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Thursday, 3 December 1959

Mr REYNOLDS (Barton) .- I wish to refer to a problem that was mentioned at question time to-day, namely, the shortage of teachers in Australia. I am very pleased that the acting Prime Minister (Mr. McEwen) has been generous enough to remain in the chamber during this adjournment discussion. In the negotiations with the State Premiers on this subject, the right honorable gentleman showed a sympathy with them in their problems which I cannot attribute to the Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies) himself.

At question time to-day, the honorable member for Grey (Mr. Russell) asked whether attention would be given to obtaining as immigrants teachers from the Old Country. In New South Wales - I am pretty sure that this applies also to other States - more recruits are available than the States are able to accept for teachertraining purposes. Last year, in New South Wales, some thousands of students, having diligently pursued their studies up to the leaving certificate standard, made application to join the teaching service of that State, but the education authorities were unable to accept them, first, because of an insufficiency of teacher-training institutions and related facilities, and secondly, because the New South Wales Government, despite its record expenditure on education - a record not only in relation to the actual sum involved, but also as a proportion of a State budget - considered that it had not sufficient money available to employ additional teachers.

I have raised this matter a number of times since I have been a member of this House. I felt that I had an obligation to do so, because I have three young children of my own and I was formerly a member of the New South Wales teaching service. In addition, for five years I was associated with the training of teachers. Therefore, I hope it will be accepted that I can speak with some authority in this matter. I am further reminded of my obligations as I visit the various teaching institutions at this time of the year in connexion with Christmas functions. Everywhere I go I am asked whether it appears that the federal Government will be converted to the proposition that it should do something to relieve the great financial pressure that is imposed on the States by the obligation to provide education facilities. In almost every school in the country, classes are overcrowded. Thousands of children are being denied proper educational opportunities. If those opportunities are not provided to them now, they may never be able to take advantage of them. This is a tragic state of affairs, not only from the point of view of the individual children, but also - I say this in all sincerity and with a sense of responsibility - from the point of view of the country as a whole.

Other nations of the world are committing themselves to a vastly greater finan cial contribution to education than we are doing. In this respect, we could with advantage follow the example of other countries. For example, the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics is devoting 15 per cent, of its national income to the provision of education facilities at all levels. The United States of America is making up its leeway in this field. That country has a federal system of government similar to ours. Recognizing its obligation in this matter, the American Federal Government is assisting the individual States of that country to a considerable extent to provide the educational facilities that are necessary. Even in the Australian Capital Territory, I understand that a plea is being made for more teachers. Even in this Territory, which is pretty adequately treated in respect of education, there is a teacher-training shortage.

I know that this is not altogether an appropriate time to make a long speech on this subject, but I have raised it because the schools are now breaking-up and in the new academic year complaints will be heard on every hand about overcrowding and about insufficient teachers being available. Honorable members on both sides of the House know that the teacher-training institutions are asking for assistance. The parents and citizens' associations throughout the country are directing attention to the matter. Mothers' clubs and expert educationalists throughout Australia are looking to the Federal Government to render assistance in this matter. If our children are to get a fair go and this nation is to develop comparably with other modern nations, it is imperative that the Federal Government makes available adequate finance for education.

I urge the acting Prime Minister to ask the Universities Commission to consider placing teacher-training institutions in the same category as the universities in relation to grants. After all, teacher training is an aspect of tertiary education. Therefore, teacher-training institutions should be eligible on the same basis as universities for financial assistance. If the Commonwealth could relieve the States of their responsibility to finance teacher-training institutions, the States would be able to expend the money now devoted to this purpose on the provision of school buildings and other education facilities. I am sure that my plea on behalf of the teacher-training institutions will be endorsed by many honorable members on both sides of the House.

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