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School Funding Investment
05/04/2016
Commonwealth funding for schools

NEWTON, Ms Judy, Immediate Past President, Isolated Children's Parents' Association of Australia

[12:41]

Evidence was taken via teleconference—

CHAIR: Welcome back. I think we were in the middle of Senator O'Neill asking you a question when the telephone call got terminated.

Senator O'NEILL: You were about to answer. If you could continue, that would be great.

Ms Newton : I was going to clarify that I am representing the national organisation and so am not terribly familiar with exactly what is happening within each state, but we would be concerned if kids receiving a lot of the needs funding due to their location had their funding cut. Often there are a lot of Indigenous kids out in these areas. I think that I about all I have got to say on that.

Senator O'NEILL: Okay. One of the concerns which has been expressed by representatives of the Catholic education sector parent advocacy group is that any cuts to funding to that sector would flow over into the whole education sector and that in particular funding for students with disability would be impacted. Do you represent students with disability who are receiving education in isolated and remote areas?

Ms Newton : Definitely, yes.

Senator O'NEILL: Do you have any views about the government's policy with regard to removing further funding from students with disabilities?

Ms Newton : We certainly would not like to see any funding cut. We included in the submission that perhaps there needs to be a review. Go back to the four-year funding term and then look at what is happening around a state—whether there is more money that needs to be contributed to these loadings, disabilities locations or Indigenous closing the gap programs. We are also really concerned about a lot of the families that are out in these areas giving up a full-time job to teach their kids through distance education. We also have issues with these kids more often than not needing to go away to boarding school. The cost of educating kids at boarding school now is escalating at an enormous rate. Maybe it is time to look at a few of those different things too. I certainly would not like to see anything cut, but maybe we need to go back to square one and include a few other things in these funding agreements.

Senator O'NEILL: Are you genuinely hopeful that there might be more things included in education when we have the Prime Minister of the country saying he is going to fund non-government schools and walk away from public education?

Ms Newton : I certainly do not think it hurts to continue to raise these issues. We have a lot of families out there in the regional areas who are struggling to educate their kids when families living in large metropolitan areas can pop their kids on the bus every morning and not have it cost them a cent. It is not just the school that needs to be funded; it is these regional families that also need assistance to get these children to a school, so they have no other choice but to send them away to boarding school or teach the children themselves in the classroom.

Senator O'NEILL: Thank you very much.

Senator KETTER: In your submission you talk about the impact on schools and students in regional rural and remote areas and you make the point that the reforms introduced in rural and remote areas generally do require ongoing financial support from the Commonwealth. I ask you elaborate on that. What types of reforms are you referring to there?

Ms Newton : It is mostly around equity programs. We have just had the Grattan Institute release a report showing that rural and regional kids are up to 2½ years behind kids in the metro areas. To get the programs up and running out in those areas, it is important that they are funded for the longer term until there is some real ground made on these issues. We have the NAPLAN testing, the international testing and all the other testing. Until we start seeing some success in those programs, they should continue to be funded. It often takes a lot more resources to set these programs up initially, so there needs to be some sort of continuity and long-term planning as far as having that funded.

Senator KETTER: You mentioned that there were 3,200 families represented by your organisation. Can you give us a rough idea of where these families are located?

Ms Newton : We have about 1,100 members in New South Wales, about 1,200 in Queensland, maybe 350 over in Western Australia and the rest in the Northern Territory, Tasmania, Victoria and South Australia.

Senator KETTER: So the 1,200 families in Queensland would be in Western Queensland and other remote parts of the state?

Ms Newton : Yes, that is right.

Senator KETTER: Of your membership, do you have any understanding of how many of the students involved might have some form of disability?

Ms Newton : No, I have not got access to those figures.

Senator KETTER: Okay. You have recommended that Commonwealth funding be provided to address inequities in rural and remote areas as per the original agreement. What do you see happening if that funding is not continued?

Ms Newton : If that funding is not continued, obviously the first place to be hit would be where the additional loadings are. In the rural and remote areas we will see these kids going back even further, so that is a real concern to our organisation.

Senator KETTER: What is the practical impact for children in that situation? What support services are reduced as a result of this lack of funding?

Ms Newton : Often it would be the Indigenous communities who need that additional support. It is not just support during the school hours; the family often needs a lot more support to ensure that their kids are attending school.

That has been a real issue—and that is something that is new on the My School website; you can identify the schools where there is very poor attendance. I know the federal government has put quite a bit of funding into addressing that.

Senator KETTER: We heard earlier, from Catholic School Parents Australia, about a number of the boarding schools that exist—and I am from Queensland so I am focusing more on the Queensland situation. In your submission, you talk about the fact that sending rural and remote students to boarding school is extremely expensive and you rely on support under the Assistance for Isolated Children Scheme, which is not always available. What is the impact there for those people?

Ms Newton : Often what we are seeing is that the families are relocating. We have a research document that is being put together at the moment, and a lot of the comments are the same as they have been for many, many years—that the rural high schools, mostly due to their location and small numbers, are not able to offer the courses that are conducive to the career paths or university studies that a lot of those kids are looking at. It is one of the main reasons why a lot of the professionals are leaving these communities. So the families make the decision that the kids will go anyway, but, because they cannot get any assistance to help fund the boarding school costs, they make the decision fairly early on that they will relocate, usually once the eldest child starts attending secondary school.

Senator KETTER: You noted that there are an enormous number of volunteer hours involved in trying to assist people in isolated areas to get an education. Would these cuts put even greater strain on the number of hours that is required to support the education of children?

Ms Newton : Yes, it certainly will. It also jeopardises the other things that I just mentioned—more assistance for families whose children are being taught through distance education and who are hoping to send their kids away to boarding school. It also puts a lot more pressure on us, as well as the families. There is talk about developing the north, northern Australia, and all those sorts of things, but we need to have families out there and they need to be supported to stay out there. Any cuts certainly will impact our organisation and the families that we represent.

Senator KETTER: Ms Newton, where are you speaking to us from today?

Ms Newton : I am living in Dubbo now, in New South Wales, but I have been out at Walgett, in north-western New South Wales, for the last 30 years.

Senator KETTER: Okay. Thank you very much.

CHAIR: Ms Newton, thank you so much for appearing via teleconference and for being part of our inquiry. This hearing of the Senate Select Committee on School Funding Investment is now adjourned.

Committee adjourned at 12:53