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Wednesday, 30 May 1984
Page: 2166

Senator PETER BAUME(4.44) —In speaking to Appropriation Bill ( No. 3) 1983-84 I wish to address my remarks to divisions 270 to 284 which cover the appropriations for the Department of Education and Youth Affairs and money provided by the Government for the various programs it conducts in relation to education generally. I wish to outline in that context the clear differences in approach to education between the coalition parties and the Government. I can do that in light of the recent policy which we have announced, which goes to many of the matters covered by these particular estimates, and also by drawing upon the Government's claims in a glossy booklet it has produced entitled 'Record of Government', which, of course, fails entirely to take into account the many broken promises it has made in the various areas covered by and relevant to these estimates.

The Opposition has recently put down a policy, which I wish to discuss, to make clear some of the things we have proposed in the area of education. This policy has involved extensive consultations with education groups and individuals at many levels. The policy of the Liberal-National Party coalition outlines important philosophical tenets which we hold to be fundamental to education purpose and relevance. It recognises the growing importance of education both for vocational and for non-vocational purposes. The world is becoming increasingly competitive and technological. Not only will the possession of skills and the capacity to get skills be more important; so also will be the need for education for personal fulfulment and enrichment in a society where increased leisure time is likely to become a probable scenario. People are entitled to want to have the very best kind of lifestyle. If that involves more leisure they will not be able to take educational options for that kind of non- vocational reason.

The policy of the Liberal-National parties is a forward looking one. It is based upon a number of underlying principles-principles of fairness, choice, opportunity, involvement and, quite unashamedly, excellence in education. It is a policy which makes it quite clear that a Peacock government would view education as an investment in young Australia, in Australia generally and in the Australian people. The document we have before us, the Appropriation Bill, outlines many of the programs of the present Government. We would depart from these in a number of significant areas.

In secondary education we would seek a return to fairness. In the past year under the Labor Government, through its guidelines and appropriations, we have seen the resurrection of the State aid debate with the Hawke Government introducing a series of discriminatory and divisive measures to our non- government school system. The Labor Government has sought to limit freedom of choice for parents in the schooling of their children and to penalise parents who wish to exercise that choice. The coalition has reaffirmed its support for all children in non-government schools. We have reaffirmed our support for an additional component of funding for all those schools which we can classify as needy. We have pledged our support for the restoration of the percentage link; that is, the link which allows for increases in cash as inflation erodes the value of the educational dollar. This is a measure which provides certainty and predictability in funding.

At the same time and for almost the first time in public policy-I think my colleague Senator Dame Margaret Guilfoyle may have made reference to this previously when she produced a document-we have recognised that a true assessment of parental need cannot be assumed from the bricks and mortar that house schoolchildren. Consequently, we will work towards producing a Green Paper on the alternative methods of funding education using a family based assistance approach. We will ask the Commonwealth Schools Commission to prepare such a Green Paper; to examine and to evaluate those options which could achieve a shift from funding based on institutional need alone to funding based on the needs of families and the capacity of families. Of course, our long term goal is to arrive at a system that provides maximum opportunity and choice for all Australian schoolchildren. As far as the family based funding proposal is concerned, we are proposing to put the matter under public examination, rather in the way that this Government has sought to put other education matters under public examination, by producing a Green Paper and putting it out for honest discussions and seeing what the family based approach has to offer for Australia .

We have promised more than that. We have promised a program which we have called the basic competencies program, a program designed to redress the problem of illiteracy and innumeracy and the various other problems of learning which children have, not just in our schools but in the community as a whole. There are estimates that there are one million functionally illiterate adults in Australia. If that figure is correct, one million people are locked out today and will be locked out increasingly as we move to a society depending more and more on skill. It is disturbing to see how many of the tertiary campuses around Australia have had to add remedial English to their offerings.

