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Friday, 21 May 1965

Senator DITTMER (Queensland) . - I should like to deal first with some remarks made by Senator Laught. The honorable senator suggested that last year enthusiastic opposition was displayed by members of Her Majesty's Opposition in this place to the granting of financial assistance to the States for science laboratories and equipment in schools. Actually, we did not oppose the granting of a miserable, parsimonious sum of £5 million. What we did object to - we did so vehemently - was the completely callous disregard of the Government to the educational needs of the children of this country and its willingness, in order to obtain a maximum number of votes, to prostitute its political power by endeavouring to lead people to believe that it was granting a minimum sum.

The honorable senator then mentioned what he liked about the Government's scheme. Whatever might be the likes of the Government as expressed in its schemes for the granting of assistance in the establishment of science laboratories and the provision of buildings and equipment for technical training, it is providing only a minimal sum of money for a maximum period. In other words, it would seem that the Government is satisfied in this particular case to provide a maximum sum of £5 million for the next three years. Nowhere has it been suggested that this will be a minimal sum and that, as so often happens in relation to Commonwealth grants to the States, at the end of 12 months the position will be reviewed with a view to increasing the sum. It seems that the Government and ils supporters are prepared to adopt a lethargic approach to the problem and to be satisfied to make available a sum of £5 million for the next year and the two subsequent years.

Senator Laughtreferred to the Government's education proposals as being one of its brilliant acts. Of course, the Government considered that the proposals it advanced the year before last were brilliant. A person would have to be an idiot not to realise that the Government's education proposals announced before the last election were designed to win votes and that in fact the Government did attain its objective. The Government cold bloodedly, callously, and with indifference to the rights of our children, has been motivated by the same thought in introducing the Bills now before us.

What is wrong with what we suggested last year and what we again suggest now - an inquiry into all forms of education in Australia? 1 suppose supporters of the Government in this chamber and in another place will hold up the present leader of the Government, who controls the activities of every member of his party and of the parasitic group who sit beside them, as being a great builder in the education sphere. While speaking of building, let us consider our education system as being in the nature of a two-storey structure. First we have the foundations, then the ground floor, and on top of that the first floor. The foundations consist of our primary education system. The ground floor consists of academic secondary education and technical training, and the first floor consists of tertiary education which is now to be widened to include the field of technology and what are referred to as the liberal arts at a standard lower than that taught within the various universities.

At no stage has any representative of the Government suggested that any interest should be taken in, let alone an inquiry being made into, the needs of primary education. We have been told ad nauseam that the Commonwealth has no real authority in the field of education, that education is a State responsibility. But that did not stop the present Government or its predecessors from displaying an interest in tertiary education and appointing the Murray committee to conduct an inquiry. As is characteristic of mc, I graciously admit that to a degree the Government adopted a liberal approach to the needs of tertiary education, although it was not as liberal as the needs would have justified. Nonetheless, the approach was exextraordinarily liberal when we think of the parsimonious, miserly approach to such problems in the past by successive Governments led by the present Prime Minister (Sir Robert Menzies).

It is all very well for Senator Laught to speak about the last decade. We have not reached the end of the first decade of the Government's interest in the field of tertiary education. At the end of the decade we shall see just what has happened, not so much in terms of what has been provided as in terms of what has been provided in relation to the needs of the time.

The proposed provision of £5 million for science laboratories is a miserable approach to the problem. When we think of the buildings, equipment and amenities that have been provided in the field of primary education, it will be seen that the States, because of inadequate finances or the lack of a sense of responsibility, have made inadequate provision for scientific and technical training. It is quite evident that, because of its callous disregard, the Government here in Canberra proposes to do nothing in the field of primary education. How can you have success in the field of secondary academic or technical education, and in turn in the field of tertiary education whether at the university level or the technological training institute level, if attention is not given to education at the primary level? A child must be trained to think. If children are to be taught to learn by memory at the primary level they will be as automatons as the secondary level and inevitably there will be an extraordinarily large wastage at the tertiary level.

