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Tuesday, 6 March 1973
Page: 223


Mr OLDMEADOW (Holt) - Despite the many congratulations which have already been offered to Mr Speaker, I would ask you, Mr Deputy Speaker, to convey to him my sincere congratulations. Making a first occasion speech in any place and under any set of circumstances is a trying experience. Spoken in this chamber, it carries with it a strong sense of pride, a very real humility and a consuming responsibility. In applying myself to the task of being an effective member of Federal Parliament and a worthy representative of the Holt electorate, I am grateful for the confidence shown in me by those responsible for my election.

I wish at the outset to pay a tribute to my predecessor, Mr Len Reid. Marshall McLuhan made use of that eminently descriptive phrase the global village'. It reminds us in a nutshell of our citizenship in and our responsibility for the world. Perhaps no man in this Federal Parliament, in recent years, has more patiently, and at the same time more urgently, applied himself to the subject of overseas aid to underdeveloped countries than has Len Reid. I pledge myself, as far as I am able, to build upon the interest and concern he has generated. It is my hope, and I believe the hope of this Government, to lift Australia's foreign aid program to underdeveloped countries to at least one per cent of gross national product in the life of this present Parliament.

I believe I am singularly fortunate to be entering Parliament at a time of rapid change and exciting development. I am encouraged by the fact that the Party to which I have given my allegiance is at last where it deservedly belongs - on the Government benches. Already the nation senses the dawn of a new era in Australia. In some ways, the period is similar to the last 2 decades of the 19th century. At that time the spirit of nationalism found its political fulfilment in the establishment of this Federal Parliament. The nation is, I believe, beginning now to learn what is meant by 'coming of age'.

There are signs of a new nationalism emerging - a nationalism which is casting off the irritations of a worn and weary jingoism in order to fulfil its destiny and purpose within the geography and sphere of influence to which it properly belongs; an outgoing nationalism which now seeks to express itself in an anthem of its own. Some have said that this is merely trivial. Others - and, I believe, a great majority - see it as a symbol of healthy independence. Shortly, Australians will be able to speak of citizenship rather than naturalisation ceremonies. Australia now pursues its own foreign policies rather than following slavishly and uncritically the rigidity of powerful, if friendly, nations. The cultivation and expression of our own special ethos within the family of nations will result, I believe, not in our loss but in our ultimate and lasting gain. The value placed upon our national character will be in direct proportion to the degree of respect which we command in both sound government at home and bold leadership abroad.

On the larger arena of world affairs, an electorate such as mine seems small. Yet Holt, like many others, is a microcosm within a macrocosm. It holds within its boundaries the mixture of heavy and light industries. It maintains growing, active and demanding housing areas and residential communities. Each of these is sensitive in its own way to changes in economic stability. The memory of dole queues and emergency relief centres in February 1972 is still fresh in the minds of many. That is an experience, let me say, that we are determined not to repeat under a Labor government. Holt is in fact so clearly representative of Australian life in its economy and sociology that the sorts of things I believe are necessary in my electorate are those things for which the entire Commonwealth seeks progress and direction. With this in mind, I comment upon that section of the GovernorGeneral's Speech which concerned itself with education and allied matters. With a background of a quarter of a century spent in teaching from grade 1 in primary school to form 6 in secondary schools and in lecturing and tutoring at tertiary institutions, and with experience of work at a supervisory and administrative level, it may not be surprising that on this occasion I should choose to major on the subject of education.

It seems almost trite to commence by affirming the essential difference of every child and the worth of every individual student. It seems so obvious that it is taken for granted. It is, however, at this very basic point that the previous Government failed so lamentably to meet its obligations. The child of today is too often manipulated by ineffective and inefficient structures, disadvantaged by often haphazard and totally inequitable distribution of Commonwealth grants and financial assistance, misunderstood and pressured by ambitious and confused parents and de-humanised and depersonalised by hungry labour markets. He is in danger of being submerged in the floods of political and socio-economic opportunism. It is the task of every school to strive to develop fully the personality of the child; it must assist the child to develop into the sort of person who can cope with rapid and often far reaching change. It should enable him to communicate more effectively with those around him. It should make him one who can gainfully and creatively use his leisure time so that the fullest benefits from life can be enjoyed and shared. The school must encourage a heightened critical faculty so that in every impingement of impression through whatever medium he may the better be able to arrive at assessments affecting his past, his present and his future.

