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Thursday, 10 November 1983
Page: 2597

Mr DAWKINS (Minister for Finance)(3.43) —I think that when we politicians are participating in a debate of great sensitivity we have a clear responsibility to contain that debate within the bounds of truth and to calm any emerging hysteria which might be developing on a particular subject. There is no question that this is a debate which does involve great passions; it does involve great and deeply held concerns within the community. But Opposition members would be making a very great mistake if they thought that the concern was all on one side or if they thought that, in any way, the sorts of arguments they are putting today are the only views which are felt very deeply and very keenly by people in the community. We have here a campaign that is being whipped up. As the Deputy Leader of the Opposition (Mr Howard) said, a bushfire has been lit.

Let us just examine for a moment who has struck the match. The match has been struck by those people who see political advantage in exciting sectarian differences within this community. The match has been struck by a few failed Liberal candidates who have been going around this country organising meetings. The match has been struck by a few people who see that they may have to pay more so that their children can enjoy a standard of resources which is simply beyond the means of the vast majority of people in the community. As well, a few decent Australians have been misled by those people who have been spearheading this campaign. I think the Deputy Leader of the Opposition has an enormous amount to be ashamed about for joining in and leading this campaign because he knows how deceitful it is, he knows how dishonest it is and he knows that he is participating in an attempt to frighten the vast majority of those people who send their children to non-government schools, most of whom are destined to be greatly advantaged by the funding policies of this Government. I might just indicate that as a result of the meeting in Sydney to which the Deputy Leader of the Opposition referred, a large number of these decent Australians came up to the State Minister for Education afterwards and said they wanted to disassociate themselves from the abuse and name calling which the leaders of the campaign, largely out of the Liberal Party of Australia I expect, were directing at him and to the absent and unavailable members of this Government.

The Deputy Leader of the Opposition knows that this campaign has been whipped up. He is trying to pretend that it is the children who go to more than 80 per cent of the most needy schools in Australia who will be disadvantaged when he knows very well that as a result of our policies not only have they got more money this year than they would have under the policies over which he presided but also in the future they are destined to do even better. I think it is useful to examine the way in which this debate has proceeded over the last decade or so . I will quote from an editorial in the Sydney Morning Herald this morning because I think it does put the position in a very balanced way and does bring to this debate a sort of calming influence which we really have always been interested in and which our policies now are determined to maintain. The article states:

One of the major achievements of the Whitlam Government was to defuse the political and social explosiveness of State aid. A complicating factor in the current dispute-

The article goes on to say that this Government has not explained its policies adequately. That may be so, but let me go on and say that when these sorts of debates develop in this hysterical way of course people are going to point to the most blantant examples, the most blatant differences which exist within schools in Australia. We have not attempted to do that. We have attempted to maintain this debate within reasonable limits. I will again quote from the article in the Sydney Morning Herald. It states:

Lost within the uproar of the rehetoric are a number of home truths: people with a lot of money have a great deal more freedom of choice than those less well off; some schools have extravagant facilities for their students; the resource-poor schools in both sytems have tended to decline rather than improve; and the debate has increasingly neglected the purpose of the exercise, the education of children.

That is what I find so disturbing about the trend in this particular debate because the last thing that the Liberal Party is concerned about is the educational opportunities of the kids throughout Australia. In the seven years in which it presided over the Commonwealth school funding policies we saw a massive distortion. More and more funds were provided to those schools which were already best off at the expense of those schools which were already badly off. What we saw was a growing gap, a gap between the rich and the poor schools which the policies of Professor Karmel and the Schools Commission under the Whitlam Government intended to close. In fact, under the policies of our predecessors we saw that that gap got wider and wider. I wish that there was some reference to the consequences of their policies when we see these crocodile tears about the kids who have to put up with absolutely appalling circumstances in schools throughout Australia whether they-

Mr Connolly —What you say is true only for New South Wales.

Mr DAWKINS —I will give the honourable member some figures in a minute. I might mention that it would not be a bad idea if honourable members who participated in this debate actually declared their interest in relation to their own backgrounds and in relation to where their own children go to school. Leaving that to one side, let us look at what has been going on in New South Wales. On this occasion I am making a comparison with only non-government schools. We find that, within the non-government school system, three times more money is spent per child in some schools than in other schools.