Certainly, a concern is being expressed within the community about the level of achievement in basic competencies. I have no good evidence that things are better or worse than they were a generation ago. It really does not matter; the fact is that there is a problem. It does not matter whether in quantum it is greater or smaller. My view is that a program directed towards basic competencies, to mounting support through the Commonwealth Schools Commission for those in need of help, will help Australia and Australians. This program has been promised in response to the concerns of the community. It is a desire to ensure that every Australian, of whatever age, will have an opportunity to participate not only in basic education but also in further education-in continuing education, in lifelong recurrent education-and in all that Australia has to offer by way of social and cultural opportunity. To participate fully in those a capacity in basic competencies is necessary. I would hope that a program such as this would receive universal support from the community.

The coalition would expand the computer education program, which is mentioned specifically in some of the Appropriation Bills each year. The Commonwealth Schools Commission was quite specific about the amount of money that would be required to make a computer education program realistic and successful in Australia. That amount of money is more than five times what the Australian Labor Party promised and perhaps six or seven times what it ended up giving. Let us be clear: The amount of money that appeared in the Budget Papers and in the Appropriation Bills is far short of the pre-election promises which the Labor Party gave so readily. In line with the commitment we gave in 1983, we have undertaken to raise to $20m a year the amount that we are willing to offer, through the Commonwealth Schools Commission, towards a national Australian computer education program.

We see that money going into the training of teachers-pre-service training and in-service training. We see that money going into the production of courseware and software. We see it going, finally, into the provision of hardware, machines , which may be required for the schools. Of course, one cannot approach computer education merely by providing machines and assuming one is providing an educational program. One is not. Anyone who read the dissenting reports by my friend Paul Jeremy and, I think, an officer from the New South Wales Department of Education which were tabled in this place recently, will understand their concern about the emphasis needing to be put on a comprehensive program of computer education. The Government's approach so far has been inadequate.

As part of our policy we have proposed a teacher exchange program. We have an old fashioned view about the cross-fertilisation of ideas between schools in different systems. It does not matter whether it is between the Catholic education system and the government system or the Catholic education system and the Lutheran education system. It does not matter whether it is between a non- government independent school and a government school. The exchange of ideas and the cross-fertilisation within and between sectors will help people to get to know each other and will help to reduce tensions, build bridges and cross- fertilise the ideas that can be spread with benefit from one system to the other . What is in our minds is that any such arrangements would be local and advantageous to each party. If someone in a school felt that it was desirable to try to offer a position for a semester or half a year to someone from another system and could effect an exchange, we would like to see such a program work. There is a small program under the Schools Commission now which is called the school travel and exchange program. The program does virtually none of this. It does a little but it could do a lot more. We would like to see a teacher exchange program become a significant factor in improving the amity and the sharing in Australian education.

In relation to higher education, our policy also promises new hope for Australians while maintaining excellence. We emphasise in higher education excellence and participation, and they are not incompatible if they are properly pursued. This year alone tens of thousands of enthusiastic Australians were turned away from the gates of our universities, our colleges of advanced education and our technical colleges. I have heard the figure put at 100,000 in some of the additional material which has been tabled today. The Department of Education and Youth Affairs has indicated by way of answers to questions that the figures are smaller than that. But they are still too large. Between 10,000 and 20,000 students have been turned away from higher education alone. Some 40, 000 students have been turned away from technical and further education in New South Wales alone. Another 30,000 have been turned away in Victoria. We cannot have those kinds of figures if we are to produce the right kind of opportunity for all Australians in the years to come. Our policy seeks to redress a situation in which students are anxious to enrol, where institutions are anxious to take them and where the providers and the consumers do not seem to be able to get together because governments have been unable to provide the conditions under which this can be achieved. I do not believe the position has become any better in the first 18 months or so of the Hawke Government.

