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Thursday, 9 December 1976


Mr BRYANT (Wills) - If it is some comfort to the honourable member for Darling Downs (Mr McVeigh), I will stop early enough for him to have a say, as a gesture to a member of the House of Representatives Select Committee on Specific Learning Difficulties.


Mr Bourchier - As you did not put your name on the list of speakers, I think you should.


Mr BRYANT -Do not let me embark upon that kind of an argument. I have been a member of this House for long enough to be able to qualify to speak in debates without having to apply to the Whip of the Government parties. As a nonmember of the Committee, I thank the Committee on behalf of all the non-members of it for the competence of their work and for the dedication which they put into it. I take up the remarks of the honourable member for Moore (Mr Hyde) about the fact that the Committee embarked upon a program which was certainly not in the normal field of parliamentary endeavour inasmuch as this was a highly technical subject. However, I have a great deal of faith in members of Parliament en masse, and sometimes individually, and in their competence to examine subjects of great technicality and to produce adequate understanding of them. In this case I believe they have done so.

I ask the Government, insofar as it is likely to take any initiative about anything at this stage, to apply itself to having the recommendations of this Committee carried out. Perhaps it is time we had some system of parliamentary audit by which committee reports which are brought before the Parliament are examined and continually sent along the way. Something must be done inside the parliamentary system to make this part of it effective. This report would not be the first report which has been before Parliament and which has been completely ignored. A committee has recently been looking at matters concerning Aborigines. It discovered that around Australia something like 45 reports have been ignored.

I want to refer briefly to 3 matters which interest me particularly. The first matter is on the first page of the recommendations. The first one is that we do something about legislation in some of the States which denies the responsibility of education departments to provide educational services to handicapped children. This has been one of the most callous areas of Australian education- the ignoring of our duty to handicapped children and to the parents of those children. It has created great hardship. It has been an area of neglect over most of Australia, and it will be only through the action of some supranational authority that we will get equal opportunity in that field for those children.

The second point is item (c) of the recommendations which is in chapter 3. It states that we should make every effort to recruit teachers, preferably from the relevant ethnic groups, who are proficient in minority and migrant languages, and so on. I speak about this matter with some depth of feeling because my electorate has one of the great concentrations of migrants in Australia. Three million people have come to this country, thousands of them with a faintly literate background of their own. Mostly they have been poured into the industrial areas of Australia. Their future education has been ignored. I think this has been a very serious area of neglect. It ought not to have been tolerated. The Government of which I was a member attempted to introduce a program and started it along its way. I do not think the Victorian Education Department applied itself with proper vigour to the task. In this instance we will need special classes, special equipment and special teachers. We have a Department of Immigration and Ethnic Affairs responsible for the question. We have a Department of Education. There is no excuse for our not pressing the State departments, making the necessary grants and getting on with the job. I think this is one of the most important areas of educational activity.

The third point is the situation of the Aboriginal children of Australia. Governments pre- 1972 took some steps which gave some hope to the Aboriginal children in that they established, I think, secondary grants. In the 3 years in which we were in government we took a lot of steps to establish programs to overcome the particular difficulties of Aboriginal groups. I appeal to the Parliament, to the Government in particular, to take urgent steps to implement these recommendations. It is quite pointless the Parliament appointing committees which put a lot of work into their subject and which travel the country at great length, listen to a large number of competent people who produce mountains of submissions and evidence, if nothing then happens. I appeal to the Government to forget for a moment the theology that it calls economic theories. It should start to apply some vigour to this. Today we heard the Prime Minister (Mr Malcolm Fraser) saying that it was absolutely essential that we reduce government expenditure. This is such an enormous social contradiction that we cannot tolerate it. The people of Australia ought to be alerted to the contradiction between the pretensions about social policy and philosophy of honourable members opposite and the economic theories being followed.

I remind the House that Australia's record in public education is probably as good as that of any other country. At the end of the last century we established a free, compulsory and mostly secular education system. That was basically in the 1870s. At that stage not much more than 50 to 60 per cent of the community was literate. According to the census returns, by 1900 Australia was basically a literate community. That was a remarkable achievement. It had the great advantage of a simple objective, that is, to obtain literacy- to be able to read and write. Unfortunately we still have no clear objective in secondary education, for handicapped people or for specialist groups.

I propose to finish at that point although there are a number of things that I would like to say, particularly to my friend the honourable member for Bendigo (Mr Bourchier). I think it is inordinate impertinence on his part to think that he shall decide whether or not people shall speak in this House. He is one of those fortunate people who is a temporary member of this Parliament. On this occasion I sit down to pay a proper courtesy to my friend, the honourable member for Darling Downs who, in this instance, happens to be right, but who is mostly in a situation of grievous political error. I remind the House in doing so that it is very rarely that that kind of courtesy is paid to myself or anybody on this side of the House.







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