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Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 2003 Week 6 Hansard (18 June) . . Page.. 2076 ..



As Mr Cornwell has just said, the government is saying that it is not actually taking any money from the non-government schools, but at this stage we do not know where the money will be going. I'll bet my bottom dollar, I'll bet my school fees, that no ACT non-government school will ever see the colour of the money.


(8.39): I think that we should remember that the interest subsidy scheme is an inheritance of the 1960s when Canberra was expanding rapidly through the relocation of the Commonwealth public service. The point has to be made that the existence of a scheme is not necessarily proof of its value.

Before the government's response to the Connors report was handed down, I spoke with a number of independent school representatives and the Association of Independent Schools on this matter and no-one denied that Ms Connors' analysis is essentially correct, namely, that these days the interest subsidy scheme benefits the larger and more affluent non-government schools than the sector overall.

The point was made that, somehow or other, the scheme could be turned on its head so as to benefit the smaller and poorer schools instead. It is difficult, however, to see how such a scheme would work. Given that the Connors report was quite clear in both its criticism of the scheme and its recommendation to terminate it, the opportunity was certainly there for the non-government school sector to propose an alternative strategy.

It is also worth reminding ourselves, as other members have, that the Commonwealth does allocate significant capital grants to non-government schools and that the ACT government also gives funding to these schools. Also, of course, the school buildings are themselves assets of the schools to be used as equity, which opens up opportunities that government schools do not have. Non-government schools are not entirely thrown onto their own resources when it comes to capital improvement. I understand that the funds which will become available following the ceasing of this scheme will be directed back to the non-government sector, presumably and hopefully on an equity basis.

On some of the broader issues that have come up in this debate, I have noticed that it has been stressed by the Liberals that 39 per cent of the students going to high school, I think, are going to non-government high schools. Why is that so? Obviously, that is a question of interest to anyone who is interested in education in this city or anywhere else. We have been asking that question for some years and there have been responses to it. There have been the high schools for the new millennium programs and various other programs actually dealing with high schools.

The basic premise of the Liberals' position, as it always has been, is to do with choice. I have not heard the argument put in the way that Mr Cornwell put it tonight, that is, that the word "choice"has been replaced by "equity". No-one would normally say that from your side, Mr Cornwell. They would say that you care about equity as well, but you are really keen on choice. I have not heard it said that choice was being replaced by equity as a position.

The claim usually made by their side of the house on this issue is that they do support equity as well as choice. That is when you have to get to the question of choice for whom. Clearly, it is a matter of choice for those who can afford it. If they are putting the

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