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Wednesday, 10 October 1984
Page: 1532

Senator MACKLIN(11.48) — The States Grants (Tertiary Education Assistance) Bill 1984, the States Grants (Schools Assistance) Bill 1984 and the States Grants (Education Assistance-Participation and Equity) Amendment Bill (No . 2) 1984 are essentially the Australian Labor Party's record in education for the coming election. I think it is instructive to look at the record contained in those Bills to find out what it is attempting to say to the electorate that it has done about education. Essentially the Labor Party Government has done what the previous Liberal-National Party Government has done. Here we have a policy of more of the same, more tinkering, more warmly titled programs, more good intentions and more hand wringing, that Australia cannot afford to give its young people a future. The Labor Party Government has also confused participation with attendance. Undoubtedly enrolments are rising but why are they rising? The main reason has to be the economy.

Currently over half a million young people in this country between the ages of 15 and 19 are not employed. One out of every five of our young people are out of a job. Is it small wonder that parents are sending their children back to school because what else can they do with them? What else are they able to do? It is very odd, is it not, that parents in Australia now are in a situation in which they want to give their children a better chance in life. Yet they are not thinking about that. They are thinking about how much worse it will be for their children to be able to make their way in society. Young people, of course, are also reacting. They are reacting in the ways that one would imagine young people would react. Some of them are working twice as hard and becoming frenetic at their studies and lots of others are looking at their brothers and sisters who have been educated, who have achieved their grades in school and who are still out of work. They are asking: 'Why bother?'. That is filtering back down through the education system making it so much more difficult for teachers in the classrooms.

The Australian Labor Party Government has directed its undoubted political talents to keeping the votes of private school parents. It will stay in government because of that achievement but I wonder how many children of the poor will say thank you. I wonder how many teachers in overcrowded classrooms will say thank you. I wonder how many children and young people in high schools who are there not because they want to be but simply to be child minded will really say thank you. It should be made very clear that Australia is going backwards in education. It has been doing that for years under the previous Liberal-National Party Government and the Labor Party Government has not reversed the trend despite the promises made time and time again. It has not reversed the trend in these Bills. Education-Senator Teague was talking about the money aspect-has lost $1,000m in the Budget since 1977. If the 1977 percentages for education had been maintained there would now be another $1,000m in the education budget. Another $1,000m would be distributed through these Bills that we are talking about now. In other words, education has gone backwards. It has gone backwards in many ways but most directly, in relation to these Bills, it has gone backwards in terms of the amount of money which could be made available for it. The Australian Labor Party, when it was in opposition, was bitterly critical of the Liberal-National Party's allocation to education in the Budgets. The Labor Party while in opposition promised that it would reverse that trend. That has not occurred.

Where is the inventiveness with the funds that these Bills have made available? Where is the innovation? Where are the breakthrough programs? Where is the acknowledgment that our greatest resource in this country is our young people? Where is the national plan for education to which we can look forward? Instead what do we have from this Labor Party Government? We have another committee of inquiry. I am quite sure that that committee of inquiry will do an excellent job . It will produce an excellent report which will look marvellous against all the other reports on the bookcase of the Minister for Education and Youth Affairs ( Senator Ryan). However if education will not be funded what is the use of the report? It will not provide more jobs. It will not provide one teacher with any additional preparation time. It will not lessen by one per cent the enormous cost in Australia in the waste of human lives. That surely is the debate. That surely is what we ought be looking forward to in these Bills but we have not had it.

What else did we get? Recently we got an attack from the Prime Minister (Mr Hawke) on schools and tertiary institutions. He questioned their effectiveness. It is all right to question effectiveness if one is not going to provide additional resources to teachers and lecturers in tertiary institutions to enable them to carry out the tasks which are imposed on them under these very Bills. Australia is eleventh among the countries of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development in the amount of public expenditure that it devotes to education, as a percentage of gross domestic product. This has translated directly into our being the twenty-first out of the 24 OECD countries as an exporter of high technology. That is the bad news; the good news, as Barry Jones has said, is that we are still ahead of Iceland and Turkey. Barry Jones, that person crying in the wilderness in this particular Government, put it in this way, and it was well said:

Can we rethink our concept of 'resource'-to recognise that the nation can be richer through intellectual effort, through using the little grey cells, than through digging things up?