We must move, I submit, towards a better system and a more imaginative educational philosophy. In particular, we must provide a framework whereby we encourage the child to rate himself against himself. Such type of evaluation would displace the method of dog eating dog - that is, a distinctive rating against others - which, by its very competitive nature, may cripple and destroy some and may stamp the mark of failure upon a significant proportion of other students for long periods, even throughout the whole of their school life. Can we wonder, in these circumstances, where the drop-outs go? Can we wonder why they carry that failure into the wilderness of social maladjustment? The teacher must be seen, in any progressive education program, not as a fact distributor but as a guide, an encourager and an organiser of situations in which the child can learn most effectively for himself. The teacher who is forced to prepare for examinations has sadly, but often compulsorily, succeeded only in denigrating living education. Formal education is not an end in itself; it is only the starting point of an on-going process.

One of the principal aims in education is to guard the way and keep it open. All too often the way is barred before the process has begun. If individual differences are to be recognised and the issues overcome, we must strive to tackle the problem where it belongs - in the classroom. A large and consequently often an unmanageable class is the deadly enemy of personal treatment and individual attention. Despite the utterances of a Minister for Education in the previous government, I must emphatically take an opposite view. In October 1971, the honourable member for Wannon, ./1 Malcolm Fraser, at that time holding the portfolio, and speaking on a survey of needs, questioned the necessity to reduce class sizes. He said then:

I think it is relevant in the context of a survey of needs such as this, to keep in mind that research in the related area of class size has failed to substantiate the view that pupil performance and achievement are directly related to class size.

If the honourable member believed firmly in the too-long held but entirely fallacious philosophy of examination-oriented education upon which my earlier remarks gave ventilation, then his contention is consistent with his error of judgment - an error, I may add, which he and his Party have persisted in both before and since, with tragic consequences. It is, however, my view that a large and diverse class size seriously reduces the possibilities of coping adequately with the variables of learning capacities, speed and efficiency.

Moving now from the area of method and concept in education, 1 would wish to comment on the issue of right and privilege. It is my conviction, and that of my Party, that the birthright of every child in a prosperous and affluent Australia is to receive an education of quality - and, in time, of equality as well. Twenty-three years of Conservative government, buttressing elitist concepts and supporting the 'haves' as against the 'have nots', has brought us to a state of near chaos. Only an Australian Schools Commission, working on the terms of reference as outlined in Labor's policy, will be able to salvage the wreckage of past mistakes and the paucity of long term planning by the previous government. The Commission will undertake its work on the basis of needs and priorities not on the unjust application of the 'numbers game'.

Let us look in a little more detail at 3 important areas where review and reform are urgently needed. Firstly, in the matter of the award of Commonwealth scholarships I refer to the scholarship award at Form 4 level for the final 2 years of secondary school education. I have researched some interesting figures taken from my own electorate of Holt. As at the end of 1972 there were 1.170 students in Form 4 at the 7 government high schools. One hundred and fourteen scholarsships were awarded. As against this, 2 high fee-paying independent schools carried together 239 students at the same level and 91 scholarships were given. In other words, 38 per cent of eligible students gained scholarships in 2 affluent private schools, whilst 9.7 per cent of eligible students in 7 governments schools gained Commonwealth scholarships. The chance of gaining a scholarship in a wealthy independent school was 4 times as great as in a government school.

The contrast is even more sharply defined if we take examples from extremes of the social spectrum. At Haileybury College, Keysborough, one of Melbourne's more exclusive, public schools, there were 190 students at Form 4 level. A staggering 76 Commonwealth scholarships were secured by the children of advantaged parents. At Doveton High School, with one more student only - that is 191 - at Form 4, the number of Commonwealth scholarships awarded was 12. Haileybury has over 6 times greater advantage over Doveton in the matter of direct financial assistance to selected students. This is an iniquitous system indeed - a system, I would contend, which is based on the false assumption that financial assistance should be given to and should be the prerogative of those most highly rated in a competitive examination situation. Once again the concept of privilege so consistently and persistently pursued by the previous government asserts itself. We of the Government side contend that every student who has successfully completed all but the last 2 years of his schooling should receive financial assistance to enable and encourage him to proceed with his education.

