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Tuesday, 29 October 1996
Page: 4696


Senator LUNDY(7.28 p.m.) —I rise to speak on the adjournment tonight with respect to public education. Last week I attended the opening ceremony of the combined campus of Nicholls Primary School and the Holy Spirit Primary School, the former being an ACT government funded school and the latter being a Catholic school. A combined campus such as this may not be new in some other states but it is here in the ACT. This combined campus was an initiative by Labor when they held government in the ACT.

The experience shared by all the invited guests at the opening ceremony—by the parents and politicians alike—is something worthy of conveyance to this chamber. It is worthy because it served to reinforce in my mind what I am doing here and why many of us are in fact here. All of the children from both campuses participated in the ceremony. They were welcomed by Principal Woolacott from Nicholls, Father Bernie blessed the congregation and we were joined by the Ngunnawal elders, who ratified the school's use of the land.

The themes the school adopted were `belonging', `friendship', `we are one', `tolerance', `sharing' and `learning without boundaries or barriers'. Each child had made an exquisite banner, while the walls of the hall were covered with bright murals of outstretched welcoming hands. The choir opened up with the national anthem and throughout the ceremony sang songs of peace and sharing. Their performance concluded with the song We are one, which to me symbolised many things of value.

The future of our children must be foremost in our minds—their health, education, security and, of course, happiness, their opportunity and their future. We cannot trust these things to the fancies of the market. To do so is to jeopardise the ability and responsibility we have as elected representatives to guarantee the best possible outcomes for our children.

The depth of feeling this innocent school ceremony invoked not only in me but in most of those present reinforced in me the importance of government funded education—of public education. Show me a better investment of taxpayers' money. Show me a better way to ensure that our young people have the best chance of survival in a changing and challenging society. Some parents will have the choice between a public and private school. But most will not. Most will have to take what is given. If what is given is not as good as what you can purchase on the market, where does this leave the children? What if you are not earning enough to purchase the higher standard of education?

This is a dangerous path to tread for any socially democratic society. It will only serve to once again determine access to quality education on socioeconomic grounds. To reduce funding or compromise public education in any way will send us down this path. The Howard government is doing just that. This government will sacrifice the standard of public education to promote private education. They will steal almost $130 million from government schools to fund an expansion of non-government schools, providing huge incentives to middle-class parents to leave the state system.

But will this expansion benefit children? Until now, new schools were approved after they had met educational and financial standards. These requirements will now be waived. Concerns have already been expressed that many new schools will be fundamentalist or run by narrow sects and interest groups. Now, schools that have been rejected before may, no matter what, get funding from this government.

It is an ideologically driven policy based on a misplaced notion of competition and level paying fields. And what about the children left behind? Have we no obligation to them? And what about the future for children in the new private schools? Under Labor we saw an increase in schools funding of 56.7 per cent in real terms. Under Howard we have already seen cuts to higher education of $2 billion, cuts to vocational education, cuts to recurrent grants for government schools—


Senator Herron —Madam Acting Deputy President, the senator should refer to the Prime Minister accordingly.


The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT (Senator Knowles) —Senator Lundy, I ask that you refer to the Prime Minister accordingly, please, or at least by his proper name.


Senator LUNDY —Yes, Madam Acting Deputy President.


Senator Bob Collins —On a point of order: in respect of the courtesy that is due to the chamber, Madam Acting Deputy President, I wonder whether senators who raise points of order could actually stand when they do so and address the chair, instead of simply calling out from their seats.


The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT —Senator Lundy, you may care to resume your seat while the point of order is being taken. On your point of order, Senator Collins, I had actually heard it myself and was about to make the recommendation to Senator Lundy before it was mentioned. I was also reading something simultaneously.


Senator Bob Collins —I do not want to string this out but, with respect, that may well be so, but that is not relevant to the point of order that I raised. Senators have an obligation, if they take a point of order, to rise and address the chair when they do so.


Senator O'Chee —On the point of order, Madam Acting Deputy President: I do not think that Senator Herron was in fact taking a point of order. Under the standing orders, if a senator wishes to take a point of order, of course he has to rise. But Senator Herron did not call for a point of order. He merely called to the Acting Deputy President.


Senator Herron —On the point of order: interjections are out of order, as you know, Madam Acting Deputy President, so I fail to see how Senator Collins could get up and make that statement if an interjection—


Senator Bob Collins —Hardly. I just think some respect is due to the chair; that's all.


Senator Herron —It was not a point of order, Senator Collins. It was an interjection and it was out of order. I think you have just been shown to be very sensitive about an interjection. You stated the obvious. On the point of order, Madam Acting Deputy President: Senator Collins stated the obvious. It was an interjection that I made and interjections are disorderly, Senator Collins.


Senator Bob Collins —Why did you make it?


Senator Herron —Because interjections are made frequently in this chamber. Senator Collins has become extraordinarily sensitive to interjections. He has jumped up on the adjournment on a spurious point of order, which you have already ruled on. I will sit down.


Senator LUNDY —Under Mr Howard, we have seen cuts to higher education of $2 billion, cuts to vocational education, cuts to recurrent grants for government schools and cuts to capital grants for non-government schools. The message from this government to the young people of Australia is not an encouraging one. What subliminal and, in fact, overt effect are we having when all young people hear about is cuts to their education? Is that not a devaluing of their role and their right to learn and then eventually participate in the work force? This is an unacceptable approach.

Holy Spirit Primary School and Nicholls Primary School have jumped many hurdles to get where they are today. Their opening day has become a powerful statement on the value of publicly funded education. The expressions of sharing and reconciliation provide a powerful and pertinent contradiction to some of the narrow and introverted utterances that have attracted media attention recently and, as I have said, have served as a reminder of why we are here. And, if it is not to provide a better place and a better life for the next generation of Australians, then what is it?

If every politician who attended the opening at Nicholls felt the same way I did, then a great purpose was served. I only wish that every senator and member of that other place had the same opportunity to experience everything good about public education, the excellent management of resources through a combined campus, and the children's messages, and then, like me, remember whose purpose we are really trying to serve during our time here. I would like to congratulate all the children and teachers of Nicholls Primary and Holy Spirit for their efforts at their opening ceremony.