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Wednesday, 5 December 1973
Page: 2496


Senator DAVIDSON (South Australia) -The States Grants (Schools) Bill 1973 is a massive Bill. The Bill itself is a large document and the second reading speech of the Minister for the Media (Senator Douglas McClelland) runs into many pages. The notes and other material also run to considerable length. Many facets are connected with the Bill and many areas are laid down in which the Government proposes to spend money and in which it proposes to advance the whole concept of education. To the extent that it is a massive, wide ranging, far reaching and complex Bill, I give it my support. I say this because it is established to provide for an ongoing and a ever-extending diverse system and program of education.

Of course, there are some things about the Bill which I do not like. One is that it has established many conditions for the States as to how they may or may not spend their money. There is another factor in the Bill which excludes certain areas of education and certain schools, namely the non-government or independent schools, from receiving grants or funds. The Government excludes certain schools and it knows perfectly well that the policy of the Opposition, stated last year when it was in government, and stated this year over and over again has been to establish a system of funding so that every child in the country receives a grant towards his education. It is a system which the Government is proposing to obstruct. It is denying the members of the community within Australia their rights as citizens and their rights towards education.

Let me remind the Senate that this is not the first time that we have gone through this exercise of a challenge to education. It is not the first time that this kind of debate has come before the Senate. I remind the Senate that the debate in August on the Karmel Committee report revealed quite clearly just how the Opposition felt in this regard. It also revealed quite clearly the difference in philosophy existing m this area. In our view there must always remain not only a flexibility in interpretation of education but also freedom of choice for both parent and student, freedom of opportunity for groups that wish to establish a school and freedom for teachers to express their vocation in any one of a number of educational systems. This is the area in which the Government would exert its principle of denial, refusal and withholding. Education is a cornerstone of our society. Governments have a duty to provide the maximum of opportunity and to set conditions for the widest possible range of opportunities. This includes the provision of funds. After all, the basis of education is to provide within our total activities in society a series of systems and opportunities whereby people can obtain the knowledge, skills and cultures which they wish to acquire. The Bill, related as it is to the Interim Committee for the Schools Commissionthe Karmel Committee- provides a great diversity of opportunities, a great amount of money and a great area of systems so that a great number of people in Australia can have a maximum opportunity for education. This is highlighted in the Minister's second reading speech.


Senator Gietzelt - This is what is in the Bill.


Senator DAVIDSON -I remind the supporters of the Government that I am talking about the Bill. The Bill sets out to provide sums of money for education. As I said in my introductory remarks, while I support the position as stated in the Minister's second reading speech, there are areas with which I do not totally agree and there are areas in which the Government is withholding funds and opportunities rather than providing them.

Early in his second reading speech the Minister referred to the fact that $694m will be available to schools during 1974-75. The Minister added that the net cost of the recommendations of the Interim Committee will be $468. 5m. He went on to make the understatement of the year when he said that this expenditure constituted a dramatic increase. I draw attention to the fact that it does constitute a dramatic increase and the people of Australia might well take note of the fact that it does. They w3l have to pay for this dramatic increase in expenditure. They will be charged for this dramatic increase and they will be expected to dig deep into their pockets to pay for this dramatic increase in expenditure. When they dig deep into their pockets to pay for this dramatic increase in expenditure they will ask the Government for value for money. They will also want to ensure that as it is their money- the taxpayers' money- for which they will be digging deep into their pockets to pay for this dramatic increase in expenditure, it is distributed equitably and fairly. They are entitled to ask for fair and equitable distribution. They will want to get value for their money and they will want answers to these questions. Mr President, I am saying to you that the Government is not giving us the answers to these questions.

I ask the Government and the Minister for an explanation of the relationship between the number of dollars spent and the excellence of the education standards? He has listed a whole range of areas in which educational facilities are to be provided. A high proportion of our resources today is spent on education. Students, teachers and other personnel form a large proportion of our population. They have an opportunity to create an influence not only on our present day society but also on our future society. There is a viewpoint that environmental influences of the home and of the neighbourhood persist right throughout a person's life regardless of the expensiveness of education. This may tend to suggest that the amount spent on education will have little effect on the person who emerges at the end of an extensive and expensive educational career. I point out this Bill provides for a very expensive educational process. My own thinking is that this is not totally true. Of course, the environment and home influences are particularly strong. But today the educational system, especially that provided for in this Bill, will determine a great deal in the life, aspirations, personal achievements and satisfaction of our citizens of the next generation. So I am saying that this is an important measure.

