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Thursday, 26 May 1977

Mr BEAZLEY (Fremantle) -The Australian Union of Students is a federal body and it is extremely doubtful whether any State legislation compels any students to contribute to it. I think the honourable member for Kingston (Mr Chapman) has confused 2 matters. I shall take as an example the University of Western Australia. The university requires the membership of the students of the Guild of Undergraduates. The Guild of Undergraduates has received loans from the university. At one stage, perhaps, it may have owed the university $lm, and interest of $70,000 a year was paid on this amount for student buildings. So universities habitually require all students, compulsorily, to be members of the student body within the university. Whether that student body is affiliated with the Australian Union of Students is an entirely separate question.

The Guild of Undergraduates of the university or the student representative council of any given university does not have to be affiliated with the Australian Union of Students. No State law requires the student representative council of any university to be affiliated with the Australian Union of Students. If the student union by its own decision is affiliated with the federal body- an affiliation fee is paid- I think that is quite a separate issue from compulsory membership with the student union of any given university. Membership of the Guild of Undergraduates of the University of Western Australia only involves membership of the Australian Union of Students if the Guild of Undergraduates affiliates with the Australian Union of Students. If the Guild chooses to withdraw, then all the points the honourable gentleman is making fall down. State legislation does not force any university student body to affiliate with the federal body.

However, that is not the most serious point in the honourable gentleman's speech. He made a statement about an attack on non-government schools by the Australian Labor Party Government. Joseph Stalin once said that education was a weapon whose nature depended upon whom you intended to attack with the weapon. He is not the only materialist who thought of education as a weapon. A great many people think of education as a weapon of their children's advantage over everybody else. While that may be an adequate view for a parent, it is not an adequate view for the Commonwealth and for the States. The adequate view for the Commonwealth or the States is that education is the instrument of every child's dignity, not the weapon of some children's advantage. The most absurd part of the speech of the honourable member for Kingston was his statement that the Labor Government had attacked the nongovernment schools.

In the last biennium of the McMahon Government expenditure on all schools by the Commonwealth was $1 12m but in the Karmel biennium expenditure on all schools by the Commonwealth was $794m. Even allowing for inflation, that represents a vast increase in expenditure. The expenditure on non-government schools by the McMahon Government in its last biennium increased from $71m to the vicinity of $240m. In addition, there was the first ever expenditure by the Commonwealth on non-government teachers colleges which, in fact, in some cases got the status of colleges of advanced education. The Commonwealth undertook unprecedented responsibility for their financing. An increase in expenditure on non-government schools from $71m to $240 m would only be an attack in the mind of somebody standing on his head. That, I think, was the posture of the honourable member for Kingston in this debate.

When the Karmel report was originally brought in it had inbuilt into it an allowance of 6 per cent for inflation. The inflation rate exceeded the 6 per cent for which Karmel had allowed. It is important to note that in the estimates given now for the rolling triennia there is no inbuilt allowance for inflation and so cost supplementation has to meet that situation entirely. Cost supplementation was introduced by the Whitlam Government in 1974 for each of the commissions to maintain the value of Commonwealth grants. It was possible, for instance, for information to be given about how supplementation affected each sector. As the honourable gentleman has been very typical in his speech the only schools which concerned him were non-government schools. He did not even speak of the special grants for the poorer non-government schoolsthe Catholic schools- so one can assume that he was speaking for the schools which had higher resource levels.

In all these fields, however, not only were there unprecedently high grants but also they were affected by supplementation. For instance, if we look back at the Catholic systemic recurrent expenditure we see there was a supplementation of 18.7 per cent to allow for inflation. For nongovernment schools recurrent expenditure in 1974 there was a supplement of 10.2 per cent and then, in 1975, there was a supplement of 21 per cent. For the special education courses there was a supplement of 15.4 per cent and for the related teacher replacement for the special education courses there was a supplement of 16.5 per cent. So these supplementations maintained the purchasing power of the commission recommendations in every sector. The supplementation in the rolling triennia is a shorter term supplementation than the supplementation over 3 years. To allow for inflation and also for new programs, if I remember offhand, the extra expenditure on universities was about $3 16m over the period of the triennium.

Because of the nature of the very expensive recommendations involving unprecedently large increases in expenditure as envisaged particularly by the Commission on Advanced Education and by the Technical and Further Education Commission, the Whitlam Government was unable to accept the sharpness of these increases. It asked for a suspension of the triennium for a year- a holding year- and then the resumption of the triennium. This was attacked by the parties who now sit on the Government side. However, their rolling triennium is not the restoration of what is understood by the triennium as we knew it in the past. I am not surprised at that, because in that respect Treasury disliked 2 things very much. It disliked the concept of triennial funding altogether and it disliked what it regarded as the privilege for education in the cost supplementation or the indexation of grants being made. Treasury was not happy about either of those things. It takes the view that if cost supplementation is provided inflation is inbuilt, whereas if cost supplementation is not provided and the institutions have to carry the can for inflation there would probably be a tendency for the inflation rate to diminish. That viewpoint was not accepted by the Labor Government and the concept of supplementation was introduced. The legislation for the 4 commissions which is before us at the present time is simply that supplementation concept brought up to date. The Opposition supports the idea that Schools Commission recommendations should be supplemented in this way.

