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Thursday, 11 November 1976
Page: 2619

Mr BRYANT (Wills) -The honourable member for Franklin (Mr Goodluck) probably has been deeply involved in the question of apprenticeships for long enough to be able to give the House a pretty fair summary of its great difficulties. He has spelt out for us one of the sad facts of education progress and policy- that we nearly always arrive at these programs too late. One of the great misfortunes for the people who are tipped onto the labour market at this time is that they have run into a time of great social change, of economic challenge, and almost philosophical difficulty, I suppose, as far as the state of the nation is concerned and we have not found the answers. I think on the whole that economically we have lost our nerve and these people are partly the victims of this fact.

I speak as one who was a victim of a similar situation of about a generation back, about 10 000 or 12 000 yesterday's ago. I sympathise with the people and worry about the fact that we have allowed ourselves to be talked into this situation. It is some comfort to us on this side of the House that there are people on the Government side who recognise the difficulties.

My colleague the honourable member for Fremantle (Mr Beazley) spelt out another difficulty- that of dealing with the State governments. Perhaps the difficulty of dealing with State governments is more apparent or more generic for a Commonwealth Labor government than a Liberal government. However, the fact is that it is very difficult to get State governments to come to the party for a general national policy on anything, no matter the political philosophy of the prevailing Federal government.

Mr Martyr - Why?

Mr BRYANT -Because so much of the State governments of Australia is in the hands of people who on any consideration at all would have to be placed on the list of reactionaries from way back. I do not think all that highly of the philosophies of people in this place. I recall that after the honourable member for Denison (Mr Hodgman) made his maiden speech somebody wrote an article and said: 'Mr Wentworth move over, there are people here further to the right than you.' The State governments are not only reactionary in so many regards; they are also obstructive. Honourable members opposite are finding some of this in regard to their own policies.

When I look at this battery of Bills that is before us I ask myself how the Bills answer the problems of Australian education, how they protect the initiatives that the Labor government took in its 3 years of office and how they follow on the programs developed over the 20 years of education debate in this Parliament. I think I should say, with deep regret, that I see this important issue of education, involving nearly $2,000m from our Budget, in one way or another, in Commonwealth funds alone, is reduced to an omnibus debate in this place in which 8 Bills are being considered and in which there are three or four speakers from each side. That is not good enough. This is a major social issue. It may well be that we say the same things now as we said years ago. It may well be that there is not all that much difference between the speeches from one side or the other. But if this Parliament is to be a forum for political philosophies and the aims and aspirations of the people of Australia, education debates must not be reduced as they are today.

Perhaps it is time we produced an omnibus education Act which covers all the principles that are in these Bills and spelt them out and then each year made proper appropriations in a different form of legislation. The machinery of the Parliament is now getting to the stage where it is unable to cope with the necessities of decent public debate.

Labor's revolution covered a number of fields. Firstly, we stressed the need to deal with the needs of the community for education and we placed needs at the top of the list. The first area of assistance was to go to people who had the greatest need. However we also did other things which were relatively revolutionary. We undertook to support people in initiatives in the schools. One of the unnoted and, I think, not highly enough regarded areas was that related to the innovation programs. As far as I can tell from the figures I have been given they were economic in their administration, they were effective in the school room, in most cases, and they certainly produced a new dimension as far as the schools to which I have been attached were concerned. I hope nothing will be done to reduce that area of initiative.

The other thing that we stressed was the priority of education in the Australian scene. During our period in office the vote for education exceeded the vote for defence for the first time in our history. I am a fairly optimistic sort of person, as honourable members opposite would be aware. I was one of those people who were involved for many years in education debates in this House. I used to say that the time would come when education would take as high a priority as anything else and I used to quote the defence figures. I did not expect to see the parliamentary day when it actually happened but it has happened and on the whole, give or take a few bits of hypocrisy here and there, honourable members opposite have accepted the same principles.

One of the revolutions for which I think we were responsible was free university education and I hope that honourable members opposite who may have had the advantage of it or whose children may have had the advantage of it will protect it. I regard it as a great social advance. I am the first to admit that great debate was generated not only in the ranks of my own Party but also, I guess, throughout the community generally when it was suggested that universities were for a special son of people. On the whole, it was the advantaged people who got there. From my own experience, of course, I know that that is not the case. From the experience of the people whom I represent, I know that that is not the case. We opened the doors of Australian universities to thousands of students who would have been denied admission if we had not taken that action.

