Ms McBRIDE (Dobell) (16:45): Today I would like to draw the attention of the minister to the plight of Catholic schools in my electorate in New South Wales. I would also like to acknowledge the Hon. George Ajaka, the President of the New South Wales Legislative Council. I have received hundreds of emails and letters from families across the Central Coast whose children attend Catholic schools in my electorate and who have been let down by the government's proposed new model for school funding, which will result in significant cuts to their school funding. I have met with teachers and principals from local parish schools who strongly oppose these changes. They are shocked and have been blindsided by this new model, which will significantly reduce the federal funding their schools, such as Saint Cecilia's Primary School, receive.
A government member: They are getting a 3.8 per cent increase.
Ms McBRIDE: That is not according to the diocese of Broken Bay. They are also concerned that the government's position means that parents and families do not know what their school fees will be next year. Parents and teachers across the Central Coast have many unanswered questions, and they deserve to be responded to. I would like to take the opportunity now to ask the minister some of those questions. I ask the minister: did the government consult with the Catholic education sector in my community in New South Wales before settling its position? Has Minister Birmingham consulted with the sector since announcing the model? If so, what has been their response?
Catholic schools educate around 20 per cent of Australian school children. Families in these Catholic schools deserve to be treated fairly. Some 31 per cent of students educated by Catholic and independent schools are identified as students with some level of disability or higher learning needs, which is considerably higher than in the government school sector. Many families choose Catholic and independent schools because of a particular service or support these schools may be able to provide for their child with a disability or higher learning needs, and they are often supported by the school providing subsidised fees. Does the minister acknowledge that not all students in nongovernment schools pay full or part fees? The new model is likely to impact particularly heavily on those families. Has the government considered a mechanism to support non-fee-paying students? What has the government done to properly consider the impact their model will have on students with disability, particularly those in nongovernment schools?
I will now quote from some of my constituents, and I put these questions directly to the minister:
Our students require extensive assistance and their parents have jumped through bureaucratic and medical hoops to gain funding, so why are their needs deemed unworthy of additional assistance now?
This is from another parent:
Some teachers in our small system of Broken Bay diocese schools are at risk of losing their jobs. Will this really improve students' learning?
And this is from another parent:
Personally, our family chose Catholic education for our two children. We are not rich. We work hard. We prioritise our budget to make this work. Why can't the government do the same?
Another family in my electorate said:
We rent a house in Toukley and we are surviving on one income. Where does our financial situation factor in and why are we potentially being penalised because we choose to make sacrifices to raise our child in an education system that I am familiar with?
These are just some of the hundreds of letters and emails that I have had from parents and teachers in Catholic schools across my electoratelike Saint Cecilia's in Wyong, the primary school that I went to, or Mater Dei and Corpus Christi, which I attended for high school. These kids deserve good quality education. Can the minister respond to the very real fears families have for their kids' future and for their own financial security that have arisen from the uncertainty the government has created with this new funding model?
In my electorate there are close to 10,000 children living below the poverty line. In pockets of my community, around a third of households have a combined income of less than $600 per week. Many of these families send their children to Catholic schools, and I am very concerned that the proposed new model of school funding will have a profound impact on their families and their budgets. The government must adopt Labor's policy and restore needs-based funding in full to ensure that all children have fair and equal access to quality education that meets their needs in their communities.