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Monday, 26 November 1973
Page: 3845

Mr MacKELLAR (Warringah) - I was very interested in the remarks of the honourable member for Holt (Mr Oldmeadow), particularly his statement that yet another promise is being kept. If my memory serves me correctly the promise was made in the policy speech of the present Prime Minister (Mr Whitlam), in particular, and in the policy document of the Australian Labor Party that the Australian Labor Party would, if it came to power, take over financial responsibility for tertiary education and that that was followed by a very significant phrase, namely, that the money thus released will be available for primary and secondary education undertaken by the States. That was included, as I remember, in the policy speech. I was rather interested in the passages in the second reading speeches of the respective Ministers on the various Bills which we are debating in a cognate manner tonight in which it is stated that the 'Premiers of the States have agreed with the program as set out in the Bills.

I come back to the point that the money thus released will be available for primary and secondary education undertaken by the States and also to the point that the Premiers have agreed with the program. If we look at what actually happened we will find that the Premiers agreed with it at the Premiers Conference in June of this year for the simple reason that the Commonwealth said it was going to take over the financial responsibility for tertiary education whether the States liked it or not. What in fact happened after that Premiers Conference? Let us have a look at one of these much vaunted promises of the Prime Minister. What did happen to the moneys thus released after the Federal Government took over the financing of tertiary education? The general reimbursement grants in fact have been reduced by the amounts that the Federal Government has put into financing tertiary education throughout Australia. In fact my own State of New South Wales will lose $36m in the 6-month period ending December of this year. So let us have no pious statements about keeping promises. In fact yet another promise has been debased.

I agree with the views set forth by the Deputy Leader of the Opposition (Mr Lynch) in his speech and I go along with his statement that the Opposition will neither oppose nor seek to amend the Bills. I have read with interest some of the movements in policy enunciated in these Bills. In relation to the States Grants (Advanced Education) Bill (No. 2), I notice that there is reference in the second paragraph of the second reading speech of the Minister for Education (Mr Beazley) to 3 new projects being included in the Second Schedule to the Act. Two of those proposals were approved by the previous Minister for Education and Science. Let us at least be fair minded and even-handed in our appreciation of what is being done in these Bills and admit that a great proportion of the advances as set out in these Bills was initiated and in some cases approved by the previous Government. I notice that the States Grants (Advanced Education) Bill (No. 3) had its origin in the recommendations of the report on teacher education prepared by the Australian Commission on Advanced Education. When did the inquiry of that Commission commence? It commenced in October 1972, in the time of the previous Government. So again, let us acknowledge that part that the previous Government played in funding education at a much higher level than previously had been the case. I pay tribute to the present Government for carrying on the work initiated by the previous Government.

I was interested also to see in the second reading speech on the States Grants (Advanced Education) Bill (No. 3) the statement that the Government is tremendously concerned about the high quality and professional skill of teachers. The Government says that this is 'crucial to the process of education'. I would agree absolutely and wholeheartedly with this view because I think that education is not merely a matter of money; it is much more than that. The professional qualifications and the interest shown by the various teachers have an enormous part to play in the total education of the child. I am sure we can all remember during our own educational period those teachers who impressed us more than others. It is not only the sheer technical skill of but also the degree of interest expressed by such teachers which makes the total educative process so much more realistic and meaningful for a great number of students.

I am particularly pleased also to see emphasis being put on the preparation of teachers for handicapped children. I would agree with those people who point out that handicapped children, whatever the nature of the handicap, should have special treatment, special resources and a special place in the thinking of governments, whether they be at the federal or State level. Again, I commend the Government for its emphasis on the education of handicapped children - an emphasis which I point out once again was contained in the recommendations of the Australian Commission on Advanced Education set up by the previous Government. I notice also that the States Grants {Advanced Education) Bill (No. 3) provides for an integration of teachers colleges completely within the framework of the advanced education legislation. Again, I have been a consistent advocate of the idea that ^teachers colleges should be removed from the control of State education departments. I see this as a form of decentralisation, as a breakdown in the excessive bureaucratisation of education and as placing upon the adminstrators of teachers colleges a greater responsibility because they will be independent organisations more so than at any stage in the past and therefore have not only the right but also the responsibility to live up to the independence with which they are to be provided.

I notice in the second reading speech on the States Grants (Advanced Education) Bill (No. 3) that the Government has allocated $100,000 to increase the number of preschool teachers in training and that this grant will meet the cost of the additional trainees from January to July 1973. I wonder if the July 1973 date is correct because, of course, the Government has a continuing responsibility to meet the cost of these additional teachers and here we are in late November 1973. If the grant applied until only July 1973, what has happened about meeting the cost of training pre-school teachers after that time?

The States Grants {Advanced Education) Bill (No. 4) in many ways is perhaps a more significant Bill than the others because in the initial stages of his second reading speech the Acting Minister for Education, the PostmasterGeneral (Mr Lionel Bowen), set out the proposition that the Australian Government will assume full financial responsibility for advanced education from 1 January 1974. The Deputy Leader of the Opposition has already pointed to the fact that some difficulties could arise because of the assumption of this responsibility by the Federal Government. We all know that the various States have the responsibility for overseeing the various aspects of tertiary education including, of course, the technical colleges and the universities. I believe that these institutions will in future years find difficulties arising from the fact that, in fact, they will be serving 2 masters. They will have their financial requirements met by the Federal Government and yet they will be set up and legislated for by State governments. How these difficulties will be overcome remains to be seen but I predict that difficulties will arise because of this dichotomy.

Again, in his second reading speech, the Acting Minister for Education made a point of saying:

The Premiers of all the States have agreed to the major policy change which is incorporated in this Bill.

Once again, I point out that this was brought about literally with a financial gun at their heads. The fifth Bill which the House is now considering is the Commission on Advanced Education Bill. It is proposed to add to the number of commissioners by appointing a deputy chairman as an additional full-time member. In this case I merely point to the figures supplied in the second reading speech. The number of colleges has increased from 48 in 1971 to 83 in 1973. Again, I think that Government supporters should pay at least some tribute to the former governments not only because of their promulgation of the idea of colleges of advanced education but also because the program was put into effect with such success. The fact that the number of colleges has risen from 48 in 1971 to 83 in 1973 is a measure of that success. As the Minister for Services and Property (Mr Daly) pointed out in his second reading speech, the student enrolments in the colleges have increased enormously from 45,000 in 1971 to 95,000 in 1973. The fact that as a greater proportion of Australians has the opportunity of receiving at least some tertiary education at a high level is splendid and something that i am sure we would all applaud. Naturally enough, the demands placed upon the body overseeing this development have become excessive as I am sure we will find that the demands placed upon a number of the commissions set up by this Government will become excessive and we will have a succession of Bills, such as this Commission on Advanced Education Bill 1973, coming before the House as the Government appoints more and more people to these commissions. This situation will arise unless the Government devises some method of reducing the centralisation of the administration of these organisations.

I support the Bills before the House. I think that they embody some very worthwhile progressive changes. I would seek from Government supporters opposite some acknowledgement that at least many of these changes were not only envisaged but also were put into train by previous governments and I hope, as other honourable members have said, that with the passing of these Bills more and more Australians of a range of years will have the opportunity of taking advantage of superior avenues of tertiary education because in this way, when they do have this opportunity, not only will they benefit but also the whole nation will be enhanced

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