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Tuesday, 29 November 1983
Page: 2976


Mr FIFE(4.39) —Thank you very much, Mr Deputy Speaker. The three measures before the House, the States Grants (Education Assistance-Participation and Equity) Bill, the States Grants (Schools Assistance) Bill and the States Grants (Tertiary Education Assistance) Amendment Bill, represent a package of legislation which gives effect to education funding guidelines announced by the Minister for Education and Youth Affairs (Senator Ryan) in the Senate on 25 August 1983. With other decisions announced in the Budget, these represent the Government's financial proposals for education in Australia for 1984. They are proposed in the context of the Government's election undertaking and in light of advice provided to the Government by the Commonwealth Tertiary Education Commission and the Commonwealth Schools Commission. Based on the knowledge of the Government's election undertakings and the advice of its expert advisory bodies, the Government's plans for education in 1984, to say the least, are disappointing. The Government started out on the election trail early this year with a roar about the extra funds that it would provide for education in all sectors and, of course, has finished the year with a mere whimper.

There is a long list of broken promises and so far as the recommendations of the advisory bodies are concerned there is a list of advices that have been either disregarded or not responded to. I think the latter is probably the most concerning because it is the prerogative of government to either accept or reject advice that is made available to it. The Government stands condemned for not responding to a large number of those recommendations particularly in the schools area. Clearly the Government's post election rhetoric does not correspond to what it said prior to the election. At the second reading stage of the States Grants (Schools Assistance) Bill I intend to move an amendment that all words after 'That' be omitted with a view to substituting the following words:

whilst not declining to give the Bill a second reading, the House-

(1) condemns the Government for its many dishonoured promises to Australian secondary students;

(2) insists on the right of every Australian child to a basic grant for support of his or her schooling at a level which is predictable and related to educational costs in Government schools;

(3) supports the principle of absolute freedom of choice in education and the right of all parents to be supported in that choice;

(4) deplores the restriction on the free development of non-Government schools as an expression of the will of parents, and

(5) condemns the Government for the unexplained and arbitrary cuts to some Schools Commission Programs, in particular, the Professional Development Program .

When the House deals with the States Grants (Tertiary Education Assistance) Amendment Bill at the second reading stage I will move another amendment. I give notice of my intention now. The amendment will read:

That all words after 'That' be omitted with a view to substituting the following words:

'whilst not declining to give the Bill a second reading, the House condemns the Government for its many dishonoured promises to Australian tertiary students'.

I mentioned earlier and in the context of giving notice of my intention to move amendments that at this very early stage the Government has a sorry record of a long list of broken promises in the education field. First I think it would be appropriate to draw the attention of the House to what has occurred in relation to funding. Since the last Budget-that is the 1982-83 Budget-costs in Australia have risen by around 11 per cent. Therefore any financial allocation with less than this level of increase has actually fallen in real terms. It is therefore unbelievable, given the rhetoric of the Government when in Opposition, that the Australian Labor Party's first contribution to education in Government includes a reduction of total education spending as a proportion of total outlays by 0.3 per cent in real terms. It has reduced expenditure on all student assistance schemes by 2 per cent in real terms. It has reduced assistance for tertiary students by 6 per cent in real terms. It has reduced the tertiary education assistance scheme eligibility by 0.8 per cent in real terms by failing to widen the means test limits to keep pace with wages. It has reduced post-graduate award living allowances by 4 per cent in real terms. It has reduced adult secondary education assistance by 4 per cent in real terms for living allowances and by 0.8 per cent in real terms for eligibility. It has also reduced expenditure on the aboriginal secondary grants scheme, the aboriginal study grants scheme and the assistance for isolated children by 4 per cent in real terms. Of course we have seen under this Government the gap widening between unemployment benefits and the student assistance schemes increasing disincentive to greater educational participation.

