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Tuesday, 1 November 1983
Page: 2084

Mr MOORE(2.13) —I move:

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

'this House calls on the Government to implement, without delay, the recommendations of the Commonwealth Schools Commission to provide necessary additional funding for boarding schools and for hostels to meet the needs of isolated students'.

I foreshadow that in respect of the Commonwealth Tertiary Education report I shall move:

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

'This House calls on the Government to ensure that (a) adequate funding will be provided to maintain first enrolment levels in Australian universities and colleges of advanced education and (b) TEAS allowance is maintained against unemployment benefits'.

In regard to the Commonwealth Schools Commission report for 1984 I shall move:

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

this House reaffirms the need for (a) all children in non-government schools to receive a basic grant of assistance for their schooling, and (b) grants to non- government schools to be calculated on a predictible percentage of standard costs in government schools.

In moving and in foreshadowing those amendments this afternoon, I think it is worth while drawing the attention of the House and of those listening to the fact that it took a Melbourne Cup day to have the Government find time on the program to bring on an education debate. This is a subject which is of enormous interest and concern to all who have watched what has occurred in relation to education in Australia since the advent of the Labor Government. It is significant, of course, that $750,000 was given by the New South Wales Teachers Federation to the Australian Labor Party in the last campaign. That was a Melbourne Cup victory for the Federation because the Government has gone down the path recommended by the Federation, a body which has not been exactly known for its representation but more for its ideological bases in terms of its approach to education. We in the Liberal and National parties strongly believe in the right of choice for parents in education. That is the basis on which all free society is turned. It is not turned on the proposition put forward to the Australian Council of Trade Unions, by representatives of the teachers union, that it is the responsibility of the State and not the parents to educate and bring up their children. Because of that we are here today to express our concern at the resolutions contained in these reports as to the developments that have occurred.

Children from isolated areas of the nation who are living away from home are a matter of grave concern to very many honourable members, particularly those on this side of the House. Children who are born and brought up in isolated areas are required, at a later stage in their education, to move to a city or a town somewhere near so that they can advance their education. We are concerned because of what has happened in this particular area. I can only mention a personal experience, having been brought up in the far north of Queensland where the only education at the early stages was a once a week mail service from the Queensland Correspondence School. In those days, of course, the various standards of education right through those bush areas were set by that service. I know that many other honourable members in the House will probably have benefited in the same way. But there is no way in which we can contain or continue that. Because of that parents are forced to send children from those places to the nearest education centre. This can be done only at a significant emotional and financial cost to parents. I am quite sure that every honourable member in the House would be disappointed that the Government has not carried through its levels of commitment to this area that we would have hoped.

It is worth pointing out that three basic areas of allowances are paid. Firstly , there is the basic allowance. Secondly, an additional allowance is paid in respect of certain means tested criteria. Thirdly, a special supplementary allowance is paid for boarding. Between 1982-83 the basic allowance, far from being cut, was increased from $780 to $866. The 1983 Budget-the first Labor Budget-lamentably failed to maintain in real terms the 1983 levels. As a result in some country areas that have been dependent on hostels or other boarding away from home institutions, we have seen a closing down of some of these institutions because of the inability of some parents to meet the costs against a background of a poor rural year or other financial commitments. I think it is very regrettable that the time should be allowed to go past without making mention of the very grave strain that is placed on people in isolated areas as a result of these reports.

I would like now to make one or two comments about the other motions in this cognate debate. It is particularly interesting to refer to the question of the report of the Commonwealth Schools Commission. It is a significant body; a body whose recommendations previous governments, both Liberal and Labor, have followed over the years. It has made a significant contribution to raising standards within education and to ensuring some form of uniform approach, standard of quality across the nation. When the Government faced up to the 55 recommendations that came out I think it is very regrettable that it managed to reject nine of those recommendations completely and to ignore another twelve. There have been substantial changes as a result of some of the other recommendations.

