AUSTRALIA’S most senior Church figures hope a meeting with the Prime Minister can avoid a “looming crisis” for Catholic schools “with many schools facing the prospect of closure”.
Education funding topped the agenda of a July 19 with Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull in Sydney, with Brisbane Archbishop Mark Coleridge attending as president of the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference, accompanied by Sydney Archbishop Anthony Fisher and newly-appointed Melbourne Archbishop-elect Peter Comensoli.
“We want to work collaboratively to solve what is a problem for both the Government and the Church – and by implication for the whole country,” Archbishop Coleridge said.
Archbishop Coleridge described “the crisis that is looming for Catholic schools around the nation if the current funding model applies”.
“We are also keen that the recommendations of the recently published Chaney report be implemented and that the SES (socioeconomic status funding model) be abandoned as a basis for funding.”
Education Minister Simon Birmingham confirmed the government would adopt a new SES system that would use a direct measure of parental income to determine a school’s ability to contribute to the recurrent costs of the school.
The Coalition government’s relationship with the Church is on the ropes over education funding – with analysis of the Chaney review of school funding confirming church fears that school closures are inevitable without a massive injection of funding.
To fix Catholic sector shortfalls, the estimated extra cost to taxpayers is between $2.5 billion and $3 billion during the next decade.
The current SES system estimates what people can afford to pay based on their neighbourhood.
Each family is assigned to a neighbourhood of about 200 households, and judged to have the average characteristics of that area. It means an elite boarding school can be deemed to be poorer than an inner-city Catholic school.
The meeting with Church leaders was set against a dramatic political backdrop after The Weekend Australian revealed the Australian Charities and Not-for-Profits Commission was to investigate the charitable status of Catholic Education Melbourne.
The investigation is to focus on CEM activities during the Batman by-election in which it commissioned automated telephone calls and leaflets critical of federal government schools funding policy.
“We are undertaking this investigation because of the activities and statements made on behalf of this one charity during the recent by-election for the federal seat of Batman,’’ ACNC chairman, former Labor MP, Gary Johns said.
“The investigation is an inquiry about the activities and purposes of the charity. It has arisen from a concern that the charity may have a disqualifying purpose and therefore may not be entitled to be a registered charity.’’
Mr Johns said the ACNC was an independent regulator and had not been directed by government to investigate any specific charity.
Its decision to investigate CEM and its executive director Stephen Elder was sharply rebuked by Opposition leader Bill Shorten.