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Thursday, 30 August 1973
Page: 646

Mr WILSON (Sturt) -This is a grievance debate and the topic that has been selected by many of us on this side of the House is not the question of so-called wealthy schools but is a question relating to schools in general, and the impact of a Labor Party decision, with regard to the Karmel Committee, upon education in general. If it is necessary for members of the Opposition to point to the effects of this decision upon a selected group of schools, it is because of our concern about education in general and the impact Df the Labor Party's decision. We have not as yet had an opportunity to debate the whole question of the Karmel Committee report, lt is to be hoped that we will be given that opportunity and adequate time to discuss the many ramifications of the large number of points raised in the report. However, because of the Labor Party's callous breach of election promises made by the Minister for Education (Mr Beazley) and the Prime- Minister (Mr Whitlam)-

Mr Beazley - When? No legislation has breached anything. We have continued your grants this year. That is all that has happened.

Mr WILSON - The Minister interjects that he has made no decision. I hope that we can draw the conclusion from the Minister's persistent interjections that he will come before this Parliament with legislation guaranteeing to every independent school grants representing 40 per cent of the recurrent costs of educating children in the State systems.

Mr Beazley - Forty per cent would be double, the grants given by the previous Government

Mr WILSON - The Federal Government would give 20 per cent to be matched by 20 per cent from the State governments.

Mr Beazley - That is the Liberal-Country Party policy. It' is not the Government's promise.

Mr WILSON - The Minister says that it is not the Government's promise. The honourable member for Wannon (Mr Malcolm Fraser) pointed out in this debate this morning that, following the previous Government's announcement that it would continue aid to the independent schools at the rate of 20 per cent of the cost of educating the children in the state system, the Prime Minister, then Leader of the Opposition, said that a Labor government, if elected, would continue aid at the rate at which it was then being given.

Mr Beazley - The State Liberal Governments of Victoria and New South Wales did not match the 20 per cent.

Mr WILSON - We assumed that the Labor Party undertook to honour its election promise that it would continue the real value of grants to every independent school at the rate of 20 per cent of the cost of educating children in the state system and then, if over and above that, the question of needs were to be looked at, it could be looked at in an objective fashion and considered according to its merits. Because the Labor Government has failed to honour its promise and because it has rejected recommendations made by its own committee one must rapidly question the objectives of the Labor Party as to the whole system of aid to independent schools.

This debate is concerned not merely for the category A and B schools but also for every independent school - the Catholic schools in the Catholic system as well as other schools not in a school system. What is the future of aid to the independent system? The decisions of the Labor Cabinet as so far announced apparently are now to be reviewed by the Caucus. It is a review which we all eagerly await. One would hope that the Minister for Education could be persuasive enough of his own colleagues to induce them to honour a commitment that he made on their behalf while he was shadow Minister for Education to continue proportionate aid at the rate of 20 per cent of the cost of educating children in the state system. While that doubt remains about the future of aid to the independent system, every independent school is under challenge. The parent of every child in every independent school is looking down the barrel of a gun. One bullet has already been fired by the gross discrimination against a group of schools, many of which it has been possible to clearly demonstrate are in great need.

If one looks at the report of the Cook Committee in South Australia, one finds that that Committee, which has had an opportunity over 3 years to examine the needs of independent schools in that State, has time and again reported to the Government of South Australia that every school is in need. If one looks at the categorisation of schools made by the Cook Committee and compares it with that made by the Karmel Committee, one finds some gross absurdities and injustices. As a result of those gross absurdities and injustices, many of the independent schools that may be described as the middle grade schools are under threat of closure. They will maintain an atmosphere of confidence, but what of the attitude of parents who want the freedom of choice to send their children to independent schools? lt is a strange committee - the Karmel Committee - that says that it believes that there should be maximum freedom of choice, that the price of choice should be reduced ..nd then, in its recommendations, adds to the price of choice to a degree that many parents must realistically consider whether they can justifiably exercise that choice.

Insofar as they will be deprived of the opportunity of exercising that free choice of sending their children to an independent school and decide as a result of the economic pressure imposed upon them by this Labor Government to send their children to a state school, they are slowing down the increase in educational output from the state system. As a result, the Labor Party is prejudicing the rate at which the quality of education can be improved in the state system. So, it can be seen that by Labor's decision to withdraw aid from a number of schools, at the same time imposing a threat that aid may be withdrawn from many others both in actual terms and in real terms, its professed claim of helping the disadvantaged students of this country, who should be helped and must be helped, will not be fulfilled so quickly as would have been the case had a fairer and more equitable system been adopted with regard to aid to independent schools.

There has been a gradual improvement in standard in the state school system. But the Government has decided to withdraw aid from certain schools. Many of these schools cannot be described as wealthy schools. They are schools whose educational resource comes about very often by the supreme sacrifice of parents in the belief that they should give their children an opportunity that they want them to have. As a result of the Government's decision to withdraw aid from certain schools these parents will be forced to send their children to the state school system, thus adding to the cost burden of that system. Thus the adequacy of the state school system will not be improved as quickly as otherwise would have been the case. It is to be hoped that when the Minister for Education takes this matter to the Caucus he will be able to persuade the Caucus to honour his election promise so that every child can receive the grants which they were assured by the Minister and the Prime Minister (Mr Whitlam), in the month leading up to the last Federal election, would be available to them.

Mr BEAZLEY(Fremantle- Minister for Education) - Mr Deputy Speaker, I wish to make a personal explanation.

Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr Berinson)Doesthe honourable member claim to have been misrepresented?

Mr BEAZLEY - Yes, by the honourable member for Sturt (Mr Wilson). The honourable member identified me with pledges in regard to the legislation of the late Government relating to the recurrent grant from the Commonwealth Government to private schools of 20 per cent of the cost of a state school. This was the subject of the last educational legislation of the late Government. I led for the Opposition in the debate on the legislation on 26 September 1972. It is reported at. page 1936 of Hansard. It is not a long passage so I shall read it to the honourable member. It states:

I move:

That all words after That'-

That the Bill be read a second time - be omitted with a view to inserting the following words in place thereof: the House, while not refusing a second reading to the Bill, is of the opinion that it should provide for the establishment of an Australian Schools Commission to examine and determine the needs of students in government and non-government primary, secondary and technical schools, and recommend grants which the Commonwealth should make to the States to assist in meeting the requirements of all school age children on the basis of needs and priorities and that the application of this policy, could not allow the continued acceptance of the provisions of the Bill and that therefore grants should not be made on the basis provided in the Bill in respect of any year after 1973'.

We have honoured it in 1973 and it is still continuing. I went on to say:

If the Government wins the next election it can go on with its Bill for the next S years. But it is quite plainly impertinent on the part of the Government to attempt to bind for S years its successors when it does not know its own fate in an election. This Bill undoubtedly will become law. Therefore expectations will be built up, including extremely unjust expectations in which the wealthiest schools of this country can expect to receive the same flat rate grants as the poorest schools of this country. However, they will be budgeting for that in the coming school year. We take the attitude that in the coming school year of 1973 this Bill must therefore be allowed to proceed. But we give a fair warning that if we are in power, while there will be an expenditure on non-government schools of no less than the sum total that will bc appropriated in this Bill, the appropriation will be reapportioned - it will be reapportioned on the basis of need.

There was no commitment whatever to continue the 20 per cent grant.

Mr MacKellar - What about the latter statement?

Mr BEAZLEY - It did not relate to the 20 per cent grant.

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