Note: Where available, the PDF/Word icon below is provided to view the complete and fully formatted document
 Download Current HansardDownload Current Hansard   

Previous Fragment    Next Fragment
Wednesday, 10 October 1984
Page: 1524


Senator PETER BAUME(10.50) —The Senate is debating a package of three education Bills, the States Grants (Schools) Assistance Bill, the States Grants (Tertiary Education Assistance) Bill and the States Grants ( Education Assistance-Participation and Equity Amendment) Bill (No. 2), and has agreed to take them together. These three Bills make up the Government's funding package as contained in the education guidelines for schools and tertiary education announced over the last few months. The Opposition is pleased to consider the Bills together and is also grateful to the Government for having agreed to expedite debate on these matters. The reason we want the debate expedited is that the Opposition will propose some amendments, including some amendments in the Committee stage of the States Grants (Tertiary Education Assistance) Bill, and we would like the opportunity for those amendments, if they are successful here, to be considered in another place before it rises for the election which is due.

I indicate in advance that the amendments which we will press relate to certain discretions which have been given to the Minister for Education and Youth Affairs under the legislation. I indicate that while we do not mind the Minister having those discretions we believe they are of a character which properly should be the subject of the scrutiny of Parliament. We will move appropriate amendments to have the appropriate provisions of the Acts Interpretation Act apply to those matters.

Last night in another place during the cognate debate on these Bills I heard the honourable member for Petrie (Mr Wells) observing that there had been increases in funding, including an increase in 1983, which he welcomed and which he attributed to the actions of the Hawke Government. The 1983 funding increases , which were real, of course were put into place by the legislation equivalent of that which we are considering now and which passed through this place at the end of 1982. To the extent there were increases in certain funding areas for 1983 these increases occurred during my time as Minister. I was delighted to hear the honourable member for Petrie welcome those increases, but let us be clear that it has been a determination of several governments to see the maximum possible contribution to educational activity in Australia and to see that extra real funding is going into education in various areas. We welcome that that occurred for the 1983 calendar year as well as for the 1984 calendar year and, now, for the 1985-87 triennium.

On behalf of the Opposition I place on record with no equivocation the fact that we welcome the good news for some educational activity which is contained in this legislation. We welcome extra funds whenever these are provided to help educational activity. We congratulate any government that can find its way clear to provide those extra funds. There is nothing mean or mealy-mouthed in the way we offer those thanks. However, that will not stop us drawing attention properly to certain matters within the legislation which require critical comment. That is not to say that it is not good legislation. But there are still matters which have caused concern to education authorities and amongst the provisions there are still some matters which are causing some alarm to education authorities and which are the cause of continuing concern within the sector.

I will deal very quickly with the States Grants (Education Assistance- Participation and Equity) Amendment Bill. This Bill merely brings together in one piece of legislation the funds that will flow to the participation and equity program under programs both for schools and technical and further education. The Opposition has no argument with the way the Government has decided to fund this program. There has been a little criticism on the ground that in this first year of the program there has been some delay in some of the funds reaching institutions which are the end users-for example, schools. We were able to get confirmation in the recent Estimates Committee examination of the fact that some schools were only now, at the beginning of term three, receiving their participation and equity program money to be spent during the remainder of the calendar 1984 school year. That is a very small criticism. We welcome the PEP program, we note the increased funding, and we wish the Government success in achieving the goals it has been seeking in that program.

As for the other two Bills, the States Grants (Schools Assistance) Bill and the States Grants (Tertiary Education Assistance) Bill are more substantial pieces of legislation and will require more comment. In regard to the schools assistance Bill we welcome some of the increases in funding and we are pleased to see that the Bill makes provision for four-year funding in certain educational matters. But I must say to the Minister for Education and Youth Affairs that, despite the considerable reassurances in the Bill, there are still uncertainties within the educational community. Different signals are being received from different parts of the government apparatus. For example, the signals that were received from the Labor Party Conference recently regarding the funding of, say, non-government schools were different signals from those which have been received subsequently from the Government. Many of the people to whom I talk ask me the simple question: Does not the Labor Party Conference lay down the policy of the Labor Party for the next two years, did it not lay down a certain value position on school funding, and is that value position still that to which the Party adheres? All the Labor people to whom I have spoken tell me that that is correct and that the Conference did lay down a policy; it did agree to a policy on school funding matters and the values adopted. I understand that those matters do remain the policy of the Australian Labor Party.