Ignoring the need to develop our most outstanding natural resource, our people, the Labor Government has decided that it is perfectly all right to avoid investing in Australia's human potential, despite what its members said in opposition and despite what they said when they went to the people last year. The Government has provided the basics, undoubtedly, but it has not aimed at the excellence which is required. This Labor Government has followed the dishonourable tradition of the previous Liberal-National Party Government. We have tinkering, tinkering and more tinkering; nothing fundamental; not upsetting anybody; and steady is the course downhill.

The Minister has proclaimed an increase of 15,000 places over three years in the tertiary sector. That certainly sounds great-until one compares it with the growth in population. What we needed were the 23,000 places recommended in the Commonwealth Tertiary Education Commission report just to stay level, just to stay with the growth in population. Anything less, and we are going backwards. Anything less-and we have got less and we shall provide less access for our young people to tertiary institutions. In these Bills we have extraordinary planning priorities. Unfortunately, yet again, we have the looking-at-the-next- election syndrome, and not looking at the next century. But I remind the Senate that the next century is only 16 years away. Surely we cannot afford any longer to go on bargaining with that future. We cannot afford to cut our kids adrift in this country, to have one out of the five of them unemployed, and leave it at that. Whatever priority this Government will give to the development of human or material resources, those decisions, these Bills, will have an enormous impact on national decision-making.

The Minister for Education and Youth Affairs has one of the most important portfolios in relation to the development of this country and to our future. If the Government believes that the natural resources are the most important element, the major questions, surely, are about digging them up and getting them out, and all the more the merrier and the sooner the better. If, however, one shares the view-certainly it is the view of the Australian Democrats-that resources in this country in 1984 have to be defined in human resource terms, it follows that rising participation rates, not just retention, rising standards, increasing our expenditure on research, developing our high technology industries and enhancing the intellectual capacities of our people are what we ought to be talking about.

This Government promised increased participation. Instead, we have increased retention rates, and we have dismally failed to provide the additional resources that will be required to convert those retention rates into participation rates, genuine participation in education. Teachers who are at the work face cannot be expected to carry larger and larger numbers of pupils without additional resources. Teachers cannot work miracles in areas in which the Federal Government and the State governments are admitting impotence. Simply increasing the numbers in schools-that is what this Government has done-is not to increase the life chances of the pupils in those schools. The extraordinary decrease in funds for the professional development of teachers points to a particular frame of mind. One sees that we are seeking to increase the number of pupils and to decrease the amount of money for professional development, and expecting the teacher to translate programs. No matter how brilliantly they are conceived in the participation and equity program, it is ultimately the teacher who translates them into effectiveness in the classroom; it is the teacher who carries out the work, not the person who develops the program. If the teacher does not have the additional resources, that program will be an utter and abject failure. That is what we are confronting. Unfortunately, putting those resources into teachers is not electorally spectacular in any way. But it will work.

When the Australian Labor Party Government came to power, I think that everybody could expect and had reason to expect some radical reforms. That is reasonable in having a Labor Party come to power after being in opposition for so long, and coming to power with a solid political base. Surely we could have expected considerable differences in approach from that which we saw under the conservative Government. But apart from a new brand of sticking plaster, we got nothing.

What are some of these things that we would have looked at? We could have looked at a national plan which included class sizes which were framed on classroom teachers and not on the total number of teachers in schools. We could have been looking at an educational bicentennial project to overcome the capital works deficiencies in all schools in Australia by 1988. We could have looked at an increase in the participation of parents in schools. We could have looked at freedom of choice for parents rather than freedom of choice simply for institutions. We could have looked at the establishment of a national literacy program.

We could have looked at the establishment of open study groups on the Scandinavian model. We could have looked at the implementation of a national language project and policy; at recognition of the needs of isolated children by the provision of increased technology; at genuine self-determination in the education of Aboriginal children; the enactment of a Bill of Rights for young people and children. We could have looked at legislative guarantees of international freedom at the tertiary level; at an Australia-wide statute for tenure; at a tertiary education bicentennial project to rectify the capital works deficiencies in tertiary institutions by 1988.

