In words reminiscent of Gough Whitlam’s 1972 election campaign, the Isolated Children’s Parents’ Association (ICPA) has drawn a line in the sand and declared “it’s time” for educational opportunities for rural and remote students to change.
The lobby group has launched a nationwide campaign for better education assistance, which it says will be essential to keep families in the bush.
Its campaign is two-pronged – gathering data from members via a survey, and using the results to back a call for a “significant” increase in the AIC boarding allowance and for short-term hardship assistance in the form of a Drought Education Fund.
“Country kids need to be educated,” federal president Wendy Hick said. “However, for many rural and remote Australian children, access to a compulsory secondary education is being impacted by rising costs.
“Rural and remote families are being asked to contribute significantly more towards the price of their children’s compulsory years of education than those who can access face-to-face schooling on a daily basis.”
ICPA’s main concern is that the bush is losing a critical number of people, and their specialised knowledge and desire for bush living, because of the increasing financial hardships being experienced in order to educate their children.
“More and more families are bringing children home or choosing between their children,” Ms Hick said. “No Australian family should have to choose which of their children receives what is a compulsory education.”
She said there were eight shires in Queensland alone that don’t have reasonable daily access to a secondary school, and with only three state boarding facilities, families had to make use of independent boarding schools.
“We hear that out-of-pocket expenses are between $10,000 and $30,000 per child per year, which will be confirmed by the survey.
“The original AIC basic boarding allowance formula was to cover the average cost of boarding, minus the costs of keeping a child at home, but increases have only been in line with CPI.”
Around 4500 families were receiving the allowance in 2015, which Ms Hick said was “not a huge number”.
“The bush is losing families and we’re not enticing others here with costs like these to pay,” she said.
“If they’re not sure if they can access services, why would they come here.
“Once it was mainly professional people we were failing to attract; now it’s across the board, and it’s been exacerbated by drought.”
In the week since the survey was launched, over 500 have been completed, together with a lot of comment from families.
According to Ms Hick, politicians in Canberra are asking for data to help them determine the direction to take with policy.
“We want an indication of where people’s costs are at, whether they’re leaving the bush, what the determining factors are, and whether they’re setting up a second home and splitting families.
“We are advocating a significant lump sum increase to the AIC boarding allowance, and the survey will show how significant that should be.”
Gough Whitlam’s message to a nation stuck in neutral was powerful enough to sweep the conservatives out of power for the first time in 27 years and is widely viewed as having forever changed the face of politics in Australia – ICPA is hoping its message will have a similar effect of galvanising political thinking in favour of the people who live in rural Australia.