One of our very exciting proposals, and one that has been widely received with acclaim in the community, is our proposal for an open university. It would really be an open tertiary institution. The idea is to provide off-campus opportunities for many Australians. It would be flexible in respect of what it would offer-whether it would offer degrees, diplomas, certificates or non-award courses. I am quite relaxed about that. I want to use the opportunities presented by off-campus education to open up participation in Australia to many more Australians. I am well aware of the 1974 report and the recent report of the present head of the Commonwealth Department. Those reports emphasised the possibilities of building upon the present off-campus offerings across Australia , perhaps networking them. We would like to go further. We would like to allow them to get greater involvement with the electronic media, with modern communication. There is no educational offering going on in any systematic way through television in Australia. We should be into television. We should be looking at using the communications satellite to help us in this task of providing higher education. Of course, when cable television and radiated subscription television become realities they will be ideal for the open university concept.

I am eclectic in the way I would like to see it operate. I would like to take skills from everywhere. I would like to plug in to the existing people who have expertise in offering it and make them into winners, but the many thousands of Australians who could enrol under this program would be the real winners, because we could open up access across Australia. We would want the standards on campus and the standards of the offerings to be maintained. We would see no reduction at all in the excellence on campus. We believe that with this mixture of a much more open entry and the maintenance of high standards it would be possible to provide real opportunity and real extra hope for Australians. Let me just identify some of the people who would be able to participate. I refer to those Australians at present denied access because they have full time parental responsibilities and take them seriously. I refer also the people with physical handicaps and people with full time employment responsibilities.

Senator Dame Margaret Guilfoyle —Isolated people.

Senator PETER BAUME —People who are isolated in remote Australia, as my colleague Senator Dame Margaret Guilfoyle says; I also include those isolated in the outer suburbs of our large conurbations, where the cost and the inconvenience of travel put most campuses out of their reach. For all these people an Australian kind of open tertiary institution-not a copy of what has been done overseas but an Australian model-will offer real hope and real help.

One of the serious inequities we would hope to fix would be the present gap between the allowance paid under the tertiary education assistance scheme and the unemployment benefit. The TEAS allowance is paid to tertiary education students. We will close that gap. It is interesting that in opposition the Labor Party made such a promise. Its performance in its first year in government has been to widen that gap between the TEAS allowance and the unemployment benefit. Nothing in the Appropriation Bills goes any way towards closing it. The Labor Party in its 'Record of Government' at page 17 under the heading 'Student allowances' says that it has increased TEAS by 5 per cent. But in a nation where inflation went up by 8 per cent or 9 per cent, the Labor Party is telling us that the TEAS allowance has in fact dropped in real terms. The value of educational support has dropped in real terms this year under the Labor Government. The gap between the TEAS allowance and the unemployment benefit has widened. We will work progressively to close the gap and to make the TEAS allowance equal to the unemployment benefit.

The final part of our policy which I would like to mention this afternoon is our other proposal in relation to higher education. We will initiate a review of the structural and funding arrangements for higher education. Looking back from 1984 to the 1970s, we can see that the binary system, which privileged universities and colleges of advanced education having a different function, has served us quite well over a decade. It is a system which has had real advantages . If we look at the future and where we are going in the 1990s and the 2000s, it is far from certain not only to me but also to the Chairman of the Australian Vice-Chancellors Committee, to the former Chairman of the Schools Commission and to many people who have articulated their concerns, that the binary system will be appropriate or that it will deliver all that is needed. In that respect, it is a pity that the Commonwealth Tertiary Education Commission in its report recently tabled in this place has been so timid or has taken such a status quo approach that it seems to want to preserve and to continue the binary system. The Liberal and National Parties in government will review the whole structure. We believe that the whole structure may need re-jigging or shaking.

At present universities and colleges of advanced education are funded on different bases. They are subject to the directions of different planning bodies . Originally it was intended that the role of the colleges would remain distinct from but complementary to that of universities. But as they have evolved, their roles have come to overlap markedly. We can find courses of study-vocational courses-offered in a university in one city and in a college in another city, with the market outside sometimes preferring the university qualification and at other times preferring the college qualification. It does not seem right that colleges should by definition still be restricted, for example, in their access to research funding or in the granting of certain post-graduate awards.