Mr Howard —That applies in government schools as well.

Mr DAWKINS —It does not apply in government schools. I do not see how the Opposition and indeed the Deputy Leader of the Opposition can justify the spending of three times more money on the education of some children than on the education of others. If parents want to pay extraordinarily high levels of fees and in that way provide facilities which are far and away beyond those provided in the government school system, that is up to them. But the degree to which the taxpayers of Australia ought to be embellishing those high standards of resources is a separate question. We have said and will continue to say that the extent of public support ought to be determined by the needs of the schools and the private resources available to those schools. On this occasion we are reversing a trend which was occurring under our predecessors whereby subsidies to the best-off schools in the non-government system increased by 259 per cent, subsidies to the worst-off non-government schools increased by only 165 per cent and those to government schools in fact fell by 12 per cent. Under the policies of our predecessors more and more was going to those who already had most and less and less was going to those who already had the least.

If honourable members opposite are concerned about equality of opportunity and if they are genuinely concerned that kids, regardless of the circumstances of their parents, regardless of their backgrounds and regardless of where they live , ought to have an equal opportunity to have the best standard of education that this wealthy country can provide, I would have thought they would be determined in the first instance to ensure that those schools to be assisted first were those which, because of their circumstances and their very fabric, currently are unable to provide decent standards of education for their kids. That is what we have done on this occasion in a very tentative way.

We did not have this year the opportunity to increase to the level we would like the amount of additional assistance to those poor non-government schools or , for that matter, to government schools as well. But next year we will have an opportunity to provide even more extra assistance to those schools which are worst off; that is, to the 80 per cent of those kids now at schools in category 3. That is where the kids in the non-government school sector are. They are not in the schools which are now screaming their heads off because they might be among the 41 out of 2,000 schools which have received small cuts in the level of funding. I remind honourable members opposite that those are the schools which are already spending three times as much on the education of their children as is being spent within the poorest non-government schools throughout the country, which is 80 per cent of non-government schools. Honourable members opposite can do what they like to try to manufacture a sectarian-based political campaign out of this, but we knew when we were developing these policies that there had been a serious determination by the Liberal Party in government to re-ignite the flames of the state aid debate, and there was developing a great concern amongst --

Mr Hodgman —Are you attacking the Catholic bishops of Australia? Are you saying they tell lies?

Mr DAWKINS —If the honourable member for Denison would like me to quote some very eminent members of the Catholic heirarchy, those involved in--

Mr Hodgman —Quote Bishop Kelly on Judas money.

Mr DAWKINS —I could also quote Archbishop Carroll from Sydney and the Catholic Education Office in Victoria; each has commended Senator Ryan on the guidelines she delivered to the Schools Commission. Of course, there are details in relation to the way in which funds are going to be more directly applied to the most-

Mr Howard —What about the opening of new schools? Why don't you answer that question?

Mr DAWKINS —I will come to that very quickly, as I did at Question Time today. It seems to me that anybody who is concerned about the facilities and the opportunities in the non-government school sector should be concerned about improving the circumstances in existing schools. We are saying that, in the first instance, we will be directing our attention towards improving the fabric of those schools, because, as I mentioned earlier today, All Hallows school in the electorate of Lowe is a fire trap and went ignored by our predecessors for years and years. If we are to see a sensible use of scarce resources, it is important in these circumstances to ensure that there is not a great duplication . That does not apply in areas where new places have to be provided in new and developing suburbs. In fact our policies will ensure that non-government schools get on the ground in new areas quicker than they would have done under the policies of our predecessors. For far too long supporters of non-government schools had to wait years and years before they could get together their share which then made them eligible for Commonwealth capital grants. The policies which we are undertaking will shorten that delay.

This is a quite blatant and unprincipled attempt by the Liberal Party, particularly the Deputy Leader of the Liberal Party, who is trying to re- establish his fortunes with the monied ranks of the Liberal Party, and those extreme right wing and conservative elements of the Liberal Party, to deflect the Government. That is what this is all about. However, the Government will not be deflected from its determination to ensure that in the funding of schools, whether government or non-government, the needs of the children are taken into account and that children have an equal chance to get a high quality education.

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