I think as well as dwelling on those financial figures we should have a very quick look at what Labor when in opposition undertook to do when returned to government and look at how many of those undertakings have not been honoured. For example, under the heading of higher education, the Government undertook to provide post-doctoral fellowships for 300 scholars to boost the national research effort. That undertaking, of course, has not been honoured. The Government undertook to increase progressively student assistance through TEAS until it equalled the single unemployment benefit and then to maintain that nexus. I have already drawn attention to that and of course that undertaking has not been honoured; in fact the gap has widened. It undertook to raise the TEAS means test until it equated with average weekly earnings. That is another undertaking which has not been honoured. It said that it would establish an emergency student loans scheme to replace the student loans scheme and that undertaking has not been honoured.

In the schools area the list is longer and equally devastating. The Government undertook to institute a new program for primary schools at a level of $9m per annum. That undertaking has not been honoured. It said that it would provide an additional $37m in its first year in government for recurrent resources in government schools. That is a very significant undertaking so far as government schools are concerned which has still not been honoured. The Government said that it would provide an additional $16m in the first year of the program for needy non-government schools. That undertaking has still not been honoured. It said also that it would provide $24m over three years for the computer education program. That undertaking has been partly honoured and I will come back to that in some detail a little later. The Government said that it would establish a revolving loan fund with an initial contribution of $5m to bring forward construction of planned new non-government schools. Of course we know that is also an undertaking that has not been honoured. In the technical and further education field the Government said that a special triennial program to cost $ 30m to upgrade equipment and facilities for latest technologies and to stimulate employment in the Australian manufacturing area would be undertaken. That, of course, has not commenced. An immediate boost of $15m in capital for recurrent funds to the States was also an undertaking which has not been honoured. The migrant education field is a tremendously important area and one which I would have thought Government members would have supported. They said, in opposition in the runup to the election, that a $45 per capita grant for ethnic schools would be provided. That undertaking has still not been honoured. The Labor Party said that the provision of $3.68m per annum to cover costs involved in transferring all eligible casual migrant teachers to permanent positions would be put into place. Still we have heard nothing of this undertaking.

The States Grants (Tertiary Education Assistance) Amendment Bill gives effect to the guidelines that were announced for funding universities, colleges of advanced education and TAFE for the calendar year 1984. Honourable members will be aware that 1984 is the last year of the current triennium. Presumably at this time next year we will be considering funding for the 1985-87 triennium. I said 'presumably' as it is dependent upon whether the Government continues triennial funding. So many of the promises given have been breached already that one cannot be certain that triennial funding will be continued. When the present Government was previously in government it cut out triennial recurrent funding for universities and colleges of advanced education. The former Government restored recurrent funding to give some certainty about ongoing funds for universities and colleges of advanced education. At that time the then Opposition, the present Government, had the temerity to be critical of the government of the day for not providing capital funds on a triennial basis. Presumably, having criticised us for not doing that in Government, this Government intends to provide capital funds for universities and colleges of advanced education on a triennial basis.

I and the Opposition await with a great deal of interest details of what the Government proposes in this area for the 1985-87 triennium. Members of the Opposition are not the only people who remember the Government's education promises. They are not the only people to have expressed disappointment. Following the March election this year expectations were high in the community as to what would occur as far as education funding was concerned. Given the rhetoric of the present Government, there was an expectation abroad that there would be massive increases in all sectors and that funds would be made available , not at some time in the future but in the first year of the Government's term of office. The staff associations are equally concerned and have been as vocal as the Opposition in this regard. On the day that the Minister for Education and Youth Affairs (Senator Ryan) announced the guidelines for 1984, the Federation of Australian University Staff Associations issued a media statement. In that statement FAUSA said in part:

The Federal Government's Tertiary Education Funding Guidelines for 1984 released today contained fine sentiments but little substance.

That is what the University Staff Associations had to say about the funding decisions for universities announced by the current Government. We find also in the guideline statements, and provision is made in the legislation now before the House, that a great deal of emphasis was given to the fact that the Government proposes to set aside an additional $10m in 1984 to provide 3,000 additional places in universities and colleges of advanced education. I do not know whether members of the Government Party have done their sums. If they have they will find that the cost of providing one student place in higher education in this country is about $6,000 per annum, whereas provision of funds, on the Government's own calculation, will be only $3,333 for a student place, given the 3,000 additional places that are supposed to be provided at a cost of $10m. Thus , despite the overall increase in funds in 1984, on the Government's own figures -I stress that there will be a reduction in the real funding level per student.