Touching now on the vexed issue of State aid, the misuse of government money also applies. The richer schools, on the basis of present distribution, get richer, whilst the poorer schools, both government and Catholic and housing the majority of students, remain the poorer. In each independent school, a fiat rate of $104 per student per year is provided by the Commonwealth. In the independent primary schools, the amount is $62 per annum. In this distribution of funds no account whatsoever is taken of the needs of the schools as apart from the numbers enrolled. Using 1971 figures for the school enrolments concerned, the largest of Victoria's independent and well endowed schools, Methodist Ladies' College, Kew, with a school complement of 2,120 students would receive the astounding total of $205,276 per annum from Commonwealth sources. At Haileybury College, Keysborough, with 1,432 students, the Commonwealth aid received would be $135,275 per year. This does not, of course, take into account a similarly large amount, on the same kind of unfair actuarial stupidity, granted handsomely by State governments. The largesse of the previous government's 'Lady Bountiful' approach to wealthy independent schools continues to perpetuate inequities and, in consequence, to reduce the kind of educational reform which I commented upon earlier in my speech being carried out. This Government maintains that the only fair system in determining financial assistance in schools, be they independent or government, is on the basis of need.

Specialist services have long since been recognised as essential in the total area of educational needs. Few would deny that the modern student is under grave pressure, mentally and emotionally. In 1972 it was estimated that the ratio of psychologists to students was one to every 18,000 in Victorian government schools. We should work towards the appointment of a student counsellor in every school. I would see the extension of the counselling service as underlining the concept of education in relation to the child's total experience both inside the school and out of it. Under such conditions the student becomes a whole person, not a human vacuum to be filled with structured facts and tabulated knowledge.

The need for specialist teachers and services in many fields becomes increasingly necessary and sometimes tragically urgent. We have hardly begun to cope to any significant extent with the problem of dyslexia or autism. Even where such services are available they are dispersed and inadequate. Following an urgent request for action regarding a serious speech defect, I was informed that the child could be placed on the long waiting list. An estimated 2 years' delay was expected before therapy could commence. A school was opened in Dandenong this year for those with special learning difficulties. It was fully enrolled 6 months before it opened its doors. It is now clearly recognised that there should be 2 or 3 remedial teachers in every school. Where appointments have been made, too often they have to be used for normal classroom teaching.

These are but a few examples. A similar situation applies with respect to migrant teachers. It is at these crisis points that Commonwealth funds should be applied. When every child is able to take advantage of his full time at secondary school; when all underprivileged children are cared for; when physical education facilities are available to all students; when the dyslectic and autistic child has the specialist treatment he needs; when counsellors are trained, available and appointed to our schools; when remedial treatment of children with learning difficulties is adequate; when all migrant children, with their particular language difficulties, are catered for; then, if we have an excess of financial resources, and only then, will I be happy for thousands of dollars to be poured into wealthy, elitist schools and institutions. As I see it now, that day is a long way off.

If the greater part of my time has been spent in spelling out the areas of need in education, | would not wish to convey the notion that I see those needs as an isolated or restricted area of concern. The discovery of life - and as one of the greatest teachers once remarked 'life more abundant' - is its aim and its object. It must seek to equip both young and old to understand and to apply justly and wisely the means of the distribution of our national wealth, lt is the study and the operation of economics. Life abundant seeks also to care for people. It brings a greater sense of responsibility towards others. This means social security and welfare, and public health. To be truly educated is to be aware of the world we live in - the city, the street and the block, environment, housing and community. Failure to understand the worth of community, whether at local, State or Federal level, is to fail to appreciate the validity of government. It is, therefore; Mr Deputy Speaker, with this sense of balance in mind, that I express my commendation of the GovernorGeneral's Speech.

Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr Luchetti)Order!Before I call the honourable member for Berowra, I remind honourable gentlemen that he will be making his maiden speech. 1 ask that he be afforded the usual courtesies.







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