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Tuesday, 12 October 1971
Page: 2172


Mr BEAZLEY (FREMANTLE, WESTERN AUSTRALIA) The Opposition has endeavoured to bring the

Commonwealth more and more into education over the period of years when it has been in Opposition. For a long time it was the standard procedure of the Government, under Sir Robert Menzies, to fob off any criticism of Commonwealth inactivity in the field of education with the plea that education was a State matter. Steadily, step by step, everything that the Opposition has advocated has come in, usually a decade too late. The formation of a Minister of Education and Science came in a decade too late - a decade after it was pressed in this chamber and refused here. There is the need to assume a national objective for education. The formation of a responsible, enlightened and efficient nation should be the aim of education, but education is drifting. The resistance of the Commonwealth Government to action in the field of secondary education has been particularly tragic. It came in belatedly with a system of scholarships and then with a system of per capita grants which have not worked out equitably at all.

One foreign observer of the Australian education scene has, with some justification, accused the Government of elitism. It is a matter for congratulation that in the legislation concerning secondary school libraries the Government has moved to the position of three-quarters of the grant for pupils in the State sector of education and one-quarter of the grant for pupils in the church schools. Although we tend rather to speak about them as the independent schools, in point of fact practically all the independent schools are connected with churches and it would be just as accurate to call them church schools. The case for the children in these church schools to be the recipients of Commonwealth aid is that the children in these schools are citizens of the Australian Commonwealth. Their case does not rest upon the fact that in the independent schools there is any special educational experimentation because the independent schools are not established as places for special education experimentation and in point of fact most of them follow the academic requirements of matriculation to the universities. But there are many people in Australia who suffer from the years that the locust has eaten, who have missed their educational opportunities, and the Opposition is particularly concerned about these.

We believe that the Commonwealth should establish an open university and open institutes of tertiary education which will accept students whatever their academic qualifications and utilise the techniques of radio and television, correspondence courses and a regionally organised counselling system to provide university and other tertiary educational opportunities uninfluenced by geographic, occupational or academic barriers. The aim of such institutions should be to provide educational opportunities for those who for any reason have not had such opportunities. Since the Government initiates nothing and depends upon precedents, I draw the attention of the Minister for Education and Science (Mr Malcolm Fraser) to the precedents for this in the United Kingdom where such institutions are already functioning.

There is also the question of the State libraries, the various national libraries around the Commonwealth, as places for informal education for anybody but particularly for those who had no educational opportunities and who can pursue their interests insofar as their interests can be developed by reading. We believe that the Commonwealth should make grants to the States adequate to bring the State reference libraries to the highest standards, as central libraries for research, as sources of book supply to public libraries, and as centres for recreational reading. In office, the Australian Labor Party would seek the regular advice of the Australian Advisory Council on Bibliographical Services to keep such reference libraries at high standards of excellence, and we would finance the work of that Council. We also believe that the Commonwealth should establish a national book resources development committee on a permanent basis to advise on measures necessary to build up general public and regional libraries to optimum levels of reference, information, educational and recreational services for the public and to plan the systematic development of such libraries over 5-year periods.

I would like to congratulate the Minister on his new acceptance of the terminology of the Labor Party, especially on his acceptance of the terminology of acceptable standards for schools - acceptable standards as begun with his speech in connection with secondary school libraries. In fact the definition of acceptable standards in secondary school libraries has been pretty painstakingly set out in an excellent publication which the Minister most graciously sent me at my request and Which he offered in the Parliament. But there needs to be acceptable standards on many other things. For instance, if the Commonwealth is to intervene in education - there will be no educational advance without Commonwealth intervention in education, the financial position of the States being what it is - it needs to have some standards which wm determine where its assistance will be attracted.

What is the Government's view, for instance, on the size of a class in a primary school? We take the view that the size of a class in a primary school should not exceed 30, and if States are floundering around with classes larger than that here is a case for the attraction of Commonwealth assistance. In a secondary school a class should not exceed 20. The maximum sizes should be 20 and IS respectively in areas where there are exceptional numbers of migrant children or children with language difficulties, and specialist teachers should be provided for these children. We believe, for instance, that a school library should never have fewer than 20 books per pupil. When the Government says that it is going to act for these school libraries, it would be interesting to hear the number of volumes it regards as necessary for students. There should be a librarian in a school for every 250 students, and all schools should have secretarial and clerical assistance in the proportion of one for every 200 students. In secondary schools there should be vocational guidance officers for every 300 students, an educational counselling officer for every 200, and a laboratory assistant for every laboratory. There should be qualified physical education teachers for every 200 students.

We believe the Commonwealth should adopt these standards. We believe also that in the size of accommodation it should be possible to accommodate all students in 85 per cent of a school's area. There should be facilities for indoor assembly. There should be a standard of 25 square feet per student in each learning area. The library should be able to accommodate 15 per cent of the school enrolment. These standards are all quite reasonable. That they would involve the Commonwealth in very heavy expenditure over the next decade is true, but the volume of this expenditure, if the Commonwealth did assist to bring schools up to this standard, may be taken as a sign of the extent to which Australian education in these matters has fallen behind. There are many schools that meet all the standards I have suggested and more, which time will not allow me to mention. The tragedy of Government policy is that its assistance goes to schools that can meet all these standards as much as to schools which cannot meet these standards. This seems to us to be a failure of the Government's priorities in expenditure. I hesitate to mention the names of the schools now because this always involves one in a misrepresentation, but may I satisfy the Minister's susceptibilities, by saying that if the John Curtin High School at Fremantle already has a magnificent assembly hall it obviously does not need another one, but some other school does need one. If I mentioned the name of a private school it would of course get me into trouble.

The DEPUTY CHAIRMAN (Mr Cope) - Order! The honourable member's time has expired.







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