As far as equipment funding is concerned I would have thought that, given the rapid changes in technology, this would have received priority treatment. What has occurred? An allocation of $70.7m has been made for equipment funding for 1984. That figure is no higher in real terms than that which was allocated in 1982. This means that the rate of technological change in the work place is not being reflected, even in a modest way, in equipment funding for universities and colleges of advanced education.

All members of the House who either represent country electorates or are interested in country electorates, and I hope that that embraces all members on both sides of the House, will be really concerned at the mean decision of the Government in relation to halls of residence. A reduction of 25 per cent in the subsidy for colleges and halls of residences is included in the legislation before the House. This is a harsh blow. It is not so much a harsh blow against the institutions concerned as it is a harsh blow against the individuals concerned. This Government has some kind of perverted view that, in this area and in another area to which I will come in a moment, it is attacking the rich. I draw attention to the fact that many people who are in colleges and halls of residence are people of very modest income. Indeed, many of them have great difficulty in meeting existing costs, let alone the inevitable fee increases that will occur. Although it is enshrined in this legislation I hope that in the near future the Government will reconsider this very unfair and harsh decision. There is already a critical shortage of residential accommodation on many campuses. The inevitable fee increases that this decision will bring will cause a great deal of heartache, concern and, obviously, financial distress to the people concerned.


Mr Gear —What did you do about it?


Mr Carlton —What does the honourable member for Tangney think about it?


Mr FIFE —The honourable member for Tangney obviously has not voiced any opposition to this, or, if he has, he has not been listened to. I hope he joins in the debate and I hope he is very critical of this matter. I hope that the Government will take some notice of what he says and what I am saying now. The other Bill, the States Grants (Education Assistance-Participation and Equity) Bill, deals with what is represented as being a new scheme. The program covered by this Bill really does very little more than dress up the school to work transition program which was introduced by the former Government. Indeed, at the time of its introduction and during the remainder of the period the former Government was in office, the present Government, the then Opposition, was very critical of this scheme. It is interesting to note that this Government has embraced the scheme. It tried to dress it up, and given it a new name. However, I am bound to say that the difference between the old scheme and the new scheme is no more than just a little bit of tokenism.

This part of the debate is about inducing young people to remain in constructive, educational activities rather than opt for unemployment in a period of low demand and it is about helping to resolve inequities in the opportunities open to certain disadvantaged groups in the community. As I have just pointed out, the former Government started the school to work transition program. I would have thought that, given the fact that the new Government has decided to embrace this scheme and give it a new name, it would have provided some additional resources over and above those that have been enshrined in this legislation.

It is generally acknowledged that if education participation rates are to rise two matters must be addressed. Firstly, we believe that perversities in the current structure of income support for youth which make unemployment the best paid option must be corrected. Secondly, educational offerings must be improved so that further study comes to be regarded as valuable and worth while. The participation and equity program tosses a small sum of money at the latter problem, far too little to cause significant qualitative improvement in courses offered, and fails to address the former problem at all, and I stress that. In fact, the 1983-84 Budget contains changes to existing benefits, changes which marginally worsen an already poor situation.

I said earlier that I would say something more about the Government's attempt to introduce a computer education program. I think we should pause for a moment to look at what various groups have said about what should be done in this field that is growing in importance and urgency. During the run-up to the last election the then Government-the Liberal-National Party coalition-indicated that if returned it would provide $100m, that is, $20m each year over a five-year period, for the computer education program. During the run-up to the election the Labor Party said that it would provide $8m per year over a three year period ; that is, a total of $24m. The Commonwealth Schools Commission has recommended that $125m be allocated over five years. What has the Government done? What has the Government provided in the legislation before the House? The Government has provided only $6m per year over a three-year period; that is, a total of $18m compared with its own undertaking of $24m, the Liberal and National Parties' undertaking of $100m and the Schools Commission recommendation of $125m. I am sure that even if no other member of the Government is concerned, the Minister for Science and Technology (Mr Barry Jones) would be gravely concerned about this matter. The Commonwealth Schools Commission has been critical of the Government's financing. On page 1 of its report it stated:

This will necessitate--

that is, the Government's decision-

increased contributions from government and non-government school authorities if the objectives of the program are to be realised.