The Government asks us tonight to agree to the expenditure of a great amount of money. Therefore, I remind the Senate and the people of the nation that the Government must not only give account of the way in which it will spend the money, but also it must persuade the Senate that the money spent extensively and expensively on education will yield satisfaction and will provide for the education of Australians. Early in his second reading speech the Minister pointed out that the Bill made provisions for primary school libraries. This was one of some seven or eight areas mentioned in the second reading speech. This expenditure is being made for the first time in the primary school area. It will provide facilities that will be complementary to those provided by other administrations in educational institutions and at other levels of education. I hope that there will be discussion on this matter in relation to the use of these libraries because a large amount is set aside for them. I also hope that they will enjoy the widest use by the community at large. I hope that there will be conversations at various levels which the Minister is able to interpret best of all so that the community gets the maximum value for this large sum which is provided.

Recently in the Senate there was a debate on the National Library. We drew attention to the fact that libraries in modern society play a major part in the whole field of education. Another one of the several areas is that of teacher training and teacher development. On the ninth page of the Minister's second reading speech he draws attention to the crucial importance of the area of training for teachers and administrators to upgrade their competence. So he suggests that grants will be provided for the in-service education of teachers in 1974 and 1975. The Minister is not the first to think of this, and he is certainly not the first to put it to paper. I remind him, as I remind the Senate and the Government, of the Senate committee system, for which the Government takes so much credit from time to time.

I draw attention to the report of the Senate Standing Committee on Education, Science and the Arts on the Commonwealth's role in teacher education, which was tabled as late as last year. At page 54 of that report a chapter is devoted to the continuing education of teachers, and the Committee has expressed the belief that existing teacher training institutions should provide inservice courses within the limit of their resources. Then the Committee recommends that certain processes should be undertaken. It is pleasing that the Government has perhaps taken some notice of this Senate Standing Committee. All I wish is that the Government might acknowledge that fact in some way. I now refer to the part of the Minister's speech relating to special education, with particular reference to handicapped children. Here again, the Minister is not the first to think of this matter, and neither is the Department of Education, because the report of the Senate Standing Committee on Health and Welfareand the Government has been a great champion of the Senate Standing Committee system- contains a section devoted to the education of the handicapped. It set out a whole list of recommendations relating to the necessity for special education, particularly for those who are handicapped.

I now turn briefly to the part of the Minister's speech in which he dealt with recurrent grants. The Government has pointed out that it intends to make grants for schools on what it calls a basis of relative need. I remind honourable senators, as I remind the Minister, that no-one has explained to the Senate during this debate what the reference to relative need really means, because by imposing this basis of relative need the Government introduces discrimination into the education community. This brings into the debate the role and the place of non-government schools and independent schools. As honourable senators very well know, the long-established policy of our Party, both in Government and Opposition, has been that every child attending a non-government school should receive a basic per pupil grant towards the recurrent cost of his or her education. This policy was put into effect in the legislation and announcements of the previous Government. The program provided for grants on the basis of 20 per cent of the average expenditure for private and Government schools.

The present position is that a number of schools have been seriously disadvantaged as a result of the Government's plan to operate on what it has called a needs basis rather than on a basis of per capita grants. If the system of education in our country is to include a nongovernment or independent schools system- and the Government believes in the inclusion of that system, because it has not thrown it out- surely the Government must believe in a principle whereby those same schools can plan, budget and work with security, purpose and a prospect for the future. Under a needs doctrine, this is not possible, as the Government knows perfectly well because under such a doctrine situations change from time to time. The sum of money that a government that operates under a needs doctrine can be pleased to bestow can vary from to time, so that grave insecurity may arise which can work to the disadvantage of the schools concerned and indeed contribute to the downgrading of the whole independent schools system.

From time to time, the independent schools system has been defended on all sides of the Senate, but the Government has been busy with a complexion of its own which for some curious reason it has decided to champion and which does nothing less than divide the community. It is very disappointing that the Government had decided not to provide for all children in our community. I say to the Government that, if it persists in this needs doctrine, it will cause great harm to its own education program and to this massive Bill to which I have referred previously. The Government has failed to take account of the attention already given to this area of need in every independent and non-government school. As everyone knows, most schools set aside such funds as they can manage to meet these needs. Generally, this is expressed in terms of scholarships or student assistance. If the Government continues under its needs doctrine to penalise the independent schools system, the number of students at independent schools will fall, the number and types of teachers will decline, and the variety and dimension of education- and the Government has approached this aspect with such ambition in this Bill- will suffer. What is more distressing is that demands will be made on the State system that it will not be able to meet, and this will have a serious effect on the future of the citizens of this country, a matter to which I have referred earlier.

The serious aspect of this Bill is the Government's failure to keep its electoral promises so that every child in the country may receive a per capita grant. As I said at the outset of my remarks, in August we had a debate on education that touched on the very matter that has been aired before the Senate tonight. That was 3 months ago, yet the Government has not taken the opportunity to note the fact that the Senate passed a very strong resolution relating to this matter. The Government just simply did not recognise that there were conditions and circumstances in the country that the community supported. Therefore, the Government has now introduced this Bill which discriminates against independent schools. Mr President I seek leave to continue my remarks.







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