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Speech: Choice and Affordability Fund for Non-Government Schools

Speeches in Parliament
Mehreen Faruqi 12 Nov 2018

We have seen from Minister McKenzie's performance in question time today and from the stonewalling at budget estimates that the so-called 'choice and affordability fund' is exactly what we thought it would be when it was first announced. This is a bipartisan political fix for private schools that comes at the direct expense of public schools, public school students and teachers, which are grossly underfunded and most in need. This whole program is a farce. There are no rules and no criteria, and the department seems to have no idea how the enormous amount of $1.2 billion for the private school slush fund was arrived at. There are no complex mathematical formulas behind this number. There's only one formula the Liberal-National government is interested in, and that's how much money to throw at the private school sector to keep it quiet.

Billions going to Catholic and independent schools is billions not going to public schools, and it is public school teachers and students who will continue to be neglected. Ninety-three per cent of teachers dip into their own pocket to buy stationery and classroom equipment, and nearly half buy library resources and textbooks. It means public school students continue to sweat it out in demountable classrooms with no air conditioning, while private schools build orchestra pits and their third and fourth swimming pools. This government and the private schools have some things in common, and one of those things is that they both fear transparency. Dr Adrian Piccoli, former New South Wales education minister and the director of the Gonski Institute for Education at the University of New South Wales, has made very clear what happens when you allow systems like the Catholic education system to determine where to put public money, instead of the government. He pointed out that the Catholic sector often allocate more money to their wealthy schools than their schools in disadvantaged areas. He gives the example of schools in regional Queanbeyan receiving $2,000 less per student than Catholic students on the wealthy North Shore. St Joseph's in Condobolin, whose student population is 30 per cent Indigenous, gets $4,000 less per student than St Michael's in Sydney's wealthy inner west.

This madness has to stop. These special deals have to stop. The Greens are the only party that will stand up for public schools and against special deals for private schools. Both the Labor and Liberal parties continue to support billions going to already overfunded private schools. Parents of public school children have the right to be angry that the government managed to find $4.6 billion behind the couch and there is not a dollar—not even a single cent extra—for public schools. This is a national disgrace. It's time for the government to admit that this is just hush money for private schools and to put this money into the public system, where it's clearly most needed.

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