A former chief justice of the family court of Australia has described as ‘disturbing’ the policies of charging public school fees to temporary resident parents.
New South Wales and the Australian Capital Territory are the only two jurisdictions where working parents on sponsored 457 temporary resident visas are required to pay fees to send their children to a state public school.
The current charges in New South Wales are $4,500 for years K to 10 and $5,500 for years 11 and 12.
Meanwhile, the ACT charges $13,900 for a temporary resident to enrol their child in the final year of a public high school.
The Irish Echo reported last month that there are over 2,600 children of 457 visa holders enrolled in NSW public schools, netting the state almost $12m.
Alastair Nicholson, who was chief justice of the family court of Australia between 1988 and 2004, has told the Irish Echo that he does not understand the principle of charging such fees.
Justice Nicholson is now the chairman of Children’s Rights International, an international child rights advocate.
“This is the sort of thing that makes me ashamed to be an Australian. Our tradition was always to welcome people from abroad and particularly children. The approach is clearly in breach of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child and is in any event unconscionable,” he said.
“It is a bean counter culture driven in part by a narrow and insular attitude to people from elsewhere who it is thought can be easily bled of money no matter how badly it affects their children.
“We are, apart from our Indigenous people, an immigrant nation and yet these people forget this and forget or ignore their obligations to children.
However, Justice Nicholson explained that it was unlikely the policy could be challenged in the courts.
The United Nations Conventions on the Rights of the Child states: “All children have the right to a primary education, which should be free.” Australia has been a signatory to the convention since 1990 but has not incorporated it into law.
While Justice Nicholson stated he did not see convention as a means of attack in challenging the fees policy, he added that its still has “considerable moral force”.
A spokesman for the New South Wales Department of Education said the state was not breaching any legislation in its current fee policy and insisted that compliance with international treaty obligations was a matter for the commonwealth.
However, a spokesperson for Federal Education Minister Peter Garrett said it was matter for state and territory governments. He was unavailable for interview.
ACT Attorney-General Simon Corbell recently tabled an amendment to include the accessibility, availability and quality of education in the state’s Human Rights Act.
While the act gives Canberrans the right to take court action against public authorities if their civil and political rights have been breached, it will not create a right to take court action over education.
A spokesperson for Minister Corbell said: “Under the Education Act, many temporary residents are already eligible for free education. However, this amendment will not change the current restrictions on free education for some temporary residents.”
There are currently only 107 fee-paying primary school students in Canberra.