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Thursday, 11 November 1976


Mr VINER (Stirling) (Minister for Aboriginal Affairs) - in reply- I wish to take the opportunity to reply briefly to some of the remarks made by Opposition speakers and to pick up some of the comments made by Government supporters. The honourable member for Kingsford-Smith (Mr Lionel Bowen) referred to comments in a number of the education commissions' reports about the inadequacies of the funds to be provided, as indicated in the guidelines for 1978 and 1979. Under the arrangements for the new rolling triennium the Government will be reviewing the rate of growth in the funds provided for the commissions' programs when it determines the guidelines early next year for the 1 978-80 triennium.

In doing this, the Government will give careful consideration to the comments contained in the reports of the commissions and, in particular, to the needs of technical and further education, as indicated in the statement tabled in the House yesterday. The honourable member spoke of cuts which he alleges the Government has made against the requirements of the Commissions. The figures that he cited were taken from the reports of the commissions for the triennium 1976-78. 1 remind the House, as the honourable member for Brisbane (Mr Peter Johnson) pointed out, that when the honourable member for Kingsford-Smith and his colleagues were in Government, and the honourable member was a Minister, their Government rejected the commissions' reports for the 1976-78 triennium. In their place it instituted a one year program for the year 1 976. With regard to that point, not only did the previous Government reject the commissions ' triennial reports, but also it reduced the funds available for 1976 by $105m compared with the amount provided in 197S.

To take this matter further, I add by way of example, that the Schools Commission in its report sought approximately $720m for 1976 but received from the former Government only $498m, in December 1975 prices, Labor Government prices, which represented a reduction of $222m, quite apart from the loss of value of Labor Government money as a result of inflation generated by that Administration.

How hollow is it, then, for the honourable gentleman to come into the House during this debate and seek to charge the Government with a dereliction of responsibility in education by stating that the money which we are to provide is less than that which the commissions reported for the triennium that I have mentioned? We have given clear undertakings to the education commissions that there will be real growth in the funds that they are to receive and we have provided them with a planning basis upon which they can put forward programs to the Government under the new rolling triennium proposals. I would have thought that, by any standard, that is a constructive measure and is one upon which the commissions can plan constructively for the future.

The honourable gentleman also referred to the statement by the Minister for Education (Senator Carrick) on 4 November when the Minister said that he would be asking the commissions to convey further details of the supplementation arrangements to the institutions. It was alleged that this would lead to uncertainty about whether the Government would be providing the full real growth that it had announced for the commissions' programs. I refer the honourable gentleman to page 2 of the Minister's circulated statement, where he said: ... I wish to emphasise that the Government has no intention of retreating from its undertaking to support real growth in the education programs on which the commissions make recommendations.

What the commissions will be doing is simple enough. They will be conveying procedural details of the new arrangements to make them more certain, which is quite the contrary to the allegation that the honourable gentleman has made. So, if the honourable gentleman was properly briefed, it is hard to understand how he could make the charge that he did. I invite the honourable gentleman also to carry forward his reading of the paragraph from which he quoted and which refers to the adjustments which have been agreed for cost increases to be made in each quarter following certification from each commission of the supplementation required to maintain the real levels of expenditure approved for the 1977 program.

The honourable gentleman spoke at some length on technical and further education. We all agree on the importance of this field and the importance of giving the States more support in their programs for technical and further education. We all agree that there is a great need in Australia for expanded programs of training. Like the allegations which were made previously by the honourable member and to which I have just referred, he made remarks with respect to the need for training in the face of eventualities and he gave as examples the closure of copper mines, the difficulty in the electronics industry, the difficulty in the textile industry and the difficulty in the shipyards. It sounds rather hollow to hear him say that in this House when a short but ample analysis of the situations confronted by the industries that he mentioned shows that they are the product of the former Labor Government's administration. We know as a fact that the problems that all these industries are facing are the results of cost increases which were all generated under the Labor Government. In regard to the need for expanded programs of training and their relationship to the work force, it is this Government which has instituted the recommendations of the Williams Committee inquiry into the relationship of education to the work force. We realised that, as there is a restructuring of industry in Australia, and as there is a need for some restructuring of industry in Australia, our education institutions will have to tailor their programs to the needs of the work force.

In respect of technical and further education, I refer to the statement of the Minister for Education in the Senate on 4 November. I take up here the points made by the honourable member for Fremantle (Mr Beazley) when he spoke of the difficulties, as he saw the situation, of getting the States to bear their proper share of the responsibility for the expenditure on technical and further education. The Minister said:

It should be emphasised that the Government continues to give technical and further education a high priority and it is of central importance that the States continue to support technical and further education from their own funds, so that the Commonwealth Government grants will be a real addition to resources. It is especially important for the States to maintain their efforts on capital programs if rapidly increasing enrolments are to be accommodated in coming years.

In respect of what the States have been able to achieve, I am advised that the States have made considerable advances in their performance in the current period. Their forward planning of major building projects has improved greatly and is continuing to improve. Virtually the whole of the funds available to the end of 1976 will be expended before the end of the year. A number of contracts for projects to be constructed next year have already been let.

