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On our 3CR program 9 September 2000 DOGS remarked on a report in the Sydney Daily Telegraph of 1 September 2000. The report was entitled "It's Howard's New Inequitable School of Thought" and was written by Mark Latham, the ex-shadow Minister for Education in the Federal Labor Party.


Mark Latham noted that Australia's 62 wealthiest schools were due to receive an extra %50 million in funding while support for disabled students was being cut.

He claimed that whereas the Labor Party's "needs" policy had started out as a worthwhile idea - funding the non-government sector according to the relative wealth of each school's student population - has been perverted by a series of backroom deals. And any notion of fairness has gone out the window.


Now the DOGS, since 1969 have attempted to expose the backroom deals of the Roman Catholic sector with successive governments. And DOGS have been aware that a funding system that give state aid to any institution which can select students, teachers and parents on their religious creed, political inclination and ability to pay, never has been and never could be "fair".


But Mark Latham who was born in 1971, and is a graduate of Hurlstone Agricultural College. He just appears to have just woken up to the political realities of Church State entanglement: He claims that


"In a brazen attempt to buy off the elite schools, the minimum amount of primary funding has increased from %525.00 to $600.00 per student. Schools such as King's and Cranbrook, which already have huge asset and revenue bases, are going to be further subsidised by working-class taxpayers.


The worst perversion, however, has been with the Catholic Education Commission. Prior to the last election, it did a deal with the Federal Government to stay out of the new system, yet still receive an additional 100 million in funding. In return, the bishops agreed to go quiet on the question of the GST.


In terms of education policy, there is no reason why the Catholics should have funding rules different to the rest of the non-government sector. The resolution of the State aid controversy in the 1970s was supposed to deliver Catholic schools a fair deal, not a special deal"


But don't worry - Mr Latham , a good member of the New South Wales laborial party, is just miffed because the Liberals won the "State Aid  Auction' before the last Federal election and the Labor Party were gazumped behind closed doors. It seems that Latham wants to up the ante and open up the State Aid auction in these latter days!

"Sadly for the schools involved, this backroom arrangement appears to have backfired. If the Catholics had joined the new funding system they would have received an extra $240.00 million per annum, $140.00 million more than the amount they settled on. The parents of children in parish schools should be screaming blue murder about this injustice.


The Catholic Education Commission was desperate to maintain its centralised control of school funding, rather than move into a publicly accountable, school-by-school system. This grab for power is likely to harm the prospects of Catholic schoolchildren. It is a scandalous situation."


Meanwhile, while Mr Latham is crying tears for the "poor Catholic schoolchildren" our readers might like to turn to our statistics page to see just how well the Catholic sector is doing . It is time that the myth of "needy" sectarian schools was exposed and the truly "needy" sectors, in our public education sector were properly funded.



On 6 September 2000 D.O.G.S. requested Mr Latham to fax us the text of his speech in the Federal Parliament on the night of 5 September 2000. We reproduce part of this speech below for your interest. The full text will no doubt appear in Hansard in due course.


Member for Werriwa


6 September 2000


Please find attached Mark Latham's speech in the House of Representatives last night, outlining how:

  • the Federal Government has cut a special deal with the Catholic Education Commission on school funding.

  • this deal has backfired on Catholic schools - they would have been $140 million per annum better off under the new SES funding system

  • the Catholic Education Commission has agreed to this deal for the sole purpose of keeping the distribution of school funding in its own hands.

  • the distribution of funding between schools by the Catholic Education Commission is often inequitable, particularly in NSW and Queensland

  • the Federal Government is applying a weaker standard of accountability and transparency to the Catholic system than other parts of the non-government schools sector

  • this special deal is undermining the core principles of State aid - the needs-based funding of all Australian schools, under the same rules for accountability and transparency.

CONTACT; MARK LATHAM:  62774606; 0419 616 98

05/09/2000 9;52:30 PM

Mr LATHAM (Werriwa ) (9.53 p.m.) - I rise to speak on the States Grants (Primary and Secondary Education Assistance)Bill 2000. The oldest and most poisonous issue in our nation's politics is state aid. One of the proudest achievements of the Australian Labor Party is its resolution of this issue in the 197os. Through the establishment of the Schools Commission in 1973, the Whitlam government gave full and fair funding to the non-government sector. It established the principle of needs based funding. All schools, whether public or private, religious or non-sectarian, in the the city or the country, were to be judged and funded on the basis of need. This bill is a perversion of this great principle. It reopens the bitter wounds of state aid and sectarianism in our society. It delivers a special deal to the Catholic school system- a deal which cannot be justified in terms of either education equity or public administration.


