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Monday, 6 December 2004
Page: 115

Senator CARR (9:14 PM) —I indicate that the opposition strongly oppose these measures. We take the view that there should be a basic grant for schools operating from fees alone above the national standard. We say that the effect of this amendment would be to remove all public funding from schools operating from fees above the AGSRC, which is about 40 per cent lower than the national standard that the Labor Party argued was the appropriate benchmark. That was the measure we took to the last election. We make the point that many more schools in fact are operating above the AGSRC from fees alone than operate above the national standard that was set in terms of the Labor Party's position in the last election campaign.

Having said that, I think it is also important to point out that the AGSRC is a flawed measure if one is to use it as an instrument for the setting of a funding standard. It has been criticised widely in many different quarters as a basis for funding. I understand that it is the favourite instrument of the states. I appreciate that. The last MCEETYA papers that I saw on this highlighted the states' very strong commitment to the AGSRC. My recollection is that the indexation rate that the government uses for the funding of schools programs is running at in excess of eight per cent at the moment. That figure of in excess of eight per cent compares with around 1.8 per cent for the TAFE system and around 2.3 per cent for the higher education system. A number of different indices operate within the education department at the moment. From memory, I think there might be six or eight different funding instruments in terms of the various indexation rates that apply. So there is no set figure that has general agreement as being an objective measurement of increases in costs for schooling let alone an instrument for the measurement of the costs of schooling.

If we take the AGSRC, it averages out the state expenditure for all needs including the higher cost of students with special needs, Indigenous students and students from the various other targeted equity groups. It is not valid to compare the cost of those students with the expenses that are incurred for education in the private system. Many of those private schools of course are able to operate with a much more finely honed selective intake policy. So the AGSRC is not a comparison that is valid for the education of students in the non-government sector. At the same time the AGSRC is measured on a cash rather than on an accrual basis. It does not include legitimate items such as superannuation. So as a measure of funding it is flawed on many different accounts. As a measure of indexation it is a politically convenient figure which has been used for many years by states and territory governments and by the Commonwealth. That is why we have a situation now where we are spending more money on non-government schools than we are on universities. This particular indexation method has meant that we are now seeing on a compound basis increases in grants of in excess of eight per cent. It compares with other sectors of the education system which are being funded at much lower levels.

I would argue on a number of different counts that the AGSRC is not an appropriate instrument for determining basic needs of schooling. It is not an adequate instrument in my opinion as a method of selection of indexation and it is not a measure on which we could determine that the resourcing of schools is adequate to meet the national goals of schooling. In terms of the absolute numbers the figures that have been published in this bill draw to our attention that the average cost is $6,580 for a primary student for 2005 and $8,595 for a secondary student. Frankly, I do not believe that that is an adequate figure to meet the appropriate standards for education in this country and it would be inappropriate for this chamber to accept such a proposition as is being suggested by the Democrats. It would be unduly harsh and counterproductive to the objectives that I think Senator Allison would argue for—and certainly that she has advocated for many years here.