That policy, as enunciated and accepted by the Conference, still gives considerable concern and worry to many parts of the school community. The Conference decisions are still there in the background. The Government has decided to undertake what might be called perhaps a death bed repentance in view of the way the issue is running, but a repentance nevertheless. This legislation is not consistent with the decisions of the ALP Conference. This legislation, I am pleased to say, puts into position for four years funding for non-government schools and lays down principles for government school funding. The guidelines give an indication of which way the Government wishes to go between now and 1992 , but still there is uncertainty as to what the Labor Conference proposed and the extent to which this will bind, or could bind, a Labor government, if it still remains in power.

The Bill puts into effect a number of changes that were indicated in the guidelines. These include the change from four to 12 funding categories for non- government schools. It puts into effect new requirements for the approval of non -government schools for funding, a matter to which I shall return in a moment. It also puts into effect new requirements for the maintenance of effort by government schools and non-government schools for the enacting of new resource agreements between the Commonwealth and schools, and a number of other administrative variations. The Opposition does not oppose the States Grants ( Schools Assistance) Bill and we shall be moving an amendment to the second reading motion as an expression of view to be added to the second reading which I shall now discuss. Apart from that we shall be supporting the Bill because we believe it picks up much of what we have been advocating in the past year. To that extent the Opposition is grateful to the Government.

The Bill contains a large number of matters, which I shall not enumerate, but the Opposition is prepared to support most of them. I shall concentrate for a few moments on the requirements in respect of the approval of new non-government schools. The Opposition notes that one of the provisions of the legislation will be the phasing out of impact studies for new schools after 1985. We are glad of this because we believe that such studies serve no useful purpose; we believe that they were the wrong way to go. If the Government wished to impose some kind of control over the establishment of new non-government schools, the Opposition believes that impact studies were never the right way to do it and their phasing out after 1985 will be a good thing. Schools are now required to give 24 months' notice of their intention to open if they wish to receive funds. There may be some discretion to vary this where a school wishes to relocate urgently or to extend its number of years of offering. We are concerned about any constraints placed in the way of community groups wishing to establish new schools. I do not include in that constraints upon minimum numbers because I do not object to the Government's proposals in respect of minimum numbers for new schools. But the Opposition believes that the long notice required will be an unnecessary constraint on the rights of parents who wish to establish new non-government schools.

In the second reading amendment which has been distributed the Opposition expresses the view that this is an inappropriate restriction to place on the establishment of new schools and that the Government should re-examine the issue . Therefore, at the appropriate time the Opposition will seek to add at the end of the second reading motion the words:

', but the Senate-

(a) supports the principle of freedom of choice in education and the right for all parents to be supported in that choice; and

(b) deplores the restriction on the free development of non-Government schools as an expression of the will of parents.'.

I move now to the States Grants (Tertiary Education Assistance) Bill, which will put into effect the Government's plans for the funding of universities, colleges of advanced education and technical and further education for the calendar year 1985 and for the triennium which starts with 1985. The Bill is interesting because it presents the funding of tertiary education in a new way. It is constructed differently from Bills we have seen before and on this occasion relates to function instead of each sector. Previously the legislation was structured around universities, colleges and TAFE. This legislation is now structured around things such as recurrent expenditure, capital expenditure, equipment expenditure and so on. The Bill provides extra real resources. We have nothing but praise for continuing improvement in real resources where this occurs, but the extra resources may not be sufficient to allow all the extra functions which the Government is seeking to have taken up and to allow adequate funding of the extra students who were enrolled at universities and colleges of advanced education over each of the last few years.

In addition to that, the Bill puts into effect the Government's decision to phase out the specific subsidies to halls of residence and university collegiate residences. The Opposition indicates its continuing opposition to this measure. More than that, we are aware of considerable criticism from within the sector and of some remarks by the Universities Council and some of the other councils which indicate that there will still be continuing pressure and continuing problems, even with the funding levels which the Government has provided, especially if the Government wishes to press its priority areas of educational activity.