While other parts of the non-government sector are to be funded on a school-by-school basis according to the new SES formula, the Catholic system will maintain its block grants, to be administered and distributed centrally by the Catholic Education Commission in each state and territory. Uniquely in the sector, the 1,700 Catholic schools in Australia will remain with the old ERI funding system. I cannot support this special deal. In terms of education policy, there is no reason why the Catholic schools should have funding rules different from the rest of the non-government sector. The resolution of the state aid controversy was supposed to deliver Catholic schools a fair, deal, not a special deal. Special deals are antipathetic to the whole principle of needs based funding for our schools. In this instance, the government is applying a weaker standard of transparency and public accountability to the Catholic system than to the remainder of the non-government sector. While the Anglican, independent and Christian schools will have their funding distributed on a publicly accountable school-by-school basis, the Catholic schools will receive a block grant. Taxpayers will not know how this money is distributed and used.


As the Senate committee examining this bill discovered two weeks ago, the federal department does not ask for the detail of Catholic school funding. That was the admission - that the federal department does not ask for the detail of Catholic school funding. It is a disgraceful situation to have two different standards for the use of public money in the non-government school sector. It may even be in breach of Australia's antidiscrimination laws. Why should a Catholic school be treated differently from an Anglican school, or a Muslim school or an independent school? Religious discrimination is one of the most sickening practices in any society, yet our national government is enshrining it in legislation. Not even government MPs can explain away this double standard.


In the past I have had cause to support the member for Parramatta in his campaign to apply rigour and discipline to government outlays in rural Australia. the member for Parramatta has declared himself to be an opponent of special deals and pork-barrelling. Speaking on this bill last night, however, these standards deserted him. This is how he explained the government's decision to devise special rules for the Catholic schools:


That request was acceded to by the minister on the commonsense grounds that it would provide them with exactly what they requested...

Let me repeat that for the benefit of the House:


That request was acceded to by the minister on the commonsense grounds that it would provide them with exactly what they requested...

This is the commonsense on schools funding, Liberal style. It reminds me of the old drinking song,

"We're here because we're here because we're here because we're here". This is a SCam of the first order. I am sure many members will be wondering how the parliament could have arrived at this position.


Let me provide some insights from my time as shadow minister for education. Prior to the October 1998 election, the Catholic Education Commission tried to engage both sides of politics in a bidding war for Catholic school funding. On the government side, the negotiations appeared quite complex indeed. On 13 August 1998, the coalition parties announced their new taxation package, including the introduction of a goods and services tax. Shortly afterwards, the Australian Financial Review reported that government MPs had met with a number of bishops. One of these gatherings, organised by the member for Lindsay, involved 20 Ms, two archbishops and three bishops. If it was not so serious, you would think it was an Irish joke. I understand that issues such as the GST, native title and education funding were on the table for negotiation and, in some cases, intimidation. One bishop reported in the newspaper that a senior Liberal had threatened to attack the Catholic Church with paedophilia allegations.


This shameful campaign seems to have been successful. During the 1993 election campaign, the Catholic Church, led by its Social Welfare Commission, opposed the inequities of the GST. One might have expected the same thing to happen in 1998. On 21 August, however, eight days after the policy's launch, the Archbishop of Melbourne, George Pell, announced:


..."the tax package is a serious attempt to address the problems of an ailing tax system. There is no one Catholic position on an issue as complex as taxation. Tax reform is needed, the(current) system is inequitable.


The Prime Minister, of course, has been quoting the archbishop ever since. Indeed, on 20 September 1998, Mr Howard announced the government's decision to move the Catholic system into the category 11 funding band, thereby committing the Commonwealth to an additional $100 million per annum. The departmental documents assessing the need for such a recategorisation have never been publicly released. As the ALP spokesman at the time, I wanted to match this funding quantum but not necessarily tie it to the Catholic schools. The $100 million per annum should have been available to all schools. Its distribution should have been determined by a thorough needs based assessment. Unfortunately this position was not reflected in our policy documents. After the election, I did not recontest my position on the front bench. To borrow the words of Luther: Here I stand; I could do no other.


