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Wednesday, 6 May 1987
Page: 2719


Mr FREE(4.44) —We have just heard a very critical and captious contribution from the honourable member for Tangney (Mr Shack), a person who last month was reduced by his Leader to the position of shadow Minister for nothing. The honourable member for Tangney is destined never to be the Minister for Education in a Liberal Party government. That is not because he is a wet; I really do not know whether the honourable member is a wet or a dry, whether he is damp or desiccated. Whatever the state of his relative political humidity and even if his Party wins the next election, he is destined never to emerge from the shadows. That is because his leader plans to abolish the education portfolio. We read in the Australian Financial Review of 23 March from a leaked Liberal Party document of plans to abolish the Commonwealth Department of Education, the Commonwealth Schools Commission and the participation and equity program, should the Liberals be successful at the next election. I understand that that is also Joh's policy. Whether it is the policy of the parliamentary National Party as well is a bit unclear at this stage. In fact, whether the parliamentary National Party has the power to make policies at all is a bit unclear at this stage. No doubt one of the National Party spokesmen on education will clear that up for us in the near future.


Mr Millar —Don't you worry about that.


Mr FREE —I am worrying about that. The National Party has three spokesmen on education. There is a spokesman for human resources, Senator Collard, and then there are two others: Senator Lady Bjelke-Petersen and the honourable member for Groom (Mr McVeigh). I congratulate the honourable member for Groom on getting a guernsey in the National Party team. Whatever we hear on this subject from the National Party Tower of Babel, we can be assured that the Premier of Queensland will have the last word. (Quorum formed) I would regard the abolition of the Commonwealth role in education as proposed by the Liberal Party as an absolute tragedy for this country. It would mean abandoning the leadership role of the Commonwealth and turning our backs on the achievements of recent years. Contrary to the assertions of the honourable member for Tangney, education in this country is not in crisis, but it certainly would be if his Party ever won office.

The States Grants (Tertiary Education Assistance) Amendment and cognate Bills, which provide retrospective cost supplementation for programs in schools and tertiary institutions, will continue this process and build on the success that has already been achieved by the Hawke Government in education. In the schools area, since the election of Labor to government, we have seen a remarkable improvement in retention. Contrary to the assertions of the honourable member for Tangney, more young Australians than ever before are enjoying a full education and our schools are turning out better educated young people, better fitted to join the work force, than ever before. Recurrent funding is being provided at generous levels based on need and set out in an eight-year program so that schools, particularly those in the non-government sector, can plan with certainty and confidence. Our specific purpose programs are achieving their objectives. These are being planned co-operatively with States and with the systems, which now have a much better understanding of the features of specific purpose programs. Those programs now have clear and agreed objectives, clear plans of action, a finite lifetime and a mechanism for evaluation.

We are all aware that in recent times there have been some criticisms by the States of what they regard as Commonwealth caprice in those areas. I recall the difficulties that we had last year with the English as a second language program and with the extension of participation and equity at half funding for four years instead of three. I point out that specific purpose programs are not intended to run forever. Having met its objective, a particular program should correctly be terminated and if necessary new objectives defined and a new program started. We now appear to have a better understanding with the States than has existed in the past. The participation and equity program is certainly achieving its objectives. I have received from people in my electorate a number of unsolicited testimonials at school speech nights from principals who have been quite generous in their praise of this program and the good that it has achieved in their school environments.

Clearly, throughout the education systems there is a desire for an extension or a replacement program for participation and equity. I am pleased that this desire has been recognised by the Commonwealth Schools Commission. It was met by the publication in April of the Commission's report `In the National Interest: Secondary Education and Youth Policy in Australia'. I congratulate the Commission on a fine and comprehensive report. In making some comments on it, I refer to four tables which it contains and which I seek leave to have incorporated in Hansard.

Leave granted.

The tables read as follows-

Table 8.1

APPARENT RETENTION RATES, AUSTRALIA, 1975-1986

Year

Apparent retention rates to

final year, all schools

(per cent)

Males

Females

Persons

1975...

34.6

33.6

34.1

1976...

34.6

35.3

34.9

1977...

34.0

36.6

35.3

1978...

33.1

37.3

35.1

1979...

32.4

37.2

34.7

1980...

31.9

37.3

34.5

1981...

32.0

37.8

34.8

1982...

32.9

39.9

36.3

1983...

37.5

43.9

40.6

1984...

42.1

48.0

45.0

1985...

43.5

49.5

46.4

1986...

45.6

52.1

48.7

Source: Commonwealth Department of Education.

Table 8.3

APPARENT RETENTION RATES OF SECONDARY SCHOOL STUDENTS TO YEARS 10, 11 and 12, BY CATEGORY OF SCHOOL (AND NON-GOVERNMENT AFFILIATION), AUSTRALIA, 1986 (PER CENT).

