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Thursday, 4 December 1986
Page: 3405

Senator PETER BAUME(5.54) —The Senate is now debating a group of Bills-the States Grants (Tertiary Education Assistance) Amendment Bill (No. 3) 1986, the States Grants (Education Assistance-Participation and Equity) Amendment Bill (No. 2) 1986 and the States Grants (Schools Assistance) Amendment Bill (No. 2) 1986-which come up each year at this time and which provide ongoing funding for tertiary education. They provide ongoing Federal funding for schools and they provide funding, such as it is now, for the participation and equity program known as PEP. These Bills give the Opposition an opportunity to comment on the general thrust of the Government's approach to tertiary and secondary education and to talk about the Government's approach to participation and equity.

I will start with higher education and turn first to the States Grants (Tertiary Education Assistance) Amendment Bill (No. 3). As my colleague Peter Shack has said in another place, now is the time to plan for the twenty-first century, to look at what Australia's tertiary system will be like in the next century. This is the time to examine how the future of our civilisation is developing and to determine that Australia will be among the highly educated, highly trained, highly skilled and highly motivated societies. Unless we are, we will fall behind in the contest for jobs and wealth in the world.

I want Australia to succeed in all of those things, to be able to provide high levels of skills, good levels of education, high levels of training and high levels of motivation. To do that we will have to alter and dramatically improve our education policies. It will not happen while we continue to turn away eligible students from our technical colleges, while we turn away eligible students from our colleges of advanced education and while we turn away educated and eligible students from our universities. This happens at the present time because our system is an exclusive system, a closed system, where total numbers are determined. Unless one is a private overseas student who can buy a place and unless one wins one of the available places which are there for resident Australians, there is no way in this country that one can get a tertiary education. Of course, Australians who miss out in our closed system can travel to North America or England but that is not desirable and that is not what we want to see.

While the numbers I am about to give are to some extent approximations, it is said on the basis of best estimates that the unmet demand in the technical and further education sector equals something like 75,000 places for eligible young Australians-people who want to do nothing more than to improve their skill levels. It is said that in the higher education sector-universities and colleges-the unmet need may be as high as 30,000 places. A recent report in the Melbourne Herald talked about 15,000 young Australians being turned away from technical and further education colleges in Victoria alone this year. If those figures are approximations, the total figures I have given are likely to be correct.

This is a disgrace for us as a nation. We should not be exclusive; we should not be turning away people when all they want to do is improve their skills, improve their capacities and improve what they have to offer Australia. We should be raising standards. We should be helping more young Australians to become eligible for tertiary education. Instead we are turning away eligible people. What a disincentive this is to other young Australians to raise their performance. The difficulty is that to achieve the things I seek it will be necessary, fundamentally, to change the method of funding tertiary education because that is the core of the problem we face today in Australia. During the few years of growth in tertiary education, brought about by greater government subvention, we have seen the higher education sector increase its numbers to a limited extent. The Opposition welcomes this and congratulates the Government on the extra places it has provided, but while there are people who may be qualified and want to get into higher education, the situation is unsatisfactory.

It is quite wrong to assume that any year 12 examination at the end of schooling is an adequate or accurate predictor of the way people will perform in tertiary education. When I went to university there was a basic matriculation standard. Anyone who passed that standard could enrol in the first year of university. At the end of the first year there was a sorting out process which involved a fairly harsh examination. However, the one thing that emerged from that system was that some people who had just scraped through school blossomed at university and some people who had been high flyers at school and who had done well in year 12 could not cope at all with university. It is not adequate to say: `We will make judgments on people at year 12 and unless they are in the school elite we will not provide places for them in our higher education system'.

The capacity of our universities and our colleges to expand still further is constrained by one thing. It is constrained by the amount of government subvention available to feed those colleges and universities. This has always been difficult. It was difficult enough in a period of high growth when there was plenty of money around, whether that high growth was part of a general boom or just due to particularly propitious funding of higher education. But this situation becomes impossible at a time of economic hardship and downturn and at a time of financial constraint. Over the last few years we have discussed on a number of occasions the squeeze that is going on in which higher education institutions are required to do more with relatively less input.

It is only by breaking the public monopoly on tertiary education-by saying that it is not enough to demand for award purposes that it always and totally be publicly funded-that major and rapid expansion can take place in the tertiary education sector. The funding restrictions on institutions, which deny those institutions the opportunity to maximise their resources by drawing on non-government sources of finance, really have to be removed in the interests of the nation.

I am reminded of one institution in this country, the Western Australian Institute of Technology, which has shown enormous entrepreneurial spirit. Because it is not allowed to have fee paying courses, that institution, or some subsidiary of it, has established fee paying courses in Singapore. People are enrolled in Singapore for courses run in some kind of association with the Western Australian Institute of Technology. People want to take those courses. They want the advantage that an Australian education has to offer. But, while ever education is totally underwritten as a matter of government policy by the public purse, and while the public purse cannot meet the needs of all those who want to enrol, so long will the system be unsatisfactory. The breaking of this government monopoly stands alongside the reform of our antiquated industrial relations system as a major challenge for today's and tomorrow's leaders. A breakthrough in both those cases would pave the way for a much brighter future for the nation.

