proposed changes to this government's deregulated new schools policy where we will see significant changes introduced which will mean the removal of minimum requirements for enrolments, a shift in the categories that can be used for the allocation of moneys and the removal of any commitment to proper planning in the allocation of schools in any particular district, we can see that all those elements combined produce an emerging pattern which we have already seen in other areas of the education sector.

The committee proposes to speak with some very important witnesses and it will be calling for public submissions; the advertisements will appear in the press this weekend. Therefore, to suggest that this matter could have been dealt with as originally presented to this chamber by the Selection of Bills Committee, and which has now obviously had to be amended by Senator Tierney's motion, demonstrates to me yet again that this government ought to be managing its affairs a lot better than it is.

This bill will not even be in this chamber until early November at the very best of reckonings. Frankly, I wonder whether it will be here then. The proposition that the reporting date be 14 November is totally inappropriate in the circumstances. As a consequence, the opposition welcomes Senator Tierney's motion today for an extension of time for the committee to report on the States Grants (Primary and Secondary Education Assistance) Bill. For the future, I would ask that proper consideration be given to these matters beforehand, that there be adequate consultation with the opposition and that our advice, when it is sought, be acted upon.

Question resolved in the affirmative.