Students from from St Mel's Catholic school in Campsie visit Parliament House on Friday. Photo: Rohan Thomson
It's a rite of passage for Australian schoolchildren - the long bus trip to Canberra to visit Parliament House and learn about the nation's democratic institutions.
But the excursion is under threat after the National Commission of Audit recommended the government stop subsiding it.
The audit committee wants to axe the $5 million Parliament and Civics Education Rebate scheme that helped more than 100,000 children visit Canberra last year, arguing the states should be paying for their children’s education.
ACT tourist authorities say the grants generate $150 million in activity in Canberra and regional economies all around Australia.
But Tony Shepherd’s commission says there is a ‘‘weak rationale’’ for the Commonwealth government to subsidise the school trip to Canberra, familiar to generations of children.
The scheme provides grants of $20 to $60 to students, depending on how far they have to travel.
To qualify for the grant a tour must visit Parliament House, the War Memorial and the Electoral Education Centre in Old Parliament House.
Another 60,000 children visited Canberra in school groups last year without claiming the rebate.
But the children and teachers from Campsie said outside Parliament House on Friday afternoon that for them, every bit of help counted.
Year 6 student Angelo Haramis said he would never forget his first trip to the capital.
‘‘It will be one of the best memories in our lives,’’ the 11-year-old said. ‘‘I would be sad for a year if I didn’t get the chance to come to Canberra.’’
Senior teacher Cherie Scanlan explained that the school had not sought the rebate for Friday’s trip because time constraints ruled out a visit to the War Memorial, but St Mel’s would struggle to fund Canberra excursions without the subsidy.
‘‘We struggled not being able to get it this time,’’ she said. ‘‘It’s really important because it’s so far and it’s such a valuable excursion. Particularly in areas like we are in, the kids can’t afford it.’’
Garry Watson, from the National Capital Educational Tourism Project, said the grant scheme was a boon to businesses all across Australia, but that its real purpose was educational.
‘‘It delivers about $105 million to the ACT economy and delivers another $50 odd million to regional economies throughout Australia, because all the schools that come are supporting local tour operators, organising the accommodation, organising the transport.
‘‘One-hundred-and-fifty schools come from Western Australia, that’s economic development for Western Australia. But the purpose of the rebate is not to generate economic development in Canberra, it is to help kids learn about civics and citizenship.’’
Mr Watson said axing the rebate was just a recommendation, not government policy, and was confident the government would recognise the scheme's educational value.
‘‘The program came in under the Howard government in 2006 and every year since that program came in, it’s been fully subscribed,’’
‘‘Every year, every school that has taken part in this program has spent a significant amount of money on top of the small rebate to actively engage in Australian citizenship, to actively learn about how our democracy works firsthand.’’