The Opposition proposes to move an amendment to the motion for the second reading of the States Grants (Technical and Further Education Assistance) Bill. Whilst the Opposition says that it does not oppose the Bill, it proposes that the House is of the opinion that insufficient resources are being directed into the technical education area. I think it is enough to refer the House to the complete passage in the statement made by the Minister for Education in the Senate on 4 November as a complete answer to the amendment that has been foreshadowed by the Opposition with respect to the funds to be provided for technical and further education.

The honourable member for Fremantle commented in his introductory remarks upon what was said by the honourable member for Brisbane, who expressed some pleasure at being able to read to his young children some of the educational material available today. It is regrettable that the honourable member for Fremantle should have made such a gratuitous observation. It was intended obviously to score off my colleague. If the honourable member for Fremantle had appreciated that the youngest child of the honourable member for Brisbane is only 3 weeks old and that his other children are all under school age he would have understood the pleasure which the honourable member for Brisbane gets from reading stories to his children- as, I might say, I do to my own children.

The honourable member for Fremantle sought to score a point by saying that the proposed growth rate for expenditure in 1977 would not be enough in real terms because it would not match even the anticipated growth rates in enrolment. Let me give to the House some figures which show that what the honourable gentleman has said is wrong. I have been supplied with the following figures: The proposed growth rate for funds for universities is 2 per cent. The expected increase in enrolments will be 1.8 per cent. For colleges of advanced education the increase in money provided represents a S per cent increase and the total increase in enrolment is 5 per cent. In technical and further education the proposed rate of increase in funds is 7.5 per cent and the expected increase in enrolments is of the same measure. For schools the rate of increase in funds will be 2 per cent and the expected increase in enrolments is 1.1 per cent. Thus the increase in funds more than matches the increase in enrolments.

The honourable gentleman referred to the need for vocational training and particularly mentioned Katherine College in the Northern Territory. Regrettably I have to advise the House that when this Government came to office and looked at vocational training in the Northern Territory, particularly for Aboriginals, we found quite a sorry story. There had been no real advance in this field under the former Labor Administration. I and my colleague, the Minister for Education, now have the job of pulling the situation together, investigating what is required and putting into operation on a sound administrative basis some forward planning which will provide Aboriginals and others in the Northern Territory with vocational training opportunities that can fit the needs in Aboriginal communities. It is abundantly clear that whatever vocational training is carried out must be tailored to the needs of the Aborigines in their own communities.

The honourable member for Franklin (Mr Goodluck) made a most valuable contribution to the House when he spoke of apprenticeship. Probably this is the first time that the historical position of apprenticeship and the position of apprenticeships generally in Australia has been laid out in such a careful and valuable manner. As he said, it is important that Australia lift the level of its trade training so as to supply the trade skills that are required for its development from its own people rather than rely so heavily on what has been said to be the more expensive method of supplying trade skills from overseas.

The honourable member for Melbourne (Mr Innes) spoke at great length and vigorously on the needs of special education in the migrant field- literacy and numeracy. He referred to the report on specific learning difficulties which was presented by a committee of this House. We all acknowledge that it was a most valuable report. The honourable member asked 2 questions on this matter. I can assure him that my colleague the Minister for Education has had the matter under consideration. I might remind the honourable member that the major recommendation of that committee was for teacher training and that is a responsibility of the colleges of advanced education. I would expect that the colleges would be taking special note of the recommendations of the committee in that regard and that in due course they will be making recommendations to the Government. I understand that one of the particular points made by that committee was the need for better use to be made of resources than hitherto. That is something which the honourable member for Melbourne needs to bear in mind.

I noted with some interest his reference to the need for bilingual teachers. He referred to this particularly in the migration area. I have a special interest in this subject because of the work being done in the field of bilingual education for Aboriginal children in the Northern Territory and Western Australia. It is a most important initiative and it has been operating for some years. It is being evaluated continually. I find it absolutely logical that the easiest way to communicate with people is through their own language. If knowledge is power, and we must be able to communicate in order to acquire knowledge, it is abundantly clear that the best way to communicate with people is in their own language. If that language is not English they ought to be taught in their own language so that they may become bilingual and be able to communicate in English as well as in their own language. What is often not realised, only because of ignorance, is that Aboriginal languages are not written languages and this makes the task of the teacher all the harder. A great deal of work is being done today to put the oral language of the Aboriginals into writing. We are teaching the children to read their own language for the first time. I cannot help but think that as this program develops we will see marked advances in the field of Aboriginal education and, I venture to suggest, a much more rapid advance in Aboriginal education than we have experienced in the past.

I thank other honourable members for their contributions to this debate although I have not dealt with any particularity with some of the matters they raised. I foreshadow that the amendment to be moved to the States Grants (Technical and Further Education Assistance) Bill by the Opposition will be opposed by the Government.

Question resolved in the affirmative.

Bill read a second time.

Message from the Governor-General recommending appropriation announced.







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