Year of

Education

Government

Schools

Non-Government Schools

Anglican

Catholic

Other

Total

All

Schools

Year 10...

92.0

109.4

96.3

106.7

99.9

94.1

Year 11...

63.2

104.9

73.3

101.0

82.4

68.3

Year 12...

42.3

94.3

57.4

89.2

67.4

48.7

Source: Commonwealth Department of Education.

Table 8.4

APPARENT RETENTION RATES, STATES AND TERRITORIES, 1986

Apparent retention

rates to final year,

State/Territory

all schools (per cent)

New South Wales...

44.4

Victoria...

46.8

Queensland...

57.5

South Australia...

54.8

Western Australia...

50.3

Tasmania...

30.3

Northern Territory...

34.1

Australian Capital Territory...

77.7

Australia...

48.7

Source: Commonwealth Department of Education.

Table 8.5

ACER SURVEY RESULTS ON YEAR 12 COMPLETION

Attribute

Percentage

ever

completed

Year 12

(by age 19

in 1984)

General

finding

Father's occupation

Professional...

66

Year 12

Managerial...

50

completion

White Collar...

42

rates differ

Skilled...

27

with social

Semi-skilled...

26

status

Unskilled...

24

Family wealth

Highest wealth quartile...

52

Year 12

Middle 50%...

37

completion

Lowest wealth quartile...

25

rates differ

with family

wealth

Rurality

First quartile (least rural)...

42

Year 12

completion

Second quartile...

35

rates differ

Third quartile...

37

somewhat

Fourth quartile (most rural)...

34

somewhat

with rurality

Achievement (based on word knowledge, literacy and numeracy tests taken at age 10)

First quartile (highest achievement)...

Second quartile...

Third quartile...

Fourth quartile (lowest achievement)...

63

38

30

14

Year 12

completion

rates differ

with earlier

achievement

Ethnicity

Father born in Australia...

Father born in another English speaking nation...

Father born in a non-English speaking nation...

34

33

49

No evident

disadvantage

regarding

year 12

completion

rates

for

persons from

non-English

speaking

nation

backgrounds

included in

the sample

(mainly

persons of

Greek and

Italian origin.)

Source: ACER, Participation in Education (Williams) 1986.


Mr FREE —I thank the House. In a review of past performance, the report notes a remarkable improvement in school retention of students in recent years-from 34 per cent of young people completing a full secondary education in 1975 to 48.7 per cent in 1986. Most of that improvement has taken place since 1982. That is all the more remarkable, because this dramatic improvement in the number of students staying on at school has been accompanied by an improvement in the number of 15-to 19-year-olds joining the work force. The report notes that under normal circumstances the Commission would expect a progression in the retention rate to 55 per cent by 1992. Instead the Commission proposes a target of 65 per cent by 1992. The significance of that 65 per cent figure is that a 65 per cent retention rate, together with expanded training opportunities in the colleges of technical and further education, would virtually eliminate unemployment for those in the 15-to 19-year-old group. If this new program achieves its objective, by 1992 young people will have the option of a full time education, training or employment. Unemployment will simply not be an option for them.

In a sense this new program will take over where PEP leaves off, but with some important differences. Participation and equity programs will target schools with low retention rates with the objective of bringing those schools up to the average retention rate. Because of the rising average retention rate generally across the country, PEP has, in a limited sense, failed, as it has been very difficult to hit that moving target as average retention has risen. The new program has the ambitious objective of raising that entire average rate across Australia by 15 percentage points by 1992. This has implications for all schools and systems, not just the target schools as in PEP. The overview for the report states at page 33:

A full comprehensive and demanding general secondary education should be not only an entitlement of every young Australian but an actual achievement.

While the report does have implications for all schools, it proposes priority for those with low retention rates. If one examines the table in the report which compares retention in schools by category, it is clear that government schools and Catholic systemic schools with retention rates of 42.3 per cent and 57.4 per cent respectively will require priority attention. If one looks at the table which compares retention by State and Territory, it is clear that the Northern Territory, New South Wales and Victoria, all with retention rates below the national average, will require priority under this program.

The new program proposed by the Commission has four important objectives: That 65 per cent retention rate by 1992, to which I have referred; a more equitable distribution of benefits of secondary education across society; improvements in quality and relevance of education; and more flexible and accessible schools. It proposes five fields of action: Curriculum development; work in accreditation and assessment, as mentioned by the honourable member for Tangney, and I agree that there is difficulty from State to State; work to improve school organisation and climate; teacher development; and, finally, stronger links between schools and the wider community. The report recognises that this new program will need to proceed at three levels, namely, at the school level, the system level and the national level. I congratulate the Commonwealth Schools Commission on the production of an excellent report, and I trust that it will receive speedy and favourable consideration by the Government.