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Monday, 4 June 1984
Page: 2414

Senator PETER BAUME(3.26) —I move:

That the Senate take note of the papers.

I wish to make a few comments on the statement made by the Minister for Education and Youth Affairs (Senator Ryan) and the Government's response to the report of the Commonwealth Schools Commission on the working party on computer education. It is clear from the Government's response that the Commonwealth commitment to computer education is cosmetic, inadequate and less than was promised by the Australian Labor Party before it came to power. They are three serious charges, but are borne out by an examination of the responses of the Minister to the various recommendations brought down by the working party.

First, the Government has promised only $18m for computer education over a triennium. This is only part of what the Government promised the Australian people. The losers will be children throughout Australia. Children will suffer because this Government, having promised the bait, failed to deliver when the time came. It is only part of what the Government promised, it is only a third of what we promised, and only a quarter of what the Commonwealth Schools Commission recommended was necessary to give Australian children an adequate computer education. Although what the Liberal Party and the National Party promised is a little less than recommended by the Commonwealth Schools Commission, it is much closer.

The allocation of $18m will not do the job. The Government's response tabled by the Minister bears that out. I refer honourable senators to the response to recommendation (29). That recommendation the Commonwealth Schools Commission asks as a matter of urgency to establish certain mechanisms. It describes three things it has to do relating to the development of softwear and coursewear; it allows for the marketing of such softwear, and assessment of its use. I emphasise that those are recommended as a matter of urgency. The recommendation was endorsed by the Commonwealth Schools Commission in the report that the Senate is now considering. But the Government's response to this recommendation of urgency is to accept the recommendation, provided that the Schools Commission can find the money somewhere else. The Government has made it clear that it will not put up any cash to allow the children of Australia access to softwear for computer education. The words of the Government response are as follows:

Accepted, subject to funds being available from existing sources and advice from the Curriculum Development Centre.

That is another way of saying 'We think it is a good idea, but there is no money for it'. What is likely to happen is that the Government will close the door on the development of softwear and coursewear which are essential to any kind of effective computer program.

Second, I draw attention to recommendation (4) of the working party, which I submit is a sound and sensible recommendation. In effect, that recommendation says that there is a need to ensure that both primary school children and secondry school children throughout Australia should have access to and the benefit of computer education. The Government's response and the Minister's statement make it quite clear that the Government intends to concentrate on secondary school children at present; that is an inadequate response and a direct consequence of the failure to put up the resouces to make computer education properly available. We have been concerned throughout that this Government has been just playing with computer education and made a cosmetic response, inadequate in amount. Not only that, if the Goverment has a commitment to the needs of Australian children in all schools, the distribution of money between various school systems, between government and non-government systems, is clearly inequitable, as is the distribution of the money between secondary and primary schools. It means that a generation of primary school children who could have expected access to computer education will not receive it under this totally inadequate response by a government which does not really care, but just indulges in rhetoric.

Question resolved in the affirmative.