One example of the ideological constraints within which this Government operates can be seen by the Government's reaction-reaction it is-to the proposal by certain people to establish a private university in Queensland. Despite the huge unmet demand for student places that exists, in Queensland as in other parts of Australia, and in spite of the support for the proposal by the Australian Vice-Chancellors Committee, the proposal has been rejected out of hand by the Government.

Levels of funding for higher education have risen. But so has demand, not least because of increased retention of students in schools until the end of year 12. The inadequate number of places, compared with the number of people seeking to fill them, not only is denying places to potential students but also means that equipment available for current students is totally inadequate in many cases because of the other arm of funding which goes to equipment and capital. A survey of college directors and principals of colleges of advanced education has revealed that more than half of the equipment, 54 per cent, in colleges of advanced education, is obsolete. A further 10 per cent is unserviceable. Universities fare little better. Eighteen per cent of their equipment is obsolete and 16 per cent is unserviceable. In fact, the Hon. Barry Jones, the Minister for Science, the man who had a nightmare that only he and Tom Uren would be in the outer Ministry if the Cabinet kept increasing, that same Barry Jones, has admitted that about one-fifth of all important equipment in Australian higher education research institutions is unserviceable, obsolete or inadequate and that its replacement or upgrading is beyond the capabilities of the institutions. This really is an issue which the Government must address both out of fairness to students and out of fairness to universities. I must say that I serve on a university council. This is one of the problems we face continually and one of the problems with which we cannot grapple with the resources available to us. In that respect I draw attention to the woefully small amount of $4m which has been provided to technical and further education to buy new equipment at a time when that sector is expected to cater for all new traineeships being granted under the Priority One scheme and when it is supposed to train apprentices and give people vocational and trade training when it has almost nothing available in the way of capital money.

Labor's priorities are set out clearly. They are priorities of financial management. They are not educational priorities. At the moment the sector is constrained. It is a sector which has lost a lot of its hope and vigour and a sector which is depressed and demoralised. I hope that the Labor Party will do what it can to overcome those difficulties because they are not to our national advantage.

I turn now to secondary education and to the funding available for schools under these Bills. The Opposition has two major concerns about secondary education to which I will refer. The first is the attack by Labor on the special programs that were funded by the Commonwealth to assist the disadvantaged and those with special needs. They include magnificent programs such as the English as a second language program and special education programs for people with visual or hearing disability. These have been slashed by the Labor Government for 1987 in a most unfair and inequitable way. The cuts in these funds have been commented on by the Commonwealth Schools Commission in harsh and direct terms. It is a significant set-back for education in this country that these things have happened.

The second concern that we have with this legislation is the continuing war being waged by this Labor Government against certain non-government schools in Australia. The Government has withdrawn funding for professional development, for computer education and for multicultural education. The necessity for and merits of these programs were trumpeted to me by the now Minister for Education (Senator Ryan) when she sat here and when I was in her position. She told us then how excellent these programs were, how important they were and what they would contribute. But this year, under her stewardship, we find that they have been slashed and that the people who will suffer are some of the most needy and vulnerable people in Australian society. Why do we cut out Commonwealth contributions to computer education as Australia is trying to move into a more technologically advanced age? Why do we do that as we are trying to move into the information era? What a strange set of priorities for a Labor Government.

As well as abolishing some of the multicultural education programs, the Government has cut funding for English as a second language. It is those programs that have helped to make Australia not only a multicultural but also a harmonious multicultural society. What is the educational goal or purpose or the educational merit in cutting these programs? It is no wonder that Australia's large and very welcome ethnic communities have expressed a sense of outrage at this Budget priority. How can I do better than to quote the words of Senator Graham Richardson, a Labor senator for New South Wales, on this decision. He said:

If I sat down for a month and tried to work out how to offend and how best to hurt . . .

the ethnic community-

I would have cut back the English as a second language program. The decision was not only bad politics it was wrong in principle and implementation.

I end Senator Graham Richardson's quote right there. It is damning criticism, from a Labor senator, of Senator Susan Ryan and of her priorities-priorities which no doubt she supports to the hilt; otherwise why would she bring them in here? They are criticisms which have been made not by the Opposition on this occasion, but from within the Labor Party and by Labor's senior numbers man.

All students will suffer, not only by the cutting of those programs but by the decision to cut out the professional development program that gave help and a fillip to our teachers. The disadvantaged will be hurt by the cuts to the special education programs which are designed to help those with special educational disadvantage. Here are Labor's priorities laid bare in front of us.

