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Thursday, 4 December 1986
Page: 3412

Senator MACKLIN(8.01) —Before the dinner break I was referring to the various cuts that the Budget has made to the States in education generally. I believe that it could be argued that in terms of these reductions in direct Commonwealth grants and in some cases, the total scrapping of these grants, the Minister for Education (Senator Ryan) might claim that the Government is merely following the recommendations of the report, `Quality of Education in Australia', which was presented in April last year. This applies particularly to recommendation 4 in paragraph 13.43 on page 180, which deals with funds, and recommendation 7 on page 183, which deals with disadvantaged schools, participation and equity, basic learning in primary schools, computer education and the like. However, it seems to me that if the Government were following these recommendations, this Budget may have implemented them much more hurriedly than the inquiry anticipated. In quite a number of cases the Government has gone even further than any of the recommendations.

While it may be philosophically possible and administratively desirable to shift the emphasis for carrying out various programs from the Commonwealth to the States, the question which must be addressed is whether, in the light of the current Budget, the States are in a position to be able to pick up the various shortfalls that have occurred and with their own resources fill in those holes that have been created by the Commonwealth Government's cutbacks and scrapping of programs. For instance, if the Minister's statements are accurate, it appears that the State systems and non-government schools systems will have to use the extra general recurrent funding from the Commonwealth to employ many of the English as a second language teachers, paid until now through the general ESL program of the Commonwealth Schools Commission. At best, in any of those types of equations, we are facing an exercise in robbing Peter to pay Paul. Schools and systems no doubt had plans for the increases in general recurrent fundings in 1987. These were committed by the Commonwealth as part of its long term recurrent funding program for government and non-government schools. For example, in 1984 the Government announced a per capita funding program from 1985 until 1992. At that stage there was a great deal of support in this chamber for the Government's initiative to enable schooling systems to undertake rational, long-term planning-to undertake programs which were not `stop-start', for which teachers could be adequately trained which could be sufficiently tried and introduced into the schooling system. The schooling system should know-or so it is hoped-that next year the program would not suddenly disappear. Teachers who undertake special courses should know that there will still be courses for them to teach, to compensate them for that additional effort and work. However, in this Budget a lot of that has been shown to be fanciful thinking on the part of the schooling systems.

I have had a great deal of feedback from many teachers in the system, who have told me that never again will they be caught. They have suffered those stop-start programs under the Fraser Government. They believed, when this Minister set out these long term programs, that this represented both a philosophical and an administrative change. They have said that that is the last time they will engage in that type of activity or believe that governments are really fair dinkum about getting in place long term planning in education in this country.

The Karmel report entitled `Quality of Education in Australia' recommended that the general recurrent grants be directed by way of negotiated agreements between certain priority areas. The Government has accepted the recommendations. Clearly, this long term program, and the notion of educational resource agreements between the various sectors and the Commonwealth, has been used to provide the justification for the reduction in specific programs of the Schools Commission. I think the worry must be the extent to which this change in approach by the Commonwealth is becoming an excuse for these cuts. The capacity of State governments to meet these shortfalls is limited. Page 17 of Budget Paper No. 7 notes the constraints placed on the States by the June 1986 Premiers Conference and Loan Council meeting. It states:

Decisions . . . are estimated to result in the combined total of Commonwealth net payments to and authority borrowings by the State and local government sector in 1986-87 (of) . . . a fall of just under 5 per cent in real terms. Decisions include a confirmation of the arrangements . . . for an increase of 2 per cent in real terms for the major general revenue grants; a reduction in general purpose capital payments . . . of $400m, or 23 per cent from the 1985-86 level of $1,736 million . . .

This represents the largest single reduction in the program since World War II. Taking that into consideration, I think there certainly must be doubts about the capacity of the State sector to expand sufficiently to be able to pick up the leeway that is now being created.

