Ms PATTEN (Northern Metropolitan) — I would like to speak briefly on this bill, the Education and Training Reform Amendment (Funding of Non Government Schools) Bill 2014. This bill provides a formula to ensure that nongovernment schools receive at least 25 per cent of recurrent education funding. It is at this point that I have a problem with this bill. If we are looking at an equitable and fair system for our education funding, I do not think that providing a blanket flat rate for any nongovernment school answers that.
I certainly believe in education and agree with the minister when he said in his second reading speech that Victoria should be the education state of Australia. We know that education is the key to a productive and thriving economy. We know that education can be a fantastic enabler, not just in the basics of English, maths and the humanities but also in the teaching of respect and tolerance.
There are aspects of this bill that I agree with. They include the provision of a more transparent and secure funding mechanism for nongovernment schools and the ability of a minister to impose some conditions on that funding. I also agree that nongovernment schools should be accountable for the application of the funding. But I do not think this bill answers these issues. The minister also states in his second reading speech that the bill aims to address disadvantages in schools across Victoria. I do not think the bill does that. I am also concerned that in some aspects Catholic Education Commission Victoria has complete autonomy as to how the funding goes to the many hundreds of Catholic schools across Victoria. The government has relinquished that responsibility and ability to ensure that funding is fair and that the most disadvantaged schools reap the most benefit from funding.
The other area I am really concerned about is that this bill enshrines public funding to schools that are allowed to — and which do — discriminate through their exemptions to the Equal Opportunity Act 2010. These exemptions undermine the work of the Victorian government in reducing homophobia. They also undermine a lot of the great programs that the government has instituted, such as the Fair Go sport campaign and the Safe Schools Coalition of Victoria. I commend the fact that over 165 independent schools have opted into the Safe Schools Coalition. That includes 29 independent schools and 3 Catholic schools in this state. It is fantastic that these schools are countering those exemptions to the Equal Opportunity Act. However, the fact that religious schools are allowed to discriminate counters our promise of an education system that teaches respect and promotes tolerance towards any group in Australia.
I want to quote some statistics regarding the effects of homophobia and discrimination. Samesex attracted, intersex and gender diverse people have the highest suicide rates of any group in Australia. They have a 3.5 to 14 times higher rate of suicide attempts, and samesex attracted young people attempt suicide six times more than their heterosexual counterparts. Allowing schools to discriminate is at odds with our community expectations of education, which should reflect the diverse nature of Victorians. For this reason I have great problems with this bill. Schools are going to be awarded and promised funding at the same time as they are being allowed to discriminate against someone on the grounds of their sex, marital status, race, parenting skills, whether they have children or are in a de facto relationship, their sexuality, their physical features and their political beliefs. While these schools can continue to discriminate on the grounds of gender identity and even people’s religious beliefs, we should not be awarding carte blanche on public funding — —
Mrs Peulich — Taxpayer funding.
Ms PATTEN — Taxpayer funding. We should not be providing funding to these schools when they are exempt from the Equal Opportunity Act. If the government were to amend the Equal Opportunity Act, as it has committed to doing, then I think this bill will provide a much fairer go.