I wish to highlight some of the differences between the approach contained in these Appropriation Bills, containing as they do the expression of the Government's policy, and what we are proposing. There is a clear choice between Liberal-National Party policy and what Labor is doing. The current Labor Government has put the lid on education, and we seek to lift that lid and to open up opportunity. Labor has sought to level down educational standards. It has sought to deny the legitimacy of the pursuit of excellence. We, unashamedly, support the pursuit of excellence; excellence for every Australian; excellence in every school room; excellence in every technical college. We do not see it as something that has elitist overtones, which is something the Minister for Education and Youth Affairs (Senator Ryan) would sneer about, but as a means by which every individual can achieve to the maximum of his or her capability.

Labor policy emphasises and asserts the rights of the central planners over the rights of individuals, but we recognise the rights of parents and students to have a say and to be heard on the subject of choosing the type of education best suited to them at the school or higher institution of their choice. We will back the voice of the consumers. Labor presents education as part of a class struggle . If we look at some of the Minister's speeches, much of the rhetoric is based upon pejorative assertions about certain so-called advantaged institutions and parents. The Minister sees education as a way of enabling people 'to resist manipulation by the massive institutions of capitalism'. Those are the Minister' s words. I do not know what they mean. She does not also seek to be able to resist the manipulations by the massive institutions of labour or the massive institutions of socialism. That kind of ideological statement on education is something which we will not have a bar of. We will not allow the Labor Government or its Minister for Education, Senator Susan Ryan, to use the education system for the achievement of socialist objectives.

I turn back to the papers and analyse what is and is not offered, what is contained and what is missing. Quite apart from the clear differences, to the electorate and quite apart from what the education community needs, there is one other aspect we must mention. I refer to the extent to which the Labor Party has failed to deliver on specific promises which it made in regard to education to the education community and to the consumers of education. Before the election the school community was promised that government schools would have $222m over three years. It was promised that the first instalment in year one of a Labor Government would have been $37m. I ask every president of every parents and citizens group across Australia: 'Where is your share of that $37m?'. I can tell them that not one cent of that promised $37m promised by the Labor Party for Australia's government schools has been delivered in the first year. I do not believe the second instalment will be delivered, and I do not believe that government schools will be receiving what was promised to them. This money is still owing and is likely to be owing for some time.

Before the election Labor promised to give $9m to primary schools. That money has still to be delivered. None of it has appeared, not even $3m as the first instalment-nothing! I again ask every mother with a child in infant school: ' Where is your share of that money for your child today?'. That is another Labor promise which has been dishonoured. Labor promised $16m for non-government needy schools. Where is that money? It was promised as an election bait and not a cent of it has been delivered-not a penny! Again, I ask every parent with a child in an under-resourced Catholic parochial school: 'Would that money help you and your child?'. It was promised as election bait by the Labor Party. As we look at the Appropriation Bills we can ask: 'Where is it? Where is any mention of it?'. None of it has been delivered and none of it will be delivered this year. The Labor Party said it would give an additional $10m every year to assist with retention in schools or the technical college equivalent.

We cannot identify that money. Labor promised $24m a year for the computer education program. It has reduced that now to $18m a year for three years. I refer parents again to the Commonwealth Schools Commission recommendation, which shows that that is far below what would be effective in making their children computer literate.

This is a very important document for the education community. It is looking to the Government to start to honour some of the promises it made to the people. So far, too many of those promises have been broken. I remind Australians that there is now an alternative policy which is based upon the principles of fairness, involvement, choice and excellence. That policy of the Liberal and National parties offers new hope to tertiary students, new fairness for children in schools, and new opportunities for many who need it at present. I will come back during the Committee stage to raise specific criticisms of certain line items in the appropriations. Meanwhile, I hope that as many people as possible will look at the Liberal and National parties new policy on education and support it for what it promises Australian education.