School teachers must also be concerned for themselves as well as for their students at the way in which the Government has dealt with its first attempt so far as finance is concerned in the educational field since coming to office. The Government has reduced the professional development program of the Schools Commission by a massive 40.56 per cent.

I have already referred to a large number of broken promises in the schools area. Let me again remind the House of the fact that, so far as government schools are concerned, the proposed new program for primary schools of $9m per annum is not being implemented by the legislation before the House or by any paper associated with the Budget. The additional $37m promised in the first year of government for recurrent resources in government schools has not been forthcoming. But if, as is clear, government schools have fared badly under this Government, non-government schools have been knocked into a state of shock. The Government has removed the nexus or the percentage link between the cost of educating a student in a government school, and over a period government support for non-government school students will fall as a result of this measure.

The Government has removed the concept of a basic grant for all children in non -government schools. It has reduced support for 41 non-government schools, claiming that those schools are wealthy, privileged private schools. It said nothing about the parents of the children attending those schools. It has introduced measures that effectively ban the establishment of many new non- government schools throughout Australia. It is possible that all of this has something to do with the massive political debt owed by the Australian Labor Party-the present Government-to the Australian Teachers Federation. Across Australia the Teachers Federation contributed no less than three-quarters of a million dollars-$750,000-in support of the Australian Labor Party before and during the 1983 election campaign.

It is not a question of how much support is given to schools. The real question concerns the degree of financial support for students and parents. The Opposition believes that the Commonwealth and State governments together have the responsibility to fully fund government schools and thereby accept that responsibility for the students and the parents of students who attend government schools. We believe also that governments-Commonwealth and State governments together-have a responsibility to partly fund non-government schools in an equitable way. The removing of the nexus removes the certainty that non- government schools had. Under the policy of the former Government there were three groups. Those with less need in group 1 received 20 per cent of the average cost of educating a child in a government school; those with lesser resources in group 2 received 30 per cent of the cost of educating a child in a government school, and those non-government schools with the lower resources received 40 per cent of the average cost of educating a child in a government school. They are hardly percentages that should be of concern to parents and students and those who work in schools that receive 100 per cent from the Commonwealth and State governments.

When returned to government the Opposition will restore the nexus so as to restore confidence and to provide that certainty which non-government schools require. We believe also that the Government should continue to provide a basic grant as well as to top up that basic grant on a needs based funding formula. We believe that every child attending a non-government school, regardless of the school and its resources, is entitled to that basic grant. The Opposition is not alone in this assertion. Every non-government school in Australia and certainly those who speak for non-government schools believe that that basic grant should be built into the funding formula.


Mr Simmons —Rubbish.


Mr FIFE —Let me say to the honourable member that he has not been about if he believes that the non-government school sector does not believe in a basic grant as well as topping it up on a needs basis. Probably one of the most concerning aspects for non-government schools is the fact that it will be more difficult to establish new schools. This situation has occurred under a government that calls itself a consensus government. I believe that the policy the Government is pursuing in this area is deliberately designed to cause division between people, division between those people who have children at government schools and those people who have children at non-government schools, and division between those parents who have children at Catholic schools and those parents who have children at non-Catholic schools. The Age newspaper today reports the Minister for Education and Youth Affairs (Senator Ryan) as saying that the campaign that is being waged by parents of children attending non-government schools reflects the political interest of the extreme right of that group. I believe that the Minister is being offensive to those parents, and I am sure this will be reflected in the days ahead.


Madam DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mrs Darling) —Order! The honourable member's time has expired.