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Thursday, 19 February 1987
Page: 431

Mr MAHER(10.52) —It almost seems impossible to follow the honourable member for Braddon (Mr Miles), who is a good friend, but who spoke about the record of the Fraser Government on unemployment. It almost seems irrelevant to talk about any other issue.

Mr Barry Jones —Fraser is not a name they revere.

Mr MAHER —That is the first time I have heard anyone on the other side of the House mention the former Prime Minister. I want to raise the matter of literacy of children in secondary schools in Sydney. Some very distressed teachers came to me last year from a high school which has a mix of boys from Australian homes and homes where English is not spoken. The teachers were appalled at the literacy rate of the boys. They made the point that it was not the boys from ethnic homes who were having trouble, but in most of the classes boys read at a level two years below their chronological age. So a 15 year old in the lower classes read only to the level of a 13 year old and some of them read only to the level of a 10 year old. That has terrible implications and consequences for young men who leave school at 15 and are able only to read up to the age of an 11 year old. How they can get work or training in an apprenticeship is beyond me and it distresses the teachers.

I have written to the Minister for Education (Senator Ryan) and have spoken to her secretary quite recently in relation to the Government's release of a draft language policy.

This problem is not confined to state high schools. I have spoken to the principal of a Catholic high school in my electorate, who said that the problem there is much the same with the girls. It worries me greatly when we hear the Opposition and forces in the community which support the Opposition talking about cutting funding and government expenditure. It is important that we realise the types of areas where cuts could be made. If we were to have a cut in revenue of $5 billion, as the Premier of Queensland is talking about, it should be realised that that $5 billion is almost exactly the amount of the education budget. Where will the Queensland Premier make cuts? Who will suffer? Will it be the children in state schools who cannot read to the age they should? That is all we are asking. Some children in high schools read above their age-whether or not they are ethnic-but other children cannot read and they will never learn to read properly. They will never have the ability to read for leisure, to read newspapers, Hansard or anything like that.

This is a very important issue that I thought I would raise in the adjournment debate. It is possible that people will improve their skills as they get older by going to evening colleges and so on. But no government can reduce funding for education. I say with all sincerity to the members of the Opposition that they cannot possibly support a leader or policies that call for reduced spending on education, be it in state schools, catholic schools or the tertiary sector-particularly for technical and further education. The notion of cutting expenditure on technical and further education is absolutely barbaric. TAFE has always been the cinderella of education. This Government has increased expenditure to the technical colleges to allow people to do trade courses and even recreational courses. I praise the Minister for Education for what has been done there.

This problem worries me greatly. One of the programs that has been designated for the axe is the community employment program. The people who end up in these programs are often the young people who have left school at the age of 15. The statistics show that the younger people are the more likely they are to be unemployed if they have left school early. These people are on the dole for long periods. They need training on the job. That is what councils do. Local shires and municipalities co-operate with the community employment programs. It would be a tragedy if funding were reduced, linked with the problem of young people who-through no fault of their own, perhaps just through the fault of the curriculum or other problems-come out of school unable to read up to their age level.