Senate debates

Tuesday, 20 June 2017

Answers to Questions on Notice


3:12 pm

Photo of Don FarrellDon Farrell (SA, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Minister for the Centenary of ANZAC) Share this | Hansard source

I move:

That the Senate take note of the answers given by the Minister for Education and Training (Senator Birmingham) to questions without notice asked by Opposition senators today relating to schools funding.

I have to declare a bit of an interest in the questions that were asked. I did start at a Catholic school, Saint Therese's at Colonel Light Gardens in South Australia, where I was taught by the very dedicated Dominican sisters. I then went on to be educated at Blackfriars college in Prospect, where I was taught by the Dominican fathers. I had three daughters who all went to Catholic schools—the older two went to Saint Raphael's School, an excellent school, in Parkside and then all three of them went on to study at Loreto College in Marryatville. As a parent, I was asked to join the board of Saint Raphael's School, so I believe I do have some firsthand knowledge of how the education system works in South Australia but more particularly how the Catholic education system works. I have a pretty good understanding of the dedication of the teachers in that system.

I do not say that this is limited to Catholic schools, but I have seen it firsthand in my own experience the hard work, sacrifice and dedication of parents who choose to send their children to Catholic schools, because of course there is a cost associated with that decision. We are lucky in Australia that we can get a choice of education through a variety of systems, and those parents who make that decision to send their children to the Catholic schools make a contribution to the cost. And I have seen, particularly for my own children, mostly the pretty hard work the students themselves make a commitment to.

But in particular I have seen just how the small Catholic schools work. Most of them run on the smell of an oily rag. These are not wealthy schools by any means. The teachers, the parents and the students are committed to the system. So I do find it rather dumbfounding that an education minister in this government, from my home state of South Australia, should choose to take the action he has taken in respect of the Catholic school system. Over the last few days in particular, but more broadly, I have had an opportunity to talk to some of the people from the Catholic education system in South Australia. And let me tell you what they are saying about what this minister intends to do to Catholic schools in his own state. They tell me that the cuts mean that in South Australia Catholic schools will get $9 million less in 2018 and $25 million less in 2019 than they would have done under the original Gonski model. In South Australia, Catholic Education says that affordability is already cited as the reason the majority of parents take their children out of the Catholic school system. They also say that any further reduction in revenue will place enormous pressure on the viability of small schools in low-SES areas.

What does that mean? Well, already in the Catholic school system in South Australia they offer fee reductions to up to 40 per cent of parents where those parents cannot afford to pay the full fees. So, what Minister Birmingham is doing is simply making that situation more difficult for all of those parents who make a commitment to their children's education. I have to say, I do not think this minister could go two rounds with a revolving door. He has let the people of South Australia— (Time expired)


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