One of the features of our regime, of course, was the consistent attacks made on everything that we- did. It was not necessary for our opponents to be specific. They only had to say that there was enormous waste in the education programs. The Prime Minister (Mr Malcolm Fraser), as he does now, only had to talk in generalities. I heard him one day talk about the 'mad extravagance' of the Labor Government. What exactly did he mean by that? If we transfer that phrase to the education system, does he mean that the money that went to the Hamilton High School in his electorate was wasted? Does the honourable member for Bendigo (Mr

Bourchier), who is trying to interject, mean that all the money that went into his electorate by any means whatever to education institutions was wasted? Of course he did not mean that. I think honourable members opposite did Australian education a great deal of damage.

Now I turn my mind to the Bills which are before us, to the principles which are espoused and to the fact that one has a brief opportunity only in this debate to take part in the discussion on education. I want to see whether the programs are continuing with the effort upon which we embarked to remove the great disadvantages from Australian education. In what way will the financial programs which are spelt out in these Bills remove the inequalities in Australian education? Some of these inequalities were spelt out by my friend, the honourable member for Fremantle, my colleague, the honourable member for Kingsford-Smith (Mr Lionel Bowen), and also the honourable member for Franklin.

Great disabilities exist among the States. There is great disability in education opportunity if one lives in certain areas of Queensland. There is also disability in opportunities and effort between suburb and suburb. I represent 2 industrial suburbs of Melbourne. They do not get the same sorts of educational advantages as do people who live in some of the other areas. There are all sorts of historical reasons for that state of affairs. There are also sheer physical difficulties involved in trying to replace and rebuild schools in electorates such as mine. Disabilities flow from city to country and country to city. I notice that some of these disabilities are being taken up here. Unfortunately assistance is almost completely confined to programs for non-Government schools. There are inequalities in the areas of sex, economic status and race. This is particularly so for Aboriginal people and migrants.

As has been spelt out on apprenticeship, the Australian educational system is still too conservative and too slow to change. There is probably still too much centralism in it. This brings me to indicate where I think the Commonwealth can be most effective. Our task as an Australian Government is to remove the disabilities which flow to people because they live on one part of the continent and not on another. I think a general philosophy which may well be espoused by all political parties is that, wherever one lives on this continent, one is entitled to advantages equal to those enjoyed by others living on the continent. So, it is only the Australian Government which can achieve that end.

It is our duty to set programs in train which will open new horizons in education. I suppose that this is the moment to establish the system to encourage people to take up new programs which will force these developments and which will initiate change in the relevant direction. Our education system is basically much as it was 30 years or 40 years ago. Perhaps the internal workings of the schools are a little less authoritarian. In some ways, perhaps, professionalism in the classroom is not as good as -it was when most honourable members in the House attended school. But I think that is changing as programs of teacher training and continuing education have increased over the last few years.

There is only one way in which we can bring a proper drive and real dynamics to education and that is through a Commonwealth input. All State instrumentalities are bound up in the conservatism of their arrangements, in the centralism by which they are controlled and through the whole basic arrangements of the education system. It is only by taking financial initiatives and by allowing them to be developed through individual schools that we will generate enough attitudes towards change which result in Australian schools becoming appropriate in outlook for the next couple of decades. After 2 1 years in the Parliament I am convinced that it is from the Commonwealth only that we can expect that initiative.

We may get quite radical developments through various areas of the State system. On the whole, as I see it, in various parts of Victorian education, there have been more radical developments and more progressive attitudes than there have been in most of the rest of Australia. I think that in its general education program South Australia has been more progressive and has geared itself better to the future than have most of the other States. But it is a patchy development. It is only through curriculum development programs, by grants for innovation programs and by special attacks upon the disadvantages areas of education and so on that we will overcome these problems or get anywhere near overcoming them. As I look at the legislation before us and see the whole battery of it, and as I have listened to the speeches on it, I have not seen anything flowing through the proposals except in odd spots a real recognition of what these difficulties are. I think it is time that we all recognised that the Commonwealth can no longer talk about States' duties in these matters. Every citizen has rights and every State has duties rather than rights.