I remain opposed to special funding deals in education. They undermine the fundamental principle of needs based funding. They cause rivalries and resentment between sectors and between systems. They pit schools against each other, not on the basis of need, but according to their political muscle and clout. They allow the powerful to prosper and the weak to be marginalised. They allow politicians to be corrupted and decision making to be perverted. Worst of all, in terms of schools policy, they undermine the historic settlement of the state aid debate. The minister for education, Dr. Kemp, has embarked on a dangerous divide and rule agenda for the funding of Australia's schools. His special deal with the Catholic system reflects his determination to paly politics with the education of young Australians.


This is one of the sickest things I have seen in federal politics, and the Catholic system has been ill-advised indeed to play along. They are destroying the credibility of their own funding system. They are undermining the very basis of state aid; the fair and full funding of non-government schools. They are fouling their own nest. Ultimately, however, it is not the members of the Catholic Education Commission who will suffer most; the real victims will be the children attending Catholic schools. Not only is this deal wrong in terms of education policy and process; it sells short the funding needs of Catholic schools. Sadly for these schools, the backroom deal has backfired. The federal department has now advised members that, if the Catholics had joined the new SES system, they would have received an extra $240 million per annum - $140 million more than the amount they settled on. The parents of children in Catholic schools should be screaming blue murder about this injustice. The Catholic Education Commission was desperate to maintain its centralised control of school funding rather than move to a publicly accountable, school by school system. As Rev. Tom Doyle told the Senate Committee on 22 August:


The Catholic system would have actually benefited more from an aggregation according to SES levels but in fact we opted, in negotiation with the government, to stay at level 11 in order to preserve the systemic nature of funding for Catholic schools.


What a remarkable admission. Doyle is willing to receive less federal funding, less support for Catholic schools, on the basis that he maintains control of the distribution. Imagine the outcry if members in this place said they were willing to accept less money for schools in their electorate in return for having control of the funds. Imagine the outcry if the second biggest school system in Australia, the New South Wales government schools, wilfully and deliberately missed out of $140 million of federal funding. There would be calls for the New South Wales education minister and departmental head to resign. Why should a different standard of performance apply to the Catholic Education Commission?


Rev. Doyle is also operating on a false premise: school by school SES funding would not threaten the systemic nature of Catholic schools. In every respect the system would remain in place. Its employment of teachers, its organisation of teaching materials, its framing of the curriculum and its testing and assessment of students - its core work would be unaffected by this change. The only change would be in the funding methodology; ; the distribution of public money would be determined by a nationally consistent and equitable formula rather than by Rev. Doyle and his colleagues at the commission. As government members are keen to point out, Rev. Doyle has actually praised the new SES system as being fair and open to scrutiny. This begs the question, of course: if the new system is so good, why isn't the Catholic Education Commission joining up? Why has it refused to join? I suspect that Rev. Doyle wants other publicly funded schools to be open to scrutiny but not his own. perhaps he takes his inspiration from St. Augustine, who said,

"Lord, make me chaste and continent, but not just yet."


I appeal directly to catholic parents to right this wrong. I say to them: your Education Commission has let down you and your children. They have robbed your schools of $140 million each year for no other purpose than keeping power and control in their own hands. You should demand that your schools join the SES system and receive their rightful amount of federal funding. This is not only a debate about due process and accountability; there is strong evidence, especially in New South Wales and Queensland, that the Catholic education commissions do not distribute their public funding equitably. For a number of years, parish priests covering my electorate have complained about the underfunding of their schools. Funds are distributed on a per capita basis to each diocese. Redistribution take place only within each district. Obviously, this disadvantages schools in wester and south-western Sydney compared with the North Shore. It is unacceptable for taxpayers to contributed $2 billion dollars annually to Catholic schools without any guarantee of its equitable distribution.