I remind the Minister of the Journal of Advanced Education, which is the journal of the Federation of College Academics. In the recently produced Volume 7 No. 6 it criticised the Government in several areas. The front page is headed 'Higher education at risk', even though the Federation knew of the allocation of money which the Government has made and the priorities which the Government has set. The college academics cited as unsatisfactory the Government's intervention in the wage case which academics faced earlier this year, an intervention which saw part of their rise set aside for a period of months. The effect of that will be several-fold.

First of all, the Minister has said that some of the savings have enabled more things to be done in higher education. But it is not the function of Australian academics to help pay for the Government's programs in higher education. It is not the job of the sailors to pay for the aircraft carrier. It is quite irrelevant to say that the Government has reapplied the savings from the academics salaries to help provide more in higher education. The academics believe, I think with some justice, that they were ill-treated in the Government 's approach when it went back to the Academic Salaries Tribunal earlier this year. I have been told of specific instances of academics who will be retiring during this interregnum between the time the Government went back to the Tribunal and the time, yet to come, when the full wage rise is passed on to them . For those who retire there will be a permanent and continuing loss of benefit because the final salary on which they retire will be affected adversely. Some of them will suffer for the rest of their lives from the effect of the Government's intervention before the Academic Salaries Tribunal.

The Journal of Advanced Education also takes the Government to task for the inadequacy of its funding guidelines, as it calls them, for the 1985-1987 triennium. It points out, as do the directors of colleges of advanced education, that the funding of extra places is being carried out at short run marginal cost only. They say that this is a continuation of a trend-I will come back to this in a moment-which in the end will affect adversely the standard of education in Australia. The third thing to which the Journal of Advanced Education refers is the fact that any reference to the independence of the Commonwealth Tertiary Education Commission has been removed from the Australian Labor Party platform. It was part of the ALP platform; it is no longer there.

I draw the Minister's attention to some of the comments of the Universities Council in relation to the amounts of money which have been provided. In paragraph A1.5 the Council says:

However the funds currently allocated for the 1985-87 triennium fall well below even the levels sought by the commission. They are certainly inadequate to implement fully the increased student intake expected in the Guidelines, the emphasis on technological change, and the other special initiatives such as the introduction of key centres, the expanded equity program and plans for the increased participation of Aborigines.

The Minister has to acknowledge that even her own advisers in the Commission and in the councils are saying that the amount of money is inadequate to do the jobs which have been sought from them. I note in the Report for the 1985-87 Triennium recently produced by the Tertiary Education Commission that table A1.2 shows that the staff-student ratios are not improving. There are still 11.6 students to each staff member. I might say that that figure appears to have been static for several years. The table shows in relation to State universities that the general recurrent grant, the amount of money available for each student attending them, is continuing to drop in real terms. The amounts shown were $7, 780 per student in 1980 and for 1985 almost $600 less using December 1983 dollars. It is a very brief table produced by the Minister's own advisers and I seek leave to have it incorporated in Hansard.

Leave granted.

The table read as follows-

Table A1.2

STUDENT/STAFF RATIOS AND EXPENDITURE PER EFTSU AT STATE UNIVERSITIES, ACTUAL 1980-1984, ESTIMATED 1985

1984 1985

1980 1981 1982 1983 (prelim.) (Est.)

Student/Staff Ratios(a) 10.7 10.8 11.2 11.6 11.6 (b)11.6 General Recurrent Grants(a) per EFTSU ($) 7,780 7,700 7,590 7,450 7,300 7,250

(a) Excludes advanced education activities at the University of Wollongong and James Cook University.

(b) The actual numbers of new academic staff appointed from within the additional funds available will depend on the levels at which individual universities make appointments.


Senator PETER BAUME —I am grateful to the Minister and to the Senate. The other table to which I wish to draw attention is table B3.1, also prepared by the Tertiary Education Commission. This, of course, has been done on advice from the Advanced Education Council. It appears on page 100 of volume 2, part 2. This table restates the information that I gave a little earlier. It talks about average recurrent funds-the number of dollars per equivalent full time student for advanced education-and how that has changed since 1976 and how it is expected to change through to 1987. The Council has considered funding in the year 1976 to be an index value of 100 and it shows that by 1987 this will have dropped progressively, including a drop over the years of the Hawke Government as it is proposed in these guidelines, to a figure of 86.6. I note that in the last year of the Fraser Government, when I was Minister, the index figure was 90 .2 and that it has dropped under Senator Ryan's stewardship and is proposed to drop even further in the years to come. I seek leave to have this table incorporated in Hansard-again, it is a brief table-just to make the point that there is a continuing squeeze upon the institutions in relation to the amount of funds available for the support of each of their students.