Let me just briefly outline some of the recommendations that have been rejected . The recommendation that the total amount for general recurrent grants to government schools in 1983-84 be increased by 2 per cent in real terms was rejected. The recommendation that the 1984 school enrolment be the criteria for the allocation of funds under the government schools general recurrent grants program in 1984 was rejected. The recommendation that the general recurrent grants for non-government schools be provided on the same general basis as in 1983 was rejected. The recommendation that capital grants for non-government schools be increased in real terms by 5 per cent was rejected. The recommendation that funds for the severely handicapped children's program be increased by 25 per cent in real terms was rejected. The recommendation that the general support element of the English as a second language program be increased by 2 per cent in real terms in 1984, to be used specifically to enable Aboriginal children to participate, was rejected. The ethnic schools program, to be known as the community language teaching program, was rejected. The recommendation that the professional development program be provided with the same level of funds in real terms in 1984 was rejected. The recommendation that the country areas program be provided with a funding increase of 18 per cent in real terms was rejected.

On top of those that were rejected, no responses were given to another 12 areas , including four recommendations concerning capital grants for government and non-government schools covering leasing assistance, facilities for isolated children, funding levels for joint government and non-government school programs and the distribution of joint program funds according to need, and recommendations concerning additional funds for handicapped children below school age, accounting requirements in the use of special education programs, the distribution of funds within the English as a second language program to meet the special needs of Aboriginal students, the extension of the ESL program to cover students temporarily resident in Australia and the basis of the distribution of funds amongst the States for the multicultural education program being the same as for 1983. Those points illustrate the response this Government has given to the very weighty considerations handed to it by the Schools Commission.

We should not stop there. We should look at the commitment given by the Labor Government to the electorate prior to the March election because there are few more disgraceful areas of non-performance and broken promises than education. This is something we have grown used to in the various portfolios-walk around Australia, find a mouth open and stuff a promise into it. It may not be necessary to pick it up for a year or two, and by that stage the issue might be dead. Because of that, I want to outline briefly some of the areas which I think have caused enormous concern. The first is the promise that the tertiary education assistance scheme allowance would be brought to the same level as unemployment benefit. What has really happened? The unemployment benefit has gone up and the gap between TEAS and the unemployment benefit has widened. Where is the commitment to education when the allowance paid to a student attending a tertiary education institution has gone down in real terms compared with the unemployment benefit? Where is the commitment that the Labor Party gave in the election campaign? Where is the real return to the student in receipt of that allowance? It is a disgrace to think that those opposite could promise an increase in TEAS and in the unemployment benefit and yet allow the gap to widen, not to narrow. This heads the long list of broken promises in education.

This is quite a litany of broken promises. Labor promised to institute a new program for primary schools at a cost of $9m per annum. It put a money level on it. That promise has not been honoured. It promised to provide in the first year of office an additional $37m for recurrent resources for government schools. That promise has not been honoured, but was noted by a well-known beneficiary, the Teachers Federation, which recently said in a headline that $37m was still owed. It knows how to get value for three-quarters of a million dollars-by coming up with responses like that. On top of that, the Government has not honoured its promise to provide an additional $16m for needy non-government schools in the first year of its program. It promised to provide $24m over three years for computer education. That promise has not been honoured. The Government has now said that it will provide $18m. Of course, it has done that against the background that its own advisory body, the Commonwealth Schools Commission has recommended the expenditure of $125m. This is some indication of the level of shortfall.

To add to that, the Labor Government promised to establish a revolving loan fund with an initial contribution of $5m for the construction of planned new non -government schools. That promise has not been honoured. In the area of technical and further education the Government promised a special triennial program costing $30m to upgrade equipment and facilities in the least technologically advanced schools and to stimulate employment in Australian manufacturing. That promise has not been honoured. On top of that, we can look at a list of lesser amounts which were promised during the election campaign but which were not committed.

There are very many other areas of major concern, not the least of which is the breaking of the nexus between the amounts paid to state schools and to non- government schools for recurrent expenditure. It is well known that the level of payment made to non-government schools is related to the direct cost of State government operations. That nexus has been broken. That is the beginning of the crunch on State aid. It is the beginning of the end for many schools that are very needy indeed. The Roman Catholic education system will be severely squeezed by this move. It is the sort of move that the Government should know better than to continue. That is the area in which there is the greatest need. Vast amounts of money need to be invested to bring Roman Catholic schools to proper and appropriate levels. The Government stands condemned for its total rejection of the Roman Catholic education system. I have no doubt that church leaders will let their comments be known, as indeed some have already. The breaking of the nexus-the relationship between payments to State government schools and to non- government schools for recurrent costs-would probably be the greatest warning to all of those who are interested in the education system of this nation.

Mr SPEAKER —Is the amendment seconded?

Mr Lusher —I second the amendment and reserve my right to speak later.