This is not a standard the parliament applies to any other area of public expenditure. Imagine the outcry if the Aboriginal affairs minister could not detail the allocation of funds in his portfolio. Imagine the controversy if the education minister could not report to the parliament on the funding received by each Australian university. Why should the Catholic Education Commission be exempt from proper standards of public accountability, transparency and distribution? As longas the Catholic system operates under a special deal, the situation can only get worse. At the Senate committee, Mrs Temby from the Commission was asked about the prospects of Catholic schools at the end of the current funding period. She replied as follows:


At the end of the quadrennium it will be another discussion.

With the government - that is, another opportunity for cutting a deal, another opportunity for a bidding war between the major parties. For those of us who want state aid to work, this is an absolute tragedy. The funding of non-governments schools was never supposed to end up this way. State aid was not supposed to be a system in which a particular church throw around its weight and negotiates a special deal with the government. In some respects we have created a monster. The political system is unwilling to say no to the Catholic Education Commission. It has become one of the untouchables of Australian politics.

I am sure some MPs will be a little bit startled by my approach in this debate. They probably see politics as an exercise in coalition building - strapping one interest group onto another and hoping to form an electoral majority. They probably assume that the Catholic Church wields substantial electoral clout, placing it beyond challenge in a two-party system. I believe that these assumptions perpetuate the myths of the old politics. The information age is driving a new politics - one characterised by the flattening of hierarchies and the dispersal of information. New technologies are wiping out the middle person and are empowering the individual. In a better educated and skilled society, people are wanting to make more of their own judgments and to take more control of their own interests and entitlements. They have less respect and less time for large hierarchical organisation. They want power to be dispersed to the many, not concentrated in the hands of the unaccountable few.


The Catholic Church is, in general, a victim of these trends. It is losing popular faith and public support. The Catholic Education Commission in particular is an example of a flawed and authoritarian hierarchy. In the new politics, I believe it is a paper tiger - trying to bluff the political system and hang on to its concentrated power and funding. This is a classic case of an insider trying to exercise power at the expense of outsiders - the parents, students and teachers who, under the present system, have no say in the allocation of Catholic school funding. This parliament should not protect the rights of insiders. it should enfranchise the participation of outsiders. We should appeal directly to the parish schools and expose the disadvantage they are suffering under the Catholic Education Commission. We should highlight the authoritarianism of the commission and the gross inequities of its actions. Moreover, we should condemn this government as a government of special deals - deals to buy off rural industries, deals on digital TV, and now the perversion of school funding for the non-government sector.


I am absolutely certain that the parents and teachers in the Catholic system will response positively to this approach. They want their public representatives to stand up for a fair deal, not for the entrenched interest of an education hierarchy. These parents and teachers cannot afford to miss out of $140 million in funding - the equivalent of a seven per cent funding cut. Imagine the outcry if some other set of schools was losing seven per cent of their potential funding. That is what the Catholic Education Commission has inflicted upon themselves. It is absolute scam. These parents and teachers cannot afford to give their children anything but the very best start in life. In short, they cannot afford this government's special deals. The parliament should have just one priority in schools funding: the needs of students. This should not be about party politics or the interests of education administrators, and it should not be about political power or backroom deals.


I feel sick in the stomach, quite frankly, to know that parish schools in my electorate are going to miss out because of this deal and that they are going to be short-changed in this fashion. They are needy schools. I am a supporter of state aid. I want those schools to get a better deal, to receive more funding, to provide a better education for working class communities in my electorate. How am I supposed to feel knowing that their commission has done them out of seven per cent of their funding? It is an outrage, and I will be communicating that directly to every school and every parent in the Catholic system that I can find in my constituency.


I feel saddened to know that this bill undermines the principles of state aid, and, in the absolute madness of Dr Kemp, is likely to reopen this terrible debate. I urge the Catholic Education Commission to consider the folly of its approach. It is fouling its own nest. It needs to rethink the deal it has formulated with this government. It needs to reconsider the folly of what it has done.


This is not a happy occasion for schools funding. This is not a proper bill for the non-government sector. This, I believes, takes the education funding debate in this country back several decades to when non-government schools were not treated fairly, were not treated on the basis of need, and were not given a fair deal but the federal government of their day.


For this government to play politics, to manipulate and to cut special deals, all for crass electoral advantage- or what they thought was electoral advantage - is one of the lowest moments in the history of this House of Representatives.



















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Last modified:Monday, 25 April 2005