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Message No. 377, 1 December 2003, from the Senate was reported returning the States Grants (Primary and Secondary Education Assistance) Amendment Bill 2003 with amendments.

Ordered—That the amendments be considered forthwith.

Dr Nelson (Minister for Education, Science and Training) moved—That the amendments be disagreed to.

Debate ensued.


Dr Nelson presented the following papers:

States Grants (Primary and Secondary Education Assistance) Amendment Bill 2003—Proposed Opposition amendments—Letters from—

Mr Allan Dooley, Acting Chair, National Catholic Education Commission, to Dr Brendan Nelson, Minister for Education, Science and Training, 27 November 2003.

Mr Bill Daniels, Executive Director, Independent Schools Council of Australia, to Dr Brendan Nelson, Minister for Education, Science and Training, 27 November 2003.

Mr Bill Daniels, Executive Director, Independent Schools Council of Australia, to Ms Macklin, Shadow Minister for Employment, Education and Training, 27 November 2003.

Question—put and passed.

Dr Nelson presented reasons, which were circulated, and are as follows:

Reasons of the House of Representatives for disagreeing to the amendments of the Senate

Senate Amendments 1 and 2

The Capital Grants Programme operates at arms length from the government. The effect of these amendments would be to remove this arms-length approach to the allocation of capital grants to non-government schools, an approach that has operated effectively for both government and non-government schools capital funding since 1988 and is supported by education authorities.

Under the current arrangements expert Block Grant Authorities (or BGA's) made up of representatives from their respective education sectors assess all applications for capital funding from non-government schools against detailed ministerially approved Guidelines and provide recommendations to the government on projects and schools to be funded.

In making their recommendations, the BGAs are required to take into account both the financial needs of individual schools and the relative educational disadvantage of the student population of each school with the more disadvantaged being given priority over the less disadvantaged. Their methodology is primarily quantitative and must be sufficient to justify their recommendations to an independent appeal body or to a Departmental audit.

The amendments would fundamentally change the relationship between the Minister and the BGAs. Instead of relying upon the professional judgement of the BGAs for funding recommendations, the Government would be required, at great expense, to check every project recommendation to enable the Minister to make a Determination specifying educational and financial need. That could spell the end of an arm's length approach by Government to decisions on schools' capital funding. Further, the non-government school sector was not fully consulted on these amendments and does not support the amendments. The Acting Chair of the National Catholic Education Commission, Mr Allan Dooley, has said that "The Amendment may lead to the duplication of assessment of applications for capital funding, with the Commonwealth having to double-check the decisions of Block Grant Authorities, as the Minister may require the department to advice him or her as the correctness of the BGA assessments. This may lead to inefficiency and uncertainty". The Executive Director of the Independent Schools Council of Australia has made similar statements.

Any decisions which change the way programs are administered for the non-government schools sector should be made in consultation with the sector.

Accordingly the House of Representatives does not accept these amendments.

On the motion of Dr Nelson, the reasons were adopted.