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Monday, 6 December 2004
Page: 119

Senator ALLISON (9:32 PM) —Yes. It is good of the minister to advise us that we can move amendments together! I appreciate that, Minister! It is something I had not appreciated until this time! I seek leave to move Democrat amendments (13), (16) and (17) on revised sheet 4436 together.

Senator Carr —The opposition are opposing amendment (17) in relation to clause 36. We will be supporting you on (13) and (16). We cannot support you on amendment (17).

Senator ALLISON —By the time we have this discussion about what can be put together and what cannot be put together, we could have already put the two that are going to be put together.

Senator Vanstone —It's (13), (16), (18) and (19).

Senator ALLISON —by leave—I move Democrat amendments (13) and (16), on revised sheet 4436, as follows:

(13) Clause 34, page 34 (after line 7), at the end of the clause, add:

(3) The agreement must include a commitment by the relevant authority for a non-government school or approved school system to ensure that all sources of gross income received by the authority in operating the school, as well as all gross expenditure, recurrent or capital and the purposes for which Commonwealth funds have been used in the previous program year, is made publicly available within 6 months of the end of the previous program year.

(16) Clause 36, page 36 (line 3), at the end of subclause (3), add:

(g) ensure that the exclusion policy and practices of the school or each school in the approved school system are made publicly available.

Amendment (13) requires that schools provide information about all sources of income received in operating their school, as well as gross expenditure, recurrent or capital, and the purposes for which the Commonwealth funds have been used in the previous program year, and that they make that publicly available within six months of the end of the previous program year. A common complaint that I receive is that there is a very high level of accountability for government schools but we really do not know how much income schools are able to attract or what they spend Commonwealth funding on. If this were required to be reported, it would (a) be reasonable, because they receive public funding, and (b) assist us to know just what sort of level of resources are necessary to produce some of the results that many non-government schools do.

As I said in my speech during the second reading debate, we need to know what the input of schools is in terms of resources, funding and dollars coming in, but we also need to know the savings that schools make by certain practices and policies, such as exclusion. As I said earlier, it is very much more expensive to teach a child who has certain disabilities, learning problems or difficulties, or language problems, or one who comes to a school from a non-English-speaking background. There are schools that have exclusion policies in this respect. Just the other day in the press there was a story about a school which had sent a letter explaining to parents why those young people who were less able than others would need to leave the school. It is not something we have dreamed up. It is not uncommon for schools to minimise their costs in this way. The press clipping which came out just a few weeks ago said:

STRUGGLING Year 12 students will be forced to sit final exams as independent candidates to avoid damaging the reputation and academic ranking of a private Perth college.

The letter that apparently went to parents explained this was a problem for the reputation of the school and it would be better if the students were not part of that school.

I think it is reasonable to ask, since these schools are receiving public funding: what are their exclusion policies? What are their practices? Do they kick out the kids who have behavioural problems? Do they exclude students who have learning difficulties? We have all heard anecdotes to that effect. There is some evidence kicking around. I think it is reasonable that schools reveal what those exclusion policies are. Minister, you talk a lot about the parents' right to know. I would have thought that parents have a right to know who is excluded from the school as well. It could be that their child will be excluded further down the track. If you enrol your student in years 7 and 8 and then the school discovers that they have difficulties, the school might encourage them to go to another school. I would have thought this was not just an accountability issue but an issue for parents, so they can know what is the prospect of their son or daughter being kicked out of the school if they are not performing well.

Question agreed to.