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Wednesday, 6 May 1987
Page: 2736

Mr MILDREN(6.34) —I want to make a few comments on various parts of the States Grants (Tertiary Education Assistance) Amendment Bill, the States Grants (Schools Assistance) Amendment Bill, and the States Grants (Education Assistance-Participation and Equity) Amendment Bill. As I live in a city that has a unique record of educational provision and attainment, these Bills have a particular relevance to me. Ballarat is a centre with two colleges of advanced education, which in itself is unique-namely, the Ballarat College of Advanced Education, where I once had the privilege of teaching, when I was a real person, before entering this place, and the Aquinas College, the Institute of Catholic Education, which is currently led by a very good friend of mine and noted educationist and horse trainer, Dr Barry Fitzgerald. Both of these institutions have very long and proud histories of achievement. Ballarat also boasts one of the nation's oldest and most respected technical training institutions, which is now a very vital college of technical and further education-namely the School of Mines and Industries Ballarat Ltd. There are also 13 secondary schools-six State and seven private. (Quorum formed) I thank the honourable member for Flinders (Mr Reith) for his ministrations and providing me with what looks like a receding audience. Nevertheless, it was particularly good of him to consider me in the way in which he did.

Mr Chynoweth —The quality is still here.

Mr MILDREN —The quality is still here; that is quite true.

Mr Reith —The best audience you have had for years.

Mr MILDREN —Right. It is the only audience I have had for years. I repeat that Ballarat is a city with a very high degree of provision of education. I have indicated that it has two colleges of advanced education, a very celebrated TAFE college, 13 secondary schools and very many primary schools.

Mr Chynoweth —It has some wonderful lecturers.

Mr MILDREN —Wonderful people. It has state, Catholic systemic, and a number of independent primary schools as well. The regional offices for both the State and the Catholic systems are also located in Ballarat. The reason I have mentioned this is to give the House an indication of the breadth and the depth of educational provision that exists beyond the boundaries of the metropolitan areas and hence the interest in Bills such as these that we are discussing today. I want it made quite clear that beyond the boundaries of the metropolitan areas of this country very many centres such as Ballarat are centres of education and of educational excellence. But of course, I want to make it quite clear that there are also certain problems associated with those communities that are not associated with those of the metropolitan areas. I will just make specific reference to this matter. If one happens to want one's child to go to a college of advanced education, such as the one at Ballarat, and one lives in the country, of course, one will find oneself caught in the bind of having to pay extra rent. It costs one far more to have a child go to a college of advanced education if one happens to live out in the country than it does for a person who happens to live in the urban area of Ballarat. Likewise, if someone in Ballarat wants his child to go to Melbourne to a university or a college for a special purpose, once again it will cost far more money to do that. I happen to be one of those people who believe that it is important to stress time and time again that the difference in cost is not adequately recognised in the living away from home allowance. I believe it is time that governments of any complexion ought to take that matter on board to recognise that as a realistic need and make a far more realistic allocation of funds in that direction.

I would like to say a few words on these three Bills as they stand. Firstly, the State Grants (Tertiary Education Assistance) Amendment Bill 1987 is basically a routine piece of legislation. As a result of cost movements resulting from the national wage decision it makes adjustments to the sums previously allocated. It does not, however, include any rises for university academics because of their current claim for an amendment to their award through the Australian Conciliation and Arbitration Commission. There is nothing particularly noteworthy about this Bill and further such amendments can be expected as the consumer price index adjustments are made. The legislation affects not only recurrent grants but also capital and equipment grants.

The second piece of legislation under discussion is the States Grants (Schools Assistance) Amendment Bill 1987. This Bill signals a particularly significant change in the funding arrangements for capital grants for non-government schools. This Government, and the Australian Labor Party in general, can be particularly proud of the contributions that have been made both by the Whitlam Government and the current Labor Administration to defusing the long-simmering debate over funding for non-government schools. When the report of the Interim Committee for the Australian Schools Commission, the Karmel Report, was adopted by the Whitlam Government in mid 1973, the shifting emphasis laid stress upon the education of the Australian child. That was particularly significant, because for over a century there has been conflict about the schools-and the children, in many respects, had been the ones who suffered. That Committee tried to put to rest the bitterness that had been so characteristic of the educational history of this country over that previous century. I like to think that the issue of state aid will never again be raised as a serious topic for debate in this country. While I recognise that there are some who might harbour some residual disquiet, and even resentment, at the decision of the Whitlam Government, the social and the educational benefits of that change should be more than obvious for all to see. So it is particularly significant that the responsibility for the distribution of capital grants for non-government schools has now become the responsibility of the approved block grant authorities. As the Minister for Education (Senator Ryan) has said, it is expected that in most States Catholic schools will form one block authority and most other non-government schools will form a second block authority. There is no compulsion, of course, for non-government schools to join an authority. The current system will still apply; that is, non-government schools that so wish can apply to the Commonwealth for capital grants.