If there have to be cuts in the education budget, the cuts will be made on migrants, the disadvantaged and those in need of special education. The Government gets rid of computer training in the age of the computer and forgets about the professional development of teachers when everyone knows that that is one of the most critical things needed in Australia today. I am a member of the Northern Districts Education Centre in Cheltenham in north-western Sydney. The funding for our centre has been withdrawn completely. That is a great set of priorities! All the centre was trying to do was to develop computer programs and software which would help make education more efficient and useful.

Senator Boswell —They took the one out of Wynnum, too.

Senator PETER BAUME —As my colleague says, the Government withdrew funding for the centre at Wynnum, too. The Government has cut funding for six or seven of these centres. One from Victoria has gone. What a strange set of priorities, no doubt endorsed completely by the Minister, as she has done it. Labor has slashed away at some of the most important educational programs we had in place.

Let me now deal with the continuing attack on non-government schools. The attack started as soon as Senator Ryan became Minister for Education. Well I remember how we in the Opposition, together with non-government school representatives, repelled her frontal attack to take away funding for the non-government school sector. Her attempts were defeated by a campaign waged by the Opposition and by a very large coalition in the community. Eventually, a very welcome guaranteed funding formula for non-government schools was put in place-recurrent funding. Then began the administrative war against non-government schools, a more subtle attack. It began before the re-shuffle in the Opposition early last year. Since then my colleague, Mr Peter Shack, has had to watch and report on what has been happening.

There were three major areas of attack. First, the Connor Panel report recommended that some non-government schools, even though they met State Government eligibility criteria, not be funded. It recommended that only some new non-government schools be funded. Secondly, the funding formula for non-government schools was so structured that there was no incentive for schools to seek additional private funds. A penalty was attached; every dollar they raised they would lose. But at the same time, if their private funding effort dropped, those schools would be accused of not maintaining their effort and that funding would not be replaced. So those schools were obliged to remain absolutely static. They would be punished if they went either way.

The third area of attack was the introduction of new, intrusive reporting requirements to allow the Government to know more about and to control more of the aspects of the running of non-government schools which, in many cases, which were absolutely none of a national government's business. Most of what I foreshadowed a couple of years ago, when the campaign to try to protect non-government schools was running, has come to pass. A large number of new non-government schools have not been funded and the war of attrition on existing schools has been stepped up.

It is the wish of the Opposition to move an amendment to draw attention to our concern about what is happening in the non-government school sector. Therefore, I formally move the amendment which has been circulated in my name on behalf of the Opposition as an attachment to the second reading of the States Grants (Schools Assistance) Amendment Bill (No. 2) 1986.

Senator Macklin —No; it is not an attachment; it is a deletion.

Senator PETER BAUME —Okay. The amendment is to the effect that the Bill be withdrawn. Senator Macklin is quite correct. The amendment that has been circulated is what I shall move. I move:

Leave out all words after ``That'', insert:

``the Bill be withdrawn and redrafted to provide for-

(a) the removal of constraints imposed on non-government schools, or on non-government school communities, which will in any way destroy their independence or opportunities for expansion or interfere with the special character of non-government schools; and

(b) the restoration of funding for the English as a Second Language General Support Element, to ensure that students from non-English speaking backgrounds continue to enjoy access to specialist language tuition and to maintain and enhance their learning potential''.

I turn to the participation and equity program, which had its funding slashed by Labor last year. Let me remind the Senate that the participation and equity program incorporated special programs, such as the educational program for unemployed youth, which the Fraser Government had run and put them together in one program. The participation and equity program was launched with a blare of trumpets as to what it was going to do for education. It had extra money put into it, and we were told that it was going to bring in a new era of participation and equity in education. It replaced and incorporated a number of measures, principally the school to work transition program which we put in place. What happened? Within a year, the Australian Labor Party decided to stop all that funding. It is the same old story. It is a set of priorities in which one puts the cuts first on the most needy, the most disadvantaged, those most in need of help. It is what Labor has been doing right across the spectrum. Those who were using the school to work transition program were some of the most educationally disadvantaged people we have.

Last year it was decided to stop the program and Labor, with a bit of double talk, said that one year's funding was to be spread over two years. Then the program was to stop. When it was introduced no indication was given that it was just a one-off program. Every indication was that it was a program which would continue to help people who needed school to work transition education, and it would continue to support programs to increase participation. But it is not to be. The Labor Party has discontinued the program. We are now watching it coming to an end. It is a disgrace. The people who have used the program have been people whose educational and social need is very great. They are the kinds of people whom any old time Labor government would have supported as a first priority.

In summary, we are concerned about some of the priorities of the Labor Party in its approach to education. We are concerned that the cuts which are reflected in these Bills seem to be falling upon the most vulnerable, the most needy and the least able to protect themselves. We are concerned that while the subsidies to the middle class have been kept up, the subsidies to those most in need have been cut. We are concerned that in the higher education area too little has been done to overcome the fact that thousands of Australians are still being turned away from the gates of our colleges and universities for no greater crime than that they wish to improve their educational capacity and their skills. I commend the amendment we have moved.