That is what we are experiencing in Australia today. This Government and its immediate predecessors have done nothing about this. As regards education, it has been accepted in this modern era that apart from the contribution that can be made to the development of the country and the well being of its citizens collectively, it is the basic right of every individual child to be provided with opportunities to develop to maximum the talents with which he is endowed. We know that under our economic system there are many limiting factors as regards parents, environment, occupation, distance and sparsity of population. These are all limiting factors in the provision of adequate opportunities. It should be the sincere and serious endeavour of the central government to provide those facilities which will make for the maximum development and utilisation of the talents with which each child is endowed. There is no endeavour to do this.

This question has been identified in some measure, more particularly in the provision of scientific laboratories and equipment, with the question of aid for independent schools. If we accept the basis that the child has an inherent right, this means that every child has the basic inherent right. If this Government is in favour of aid to independent schools, why does it not provide adequately to meet the needs of individual children? It has been said that my party is opposed to aid to independent schools. Let us traverse the story. It is important to get this clearly once and for all. There has been enough confusion associated with it. This confusion has been associated with it intentionally, I should say, be many opponents of Labour, but out of ignorance in the case of others, who do not see fit to learn the story properly.

What happened in 1951? The Labour Party decided that it would aid all forms of education. This was a general statement. Ideally, it sounded all right, but it had no practical effect, it mean, nothing. No real aid was given from a national point of view. In 1957 an endeavour was made, more particularly in the field of secondary education. I personally felt that we should start in the field of primary education, because ultimately from the children in the primary schools come the scholars of the secondary and technical schools, and from those come the university students. We said that we would provide scholarships and bursaries. If in 1958 we had won the election, that system would have been in existence today. Almost certainly, having established that system successfully, we would now have been in the field of primary education.

There was never any suggestion that children should be forced, under a State or national system, to undergo a one system education. That was never visualised. I do not know of any party in Australia that would attempt to impose on the people of Australia a one system education. We would have had today a relatively prosperous State system and a relative prosperous independent system. If children had to pay fees, it would have been the responsibility of the Government after 1958 to meet those fees in an endeavour to provide that which the Labour Party has always sought, the provision of equal opportunities for all children, within the limits of the environmental circumstances that I previously outlined, in an endeavour to cultivate to the maximum the talents with which each child is endowed.

We would almost certainly have moved by now into the field of primary education. We are credited with being socialistic. Many would say that we were accused of it. For practical political purposes, our opponents accuse us of being Socialists, but we are entitled to the credit of accepting a platform and policy of social responsibility. It is extraordinary, whether in the field of education of in any other arena of human endeavour, how quickly the Prime Minister sees fit to hang his hat on our hook and at least utilise so much of our policy as he, with his political astuteness, visualises will be sufficient to lull the public into a sense of security. He assures the public of something. As representative of the political party from which he comes, he sees fit to grant not the maximum but just the minimum that will assure him of political control.

Senator Laughtis a great friend of mine. He has had a long association with the Australian National University. There are not many who are more versed than Senator Laught in the requirements of tertiary education. But when it comes to the field of secondary education, more particularly in the field of scientific endeavour, he seems to be particularly easily satisfied, with the provision of about £300,000. Let us not forget that from the facilities that are provided will come the students who will go into our technological institutes and universities to do various courses and to serve industry and the nation. For training students in secondary education, more particularly in science, an amount of £5 million. a year is to be provided. An amount of £1,334,000 will go to the independent schools. This nation and all other nations are urgently in need of scientifically and technologically trained personnel. In terms of the rapidly increasing numbers being trained, does anyone think that this is an adequate amount?

You, Mr. Deputy President, above all, because of your close association with primary industry and commerce, realise that the nation is crying out for adequately trained personnel. We lag behind almost every other modern nation in the proportion of national income devoted to education. We are amongst the lowest spenders. How many other countries, which by no stretch of the imagination could be termed modern, which possibly do not even desire to take a place in the modern world on modern standards, expend a lower percentage of their national income on education than we do? When we consider the sparsity of our population in relation to a relatively large area, our case appears worse. How can the present Government be termed a great building organisation? It will not face up to its fundamental responsibilities, whether these are in the field of education, development, financial adjustment or trade. It falls down on every issue other than one particular issue. It is a past master at political chicanery. I do not suppose that this country has ever witnessed a series of governments more astute at handling the affairs of the nation not in the interests of the nation or its people but in the interests of their political survival. There can be very little dispute about that. All members on the Government side paid tribute to their leader for his political astuteness in handling issues In a way which has paid regard not to the requirements of the people of this country but to their own individual and collective survival.

