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Wednesday, 27 May 1998
Page: 3270

Senator CROWLEY (6:15 PM) —I would like to make some comments about this report. First of all, it is very disappointing that we had a unanimous report from our committee that has been so significantly dumped on by the government in this response. I think it is insufficient for Senator Tierney to say that we made recommendations for more bureaucracy and nothing else. That is certainly not the case. I think anybody in the Senate would acknowledge Senator Tierney's commitment to adult and community education. I would like it if sometimes he practised something of the same kind of generosity and acknowledged the initiatives of the Labor government to get adult and community education onto the political agenda at all.

The whole point of this report was that, given that adult and community education was on the political agenda, and given that there had been a very significant report, the Cinderella report from Senator Tierney and his committee, five years down the track we should have a look and see what was happening. You would have thought that the government would have been assisted in the whole approach to adult and community education by our reflecting on the state of play. The Labor government, in supporting adult and community education, particularly focused on the vocational education training end of adult and community education. This report was saying, very importantly, but you have forgotten one large part of adult and community education, and we want to recommend that it not be overlooked.

There are a number of reasons why. My colleagues have spoken about it, and the report spells out the importance of adult and community education for people who missed out the first time through in education, for people who got through school without being able to read and write, for people who went through school and now need to upgrade their skills. Their education was all right for them when they left school but it is no longer appropriate. We hear again and again of the importance of education for employment these days. Many people are able, with adult and community education, to come back and access education in a very affordable and accessible way.

We think this is a critical part of adult and community education. We know its importance, we know its success. It is hugely welcomed by the community and very largely participated in. Our report stressed the importance of it, and this government has chosen to give a big flick to the majority of this report. I find that very depressing. In particular, the committee was interested to note that people from western suburbs and people from lower socioeconomic areas of the country were much less likely to access adult and community education than people from better off areas and from the eastern suburbs.

Secondly, a very large number of participants were women, far more than men. It would be interesting if the government had picked up on our drawing this to their attention, by saying that we think adult and community education should have a universal application and accessibility. So will you please find out why it is that men, and particularly men from working class or lower socioeconomic areas, are not making the same access and use of adult community education as others. It is a very important point.

For some of my colleagues age has begun to weary us, and it is important that we recognise another very important point from this report: that is, the importance of continuing intellectual activity of adult and community education for preventing the onset of Alzheimers. I am not at all sure that this is proven yet, but there is some nicely documented evidence that if you do your daily crossword and regularly play bridge you can hold off the onset of senility.

Senator Coonan —And eat Freddo Frogs.

Senator CROWLEY —I am not at all sure what contribution that makes to this discussion, but I take it that it is meant well. It may be that we do not necessarily have to play bridge and do the daily crossword, but it is very interesting.

The evidence brought to the committee is quite clear, and it is of great concern to us that, as more and more Australians are going to live to a ripe old age, it is important that more and more of those Australians feel as though they have something useful to do with their lives, something to contribute to the community. One of the best ways they feel that they can participate, keep up with events going on in their community, interest themselves in whatever, is if they have access to adult and community education. I note that the government is somewhat grudging but at least a bit sympathetic to the notion that we should look at the impact in terms of health, particularly the health dollar costs, of the points that I have made.

People may smile and say, `We are not sure that it is true about bridge and the daily crossword,' but we do know that the relationship between intellectual activity and good health is an issue that is beginning to be addressed. I do appreciate that this point has been taken up. The trouble is that it does give weight to the notion of adult and community education being something for old people to do to keep themselves gainfully distracted. That is not what adult and community education is about at all. I certainly hope that because of this report, through its support at least of that recommendation, the Commonwealth will establish a dedicated research program to examine this. I am not sure that they will do that, but they are certainly going to look at the connection between health and intellectual activity. I would hate this to be taken as any way skewing adult and community education to old people and the basket weavers in our community. It does no credit to what adult and community education is about.

I am disappointed that there was no support for the recommendation regarding the capital needs of adult and community centres, particularly those in the neighbourhoods and in the community. One of our recommendations says that we would like to see educational facilities like schools more available for use by other community groups, and adult and community education might be an entirely appropriate group to use such facilities. However, we also know that not all community groups can move or want to move. They are differently accessible for people, and I am very disappointed that the government sees no need to try to support the capital needs of community and neighbourhood adult and community education centres, in particular, that of supplying a computer. The government has a lot of requirements in terms of data and reporting back but no appreciation that to provide that kind of data centres will need the assistance of some capital money, in particular, for a computer.

The final point I wish to make is the overwhelming rejection of this report. That has to be a disappointment for all of us but, I would have thought, particularly for those government colleagues who have actually been belted out of court by their own government.

I find it particularly disappointing that, in rejecting the principal recommendations, the government points out that there is a significant difference between ACE and VET. The whole raison d'etre of this report was to say that we recognise that, in picking up adult and community education, the previous government had done that very well, but the focus and the large amount of money had gone to the vocational end and ignored, or somewhat minimally supported, the ACE end. The whole report was about putting those two together, but the government sees fit to continue the separation. In particular, they go on to say:

Anyhow under the new labour market assistance there is a potential for a new role to ACE. ACE providers will be able to become contracted employment placement enterprises in their own right and/or provide labour market training to the clients of employment placement enterprises (EPEs) and that meet the specific requirements of the EPE and its client.

We have heard already of the unmitigated shambles called the establishment of the new Job Network under this government. There are thousands of community organisations possessing previously gained expertise and skills that have been totally disregarded. Why anyone would think that an undercapitalised community centre for adult and community education might now be able to leap in to become a contracted employment placement enterprise without that backup and support is, I think, drawing a very long bow or, in fact, sheer folly.

While I would hope that people who attend any such centres may be able to get assistance with their employment, the suggestion that you can reject the thrust of our report by suggesting that adult and community education centres become employment placement enterprises is unlikely to happen. And it completely misses the point of why we reviewed adult and community education with the Come in Cinderella report. What it means, of course, is that this task remains for the return of a Labor government.

Question resolved in the affirmative.