Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 2010 Week 03 Hansard (Tuesday, 16 March 2010) . . Page.. 906 ..
socioeconomic circumstances. This is not the case. Families struggle across the nation to educate their children in the schools of their choice. There are many factors which influence a family’s decision when it comes to the choice of schools and we in this place have an obligation to ensure that this choice is not compromised by lack of affordability.
The 2009 school census tells us that Catholic systemic schools and independent schools account for 41.5 per cent of the total ACT student population. This number has increased steadily over the past five years. 13,122 students attend Catholic systemic schools alone with another 12,000-plus students making up the attendance at other Catholic and non-government schools. Yet we know that the level of financial support provided by the ACT government to Catholic school students is among the lowest in the country and well below the national average. When there is not an equitable contribution, it is inevitable that families bear the financial brunt.
ACT government funding support to Catholic schools is over $200 per student less than the Australian average of state and territory funding support to Catholic schools and represents one of the lowest in the country. Many states fund non-government school students at 25 per cent or more of the cost of educating a government school student, yet we in the ACT provide only 18 per cent of that cost. I repeat that we provide only 18 per cent of that cost.
Demand, as seen by enrolments over a number of years, is steadily on the increase. Yet funding is on the decrease. Where will this leave families? It will leave them without their fundamental right, the right of choice. Last December, the review of special education in the ACT was made public. The review includes 68 possible options for the future of special education in ACT schools. This includes options for special education in Catholic and independent schools. The inclusion of Catholic and non-government schools in this review was not automatic and came about after a great deal of agitation from the opposition. Almost half of the student population in the ACT was about to be ignored by this government in a fundamental review which looked at the unmet needs of students with a disability.
It seems that Andrew Barr again learnt a valuable lesson from the Canberra Liberals by agreeing to include the significant number of ACT students with a disability that attend non-government schools in a review that specifically excluded them in the first instance. It took 2½ months of ongoing pressure by the opposition, followed by a strong stance by Catholic, independent school groups and the ACT Parents and Friends Association to persuade the minister that he was wrong. The minister was adamant at the time. Even during the estimates hearings last year, the minister for all schools remained steadfast, saying that he would not include the non-government sector in the review.
This is when we saw the true feelings of this minister come to the fore, when he referred to the non-government sector as “blazer schools”. I am pleased to see that the minister is paying more attention to Catholic schools and the independent sector in recent times. Indeed, I believe that he is actually following my lead and seeking out opportunities to visit Catholic and non-government schools a bit more often.