Appropriation Bill II


Mr VAN HOLST PELLEKAAN (Stuart) (19:39): I gave what I thought was a fairly comprehensive speech yesterday on the impact of this budget on regional South Australia and the people of Stuart most specifically. I shared a few positives, and I shared many disappointments yesterday. I am not going to go over all of that again. What I am going to do, though, is delve into one particular part of the budget—one of the most disappointing parts for me—and that is the removal of the small schools grant.

I would like to put some things into perspective. The reality is that taking this money away from these schools, if you look at it purely in dollar terms, is quite a small thing. If you look at this from the perspective of what it means to the schools, the towns and the communities in regional South Australia, it is an enormous thing—it is a really enormous thing. In 2006, the previous education minister, Jane Lomax-Smith said:

Small schools are an important part of their communities and will continue to share in the benefits of increased funding for education , provided under the Rann G overnment. The way we fund our schools has historically given greater levels of funding and staffing support to smaller schools and that will continue in the future.

When talking about regional schools, she said that they 'suffer the tyranny of distance, isolation or levels of disadvantage' and that those schools will continue to receive the grant. Clearly, that is not continuing. The 2010 Resource Entitlement Statement and Supporting Information document of the Department of Education and Children's Services states:

Students from rural and isolated areas are disadvantaged in comparison to metropolitan students due to their access to services, the higher cost s of running services and the size of the school population. Initiatives that have been adopted to address these inequities include

and one of the issues listed is:

Small Schools Grant— allocated to rural and isolated schools, special schools or disadvantaged metropolitan schools...

Clearly, things have changed because here we are in September 2010 and that small schools grant has been removed. That grant that gave $30,000 to schools 80 kilometres or more away from Adelaide (small schools being those with 85 students or less), and they have lost that support.

Taking away that support from those schools saves the budget $3.5 million every year, and that $3.5 million every year is nothing to snivel at; that is a lot of money. In the scope of the budget, though, getting back to perspective, it is very little. However, let me tell you, from the perspective of regional South Australia, that is enormous. In the electorate of Stuart alone, Blanchetown, Booborowie, Cadell, Farrell Flat, Marree, Melrose, Morgan, one of the primary schools in Port Augusta, Port Germein, Robertstown, Spalding, Truro, Wilmington, Wirrabara and Yunta will all be affected by this. Every single one of those 15 towns will be affected by this. It is very important stuff.

I cannot stress enough, going back to perspective, how important it would be to any one of those towns to lose their school. If you lose your school, you lose the heart of your town—children, education. Those schools are not just about teaching. Teaching is incredibly important, but those schools are about developing students, about developing teenagers, about developing young adults and, hopefully, developing middle-aged and older adults who will live in the town or in the community; they are about families, and they are also about economic sustainability. If you do not do those last few things I have talked about, you do not have economic sustainability.

If you lose your school, you lose your butcher, your grocer, your take-away shop, your service station, your workshop, your netball club, your football club, your cricket club and your church. You lose all of these things because you are not developing young people in your area, in your town. You are not allowing families to stay in your town. You are not encouraging grandparents to stay in your town. You are not encouraging people to stay, let alone for those towns to grow and develop.

Taking the schools away takes away the critical mass of the town; it takes away employment; it takes away apprenticeships—it takes away all these things. It is not an exaggeration. There are 15 schools involved although, in fairness, I have to say 14 because one of the schools is in Port Augusta, but if you take away the school in those towns you will take away the heart of the town, and the town will die.

I am not scaremongering because I am not exaggerating. I am also not scaremongering because I know it will not happen in every single one of those towns. The $30,000, though, is very important. There are schools that have 20 or 30 kids in them and sometimes fewer. I called in to the Yunta school a few months ago and there were two kids studying there at the time. There are more kids than that at the school but they were away on a field trip. However, the people at Yunta were keeping that school open for two kids who were there that day to learn. That is dedication; that is support; and that is employment creating future opportunities. That is devotion to those kids and to the town.

If you take the money away from schools, I point out that they are already on tight budgets; schools with the small schools grant are already under threat and are concerned about being closed. They are already concerned about losing all those other flow-on benefits to their towns. If they are already concerned when they have the grant, how serious does this issue become if the grant is taken away? This is a dreadfully important issue for regional South Australia.

The sum of $3.5 million per year is being taken out of the budget—in Stuart alone affecting 15 schools; over regional South Australia, that might possibly be 50 small schools. At the same time, however, expenses and office funding for ministers are going up. This does not involve all of them: there was a claim made by the Premier that there would be a 15 per cent cut across all ministerial funding allocations (which was subsequently proven to be incorrect).

However, the cost for the Premier's own staff and the running of his offices will go up. The Treasurer's will go up and minister Caica, minister Weatherill and minister Snelling's costs will go up. So, at the same time as the salaries and the money allocated to run those offices is going up, that $3.5 million (probably affecting roughly 50 schools in towns all around South Australia) is going down.

Under the Liberal opposition's policy of cutting three ministries, we would have saved $9 million a year, yet in this budget the government has chosen to take out $3.5 million to affect all those towns. Those 15 towns I mentioned are terribly important to the electorate of Stuart and there are other really important towns in other parts of the state as well. I know that other members of parliament are incredibly disappointed. The member for Frome mentioned this in his contribution a few minutes ago.

A little while ago the member for Florey talked about competing priorities, and I agree with her: she is right in saying that there will always be competing priorities in a budget. However, $3.5 million, in terms of a dollar sense over the whole budget, is absolutely nothing. Nobody will convince me that that would have blown out the budget, broken the state or affected the AAA credit rating. However, I can assure you that the decision on that $3.5 million per year to every one of those towns may well make or break them.

When it comes to competing priorities, I am sure that my fellow MPs on this side and even on the other side who represent city electorates would all agree that that is a very high priority. Imagine if this was happening to a whole suburb in Adelaide and it was going to die because it lost its school. That is what may well happen to some of these country towns. I genuinely fear that it will happen to some of these country towns, and I think it is really disgraceful. Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker.


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