Let us consider the training of scientists, about which some small tribute is being paid. We can see throughout the world today the phenomenon of the works of science and of scientists. Sometimes I wonder - certainly the Government does nothing to stop me wondering - at the minimum regard that the Government pays to its responsibilities to the humanities. I realise that it is absolutely essential that we have adequately trained scientists and technologists but, after all, they do not point the way of life. They may show ways in which standards of living can be improved. As I have said before, we have learned to kill by means of nuclear weapons but we have not yet learned to live with them. In establishing an aristocracy in the field of science do not let us kid ourselves or even think seriously that we are necessarily entering the kingdom of wisdom.

The Government pays no regard to history, more particularly in the field of tertiary education. It pays only a mimimum regard financially and politically to the requirements of the humanities yet, as we traverse the pages of history, we must realise that there are few contemporary events that do not have a parallel in history - keeping in mind, of course, the differences arising from the environmental circumstances existing at a particular time. It is interesting to see, from history, that the people who point the way to how to live with scientific and engineering advances have not been scientists or engineers. In a period when we boast of our wide recognition of the need for better educational facilities, amenities and qualifications, we do little or nothing about them.

I have spoken in terms of buildings. I want now to deal with the aspect of time. Do not forget that there is another dimension besides length, breadth and depth. It is the dimension of time. The introduction of these three Bills which are now before the Senate, emanating from the great builder and sponsored by a lethargic government, occupied exactly 18 minutes in another place. Surely it was the responsibility of the Prime Minister, as it was the responsibility of the Leader of the Government in this Senate, to elaborate on what the Government was planning and not to take the attitude: " Well, we have to feed this to the public in the dying hours of this session ". How characteristic of the Government's callous, careless disregard of the people of this country; how extraordinarily characteristic of this Government, which has been in office since 10th December 1949? The Government does not care one whit about requirements at the secondary level, whether in the field of academic or technical training, and it certainly is not interested in the field of primary education.

I have paid a measure of regard on other occasions to the Prime Minister for the interest that he has taken in the field of university education. Perhaps I can be a little sympathetic towards him because, after all, brilliant as he was, he had the benefit of a tertiary education. Subsequently he has associated with graduates. He has mixed with people who have attained such financial success in commerce and industry that they too can associate with graduates. Perhaps it is because his vision has been limited by environment that we on this side of the chamber are so sympathetic towards the Prime Minister. No-one on this side of the Senate has ever hesitated to pay tribute for what little he has done in the field of university education, but we condemn the Government for the minimum that it is providing in the field of secondary educa tion and we totally and absolutely condemn it for its callous disregard of the requirements of primary education.

We live in a country with an area of about 2i million square miles. We have a population of about 11,200,000. I accept that the future of Australia will lie in the hands of one or other of the major political parties. Unfortunately, for the present it is in the hands of the Conservatives. We have accepted in this country a double system of education - State and independent. Many of the people who are coming to Australia from other countries have never known the obligation to make a contribution to the upkeep of schools, irrespective of whether they be State or independent. Consequently, they do not realise that they have a responsibility to provide for their own children in the independent system of education which we in this country have accepted. If this Government is sincere in its espousal of the retention of an independent system of education travelling in parallel with a State system of education, it has a much greater responsibility to contribute to the wellbeing of each individual child irrespective of the school he or she attends, whether it be at the tertiary, the academic, the secondary, the technical or the primary level. The Government, completely indifferent, does nothing to establish a sound basis, a solid foundation, on which the children of this nation may develop to the maximum the talents with which they, by God and by nature, have been endowed. It is obvious that through the development and utilisation of their talents they will be able to develop this country to the maximum, both in their own interests and in the interests of the community.

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