Mr Bourchier - Fancy you saying that States have rights.

Mr BRYANT -The States are simply part of the corporate structure of society. As governors and governments they have no rights. They have duties to people. People who talk about State rights are incipient fascists. I know that the honourable member for Bendigo is not. Sometimes I think he is a real one. But that is not what he meant by his interjection. But the fact is that to talk about the rights of governments is to deny what we are here about. Our duty to the Australian school and the Australian child is just as overwhelming and demanding as is that of any State government. It is our job to intervene in those areas where we think the States are not making the distance. There is no doubt in my mind that the Australian State education systems are totally inadequate in administering new schemes. During the life of our Government we 'found that very little was done for the disadvantaged schools in my electorate. I do not know where all the money went which was put into the Victorian education scheme. I know that most of the schools in my electorate were on the list of disadvantaged schools for various areas. I know that they were all overloaded with migrants and that they had other problems in education. I know that very little of that money flowed to them even though people such as myself had been responsible in a large measure for the creation of the Australian Labor Party policies on education.

So, in relation to the point being made here about non-Government schools, it seems to me that the theme is to place more reliance on nonGovernment schools. Perhaps I should say that more thought is given for non-Government schools than is given for Government schools. We adopt the attitude that Government schools are somebody else's responsibility. In my electorate there is a number of schools which need rebuilding completely. I shall cite two, namely, Moreland High School and Brunswick Technical School. It seems to me that the Victorian Department of Public Works and Department of Education have no capacity whatsoever to take up this challenge. Both schools are built on very small areas. Moreland with, I think, 700 or 800 students, or a few more, is a most progressive school. It has an area available of approximately one and a quarter acres. Brunswick Technical School has perhaps 2 acres for 500 or 600 day students with hundreds more under the apprenticeship scheme. There is nowhere to rebuild on that land while the schools are still occupied. So, there is a very difficult challenge which is continually ignored by the Victorian Government.

However, if we developed a program for direct assistance to Government schools, as we have for non-Government schools, we could call upon the initiative of the people on the school councils. There is no reason on earth why the school councils which administer- or would administer if we put enough faith in them- the Moreland High School and the Brunswick Technical School could not handle the rebuilding, reequipping and remodelling of the schools as effectively as the non-Government school councils do when we make the money available to them. So I see just a glimmer of hope for a decentralisation of the school initiatives in this legislation. Perhaps I am being unduly optimistic in thinking that that is what would happen, but the time has come for us to make direct grants to the government schools, bypassing the State Departments if necessary. However, I think it would be better if we came to a continuous agreement with the States and if the programs were included in the Act in schedules of some sort. I make an appeal for a better system of parent participation and school participation, both student and teacher, in the management of government schools. We recognise that there are great difficulties involved and that the professionalism and the free movement of teachers may well be disadvantaged if we turn the schools into so many autonomous republics, but I do not think that the solution to that problem is beyond the wit of man. The principal issue over the next few years in relation to school management is the development of the schools assistance program set out in the States Grants (Schools Assistance) Bill and the development of greater initiatives in the schools by dealing more directly with them in a financial way.

In conclusion, I should like to challenge a few of the thoughts which are consistently flowing around the education system. One of these thoughts- I heard it expressed only the other day- is that there are too many teachers. Have we trained too many teachers? I have great doubts about the validity of that statement. The fact is that there are enormous numbers of students in the schools who are disadvantaged in all sorts of ways. They are disadvantaged not only in the physical environment of the schools but also in their home environment, with all things that go with that. Many of the homes of Australia are perhaps a little less literate than they used to be. Therefore the child goes to school less well equipped to take up the challenge of modern education, and that applies particularly to migrant children. I do not regard it as being totally conclusive, but a lot of the evidence of the last few years has shown that there has been a collapse in the standard of what might be called literacy- the capacity to read and write and do the things for which schools train people. These people are transferring into the work force ill equipped, and I hope that we will not surrender in any way to the view that some areas of education have been adequately served and that we will maintain a continual flow of funds.

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