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Question: No regulation of the $1.2bn fund for private schools

Question
Mehreen Faruqi 12 Nov 2018

Senator FARUQI (New South Wales) (14:23): My question is to Senator Hon. Bridget McKenzie, Minister for Regional Services, Sport, Local Government and Decentralisation, representing the Minister for Education. Minister, at budget estimates the Department of Education indicated that there were no rules or regulations developed for the proposed $1.2 billion fund—the so-called 'choice and affordability fund'—for private schools, and that the figure was a decision by the government. Minister, where did the $1.2 billion price tag come from? And what role did the Catholic and independent schools play in coming up with that number?

Senator McKENZIE (Victoria—Deputy Leader of The Nationals and Minister for Regional Services, Sport, Local Government and Decentralisation) (14:24): I thank the senator for her question. Our government is absolutely committed to ensuring that every single child in this country—whether they go to a private school, whether they go to a Catholic school, whether they go, like the majority of regional students, to a state funded public school—will be able to access the same amount of funding according to their need.

I find it incredible to stand here and be faced with those opposite, who actually think it's okay that if you are in grade 6 at St Joseph's in a town like Benalla you're entitled to get a different amount of funding based on your needs, as opposed to someone in grade 6 in Manjimup or someone in grade 6 in a place like—

The PRESIDENT: Senator Faruqi on a point of order.

Senator Faruqi: Mr President, my point of order is to relevance. My question was very specific about the $1.2 billion Choice and Affordability Fund: how did the government come up with that number, and what role did the Catholic and private school sector have in coming up with that number for the government?

The PRESIDENT: Senator Faruqi, you have taken the opportunity to remind the minister of the question. I note the minister has one minute and 11 seconds remaining to answer.

Senator McKENZIE: The $1.2 billion is actually part of a broader $4.5 billion package to ensure that the transition of our needs based funding package for Australian school students is delivered on the ground in a way that maximises outcomes for our students. Those opposite found it all too easy to ensure that 27 dirty deals were done with different state education ministers in the dying days—that was code for delivering equitable outcomes to Australian school students. In reality, those states that did not sign up to the Gillard-Greens backed school funding arrangement actually saw students with the same needs in Indigenous schools, in country schools and in Catholic schools in different states treated very differently.

Senator O'Neill: That is not true.

Senator McKENZIE: I'm happy to provide the data to set that out for you, Senator O'Neill—through you, Mr President. The reality is, when it comes to needs based funding— (Time expired)

The PRESIDENT: Senator Faruqi, a supplementary question.

Senator FARUQI (New South Wales) (14:27): Can the minister guarantee that the government will not allow this $1.2 billion fund to be used to subsidise private school fees for wealthy parents?

Senator McKENZIE (Victoria—Deputy Leader of The Nationals and Minister for Regional Services, Sport, Local Government and Decentralisation) (14:27): What I can guarantee is that we're absolutely committed to ensuring equitable school funding for every single Australian student, irrespective of whether they live in Brunswick or Benalla, irrespective of whether they live in Fitzroy or Fitzroy Crossing. We are the side of parliament that actually puts money on the table to deliver what you could not deliver, and that is a needs based funding model that is consistent across the country. We need to support those parents who are seeking choice for their children. That has been one of the great strengths of our education system. But we can't run away from the fact—and the Greens do this every time; I think you should all just run for state parliament, because all the issues you bring here are actually a function of state parliament. If you want to see all of our funds go— (Time expired)

The PRESIDENT: Senator Faruqi, a final supplementary question.

Senator FARUQI (New South Wales) (14:28): Minister, what transparency will there be with this funding? Will the public be able to see if it has been spent on another swimming pool at The King's School or an orchestra pit at St Catherine's, while public school children and teachers sweat through yet another summer without air conditioning?

Senator McKENZIE (Victoria—Deputy Leader of The Nationals and Minister for Regional Services, Sport, Local Government and Decentralisation) (14:29): Through you, Mr President, I will write a letter with you, Senator Faruqi, to every single state education minister, because that is absolutely unacceptable for any child—when it's hot in summer and you're trying to educate young children, schools need to be air conditioned. That is not the responsibility of the federal government. It is the responsibility of state education ministers. You stand up here and try and make some insinuation about the money that we're putting on the table—it is not to take away from the responsibilities of state education ministers. I would be appalled if the money that we are putting forward as a government to assist schools to transition to this new model to ensure that every single student in this country is treated the same for once were going towards excessive luxury items. I expect it to be going towards the education of Australian children.

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