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Monday, 20 May 1985
Page: 2189

Senator PETER BAUME(8.47) —I wish to support the comments made by my colleague Senator Hill when he referred to the Hawke Government as the highest taxing government in Australia's peacetime history and the government that has put Australia in the greatest debt in its peacetime history. These are sad enough facts. I am using the occasion of the discussion on the Appropriation Bill (No. 3) to discuss some of the activities of the Government and some of the disappointments that many Australians have about the road that the Government has travelled and the direction that the Government is taking.

It is bad enough that a Labor government is always under the control of the Caucus, but this Government is a government of factions. We have factions now that are so formalised that they have their own meetings and their own office bearers. The newspapers are not just intent on finding out what the Executive Government itself will do or what Caucus will do, but they are also intent on finding out what the power brokers of one or other of the factions will decide as to whether Government policy will be put into place. That leaves very little place for considerations of the national interest to be put first and it is a great pity that factional considerations are what seem to be guiding the Government. This is a government whose majority was halved in the last election, in spite of the move to a larger parliament. This is a government whose minority position in the Senate has been worsened. The non-government parties have been strengthened, in both talent and numbers. I am reminded of the very considerable talent that we have gained in new senators who have come to join us. We are disgusted by the cynicism, the arrogance and the uncaring remoteness which the Government is now displaying towards the people of Australia. It seems that the Hawke Government and its Ministers have forgotten whom they serve. They serve the people of Australia; yet too many of their decisions are being taken at the expense of the people. They seem not to care, not to be aware and not to be able to respond. We intend to win government from them and we will win government because we have senators like Senator Hill, who has just contributed to the debate. We have a better team, better policies and a more honest and sensitive approach. Judging by the disgraceful programs before us, programs that are embodied both in the Appropriation Bill and in the mini-Budget of last week, I have no doubt that we will succeed.

I enter this debate to say a few words about education policy. I shall concentrate on some of the broken promises in the area of tertiary education. We need to remind ourselves constantly and to remind the Australian people of the very large number of educational promises which were made by the Labor Party before it was elected and which have been broken by the Labor Government since its election. We need to remember how Labor has deceived the Australian people, making promises when it wanted votes, promises which it could not and will not keep. It promised more and has delivered less. Whether it is in higher education, in the area of technical and further education, in the area of schools or in special education for small business, to take one example, this Government has broken promise after promise after promise.

In the economic statement last week more promises were broken, more promises were set aside. It is the breach of faith with the Australian people, with the electors that the Government sought to impress, that really galls us. It is the breach of faith with the students of today and those of tomorrow which should be revealed clearly. The Government promised the Australian people it would increase the number of places in higher education by 25,000 by the year 1990. It made that promise. It put on the numbers. The current funding squeeze will make that promise impossible to achieve. Already the squeeze has been so severe that the University of Adelaide Law School has attempted to reduce its student intake by one third to maintain its student-staff ratio and what it considered to be proper standards of educational provision.

Senator Walsh —There are too many lawyers already, anyway.

Senator PETER BAUME —I accept the interjection of Senator Walsh. The Government's own guidelines reveal that in the 1985-87 triennium only 4,000 new student places will be created. That alone will make it impossible for the promised target of 25,000 places to be achieved by the end of the decade, as Labor promised when it wanted the votes of gullible electors. More students are now remaining in schools. More are going through to Year 12, more are achieving matriculation level and more are requiring places. The 4,000 extra places which have been provided do nothing to ease this bottleneck. In fact, the number being turned away from higher education is increasing. The estimate of the Australian Vice-Chancellors' Committee and of the directors of colleges and institutes of advanced education is that by 1985 some 29,500 students may have been turned away. That is, if anyone cares to think about it, the entire populations of two large university campuses-two entire institutions of Australians-have been prevented from getting places. They will not be allowed any other form of entry into the education they want. Their sin was nothing more than to want to better themselves, to have a chance to get an education, to take part in what Australia offers to those who will strive for themselves. There are no places and no chance to compete.

