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Wednesday, 24 November 1965


Mr BRYANT (Wills) .- Mr. Deputy Speaker,I thought that during the afternoon we would have the advantage of hearing the views of some members on the Government side in relation to this Bill. I am the third speaker from the Opposition side. One thought that, with the resources at their disposal and their continual claims to be the protagonists of higher education, at least some Government supporters would do the homework necessary to enable them to participate in this debate. I believe that, in doing so, Government members would have been paying a proper tribute to the people who have produced the Second Report of the Committee on Teaching Costs of Medical Hospitals to the Australian Universities Commission and to the significance of higher education at this level in the community. They would also have been carrying out their task as parliamentarians.

One of the things that interest me when we are examining the attitude of the Government to a matter such as the one before us now is this: Who makes the decision? A significantly increasing amount of legislation associated with Commonwealth educational activities is coming before this Parliament. We have before us a report produced by a highly skilled team. True, it comes before us a little late, as has been pointed out by my colleagues, the honorable members for Fremantle (Mr. Beazley) and Barton (Mr. Reynolds). In common with other reports that have been prepared in similar circumstances, some areas of this report have been rejected. I would be interested to find out who made the decision in this regard. It is the belief of honorable members on this side of the House that a Commonwealth Ministry of Education ought to be established. We do not believe that the increasing interest of the Commonwealth in education can be dealt with part time by a Minister who is also the Minister for Works. It certainly cannot be a province in which the Prime Minister (Sir Robert Menzies) can take an acute interest. The Prime Minister of a country such as Australia has enough to do on his own account. Taking a long look at history, I suppose I can say that the less he does in any field the better it is and the less damage he causes. But the point at issue now is that, in the increasingly important role taken of the Commonwealth in the educational sphere, we need a Minister who is answerable directly in this Parliament for education and who has that responsibility as a single function.

We find that in this case recommendations regarding dental hospitals in this report, which was produced by a very important committee set up by the Australian Universities Commission, have been rejected. A significant area of the report associated with honorary teaching in hospitals has been rejected also. This is indicative of the inactivity that the Government exhibited earlier in the year in relation to the report of the Martin Committee. A large portion of that report was associated with teaching. It was rejected. There is also the report of the Vernon Committee, of unhappy memory, which, in the terms of the classics, hardly hit the deck. The thing that concerns mc is the way in which such reports float across the governmental horizon. We have to speak to the Government, not to a Minister. I think the Minister in Charge of Commonwealth Activities in Education and Research is doing the best he can, having regard to the limits within which he operates and they are very conservative. There is continuing flow of statements from him, but there is no doubt that the Commonwealth's present attitude towards education is haphazard and rather perfunctory. I think it is high time that we gathered our ideas together and made a more scientific and planned approach to education.

The recommendations before us relate to teaching hospitals. The Committee, at paragraph 1.5 of its report, said -

The Prime Minister and the State Ministers agreed that medical instruction could not be terminated at the boundary walls of the actual university proper. They considered that the instruction of clinical students in teaching hospitals was a subject which fell within the university concept and not within the ambit of Commonwealth/State hospital relations. As such, it was a problem that would have to be dealt with by the Australian Universities Commission.

This gives the background of the situation. The Prime Minister accepts the overriding importance of the teaching function of hospitals in the medical faculties, and I include the dental faculties as part of the medical faculties if the dentists do not mind being grouped in that way. We are talking about teaching hospitals and about the facilities at teaching hospitals. The report of the Committee gives ample demonstration that the medical section needs greater support; but it gives not only ample demonstration but I think devastating demonstration that the dental section needs immediate assistance.

I would think that at present the teaching functions of the universities are their weakest point. I do not quite know what the answer is, but we can only be distressed at the very high wastage rate in the universities of Australia. The people of Australia - the parents and taxpayers - send students to the universities. I do npt think that " cream " is the correct term, but certainly the people who go to universities are in the top bracket of students. I presume that the average Australian is not much different from the average person to be found elsewhere in the world. At present the top 25 per cent, of students go to universities. If the university system catered only for the top 20 per cent., I believe that it would be unduly exclusive and would need very close scrutiny.

