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Wednesday, 11 May 1960

Mr MURRAY (Herbert) .- I desire to draw the attention of honorable members to the position regarding exemption from sales tax of a school bus which is operated by the St. Pius X Presbytery which functions under the Roman Trust Corporation of the Diocese of Townsville. Last year the St. Pius X Presbytery purchased a small bus for the purposes of transporting the children living in outlying scattered farming areas to and from a new convent school at Victoria Estate near Ingham. These children have no other organized transport to get them to school. The presbytery asked for exemption of the bus from sales tax - a sum of about £147 - but this application was refused.

I took the matter up with the Treasurer (Mr. Harold Holt) some months ago, and he pointed out to me that under the law exemption from sales tax is not available in respect of motor vehicles purchased by churches or by individual clergymen for use in the work of a church. However, the law does authorize exemption of purchases by a non-profit school for its use and not for sale. Further information was required by the Taxation Branch and a very full statement about the complete use of this school bus was furnished. The questions that were asked by the Taxation Branch were as follows: -

(a)   The functions of the Roman Trust Corporation of the Diocese of Townsville, St. Pius X Parish, Ingham.

(b)   The average weekly hours the bus will be used for -

(i)   conveying the Sisters of Mercy and the pupils to and from the new Convent School at Victoria Estate;

(ii)   transporting the Brothers and pupils of the Cardinal Gilroy College to fixtures involving school activities with Abergowrie College and the local High School;

(iii)   taking the Sisters to the outlying church centres for Mass.

(c)   Is there any obstacle which would prevent the transfer of ownership of the bus to the school in question?

The presbytery answered those questions very fully in the following terms: -

(a)   The Roman Trust Corporation for the Diocese of Townsville, St. Pius X. Parish, Ingham, is a duly constituted Trust formed for the purpose of guaranteeing and securing of moneys for the Church Schools in the Diocese of Townsville, included in such is Ingham. All assets of Church Schools, Colleges, &c, in the Parish are in the name of the Trust which authorizes payments on ils behalf to be made by the Parish Priest in each Parish.

(b)   Thirty-five of the fifty pupils of the Convent School at Victoria Estate are transported to and from school by the bus in question.

The bus departs from Ingham at 8 a.m. daily and after collecting the school children and the Sisters of Mercy, the bus returns to Ingham at approximately 10 a.m. lt then departs Ingham at 2.45 p.m. daily and returns at 4.1S p.m. to conclude the afternoon's transportation of children, fi) The actual time therefore, in conveying the pupils and two Sisters is 17} hours per week. The bus travels 43 miles daily.

(ii)   The usage to date for the conveyance of pupils and teachers to the Barnes Cup district Schools Sports competition has been one hour; an assembly of school children to meet the Governor at the Show Grounds one hour and I am advised that the Abergowrie College Students travel by private car as the bus at the required times is employed on the school run.

(iii)   The time in taking the Sisters to the out lying Church centres for Mass would not exceed one hour weekly, and from these times, it can clearly be seen that the school bus is used principally in the conveying of children.

The Treasurer in a letter to me, dated 7th January, stated -

In the case now under notice, you were evidently under the impression that the motor vehicle in question was purchased for the sole purpose of conveying pupils to and from school. I am advised that this is not correct. It is understood that the vehicle is used also in taking sisters to outlying church centres for Mass.

I feel that this is splitting straws rather finely. Without any doubt, the principal use of this school bus is the daily transport of children living in outlying areas to and from a school. As I said before, these children have no other organized transport available to them. The work of these little church schools in country areas is of the highest order. It is carried on without any financial aid from the States.

Honorable members who have any knowledge of existing conditions in country areas know full well that school buses are sometimes used for minor purposes other than those which may be considered the true function of a school bus. The Queensland Government has a very good system of free school buses. Five of my own children travel 13 miles by bus to and from school each day, completely free. But, good as this system is, there are many outlying areas to which it has not yet been extended and is not likely to be extended for a long time. In such localities, a church school bus may be the only form of organized transport. Surely a church should not be penalized but should be encouraged in work of this nature.

There is a further irony in this situation: When the presbytery registered this vehicle, it had to pay £32 14s., of which £20 lis. was for third-party insurance because the Main Roads Department which collects the registration fee recognizes this vehicle as a school bus. So we have the Main Roads Department saying that the vehicle is a school bus and collecting its full levy, while, on the other hand, the Taxation Branch says it is not a school bus and that it will not grant any sales tax concession. So, this institution is being severely hit in two ways.

I ask the Treasurer to rectify this position and see that the sales tax is refunded. The amount involved is about £147. There is ample precedent for such action. A similar kind of school bus operates at Calen, which is another small town in north Queensland. As a matter of fact, I think the magazine " Woman's Day " last year gave considerable publicity to this bus at Calen which is run by a school. The magazine carried an article on the wonderful job that the bus was doing for outlying farming areas.

There are many country areas, or farming areas, in which children suffer severe disadvantages in regard to education. Sometimes these disadvantages are so great that parents who have a normal, decent and honest desire to give their children every chance in life with regard to education find that they must leave country areas and move to bigger towns or cities. This is the only way in which they can give their children what most of us consider a completely normal chance in life. This is a most undesirable state of affairs. None of us wants to see such things happening. Far too frequently we fail to appreciate the reasons for the drift from country areas. This is certainly one important cause.

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