Leave granted.

The table read as follows-

Table B3.1

AVERAGE RECURRENT FUNDS ($/EFTS) FOR ADVANCED EDUCATION, 1976 TO 1987

(Base 1976 = 100)

Year

Index

1976 100

1977 101.6

1978 99.4

1979 98.1

1980 98.3

1981 96.7

1982 94.0

1983 90.2

1984 88.6

1985 87.8

1986 87.0 estimated

1987 86.6


Senator PETER BAUME —I thank the Minister. I come back to the question of the halls of residence and the students in them. I understand that the Minister wishes to apply some money to institutions for emergency loans. The Opposition has no objection to that. Indeed, we thought that was the subject of an election promise which should have been redeemed earlier. But to do that by taking money away from the students attending halls of residence is to take action without equity, without fairness and without any kind of logic. I remind the Minister of the survey carried out by Professor David Beswick into the halls of residence in which he found, among other things, that more than 80 per cent of those who used the halls of residence come from non-metropolitan Australia. They need the residencies as somewhere in which to locate themselves as they move away from their homes to undertake higher education.

Professor Beswick found that in terms of their social and educational backgrounds they did not appear to be especially privileged, that they represented a group quite typical of the whole higher education population from which they came. Professor Beswick found also that the colleges play an important part in socialising students.

There can be no real logic, no reason, no purpose in the Minister withdrawing this money. Even her advisers in the Commonwealth Tertiary Education Commission did not recommend it. They recommended a different reallocation of the funds for the student residences. Indeed, it is a matter of great regret that the Minister and the Government did not take up the advice of the Tertiary Education Commission in relation to the moneys for halls of residence. The Tertiary Education Commission put up a positive and reasonable suggestion about the way in which that money could be reapplied or reallocated, and it is an approach to which the Opposition is attracted.

I summarise that the Opposition in general supports these Bills. We support the States Grants (Education Assistance-Participation and Equity) Amendment Bill with no reservation. We support the States Grants (Schools Assistance) Bill with the addition of an amendment to the second reading motion, to which I have already referred. We also have an amendment to the second reading motion for the States Grants (Tertiary Education Assistance) Bill. I suggest that it might make it easier for the Senate if I move together the amendment that I have to the States Grants (Schools Assistance) Bill and the amendment that I have to the States Grants (Tertiary Education Assistance) Bill. I seek leave to do that, Mr Deputy President.

Leave granted.


Senator PETER BAUME —I move:

At end of motion, add:

'but the Senate-

(a) in relation to the States Grants (Schools Assistance) Bill 1984-

(i) supports the principle of freedom of choice in education and the right of all parents to be supported in that choice; and

(ii) deplores the restriction on the free development of non-Government schools as an expression of the will of parents.'; and

(b) in relation to the States Grants (Tertiary Education Assistance) Bill 1984-

(i) supports action to satisfy the continuing needs of students in Halls of Residence for specific support after 1985, along the lines recommended by the Commonwealth Tertiary Education Commission; and

(ii) resolves that the Ministerial directions of variation contained in this legislation should be not only laid before Parliament but also subject to Parliamentary disallowance.'.

It remains now only for me to foreshadow very briefly what we mean in relation to the last part of the second reading amendment. At the Committee stage I will move specific amendments designed to make certain ministerial variations to sections 48, 49, 49A and 50 of the Acts Interpretation Act. The effect of that action would be merely that, if the Minister exercised the power which she proposes to have under this Act to make variations, such variations would be subject to disallowance by the Parliament, like regulations and all other subordinate legislation. I will present that argument at the Committee stage. Again, it is because of these amendments that we have sought to expedite consideration of these Bills. I thank the Government for having acceded to our request. I indicate again our general support for the legislation.