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Tuesday, 6 September 1983
Page: 433

Mr COLEMAN(10.40) —The recent decision of the Government to cut government funding to certain non-government schools inevitably caused a sharp reaction in my electorate. Six out of the 15 schools on the New South Wales 'hit list' are in the electorate of Wentworth, which is probably unique in Australia in having more students at non-government schools than at Government schools, even though there are some very famous and greatly respected government schools also in the electorate. Because of this sharp public reaction, I convened a meeting recently of people concerned with the local non-government schools to discuss the development, and representatives of every non-government school in the electorate attended the meeting, not just those on the 'hit list'. The point is that everyone realises that the cuts in funding, for the moment confined to some 41 schools, are the thin end of the wedge and are meant by the Government to be the beginning of the end of the non-government schools system as we know it. This is the objective of the State Teachers Federation and it is the objective of the present Minister for Education and Youth Affairs (Senator Ryan) who once belonged to the Australian Council of State School Organisations, a council dedicated to the termination of state aid and who wrote a couple of years ago in the Sydney Morning Herald:

It is with reluctance that I for one conclude that the freedom to send one's children to an independent school is bought at too high a price for the rest of society.

She may have reached that view with reluctance--

Mr Hurford —Mr Speaker, I take a point of order. That report has been corrected by the Minister in a letter in today's Canberra Times. The honourable member should not be quoting something that is not correct.

Mr COLEMAN —I am quoting ipsissima verba. She may have reached that view with reluctance, but reached it she emphatically has. But the people who have this objective are at present restrained by the fact that the new Government had not adopted this objective in its election campaign. Funding of non-government schools of some kind is to continue for the time being. But within that constraint much can be done at the State and Federal levels. Apart from the funding cuts, the Minister has appointed to the Commonwealth Schools Commission two men publicly opposed to state aid and has ensured that, for the first time, there is now no representative of non-government schools on the Commission.

As for the State level, we see the influences on Labor policy in the 9 August issues of the Victorian Teachers Journal which contains 'the three unions position on State aid'. Referring to the State Government, it says that there must be no new registrations of independent schools, that schools already registered must not be allowed to expand to a higher year level, that there must be no new interest subsidies, that independent schools must pay payroll tax, that they must no longer enjoy the status of charitable insitutions for tax purposes and that their transport concessions must be restricted. In other words , at the State level alone much can be done to undermine non-government schools while still recognising their temporary right to some reduced form of state aid. It is in this light that I believe we should see Senator Ryan's cuts. They are not an attempt to establish a more equitable system of funding. They are meant to be the beginning of the end. The end is outlined in the recent Anderson report on the proposed Radford Anglican College in the Australian Capital Territory. It wants an integrated school system under an educational authority which would decide issues of curriculum and teaching methods uniformly for both government schools and private schools. If one joins the system, one loses one's purposes for existence. If one does not join the system, one loses all state aid . So the writing is on the Government wall. One of the unhappiest features of the whole mess is that the Government is penalising the people who can least afford the increased fees that must result from the funding cuts. The rich may grumble but they will be able to afford it. But the fact is that most parents whose children are attending these schools are not rich. Over two-thirds of the mothers are working purely to pay the fees. These are the ones who will suffer because the Government has a dogmatic hatred of parental freedom of choice in education. In a few short months the Government has broken the nexus of non- government schools with government schools. It has broken the principle that each Australian child has a right to minimum basic assistance in education. It is increasing the cost to taxpayers by forcing more children to government schools which cost the taxpayer more than non-government schools. And it has risked reviving sectarian bitterness. What an achievement-in just six months!