I am particularly proud of the initiative of the Whitlam Labor Government, which has been continued and improved by this Government. When I recall the situation that existed prior to 1973, I can still feel the anger and the frustration that permeated the schools and the school communities. This applied particularly to those parish schools in less affluent areas. I will never forget the heroic efforts of the teachers in those schools as they attempted to cater for the needs of classes of 60 and 70 children. In fact, in some years before that as a young teacher in North Richmond in Victoria, I visited St James school where the smallest class was one of 85 children. The nun who taught that class felt quite guilty that some of the other classes had up to 125 children. Thank God and the Labor Party that those appallingly bad days are well and truly behind us. The facilities that now exist in the parish schools are on a par with the State owned school. Another wonderful outcome of the implementation of the Karmel Report was the improved co-operation between the school systems. In other words, the suspicions and the animosities that were so often present in the relationships between the schools have now been happily laid to rest. That is largely what I mean by the social benefits of the Whitlam Government's educational initiatives. I do not think many of the young people who are now assuming responsibility for both the government and the non-government schools can recall the bad old days. Might I say, may those bad old days never return.

I am particularly pleased to support this particularly progressive step. I would like to make a few comments on the third piece of legislation, namely, the States Grants (Education Assistance-Participation and Equity) Amendment Bill 1987. Quite simply, this Bill, like the first two in this package, is directed towards the supplementation of previously announced grants for cost increases due primarily to CPI movements. I want to make a couple of comments about the participation and equity program. I quote from the annual report of the Commonwealth Schools Commission for 1985. The participation and equity program was aimed at providing support for:

. . . projects and activities aimed at qualitative change in the following areas of secondary education: curriculum, assessment, accreditation and credentialling, teacher/student/parent interaction . . .

That is a particularly important area if we are to be able to get more community involvement in the education of our children. The list went on:

. . . teacher renewal and support, school structure and organisation, post-school links, education and the arts, and public support for education.

I might say that in all of those areas this nation has been deficient. That is why they have been chosen as important focal points for the direction of so much of our educational effort. Activities were undertaken for groups of students with special needs such as Aboriginal students and those disadvantaged by economic circumstances, ethnicity, gender and disability. Throughout the length and breadth of this country participation and equity programs have been put in place. I am very proud of what has been done in my area of Ballarat. But I want to say that the person responsible for implementing this program in Ballarat is a friend of mine, Bill Horrocks, and I am very happy to say that his daughter, Lucinda, is with us today. She participated in the wonderful band recital which we had outside the building at lunch time. It is very good to see Lucinda here with her friends.

The program that has been put in place in the Ballarat area has identified five target schools. I will just mention those schools. Firstly, there is the Ballarat Special School, which is a school for those people who are intellectually disabled. It is a very fine institution indeed. As an old special teacher, I would like to pay tribute to those people who teach in those schools for whom I have a very warm spot. The school appointed a parent liaison officer in order to increase the level of parent participation in the education of their children. The involvement of parents had been particularly difficult before the PEP because of the wide geographical dispersion of the families. They do not have simply a local community orientation; they come to the school from quite a large area-20, 30 or 40 kilometres. The parent liaison officer has been able to visit families, organise meetings of parents in their own localities and encourage parents to meet at the school to discuss issues relevant to the curriculum and the general welfare of their children.

The other important issue has been support for the establishment of an independent living skills program for students aged 15 to 18, that is, those in the transition from the school community to the work situation-sometimes via the Ballarat Regional Industries Centre-and those going directly into the community to look after themselves and, hopefully, to gain worthwhile employment. That has been actively assisted by the Principal, John Pitman, and his staff. Another school in the area is the Ballarat East High School. The major focus there in 1987 is to work on a program of equal opportunity for girls. The appointment of an equal opportunity officer will enable the school to provide and implement more readily strategies to improve the education of girls. That means firstly that it will provide girls with broader access to curriculum than they have currently. It will enable girls to take part in areas that were traditionally focused on by boys, such as science, mathematics and the like.

Mr Wright —Is the scheme working?

Mr MILDREN —It is working. Of course one does not expect it to happen over just one year. There is a long term necessity to focus continually upon it. The program also provides an opportunity to remain at school for girls who might otherwise be thinking, in traditional terms, of leaving school early. That is also extremely important at a time when we are looking not only at the necessity for girls to see themselves as being equal but also, so far as the country is concerned, at ensuring that the talent throughout the community is adequately tapped and adequately developed.

Another of the schools, the Wendouree High Technical School, a fairly new school, has a wonderful future. In 1987 it is concerned with the place of the school in its local community. That has been a highlight of the Wendouree High Technical School since its foundation. It aims to make contact with local employers, encouraging information flow, inviting employers to speak at curriculum days and encouraging teachers to visit local work places. Again, the school aims to ensure that the Australian community takes adequate part in the education of young people. I believe that it is terribly important that that aspect of this program be adequately recognised. The same applies to the Mount Clear Technical High School. A particularly interesting school is the Lake Bolac High School, which places emphasis on country children and the country community-a tremendously important area. It is one of the few schools in country Victoria to have a participation and equity program. I am proud of what is being done in that program. I hope it is continued and that its funding continues even though we live in these tough times. I support all three pieces of legislation.