Academic journal article Journal of the Australian Catholic Historical Society

The State Aid Revolution: Interviews with Kim E. Beazley and Malcolm Fraser

Academic journal article Journal of the Australian Catholic Historical Society

The State Aid Revolution: Interviews with Kim E. Beazley and Malcolm Fraser

Article excerpt


'State Aid' for Catholic schools was a constant demand of Australian Catholics from the late nineteenth century when government funding of private schools ended. They campaigned for what they called 'educational justice': a share of their tax payments to be returned to them for the support their own schools. For over seventy years the campaign bore no results as major political parties took warning from the intense sectarianism evident in the early Commonwealth. They feared that any direct concessions to the Catholics would provoke a backlash from non-Catholic voters and lead to electoral defeat.

Nevertheless, Catholic schools survived and developed strongly, because Church leaders gave priority to defending the schools, religious orders provided staff at low cost, and Catholic people sent their children to the schools and supported them financially. Until the 1950s. Then the combined pressures of a doubling of enrolments from their 1945 levels, continued expansion of schools, static recruitment to religious orders and increasing costs led to a crisis of staffing and funding. The crisis was nation-wide and not always obvious, but it was highlighted dramatically by the Goulburn school 'Strike' of 1962 when Goulburn Catholics closed down their schools and sought to enrol 2000 children in the local state schools. Though the press cried 'Catholic Blackmail' the Goulburn demonstration was soon followed by the first direct government grants to Catholic schools.

Surprisingly, the breakthrough came from the Federal government, when Prime Minister Robert Menzies, campaigning for re-election in 1963, pledged funding to build science laboratories for all schools, government and private. He suffered no electoral backlash and for the rest of the decade both state and Commonwealth governments allocated gradually increased funding to non-government schools. However, for Catholic schools the funding was still insufficient and by 1968 there were real fears that some schools would be forced to close.

'State Aid' was now a major election issue and supporters of non-government schools intensified their lobbying of politicians of all parties. The campaign achieved its greatest success in the Federal election campaign of 1972 when both the Liberal-Country Party Coalition government of William McMahon and the ALP Opposition led by Gough Whitlam promised extensive increases to non-government schools, but differed on the method of allocating funds. The new ALP government instituted the Karmel Inquiry into all schools and in late 1973 set up the Commonwealth Schools Commission which guided the government in distributing very substantial funding to all schools, especially Catholic schools. Catholic schools were saved.

It is about thirty years since this campaign and funding revolution took place. During 2002 the Catholic Education Office, Sydney has recorded a series of interviews with significant people in the campaign or in government at the time. Interviewees include participants in the 'Goulburn Strike', members of the Australian Parents Council, Parents and Friends Federation members, Catholic educational leaders of the time, Ministers of Education and other politicians, and public servant advisers. (1)

No relief for Catholic schools would have been achieved without the efforts of sympathetic government leaders. Prominent among these were Kim Beazley (Senior) and Malcolm Fraser, and both agreed to be interviewed. Kim Beazley was Federal Minister for Education from 1972 to 1975 in the Whitlam government. During his term the Karmel Inquiry into the needs of schools was held and the Commonwealth Schools Commission was established. Malcolm Fraser was Federal Minister for Education and Science during 1968-69 and 1971-72. As Prime Minister from 1975 to 1983 he maintained the Schools Commission established by Labor and used it to maintain Commonwealth funding for government and non-government schools. …

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