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Thursday, 27 September 2001
Page: 31645

Mr LEE (10:53 AM) —This entire debate is about one simple question: should we treat all Australian students the same? Should we ensure that all Australian students are entitled to support and funding assistance from the federal government on a fair and equal basis? The Labor Party, with the cooperation of the Democrats and the Greens, have moved this amendment in the Senate because we believe that the government should not be providing this increase in funding for establishment grants for non-government schools unless the government is prepared to provide a balancing increase in funding for students at government schools. All we are asking for is an extra $30 million for the 70 per cent of Australian students at public schools across the country. It is a request for $30 million extra for students at government schools at a time when the government has blown about $40 million in government advertising in the months of August and September. All we are saying is that the many students at the 7,000 government schools across the country deserve a fair go.

Why is there a problem at the moment? There is a problem today because the man sitting at this table, the Minister for Education, Training and Youth Affairs, has made a series of blunders. Last year he made a mistake when he massively underestimated how many new non-government schools there would be and how much this establishment grant program would cost. When his department told him in October that there was a massive underfunding of this program, he sat on his hands and did nothing, despite the fact that we spent weeks in both chambers of this parliament debating what should happen to the states grants bill.

He continued to sit on his hands throughout the months of January, February, March, April and May, and it was not until June that the minister, having been told last October that there was a problem, came into this House and moved the corrective legislation. He then sought to score political points by wrapping up the extra establishment grant funding with some higher education funding, and it was not until he was forced in the Senate to split those two measures that we were able to ensure that those other measures were able to pass.

This minister could have fixed the problem from last October. Every day since June, the minister has known that, if he wants the States Grants (Primary and Secondary Education Assistance) Amendment Bill (No. 2) 2001 passed, he has to do one thing and one thing alone: provide a balancing increase in funding for government schools. This minister has not done this because he has an ideological obsession with taking money away from government schools at every opportunity. Today we had the laughable example of the minister trying to argue that the government has given at least an extra $30 million to government schools because they abolished the enrolment benchmark adjustment. So this is a government and a minister that take money away from government schools and then say, `That is a fair way to treat government schools, that we give them extra money by giving them back money we have already stolen from them.' The minister claims that that should in some way balance an extra funding increase for students at non-government schools.

For 30 years the Labor Party has been a strong defender of funding to non-government schools on a needs basis. Our view has not been that we should in some way deny non-government schools access to fair funding. Despite the false, misleading and deceiving claims by this minister on many occasions, the Labor Party supports funding to needy non-government schools. We support funding to non-government schools on a need basis.

We oppose the $1 million a year average increases to the 58 wealthiest non-government schools in Australia—those category 1 schools like the Kings School and Geelong Grammar which are this minister's highest priority. Our highest priority is the needy schools throughout Australia, whether they are in the government or the non-government sector. Through the education priority zone program, we are going to ensure that extra Commonwealth government funds go to those needy schools, whether they are Catholic, Christian or public schools. They are the schools that should be the highest priority, not the Kings School and Geelong Grammar; not the schools that you are trying to shovel massive increases to over coming years. It is for those reasons that not only do we intend to press this amendment today but, if the parliament comes back in later weeks, we will time and time again hold this minister responsible for providing a decent level of funding to government schools. He claims that government schools have had an increase, but they would know if they had had a 43 per cent increase. They know that all this minister has given them is basically the inflation indexation. (Time expired)

Motion (by Dr Kemp) agreed to:

That the question be now put.

Question put:

That the requested amendment be not made.