There is certainly, however, some evidence in this Budget that there has not been a full transfer of funds from Commonwealth specific programs to general recurrent funding. Government schools will get an extra amount of about $19m in general recurrent funding, but reductions in funding for specific programs, of course, exceed that amount. Even the funding for the English as a second language program manages to exceed it. A great deal of comment has already been made about changes in funding. The Government has said that other moneys will fill this vacuum. I think that that debate probably should be taken up at another time and in another place. However, when one looks at other items, such as the professional development program, the computer education program, the multicultural education program, the cutbacks in special education and education centres, the capping of the ethnic schools program and the like, one certainly sees that, not only philosophically but also financially, the States are most unlikely to be able to pick up these types of programs.

The debate as to whether the resources for ESL teaching will be maintained at the present level, however, probably begs the question as to whether the maintenance of present levels is adequate anyway. It is not. In this regard I rely upon the recently released report of the Government's Committee for the Review of Immigration and Multicultural Programs and Services. The report, entitled `Don't Settle for Less' was released in November. It is a report on stage one of the review. It states that English proficiency is the most important factor in enabling people to participate equitably in Australian life. But it also found that both adults and children were not getting adequate language education. It said, for example, that English tuition is often withdrawn before students have had the opportunity to succeed in school. It cited poor logistics and the shortage of resources for adults. At the same time as this apparently inadequate provision for ESL teaching to meet the needs of existing numbers of Australians from non-English speaking backgrounds, there is talk by the Minister for Immigration and Ethnic Affairs (Mr Hurford) about the desirability of increasing immigration. Arguments for this are put almost solely on economic grounds. The Minister for Immigration and Ethnic Affairs said in a Press release on 10 April this year:

More immigrants will help create a large domestic market, stimulate trade, facilitate structural change and provide the potential for Australia to play a positive role in developing the South-East Asian and Pacific economy . . . More immigrants will also help to offset Australia's low natural birthrate, the loss of permanent residents-including young skilled people-leaving Australia, and an aging population.

These are points with which the Australian Democrats totally agree. However, one can no longer continue the operation-which seems to be a mindset of Australians since World War II-that immigrants somehow or other will be cheap labour for the rest of us. When we seek immigrants to come to this country for our good we also accept an obligation to make sure that they are able to participate equitably in Australian life. I quote the Minister for Education (Senator Ryan), who is at the table, who made this point very firmly. She said:

They have to be able to do that.

I quote the report, which has re-emphasised the point made by the Minister that they have to have this type of language support to be able to participate equitably. This Government, which has the political and constitutional control with regard to immigration, this Government which has the obligation to deal with this area, is now foisting on to the States an obligation which is not theirs, and it is not adequately funding them to enable them to undertake the task. We know what the problems are. They have been pointed out by the Minister herself; they have been pointed out now by a committee of inquiry. Yet we find the exact opposite of what is recommended occurring. I would like to quote from a very interesting paper given by Professor Butlin of the Australian National University at a recent conference when he talked about this Australian view of immigrants as a cheap source of fully equipped human capital. He said:

The basic education of accompanying families was provided, until World War II, within the overhead provisions of an English-speaking education system . . . After World War II, only rudimentary language instruction was provided to non-English migrants, despite their numbers. This reluctance to provide special education reflects the view of immigration as a cheap source of human capital. The unwillingness to provide adequate training for growing families with the very recent cuts in special English language teaching for these children illustrates the niggardly and short-term attitude to human capital in Australia.

I think that is perfectly correct, and I think what we see here in this overall budgetary context is a continuation of that attitude to immigrants as a reneging on the Government's constitutional responsibilities to make sure that it provides adequate training, adequate support and adequate language facilities, both to children and to their parents-which, of course, is often conducted through the schooling system-so that those immigrants are able to participate equitably in Australian life.

If in fact that report is true in saying that the resources are being withdrawn from those children before they have a chance to succeed in school-I do not know whether the Minister disagrees with that conclusion of the report-not only should we not be cutting funds to ESL, but also we have a specific obligation, a Commonwealth obligation, to increase those funds. Otherwise, the Minister for Immigration and Ethnic Affairs is talking through his hat and we should not be looking at inviting more people to this country simply for them to be able to be used by those of us here as cheap labour. The only way we can ask people to come to this country from non-English speaking countries is to make sure that we offer adequate support to them when they come here-adequate support for them to be able to find themselves in this country and to make sure that their children have a chance equal to the chance of the people here to grow and prosper in this country as citizens of Australia.