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Wednesday, 7 September 1983
Page: 490

Mr FREE(3.46) —The proposition embodied in the matter of public importance raised this afternoon by the Deputy Leader of the Opposition (Mr Howard) is a phoney one. Its basic assumption is false, it denies the reality of the distribution of educational resources across the community and it is part of a continuing campaign by the Opposition to misrepresent the Government's intentions, which are to raise educational standards and provide assistance where it is needed most. The Leader of the Opposition (Mr Peacock) and the honourable member for Gippsland (Mr McGauran) have chosen to ignore the eight objectives which the Government sets out to achieve through its funding decisions. I wonder why, because they were set out clearly enough by the Minister for Education and Youth Affairs (Senator Ryan) in her guidelines statement of 28 July.

To refresh their memories-obviously, the education system has failed them along the line-let me spell out those eight objectives. The first seven are: To support increased participation in education by the great majority of young people; to improve public confidence in government schools; to assist in ensuring that each child has an adequate standard of resources-I will return to that objective in a moment; to make special provision for those students who have been prevented from participating fully in the benefits of schooling; to restore stability and predictability in funding arrangements for government and non-government schools through triennial funding; to restore retrospective cost supplementation in respect of wages and salaries for all Commonwealth Schools Commission programs; and to provide for better planning and improved co- ordination in relation to the development of new non-government schools. The Deputy Leader of the Opposition and the honourable member for Gippsland have both had quite a bit to say about this aspect of the guidelines. Let me quote in full what the guidelines say about the establishment of new non-government schools:

The Government will continue to support the development of new non-government schools. However, it is implementing new policies that require the proposers of new schools in established areas to provide evidence that these schools will not have a significant . . . impact on existing government and non-government schools. The Government will require proposed new non-government schools in developing areas to be planned where possible in conjunction with government schools.

That proposal requires forward planning, will avoid costly and wasteful duplication and, what is more important, will ensure the long term viability of new non-government schools. It is a step that the non-government system has welcomed. The final objective of the guidelines is to provide for greater education and financial accountability.

I return to the objective of providing every Australian child with an adequate level of resources. Let me spell it out for the Deputy Leader of the Opposition and the honourable member for Gippsland. Most schools in the non-government sector are in group 3. These are the neediest schools. Many of these schools operate at resource levels of 70 per cent or less of the level of resources in government schools. The Government had decided to increase resources in these needy schools. I think I have spelt it out clearly enough. Because of financial limitations and considerations of equity, the Government has decided that these additional funds should come partly through some reallocation of funds. To provide help where it is most needed, direct grants to non-government schools which have chosen to operate at high resource levels will not be as generous as they were in the past. That is what the Opposition would have us believe is a threat to the entire non-government system. It is really a mild reallocation from a handful of resource-rich schools to the very many non-government schools that are in real need.

The 'shock, horror' reaction of the Opposition is not good enough. It is synthetic and it is contrived. The Labor Party's commitment to the needs principle is an historic one and it is well known. It has been well known for the past 15 years. In 1973 the Interim Committee for the Australian Schools Commission, set up by the Labor Party, recommended that assistance to resource- rich schools should be phased out over a two-year period. These grants were maintained by the Liberal and National parties in the Senate. Despite that setback the Labor Party has never waivered in its commitment to needs based funding.

Let us look at the effects of the present Opposition's funding decisions over the past seven years. The priorities of the Liberal and National parties when in government, were, first, to provide a basic grant of 20 per cent of the government school costs to students in non-government schools, irrespective of need; and, secondly, to provide a needs supplement-10 per cent to schools in group II and 20 per cent to schools in group III. The principle of applying help where it was needed most, where it could do most good and where it could help the most children ran a very poor second. As a result, the learning gap-the gap between the resource-rich and the neediest schools-was, after seven years of Liberal-National Party government, as wide as ever. Taking the government school standard as 100 per cent, the most resource-rich non-government schools are operating at 180 per cent whereas the neediest non-government schools-the ones at the bottom of group III comprising the bulk of non-government schools- continue to operate at some 70 per cent of government school resources. It is clear where the concern of the Opposition lies. It is not interested in the bulk of non-government school students in these schools which are operating at 70 per cent of government school resources.

The policies of the former Government failed to close that gap. Indeed, between 1977 and 1983 the grants for high resource schools increased at twice the rate of those for lower resource schools. It also failed to recognise the appallingly low secondary retention rates in the great mass of Australian schools. Honourable members will be aware that these are very poor schools in Australia compared with those in other countries. In Australia around 35 per cent of the 15 to 19 year old age group is in full time education. In Japan the level is 76 per cent; in the United States of America it is 72 per cent; and in Canada it is 66 per cent. Within Australia retention rates vary very greatly from one school to another, from single figure rates in the neediest, most disadvantaged schools , to over 90 per cent in the many group I schools. Clearly, if we are going to lift standards in this country and provide more resources and better learning environments in the neediest areas we must provide additional funds to them.

It is obvious that in a difficult budgetary context there must be some reallocation. What the Government has said to the 41 schools at the top of group I is that in 1984 their recurrent grants will be reduced from 20 per cent of standard cost to 15 per cent. Those 41 schools will still get a total of $13m from the Commonwealth-a fact not acknowledged by the Deputy Leader of the Opposition and the honourable member for Gippsland. Those 41 schools will still get $254 for each primary school student and $402 for each secondary school student. The savings from that small reduction from those 41 schools at the top of group I will be fed into schools in group II and group III. In 1984, 2,000 non-government schools will receive increased grants in real terms. Mr Deputy Speaker, let me give you an example and spell the position out in dollar terms so that people will understand.

Take a school at the top of group I-one of the 41 schools. That school receives fees of $3,300 per pupil in private income. From the Commonwealth it will receive this year $536 per student. From the State-it varies from State to State -it will receive around $400. So the total income available to that school will be $4,200 per student. Resources provided in government secondary schools per student will be $2,680. But that is not the important thing. Schools at the bottom of group III may be operating on resources as low as $1,600 per student. That is the learning gap expressed in dollars-$4,200 at the top and $1,600 at the bottom. Nobody in the Government is out to threaten the group I schools but we are out to achieve a measure of justice through reallocation to students in the neediest schools. We are simply saying that if this small number of schools- 41 out of 2,200 non-government schools-chooses to operate at such high resource levels they can easily afford a small reduction to assist those in need.

I turn briefly to the more blatant misrepresentations made by the Deputy Leader of the Opposition. Any suggestion that this policy is the thin end of the wedge is nonsense and he knows it. To speak, as he did, of a single non-government system is nonsense and he knows it. There is a whole range of needs. To speak of erosion of support for the independent sector is absolute nonsense because funding under the guidelines for the non-government sector as a whole has been increased. The proposition is blatantly false. It is an attempt to misrepresent the Government's intentions.

Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER (Hon. Les Johnson) —Order! The honourable member's time has expired. The discussion is concluded.