The Labor Government promised to provide post-doctoral scholarships for 300 scholars to boost our national research effort. Where is the delivery on that promise? With relation to the tertiary education assistance scheme, the Labor Party promised before the election, first, that it would increase progressively the TEAS family income test until it equated with average weekly earnings. That was a very generous promise, but Labor made it when it was seeking votes. There has been only a very minor easing of the means test. There is no movement towards the achievement or satisfaction of that promise. Labor promised in relation to TEAS, secondly, that it would increase progressively the maximum TEAS benefit until it equated with the unemployment benefit; that is, those who were getting support as students would get as much as those who were unemployed. What has happened with regard to that promise? The gap between the maximum benefit for students and the single unemployment benefit has more than doubled for all students of 18 years of age and more. It has gone from a $5 gap to a $14 gap. That promise not only has not been kept; the situation has worsened.

Labor promised, thirdly, that it would liberalise the definition of independence which allows students to have their needs assessed separately from their parents' circumstances. What has happened there? There has been no action whatsoever. That was another specific promise made by Labor when votes were being solicited, another specific promise not delivered on and another specific promise dishonoured. In relation to student benefits, Labor promised, fourthly, that it would remove anomalies in the TEAS regulations. Widespread anomalies still exist. Day after day we hear from students who are caught by anomalies. Any family that listened to the broadcast of last Tuesday's economic statement will know how families have been hit. We know, for example, that the family allowance for all students of 18 years of age and over will now be removed. We know that some families will be able to compete for a student allowance of $6.20 per week. That will hit large families in particular. If a student is a member of a family with five children and if that family receives a family allowance for the fifth child of, say, $11 or $12 per week and the student goes to university, under what Labor has done the family will lose that benefit of $11 or $12 a week and will be allowed to compete under a strict means test for $6.20 per week.

Finally, Labor promised that it would not re-introduce tertiary fees. We all know that this very matter, the subject of a solemn election undertaking, is now under active consideration. I indicate that it is a problem for the Labor Party to resolve at present. Labor promised also to strengthen the role of universities, colleges of advanced education and the councils within the Commonwealth Tertiary Education Commission-the Universities Council and the Advanced Education Council-by ensuring that the Tertiary Education Commission communicates accurately the concerns and responses of tertiary institutions to the Government. It is a great promise when one is going to an election. One would have thought that the Government would have delivered on that promise. The academics thought so when they voted for the Government. However, the Government is ignoring what the CTEC advises it to do. It has weakened progressively the role of the Universities Council and the Advanced Education Council. What is more, in its latest proposals in relation to advanced and higher education it has even moved to abolish the Universities Council and the Advanced Education Council, to restructure the Tertiary Education Commission and to replace the Advanced Education Council and the Universities Council with toothless tigers. Is this any way to redeem a promise to strengthen the role of certain advisory bodies? Apparently it is for the Australian Labor Party.

Labor promised to discuss with State governments, tertiary institutions and staff associations the expansion of the role of the Academic Salaries Tribunal. That body determines what salaries academics in our universities and colleges of advanced education should be able to claim. Labor said that it would strengthen the role of this Tribunal to empower it to deal with salaries and conditions for academics and any other agreed matters. When Labor was soliciting votes, when it was going to the country, it said that academic staff would have recourse to a more effective mechanism for dealing with their claims. What happened? Was that promise kept? That promise was not kept. On the very first occasion when the Academic Salaries Tribunal sat to determine what salaries should be the Government intervened through the back door and came back with a second submission. It intervened in such a way as to cause a previously agreed salary rise to be phased in and the very academics who had been wooed for their votes to be denied part of their salary rise, in direct rebuttal of a solemn pre-election undertaking.

I will not discuss the many broken promises to the schools sector. I note in passing that the bodies which represent public education in this country are bitter in their denunciation of the broken promises of this Government. The teachers federations, the councils of State school organisations and the groups around the country that believe that the promises which were made to support public education, the government system of education, know that those promises have not been kept.