Let us look at the failure rate in the dental faculties. In 1946, 531 students entered the dental faculties at Australian universities, but only 342 of them graduated. In 1947, 619 students entered and of those 292 graduated. The wastage of students who entered in this year was more than 320. In 1948, 448 students entered the dental faculties and of those 224, or only 50 per cent., graduated. We are speaking of a particular group of people. They are people who, on the whole, passed through their secondary education with distinction. They are people who were in the top bracket of students. Year after year in the secondary schools they were in the top 15 or 20 students out of classes of 40 or 50. They were successful at the final matriculation examinations and they entered a university. But the wastage rate 15 years ago was 50 per cent, and in some, instances was more than 50 per cent. Let me come nearer to the present time. In 1957, 219 students entered the dental faculties of Australian universities and five years later 147 graduated. In 1958, 216 students entered first year and 109 graduated later. In 1959, 229 students were admitted and subsequently 136 graduated. In 1960, 267 were admitted and eventually 130 graduated. So the wastage rate is still 50 per cent.

I believe that in these figures we can find the challenge that is before us. I do not think the challenge should be taken up by this Parliament only. It lies before the whole education fraternity of Australia and the faculties in the universities. When this wastage rate extends over what I might call two or three generations of university students, it is time for the nation to take a close look at the system, and it is certainly time for the universities to do so. I know that the staffs of the universities will say: " These students are untrained when they come to us." That is what they said after the war when many students were attending universities under the Commonwealth Reconstruction Training Scheme. It was said then that these students were not properly trained. If we could look at the whole series of remarks that have been made about the wastage of students at universities, we would find that this was almost the continuing theme. We would find in all of them such comments as: " Teaching in the secondary schools is not good. Students come to us unprepared, so there is a vast wastage." The wastage of students at universities is a significant social factor, a devastating personal factor and an expensive economic factor. We have before us a recommendation that the Commonwealth accept greater responsibility for the students in the dental faculties of Australia, but the Commonwealth has rejected the recommendation. I believe that this is a serious departure by the Government from its duty. It is an abdication of its duty. It is a fact that the Commonwealth is becoming increasingly committed to universities and other forms of education. This is not merely a matter of statistics. It is not merely a matter of the Government looking at a series of recommendations and slicing off the one-third or two-thirds that fit into Treasury requirements. This is a challenge that we must face.

I think it is true to say that the failure rate is much the same through all the faculties. It changes from time to time and at different points of reference. There is a considerable culling out of students at the matriculation examinations. Of the students who presented themselves at the matriculation examinations that started in Victoria yesterday, 30 per cent, will be failed. Some skilful character managed to get hold of the English paper for the Victorian examination and was selling copies for £5. He was caught, and that is most appropriate. But this is what goes on, and we should be able to see the significance of it. Matriculation is a major hurdle in a student's educational career. I believe that the Minister in Charge of Commonwealth Activities in Education and Research, who is in another place, is in serious error when he says that matriculation is not necessarily the key to admission to a university. I believe that by definition that is exactly what matriculation is.

The teaching function is now before the Parliament. The only real consideration in this Bill is the teaching function in medicine and dentistry. I believe that the figures show that the dental faculties need special support, but the Government has rejected a recommendation that this support be given. To that extent, the Government deserves the censure of this House and I hope that some of the honorable members on the opposite side who are listening so intently - the six or seven of them who are here - will support the views pf the Opposition. Two major recommendations have been made. The honorable member for Barton and the honorable member for Fremantle mentioned honorary teaching in the medical faculties. This system, of course, is an imposition on the people who have high skills and high professional ethics and who devote their time to it. The report points out that this system is an anachronism and economically an unfair imposition on those who are engaged in it. Of course, it is part of the old charitable attitude towards medicine. It was thought that some people could pay for their medical attention but a lot of people had to accept this attention as a charitable activity. I pay a tribute to those who have given their time to train others. It has been estimated that these people by their own personal efforts provide a subsidy of about £500,000 a year for training medical students. But it is time that we accepted the idea that universities cannot be run in this way. We should accept the view that professional people cannot be trained on a part time, unpaid, voluntary or honorary basis, despite the devotion, dedication and skill of those who provide the training. We must accept the challenge that has been offered to us and we should urge the Government to look carefully at the present system.

Let us consider the proposition that is placed before us. At page 54 of the report of the Committee, the following passage appears - 4.39 If Australia is to attain a ratio of 1:2,000 by 1975, it bas been estimated that some 350-400 new dentists will be required each year.