The honourable member for Kingston had some comments to make about the nongovernment schools. It would be better if he were to speak about the real grievance of the nongovernment schools, which is quite different from the points that he made. If the honourable gentlemen were to look at the Karmel report he would see that Karmel took the resource levels of the average State school as his norm and gave that an indexed figure of 100. All nongovernment schools were then assessed against that scale. Some Catholic schools had a resource index of less than 66 per cent of the government school. Some non-government schools had a resource index of 230 per cent of the government school. It was Karmel s aim to bring every school up to 140 per cent of the index over a decade. As far as the Catholic schools are concerned, their advance is not as rapid as that of the State schools.

There is a curious paradox in State administration, if we compare 2 commissions. The States have not been as active in advancing technical and further education as they might have been but, as far as the government schools are concerned, the rate at which they are advancing from purely State expenditure is beyond what Karmel envisaged. In some cases their resource advance may be even 4 per cent a year. The Catholic schools in particular, out of their own expenditure efforts, are not having anything like a 4 per cent increase. So while the general concepts of the Karmel system may be continued and increased grants made to the poorer nongovernment schools to bring them up to the State school level, and then after a decade to 140 per cent of the State school level, the State school level is in fact sliding away from them because of the very special efforts that the States themselves have been putting into their own schools out of their own resources. I would hesitate to say that falling behind is a characteristic of every nongovernment school, but it tends to be a characteristic of the Catholic schools which, generally speaking, are the poorer schools in resource levels amongst the non-government schools.

I do not want to make the suggestion that the poorer schools in resource level necessarily are the poorer schools in education. There are factors of devotion that are very important. In some areas where orders are strongly represented, and they tend now to be in remoter areas of the Northern Territory and in places like the Kimberleys, staff are committed to live there for years and years. It may be to serve Aboriginal communities. Some of them get to know the Aboriginal languages and the families. There are services which they can perform which State school teachers going to the Kimberleys for, say, a year or two and then being promoted out of the area and never really becoming familiar with the problems do not perform to an equal extent.

Nevertheless, Karmel worked out very clearly a strategy for improving education in the nongovernment sector. It would not be true to say that sector is the most articulate. It would be fair to say, I think, that the parents who send their children to non-government schools of higher resource levels are more articulate than anybody else in the education area in the Commonwealth, with the notable exception of the parents of children in Canberra schools. I remember that when I was waited upon by a deputation of parents from Canberra secondary schools in particular, who seemed to be half the staff of the Australian National University, with a vast battery of educational experts, I felt like a piece of chewed string after spending an hour or two discussing their very articulate demands for their children. It does not surprise me that the resources devoted to education in the Australian Capital Territory per capita are 30 per cent or 40 per cent higher than the Australian average. I am bound to say that as Minister for Education I never experienced any Treasury resistance to high expenditure on education in the Australian Capital Territory because that is where the children of the Treasury officials are educated. I do not know whether that is an unduly cynical viewpoint, but it was a fact that I encountered very little criticism of expenditure in this area.

It has to be recognised as one of the facts of life in education, and I say this to the honourable member for Kingston, that the more underprivileged a section of the community the less articulate they are about the needs of their children. One of the first decisions we made in education was that there should be a bilingual program in Aboriginal education. No demand for this came from Aboriginal parents. Many of them jumped at the opportunity of having education in their own languages in their schools when the proposition was put to them and I understand that it has now grown to a point where there is education in 22 Aboriginal languages around the Northern Territory. However, there was no articulate demand for it from Aboriginal parents, although they needed it. The Labor Government extended the Aboriginal secondary grants which the Gorton Government had introduced. The grants applied to Aboriginal children of IS years of age and over to enable them to stay at school, and we extended the scheme to all Aboriginal children in secondary education. There had not been a demand from Aboriginal parents for such a scheme but it met a very great need. Those parents were quite inarticulate.

The States had never had a concept of disadvantaged schools, including inner city slum schools. No such concept existed and no demand came from the parents. I am not deriding the State Ministers in this respect. Quite rightly, they did not want the lists of what were regarded as disadvantaged schools to be made public because they said that many of the children and many of the parents who sent their children to what are classified as disadvantaged schools were very proud of those schools and it would be a stigma for them to be publicly classified as disadvantaged. Nevertheless, the children in those schools were disadvantaged and the fact that the Ministers could point to the pride that the parents had in the schools did indicate that there was not a demand for such a classification. There was some demand in the field of handicapped education, but in many of the States handicapped education had been a matter of private charity. We negotiated with the Country Party about what would be classified as A schools, and there were forty of them among the 9600 schools in Australia. I think it is fair to say that those 40 schools could make more noise than the other 9600 put together. On the whole, the children attending those schools had very articulate parents. I do not deride them for this. They had a very clear and direct conception of where their children were going. Honourable members should remember that the grammar school is much more relevant to the future of people who intend to enter the professions than other schools are to the future of people who will enter other sorts of occupations. That is the reason for the great professional interest. The Opposition supports this cost supplementation. It was introduced in our period in office. It is absolutely essential. I hope the day will come when the problem of inflation will be solved to the extent that the supplementation will be unnecessary. Until that day, cost supplementation defends education from the erosion of appropriations made for it.

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