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Monday, 26 November 1973
Page: 3841

Mr LYNCH (Flinders) - The States Grants (Advanced Education) Bill (No. 2) seeks to amend the principal Act which provides for expenditure in the 1970-72 triennium. The Bill basically seeks, to include 3 new projects in the Second Schedule to the Act. These projects arise in response to submissions received from the New South Wales and Victorian State Governments in the closing stages of the 1970-72 triennium. The projects, which will be funded by the transfer of grants previously allocated and two of which were approved by my colleague, the honourable member for Wannon (Mr Malcolm Fraser), are the New South Wales Election Board, the Prahran College of Technology and the Emily McPherson College.

The States Grants (Advanced Education) Bill (No. 3) seeks to amend the principal Act, as it applies to the 1973-75 triennium, to provide financial assistance for all State teachers colleges as from 1 July 1973. These provisions arise from the recommendations of the report on teacher education prepared by the Australian Commission on Advanced Education. The Commission's inquiry was commenced in 1972 as a result of initiatives taken by the former Liberal-Country Party Government.

The States Grants (Advanced Education) Bill (No. 4) amends the principal Act to enable the Commonwealth Government to assume full financial responsibility for advanced education from 1 January 1974. The Bill also includes provision for the salary increases recommended in the report by Mr Justice Campbell and for the cost of increased salaries and wages to college staff following the national wage case decision in May this year. The Bill enables payment of grants in respect of full time university students resident at a college of advanced education and for grants for special courses in dental therapy, social work and physical education at such colleges.

The States Grants (Universities) Bill (No. 3) amends the Act to remove the liability for State Government matching contributions of finance to universities in 1974 and 1975. It makes provision for the costs of academic salary increases following the report by Mr Justice Campbell and the national wage case. The Bill also seeks approval for a capital grant of up to SI. 8m for the establishment of a national school of management education.

The Commission of Advanced Education Bill provides for the appointment of a full time Deputy Chairman of the Commission of Advanced Education. As the Minister for Services and Property (Mr Daly) pointed out in his second reading speech, the growth in the colleges of advanced education has very substantially increased the demands made on the Commission.

The Opposition has agreed with the request of the Leader of the House, the Minister for Services and Property, that these 5 Bills should be subject to a cognate debate which is not to proceed beyond tonight. Accordingly, Mr Deputy Speaker, I seek to limit- my remarks on the detailed provisions of the legislation. As a matter of general principle the Opposition supports the increased allocation of funds for education as provided in the 5 Bills introduced by the various Ministers. As we have emphasised consistently on so many prior occasions, the Opposition welcomes the Government's very real emphasis on education policies. This is an emphasis which we certainly share. It should be made clear that most of the financial provisions and particular projects contained in this legislation were initiated and agreed to by the former Liberal-Country Party Government.

I believe that there is a considerable degree of unanimity between all political parties towards the objectives of educational justice in this country. This means, of course, a continuing effort by all governments, Commonwealth and State, to achieve equality of opportunity for all children with the consequent responsibility to provide special assistance for disadvantaged children. Whilst we support the Government's advances in policy, there are, however, a number of dangers in this transfer of expenditure to give the Commonwealth total authority in these areas. On a previous occasion in this House my colleague the honourable member for Wannon dealt with the question of the location of new universities and colleges of advanced education. During his remarks he alluded to the Government's failure to consult effectively with the Victorian Government. The point I highlight here, Mr Deputy Speaker, as I have done on previous occasions, is that although this Government came to power pledged to a process of consultation, in so many areas that process has been totally ignored. Instead we have seen a process of confrontation. My colleague the honourable member for Wannon, the Opposition's spokesman on education, who is unable to be here because of a pressing commitment in one of the States, made this comment in the House on 23 August this year:

There is one aspect of 'this transfer of expenditure which I think is unfortunate. It now means that, while universities, colleges of advanced education and teachers colleges are established by State law and are largely responsible to the States, the financing of them will be solely a matter for another government which does not establish them. That means that there will be complete central authority. There already has been evidence that the present Commonwealth Government will pay no heed to the States concerned in regard to where they want a new university to be located or what kind of a new college of advanced education a State wants to establish. After long and intensive studies in Victoria there was a recommendation and a decision by the Victorian Government that a multicampus university should be established to specialise in external studies- It was, if you like, the forerunner of an open university. It was decided that there would be study centres at a number of sites throughout Victoria and the campus would be at 3 main sites. Without any, consultation with the Victorian Government, a Commonwealth committee recommended that there should be an additional university somewhere near the Dandenongs. It was to be another city based, centralised university, lt would have put back the clock and it may still do so if this Government is determined to use its financial authority and financial power to do what it wants and to ignore the wishes of Victoria and the generally accepted Victorian decision and position which supported the view of the Victorian Government. So there are dangers in this transfer of expenditure which will give total authority to the Commonwealth in these matters.

