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Wednesday, 6 May 1987
Page: 2739


Mr SLIPPER(6.54) —This evening I am pleased to rise to represent the National Party of Australia in speaking on the States Grants (Tertiary Eduction Assistance) Amendment Bill, the States Grants (Schools Assistance) Amendment Bill and the States Grants (Education Assistance-Participation and Equity) Amendment Bill. As was mentioned by my colleague the honourable member for Groom (Mr McVeigh), the National Party does not oppose the three Bills. However, we welcome the chance to discuss various matters related to them. As has been outlined earlier, these are essentially machinery Bills generally seeking to make necessary adjustment and increase in payments due to salary rises following the national wage case decision.

As my colleague the honourable member for Groom outlined, tertiary teachers are excluded because of their current outrageous ambit claim which, if successful, would see some of them paid in the vicinity of $120,000 per year. Australia is in time of economic trouble; it is a country in dire straits and we certainly cannot afford the monumental claim which the academics are seeking to impose on the people of this nation.

I wish to refer to the States Grants (School Assistance) Amendment Bill and the States Grants (Education Assistance-Participation and Equity) Amendment Bill relatively briefly and then spend a little more time on the third Bill-the States Grants (Tertiary Education Assistance) Amendment Bill. The States Grants (School Assistance) Amendment Bill has as its objective the streamlining of the system of distribution of grants for non-government schools. It is anticipated that in most areas Catholic schools will form one block authority and other independent schools will form a second authority. As was mentioned a moment ago by the honourable member for Ballarat (Mr Mildren), there is no compulsion on independent schools necessarily to join the second block.

The Catholic school authorities certainly do not oppose the change. We on this side of the House support any move to streamline or improve the efficiency of payments made because funding in these tight economic times is very much a finite resource, and we must ensure that the people of Australia get the best value for their education dollar. The Catholic Education Office is, however, somewhat concerned about the bureaucracy which will remain even under the new arrangements. The new arrangements make provision for funding to be forwarded through block authorities. These two block grants will be issued in 11 instalments over the next 11 months with the receiving bodies compiling quarterly reports. The Catholic Education Office would like to see the funds paid in quarterly instalments with quarterly reporting. This would, of course, reduce the red tape and the additional costs which will be imposed on the education authorities. Unfortunately, unless this proposal is adopted the proposed arrangements will amount to a further administrative burden. I certainly cannot see any logical justification for that. The cost of servicing the administration burden determined by this Bill will fall directly on the Catholic Education Office and the other authority, and this will amount to an effective erosion of funding.

I sincerely ask the Government to look into this perhaps unintended consequence of the legislation. The Catholic Education Office also advised that it would like to see more flexibility regarding government guidelines for needy schools. While the guidelines are respected, the Catholic Education Office would like the opportunity to interpret them more sensibly. It must be stressed that the Catholic education authority supports the block authority concept. However, it would seem that the guidelines might not achieve what the Government sets out to achieve with these changes.

The next Bill to which I wish to refer is the one dealing with the participation and equity program. Most Australians would agree that it is a sound program in principle but, again, it has been burdened by demanding administrative guidelines. These guidelines have been determined by the Commonwealth Schools Commission and are promulgated as the Commission's interpretation of the States Grants (Education Assistance-Participation and Equity) Act. In addition, guidelines for each funding allocation have inevitably been received long after State advisory committees have formulated that year's budget.

There is a general concern in the community that while the PEP initially had a lot of promise it failed to achieve the expectations that the community and presumably, the Government had for it. I have been advised by concerned people that the program suffered from underfunding and perhaps over expectations. The new program will perhaps be funded to a greater degree. People have said to me that the PEP program was a good idea, but it simply has not achieved all of its aims.

The next Bill to which I wish to refer is the one dealing with tertiary assistance-the States Grants (Tertiary Education Assistance) Amendment Bill 1987. In particular, I would like to emphasise the desperate need for additional tertiary places in my home State of Queensland.


Mr Braithwaite —A good State, too.


Mr SLIPPER —It is a good State, as the honourable member for Dawson points out to the House. While there are some unresolved difficulties in calculating unmet demand, the following paragraph from the report of the Joint Commonwealth-State Working Party on Higher Education Provision in Queensland Regional Centres presents an accepted, yet conservative, statement on this issue. Paragraph 8 reads:

The higher education participation rate for Queensland is relatively low-34 per 1,000 persons in 1985 compared with the national average of 36; an additional 2,800 higher education enrolments would be needed to bring the level of participation in Queensland up to the national average.

The situation in Queensland at the moment is quite critical. Almost 37,000 applications were received for 15,000 available tertiary places in Queensland. This means that almost 22,000 people were denied educational opportunities. This reflects very badly on the Government's so-called interest in the education field. The figures would be significant even if Queensland's population were predicted to remain stable relative to that of the other States. However, everyone knows that, with the good National Party Government in Queensland, there has been a demographic change. People are moving to Queensland. As the Premier, Sir Joh Bjelke-Petersen often says, people vote with their feet. There is an increasing population in Queensland and the Government has failed to take into account the increased needs of the increased population.

Unlike most other States, Queensland's share of the nation's population continues to grow. For example, in 1971 just over 14 per cent of the six-State population resided in Queensland. The figure is now over 16.5 per cent and by the turn of the century it is estimated by the Australian Bureau of Statistics to rise to 17.7 per cent. One can see that, even having regard to our current percentage of population, we are underfunded. Unfortunately, the Bill before the House makes no move to redress this obvious imbalance.