At present the ratio is one dentist to 2,300 people. As was pointed out by the honorable member for Fremantle, the ratio is lower today than it was a few years ago. This report pointed out that we need 350 to 400 new dentists each year. Last year only 362 entered the dental faculties. The previous year the number was 264 and in 1961 it was only 251. In fact, that was 100 short of the number required even if all passed. If we are to have a planned medical service we shall have to improve on this state of affairs. By using the word "plan ned" in this context 1 am not necessarily asking honorable members opposite to agree with us on this side of the House about the need for a national medical service and about freedom of choice and the like. There are plenty of explanations in the records that show what we mean when we use the expression " planned medical service ". I think it is reasonable for society to set standards in fields such as this. After all, we have bodies that set standards in all sorts of fields for all sorts of commodities and services. We have what might be described as logical aims in other fields, and according to this report it is a logical aim to try for a ratio of one dentist per 2,000 of the population. If we work back from that requirement, we come to the requirements of the dental faculties of the universities of Australia. Here we have another demonstration of the hit or miss methods that this Government adopts in relation to so many of Australia's social problems.

I believe that there are some principles that we should apply to the consideration of measures such as this. As I pointed out, we should have a planned medical service. This does not mean that it should be a regimented one. By this I mean that there should be a certain amount of social planning and direction of resources in such a way as to ensure an adequate flow of students through the universities, the establishment of clinics, necessary encouragement of research and encouragement in all the fields of activity that relate to the solution of this problem. Our dental research should be adequate. This means that there should probably be government support at all levels. As my colleagues have pointed out, a national medical service is needed. These services must be efficient. I do not think that anybody would deny that Australian dentists are highly efficient by world standards. I am one of those unfortunate people who have the kind of teeth that do not need the care of a dentist. But dentistry, as has been pointed out, is a profession that so far does not carry the high social status that some other professions have. However, there is no doubt that toothache is one of the dire miseries from which the human frame suffers. It is also the ailment in respect of which the sufferer perhaps receives least sympathy from other people.

I believe that we should be looking towards a progressive dental service and profession. The Australian Dental Association has put before us the suggestion that the picture is not as bad as it is painted in the second report of the Committee on Teaching Costs of Medical Hospitals. This may well be so, but it is obvious that in the medical and dental fields and also in the physical sciences, as well as in many other fields, not as much research as is required is being done in Australia. Here, I believe, we come to the Commonwealth's function. We shall have to face the need to provide increasing support for the universities and all that goes with it. It is interesting to note that despite the fact that the Government seems to be rather dilatory and approaches the matter in a rather perfunctory fashion its support for the universities is continually increasing. Commonwealth grants are just one part of the income of the universities, and I confine my remarks to that one part. In 1961 the universities, out of a total income of £42 million, received £11 million from the Commonwealth, or some 24.8 per cent. In 1962, out of £48 million, the Commonwealth provided £13 million or 27 per cent. In 1963, out of £53 million, it provided £15 million or about 28 per cent. There is an increasing Commonwealth commitment. This is inevitable and we must face the need for it. It is time we tackled the whole problem in a progressive and scientific way.

Part of the Opposition's criticism this afternoon is based on the diffident and almost anomalous steps that the Government takes at times. We are forced to ask: Why did it do A and not B? Why did it accept the recommendations of the Committee on the Future of Tertiary Education in Australia - the Martin Committee - with respect to Institutes of Colleges and not those with respect to Boards of Teacher Education? Why did the Government accept the recommendations of the Committee in certain areas and not in others?

There is one last field into which the Commonwealth, I believe, could step. This is mentioned at page 49 of the second report of the Committee on Teaching Costs of Medical Hospitals. Probably only the Commonwealth can do what is required. The

Committee, in paragraph 4.3 at this page of its report, stated -

Graduates in Australia must register with the appropriate Dental Board to obtain the right to practise. In the United States it is necessary to take State Board examinations in order to practise in a different state from that in which the original qualification was obtained. A high degree of reciprocity exists only within the British Commonwealth.

Here we find one of those unconsidered trifles of the relationships within the Commonwealth of Nations. I believe it is time that these relationships were expanded over wider fields. There is in the Australian scheme of things a happy conceit that leads people to believe that only if one has been trained in Australian or Commonwealth universities is one adequately trained. What is the position of a dentist who arrives here from Vienna, Berlin or Copenhagen? I understand that he is probably in the same position as the person who comes here with a medical degree from one of the same distinguished universities. I hope that the Commonwealth will step into this field and take some action to expand international reciprocity in these professions. I hope that honorable members opposite will earnestly consider the proposition that we on this side put before the House. We believe that the House ought to express its opinion that this Government has been remiss in not adopting the recommendations of the Committee on Teaching Costs of Medical Hospitals concerning dental education in particular. Honorable members opposite ought to consider very deeply other implications of that Committee's report. The Commonwealth cannot avoid its obligations to help the universities of Australia to discharge their teaching functions. I hope that on this occasion Government supporters will join honorable members on this side of the chamber in expressing censure of the Government in this way.







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