In the area of technical and further education this Government made other promises. Labor promised to strengthen the capacity of the Technical and Further Education Council. That is part of the Commonwealth Tertiary Education Commission. It promised to strengthen the capacity of that Council to participate in labour force planning activities. Labor promised to empower it to consult widely with employers, trade unions and agencies involved in planning for the future, such as the Australian Science and Technology Council. What has been the action? The action has been to promise to abolish the TAFE Council-not to strengthen it, but to abolish it-and to replace it with a toothless advisory body. What kind of response is that to a solemn election undertaking? The Government promised that in the first year of a Labor Government there would be an immediate boost-Labor's words-of $15m in Commonwealth funding for TAFE. Where was it? Only a very small increase in recurrent funding and a small amount, $9m, in capital funding have been provided to date. During the 1983 election campaign the then shadow Minister, Mr Hurford, promised an additional $30m for TAFE capital works over the next three years. Of course, these funds have not materialised. They were promised before the election; they were forgotten afterwards.

Labor said that it regarded opportunities for second chance and further education as a critical element of its equal employment opportunities. Before the election Labor promised to bring these elements of TAFE provision into negotiation with the States. Where are the results of those negotiations? Where is the provision that was promised to thousands of Australians who need that second chance education? It has not materialised because there was no attempt to redeem these promises once election victory was obtained.

Labor promised, as a first step in the elimination of the discrimination which it said was inherent in current levels and patterns of TAFE provision, to seek a report and recommendations from the TAFE Council with a view to implementing an equal opportunities policy for TAFE within Australia and to provide appropriate funding and legislative support for such a program. Where is the delivery of that promise? People who voted for Labor in response to that and other promises have been let down, as they have been let down on other matters. Labor promised to negotiate with employers and unions for increased participation in the training of students of technical and further education and to provide individual experience for TAFE teachers in industries with new technologies. Of course, no negotiations have been initiated. Nothing has happened. It was another promise made in the grubby search for votes and another promise ignored when in government the time came to deliver.

Labor has also failed to provide the education and training advice it promised to small business. No action has been taken on the promise to adopt a strategy for the co-ordinated and rational development of a small business education and training program throughout Australia. There has been no action on that. It is a great idea. It was a great pre-election promise. It might not have been a bad matter of honour or of practice to have done something about it following the election. There was a promise to establish small enterprise counselling training programs. Where is the action on that? There was a promise before the election to arrange for private consultants to be available in the small business bureau. There was a promise to provide grants to develop trade associations wishing to develop special management training programs. Where is the action on that? It is easy enough to promise when soliciting votes. Why has this Government not delivered? Why is it so shameless about its failure? Why is it so shameless about the fact that it has dishonoured promise after promise? Labor promised to establish marketing and promotion services attached to the small business bureau. The dishonesty of this approach to education must cast doubt upon the future of any promises in any portfolio area that this Government, its Ministers, its emissaries or its senators and members care to make. Labor promised in opposition and it has failed to deliver, not once but again and again. The litany of broken promises may be bad enough in political terms but in terms of lost opportunity for Australians who want nothing more than a fair go it is a tragedy.

When the mini-Budget was brought down last week we discovered that one of the few programs that stood to help people needing a second chance, needing help in regaining their lost place in schooling, needing a chance to participate-the participation and equity program-has been sliced in half for 1986. The Government says euphemistically that the last year of the program will now be spread over two years. That means that half as much will be spent in 1986. I do not question the fact that the Government had to cut expenditure. I am asking who are the losers. Who are the people who will not get the opportunity which they otherwise would have had? Who are the people who would have used the participation and equity program who will not have any access to it because of this decision? I am reminded of Senator Ryan and Mr Hawke who said, not once but again and again, that the participation and equity program was-I use their words-the cornerstone of Labor's policy for youth. They have cut it in half. The losers will not be officers in the Public Service; they will not be Ministers. They will be young Australian men and women for whom that program offered the opportunity to do something about improving their lives and getting a chance back.

Of course, we know that the statement last week has also meant that for many Australians programs in other areas, such as pre-school access for Australian children, may well double in price because of the cutting of the subsidy. That, again, may have been good economic sense. The Government had to cut somewhere. But it is interesting that the cuts have fallen upon the powerless, the weak, the disadvantaged and the young. They have fallen on those needing pre-school education, on those seeking access to participation and equity, on those seeking to improve themselves. If ever a government has lost its way it is this Labor Government. It is not enough just to criticise it. It is a tragedy for Australia, for Australian children and for Australian students. It is a tragedy for which this Government will pay whenever the people get their chance to have their say.