It is particularly significant that the growth in Queensland's proportion of the six-State population will be greater amongst the younger age groups than for the total population. While Queensland is expected to have 17.7 per cent of the total six-State population by the year 2001, it will have 18.4 per cent of the 15- to 29-year-olds, the age band which provides 60 to 70 per cent of tertiary education enrolments. In 1986 Queensland had 16.8 per cent of the six-State population of 15- to 29-year-olds. In the short period to the end of the forthcoming 1988-90 triennium this figure will rise to 17.1 per cent. So while Queensland's proportion of Australia's population has been increasing, its share of Commonwealth funding for each sector of tertiary education has remained well below its proportion of population.

It is essential that there be a substantially more equitable allocation of Commonwealth funding for tertiary education amongst the Australian states. I hope that the Australian Labor Party Government in the Commonwealth sphere has not been using political considerations as a reason for denying the young people of Queensland their proper proportion of Australia's tertiary places. I seek leave to incorporate in Hansard a table setting out Commonwealth recurrent grants for three sectors of tertiary education in Queensland as a percentage of total recurrent grants to the six States from 1982-83 to 1986-87.


Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr Keogh) —Leave is not granted at this stage. It will be examined to ascertain whether it complies with the requirements laid down by Madam Speaker. The Minister at the table has not yet seen the document. It is usual to show it to someone from the other side to seek his endorsement. Provided it meets with normal requirements and the Minister has no objection, it will be incorporated.

Leave granted.

The table read as follows-

Commonwealth Recurrent Grants for Three Sectors of Tertiary Education in Queensland as Percentage of Total Recurrent Grants to Six States of Australia, 1982-83 to 1986-87

Year

Percentage

of

Population

in

Queensland

University

Education

Advanced

Education

Technical

and

Further

Education

1982-83...

15.9

14.0

15.4

10.8

1983-84...

16.1

14.3

15.1

10.4

1984-85...

16.1

14.3

15.1

11.2

1985-86...

16.2

14.4

15.6

12.4

1986-87...

16.3

14.4

15.7

13.5

* (Source: Payments to or for the States, the Northern Territory and Local Government Authorities 1986-87; 1985-87 Budget Paper No. 7, Australian Government Publishing Service, Canberra 1986.)


Mr SLIPPER —Thank you, Mr Deputy Speaker. I apologise for that oversight. It does seem to be a fairly non-controversial table. I certainly did not intend to move away from the usual arrangements. While the proportion of technical and further education recurrent funding for Queensland has increased from 10.8 per cent to 13.5 per cent of the total for the six States between 1982-83 and 1986-87, it remains far short of Queensland's 16.8 per cent of the 15- to 29-year-old population. For the university sector, the increase from 14 per cent to 14.4 per cent has similarly failed to match the proportion of population resident in Queensland. The increase for advanced education from 15.4 per cent to 15.7 per cent similarly falls short of Queensland's 16.8 per cent of the six-State population.

The present inequitable allocation of Commonwealth funding to Queensland, repeated in respect of each sector of tertiary education, is depicted in the second table that I would like to incorporate in Hansard.


Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER —The same conditions that I indicated to the honourable member previously will apply. Subject to those conditions, leave will be granted.


Mr SLIPPER —I understand that, Mr Deputy Speaker. Thank you for your consideration. Queensland is the only State which consistently, over the three sectors, having regard to its share of the six-State population, receives a smaller share of Commonwealth funds. The whole issue of inadequate and inequitable provision for Queensland youth is further exacerbated when the fact that Queensland has the highest retention rate of secondary students to year 12 of all the States is taken into account. In 1985 55 per cent of entering students in secondary schools in Queensland continued until year 12, compared with the Australian average of 46 per cent.


Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr Leo McLeay) -Order! I am sorry to interrupt the honourable member, but this type of table is unable to be incorporated. The type of tables that can be incorporated are numerical style tables, not drawings.


Mr SLIPPER —That is the second table, Mr Deputy Speaker.


Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER —Yes. The honourable member can table it.


Mr SLIPPER —Mr Deputy Speaker, before I presented the table to the House I did ask someone from Hansard about it. I was aware that the matter had to be referred to a senior officer of Hansard. It is unfortunate that the table cannot be incorporated, because it does show that Queensland is disadvantaged when one compares the population of Queensland with the number of university, advanced education and TAFE places.

In summing up, however, the question of Commonwealth underfunding of Queensland tertiary education is of critical importance to young Queenslanders. We have found that since the Commonwealth took over tertiary funding the proportion of Queenslanders in tertiary institutions has continued to decrease. It is time that the Government looked at the situation. I am very sad to see that the legislation before the House does not seek to give those young Queenslanders who are presently denied educational opportunities some possibility of advancement.

Honourable members who have spoken on various Bills in the House over the last couple of years have emphasised that Australia is a country in deep trouble. We are a country which has a national debt in excess of $101 billion, or $6,000 for every man, woman and child in the nation. The national debt is a matter of grave concern. We have a trade deficit in excess of $10 billion a year. We are a country which essentially is going down the economic drain. Therefore, in matters of education, as indeed in matters of other sorts of government expenditure, we must always endeavour to obtain the best value for the government dollar-the best value, in this case, for the government education dollar.

While the honourable member for Groom mentioned that the National Party of Australia does not oppose these Bills, we take the opportunity to emphasise that we are not happy with the way that the Government is under-financing Queensland tertiary students. We are not happy with the bureaucracy which continues and which remains pursuant to the other two Bills that are before the House. I sincerely ask the Minister in a spirit of bipartisanship to look at the matters emphasised and stated in this debate by members of the Opposition. We, like Government members, seek to obtain for our young people the very best education that this country can afford. It is therefore sad that bureaucracy continues to reign supreme. It is sad that the Government, when it has the numbers in this place and, indeed, in the other chamber, fails to take the opportunity to reduce the burden of government and the burden of wasteful expenditure in this area. As I said, we do not oppose the Bills. However, we would like the matters that we have raised to be seriously considered.