We could have looked at adjusting capital depreciation rates to compare with private enterprise depreciation rates; at equipment being funded at private enterprise depreciation rates; at the establishment of an Australian research foundation to conduct arm's length operations so that we do not have to go down the line that the American institutions have. We could have looked at making educational allowances at least as attractive as unemployment benefits; at the introduction of an education/work guarantee for all young people in this country ; at a program for on-campus and off-campus accommodation under a national capital works program as a high priority.

We could have looked at funding overseas student places under the foreign affairs budget and not under an education budget; at the creation of new places according to the recommended CTEC level of 23,000, and not on the reduction of 8 ,000 places over the next three years for young Australians. We could have looked at the establishment of an open university with open entrance to allow those people who do not have the qualifications and who have not the ability to attend our current tertiary institutions to have at least one chance in their life of gaining tertiary qualifications. In other words, we could have been looking at some genuine work being done in terms of equity.

We could have looked forward to more things on the Labor Government's coming to power in 1983. Many of those things would not be costly but would provide us with equity in the education system. Instead we have shuffling and more shuffling. The Australian Democrats believe that if this Government genuinely believes that our young people are our greatest resource a budgetary allocation must follow in recognition of that. It is not possible to say 'We recognise that youth is our greatest resource' and then fund that area in the way it is currently being funded. We believe that, more than anything else, we need an education and work guarantee in this country for people under the age of 21. The French Government, which has for so long disappointed the people who elected it to power, announced only a month ago, as part of its five-pronged program for next year, that it would be introducing an education and work guarantee for all young people in France in 1985. Why has it done that? It has recognised that if we do not do that we are storing up for ourselves the most extraordinary social problems for the future.

I am not saying that an education and work guarantee will not be costly, but what is the cost of one in five young people being unemployed? If we want to swap costs, let us do so. One cost is monetary. The present cost is social. In the future that social cost will translate into the most horrendous financial costs of the most staggering kind. If anyone wants to look at research, let him look at the research that has come out of the University of Belfast on endemic unemployment amongst young people and the costs of it to a Budget. Our current education budget will not cover the social costs in the years to come. We will need twice the amount of money we currently spend as a percentage of the Budget to deal with that social cost in the future. We are talking about twice the amount. That is indicated by the research on similar problems in Northern Ireland. People there know something about endemic unemployment.

I appeal to the Minister. Next year, 1985, is the International Year of Youth. Surely we can pledge that this country will have every young person actively engaged in either work or some form of education next year. It is a goal that will cost us-we will have to pay in dollars and cents-but the Australian Democrats would rather employ or educate a young Australian than pay unemployment or social security benefits with the ensuing social disruption and disharmony we will face in this country if we do not get those young people into some form of employment or education. We have to do it. It is not a partisan matter; it is a matter of the lifeblood of this country, it is a matter of this country's future.

Senator Peter Baume —Would you remove the automatic right to the dole from some young people as part of your program?

Senator MACKLIN —No, I do not want to look at the dole. I want to look at everybody doing something.

Senator Peter Baume —Do you want to make the dole less attractive for those who want to make a wrong choice?

Senator MACKLIN —No, I do not want to make anything less attractive. I want to make our future more attractive by having everybody doing something-everybody employed or being educated in some way. That does not mean it must be at a tertiary institution. It does not mean it must necessarily be at a secondary institution. There are many places in Australia where one can gain education. One can gain it on one's father's farm. One can gain it on one's father's fishing boat. One can gain it in an enormous number of places. We need a complete reordering of priorities if we are to achieve that goal. I am sure that this Parliament-certainly I speak for my Party-would support the Government 100 per cent on that. I urge the Government to pledge to this country now that 1 January 1985 will be a radical day for Australia, the day when this country grows up and takes responsibility for its young people. I would not mind this Government's winning an election on that pledge because, if it did so, it would have been an election worth fighting for. At the moment I cannot see what we are fighting about. We are fighting amongst ourselves and the young people are losing.

I ask this Government to pledge that the beginning of next year will mark a radical change. Let the Government win on that pledge and not on the current shuffling in education. Let it win on a radical plan to have everyone of our young people not on the dole, not sitting at home watching television, not engaging in crime and not looking at a bleak future but looking at something they can hope for and that we, on behalf of them, can hope for. I believe that would satisfy education debate well into the year 2000. That would be worth discussing, worth hoping for and, I acknowledge, worth winning an election on. However, at the moment I cannot see it. It is not in these Bills. The hope is not there.