It is not my intention tonight to elaborate on these points in detail except to make it perfectly clear that while we support the increased financial allocations which are embodied in the legislation, we intend to ensure where possible that the financial authority assumed by the Commonwealth will not be used to exert un warranted pressures in areas of State administration. State governments are rightly concerned by the fact that the funds provided by the Commonwealth to finance tertiary education are being substracted from the general grants made available to the States and are being handed back, as recommended by the Interim Schools Committee, in the form of tagged grants. We go on record as saying that we are very much opposed to the general squeeze which has been put on the States, particularly in the field of education, and to any acceptance in this House of the distribution of funds to the State governments on the basis of the tagged grants concept which is inherent in the various Bills before the House at the present time. This practice means, in the first instance, that there is a transfer of payments, and secondly, that States' priorities in general education in fact are being supplanted by the Interim Schools Committee.

I do not use this forum tonight as an opportunity to speak in any depth about the question of educational philosophy, except to say this: We, as an Opposition Party, certainly do not believe in the centralisation of power. We recognise the importance of decentralisation and that form of devolution of power which leads to diversity and experimentation in approach and which we believe is essential for the best interests of this country as far as its education advancement is concerned. The Government in fact has no appreciation whatever of the importance of the State governments, of their constitutional powers and of their rights. Indeed, if one looks at the various Bills which have been brought down in this House it is quite clear that the present Government is determined effectively to erode the powers of the States in the field of education and in those other areas for which the States have responsibility. The assumption by the Commonwealth of financial responsibility for tertiary education raises obvious and very real problems in relation to the constitutional position of the States. We reject the approach of centralised control as the best method of education advancement in this country.

I put it to the Acting Minister for Education (Mr Lionel Bowen) who on behalf of his colleague claimed in the second reading speeches that have been delivered that the various State Premiers are in agreement with policy initiatives embodied in this legislation, then I doubt very much whether the basis which now obtains for the disbursement of funds was the basis, upon which that original agreement was made between the Commonwealth and State governments. That certainly is the information which has been given to me by some of the States which claim that the basis has changed. But the Minister continues to utilise the opportunity to claim some false support of endorsement by the State governments.

The Government claimed when the Budget was brought down that educational expenditure was to be increased by $404m or that it would be 92 per cent more than that of the previous financial year. However, of that amount of $404m, $ 144.6m is a straight transfer payment as between the States and the Commonwealth, representing expenditure in the second half of this financial year with respect to tertiary education. Therefore, in quite plain terms I say to the Acting Minister for Education that any allegation that there has been a 92 per cent increase in expenditure on education is phoney at best and dubious at worst. Of that $404m additional expenditure, $90m arises from the reports of the Australian Commission on Advanced Education, the Australian Universities Commission and the Cohen report on teacher training. The first 2 reports were subject to the full approval of the previous Government, with the exception of one item, and the Cohen Committee was established, of course, by the previous Administration. An amount of $26m is allocated for technical education. I personally do not cavil at the allocation of that financial resource. However, it should be emphasised that this was a policy outlined by my Party at the time of the last general election. Equally, the previous Government foreshadowed very substantial pre-school programs.

The Opposition is not opposed to the Bills before the House for the reasons which I have elaborated. In fact, we will co-operate in seeking to expedite their passage through this House. I am aware that a number of my colleagues wish to raise detailed matters in relation to the legislation. I do not seek to pre-empt those comments by utilising the full time available to me in this debate. I hope that the Minister will appreciate the full measure of support that is being provided and that, so far as the financial allocations are concerned, there is no debate between the 2 sides of the House. But in responding to the views put by members of the Opposi tion Parties in this debate I invite the Minister to comment specifically on the educational philosophy of the Government in bringing forward legislation which embodies the transfer of tertiary education from the States to the Commonwealth. I ask the Minister to comment specifically also on the basis of the original agreement and to answer the questions as to whether that basis now obtains. I ask him further to indicate whether he is prepared to go on record as saying that in the field of education this Government is prepared to recognise that the various State Governments have constitutional authority and that that authority must be protected.

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