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Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 2003 Week 6 Hansard (18 June) . . Page.. 2082 ..


(9.03): This has been a very long and interesting debate and I would like to take this opportunity to add my comments on this very controversial motion that Mr Pratt has put forward today.

The Australian Democrats believe that every child is entitled to a decent education. However, we all know that the government's resources are finite. The government is obliged to provide free, high-quality and accessible public education to the entire community, including in the newly developed areas of Canberra. The number of non-government schools continues to rise, which puts pressure on the viability of some government schools. Arguably, the interest subsidy scheme has been a substantial factor leading to the establishment of so many new non-government schools.

Total infrastructure maintenance and refurbishment costs, when government and non-government schools are considered as a whole, are rising as the number of schools climbs because there are fewer economies of scale. This rise in costs is exacerbated by the fact that many school buildings are ageing and will soon be in need of substantial refurbishment. It was in this context, I believe, that Lyndsay Connors made her recommendation that the ACT government close the interest subsidy scheme, and the government has accepted this recommendation.

There has been some debate about whether she fairly represented the distribution of benefits under this scheme among wealthier and less wealthy non-government schools. However, she made a solid case that non-government schools are spending more per capita on capital works than government schools, which goes against the claim that these schools, as a group, need government assistance to provide adequate infrastructure.

Some newer non-government schools do not yet have the basic facilities, but the interest subsidy scheme was proving to be a very inefficient mechanism for addressing these inequities. Whilst the ACT Democrats do support the right of parents to choose the setting in which their children will be educated, we cannot agree that the interest subsidy scheme represents the best use of the limited education funding that we have.

Children with disabilities are enrolled in both government and non-government schools and are in acute need of additional resources. More resources are also urgently needed to assist children with behavioural problems. Considering the unpopularity of higher taxes, it is almost certainly necessary for existing education funding to be reallocated to the areas of greatest needs.

The federal government already provides generous establishment grants to new schools, which are given enough funding to provide basic facilities. The ACT government provides land grants as in-kind assistance. I believe that this represents a fair contribution to the capital costs of non-government schools.

Part of the trade-off in choosing non-government schooling is that parents are required to contribute to the cost of maintenance and new facilities for these schools. Federal tax deductions make contributions to school buildings more affordable for parents. I believe that parents are fully aware of that when they choose to send their children to non-government schools.

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