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Unions press ALP over Catholic schools

Public teacher unions have a $1 million fighting fund to campaign before the next federal election for private school funding to be slashed and have already singled out Catholic schools for special attention.

The president of the Australian Education Union, Pat Byrne, said a group of 12 federal politicians - believed to be mainly Labor - had also been formed to lobby for more funding for public schools and to influence the ALP's education policy direction.

The move is expected to reopen arguments about federal funding to non-government schools, which was introduced by the Whitlam government in the 1970s partly to win the Catholic vote.

The campaign, which is to be co-ordinated by the AEU, the national teachers' union, includes funding from the NSW Teachers Federation and other state-affiliated unions.

The federation has a policy of no taxpayer-funded aid to private schools, says its senior vice-president, Angelo Gavrielatos.

Ms Byrne said the "powerful Catholic lobby" had already started "public positioning" for more funding, which was likely to split the non-government school sector.

"The danger for us is that the Catholic sector will be the winner in whatever emerges," she told the Teachers Federation annual conference in Sydney yesterday.

"Given the ALP's propensity towards the Catholic sector", she urged unionists to campaign along the theme that poor Catholic students went to state schools.

"They're [the Catholics] saying they're the poorest cousins . . . that they should have more money because of the number of Catholic children in poor Catholic families," she said. "Our statistics show that the majority of children from poor Catholic families go to government schools, they don't go to private schools."

But Roger O'Sullivan, executive officer of the Council of Catholic School Parents, said an analysis of 1996 and 2001 census data showed a similar socio-economic profile of students who went to public and Catholic schools.

"Our concern at the last election was that the issue is about quality education for all kids. We think there should be a strong public education sector; we don't like the discussion turning into 'us and them'," he said.

"From our parents' point of view, we're already paying a fee for the choice we make at our schools. The family incomes of students who enrol in Catholic schools is similar to those who enrol in public schools."

Sydney Morning Herald

Australian Education Union
Council of Catholic School Parents

7 Jul 2003