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Tuesday, 29 November 1983
Page: 2980

Mr SIMMONS(5.09) —The States Grants (Education Assistance-Participation and Equity) Bill, the States Grants (Schools Assistance) Bill and the States Grants (Tertiary Education Assistance) Amendment Bill, which are currently before the House, I believe represent great advances for education at all levels -in this country primary, secondary and post-secondary. The Bills represent the legislative response to two important reports that were tabled in this Parliament on 18 October 1983. The reports that I am referring to are, first of all, the report of the Commonwealth Tertiary Education Commission which made recommendations for the distribution of funds for 1984 for tertiary education programs funded by the Commonwealth Government. The second very important report is the report of the Commonwealth Schools Commission containing the recommendations for 1984 in response to the Government's guidelines to the Schools Commission. I remind the House and honourable members present of the comments made by the Minister for Finance (Mr Dawkins), who represents the Minister for Education and Youth Affairs (Senator Ryan), when presenting these Bills to the House in the last sitting week. Referring to the States Grants ( Schools Assistance) Bill the Minister stated:

At a time of economic difficulty and budgetary constraint, it is an indication of the high priority which the Government gives to education that it is providing for a significant increase of 2.8 per cent in real terms in expenditure on schools in 1984.

Referring to the States Grants (Tertiary Education Assistance) Amendment Bill and to the difficult economic situation that was facing the Government, coming to office as it did at a time of a record economic mess left by the people opposite who call themselves the Opposition, the Minister stated that the Government has given a high priority to education. On tertiary education the Minister stated:

. . . funds have been increased by 1.5 per cent in real terms for 1984 which is the last year of the current triennium.

The honourable member for Farrer (Mr Fife) made a number of comments on tertiary education. Before proceeding to the States Grants (Tertiary Education Assistance ) Amendment Bill, I take up the point the honourable member raised on the funding of student halls of residence. I remind honourable members that the Government is well aware of representations made by members of the Opposition and certainly by Government members with respect to assistance for students in halls of residence. I know that the Government plans to address the totality of this important question, particularly for people living in rural locations and for institutions located in rural parts of Australia. After all, there is a significant difference between the campuses in residential facilities such as in my electorate, the Orange Agricultural College and Mitchell College of Advanced Education, and Sydney University. I can assure the honourable member for Farrer that the Government is likely to give greater consideration to the reasoned representation of honourable members such as the honourable member for Macarthur (Mr Hollis), who I know has taken a great interest in this subject, and myself than to the emotional rhetoric that we hear from time to time from the rabble opposite who purport to be the Opposition in this place.

I turn now to important States Grants (Tertiary Education Assistance) Amendment Bill. In 1984, the Commonwealth will provide $2,199.7m for all tertiary education programs in technical and further education colleges, colleges of advanced education and universities. As I indicated previously, this represents an increase in real terms of 1.5 per cent. One particular area that I have taken a great deal of interest in since becoming a member of this chamber, indeed for some 12 months, is the amalgamation threats that were being made by the previous Government. I am delighted that in this Bill the Government is removing the amalgamation requirements.

The provisions placed in existing legislation by the previous Government to force the amalgamation, the educational shotgun marriages, of these institutions are now to be repealed. As I said in the House on 2 November, this accepts educational reality. One important institution in my electorate, the Orange Agricultural College, had the educational sword of Damocles held over its head for some time. I am delighted that this decision by the Government ends years of indecision about the college's future. As from 1 January next year the Orange Agricultural College will proceed as an autonomous institution. As I said, I think that is a recognition of educational reality at the tertiary level.

The other important area is cost supplementation. The Bill provides retrospective adjustments to 1983 grants to take account of both the wages pause and the recent national wage case increase, resulting in a net saving of $15.1m. This adjustment is reached after fully supplementing the grants as a result of the national wage case. Grants for 1984 will be supplemented retrospectively by amendment during 1984. I know that all colleges and universities throughout Australia certainly welcome this move. On the matter of tertiary education, in my electorate I am pleased to see that the Mitchell College of Advanced Education at Bathurst is to receive an allocation of $12.133m for 1984 from the Schedule contained in the Bill. Orange Agricultural College, which I previously mentioned, will receive, for the first time as an autonomous institution, $2. 111m. Another significant aspect of this Bill relates to the great mining community of Lithgow, which is in the eastern end of my electorate. The Lithgow College of technical and further education will receive an allocation for 1984 of $3.541m, part of a total allocation of $6.344m for building, fitting and machining, electrical and automotive courses. I know that decision has been greatly welcomed by the people of Lithgow and district.

I now turn to the States Grants (Education Assistance-Participation and Equity) Bill 1983. The purpose of the Bill is to provide funds for the participation and equity program which will commence in 1984 and will continue through in 1985 and 1986. The program is designed to encourage a significant increase in participation by young people in the post-compulsory years of education and training to provide a useful and fulfilling education and to encourage the achievement of more equal outcomes of education, such as access to higher education and to employment. These are values that are certainly highly regarded by all honourable members in this chamber. The programs for schools will be administered by the Commonwealth Schools Commission while the TAFE program will be administered by the Commonwealth Tertiary Education Commission. This program has been welcomed already as part of the Government's progressive policies on education. Despite some of the great distortion in the education debate that is taking place in this community at present, I am sure that those people who have had an opportunity to consider the aims and objectives of the Government's participation and equity program will see that it does have a great deal of value.

I believe there is real concern about retention rates in Australian schools in recent years. It has, as its basis, a number of factors: First of all, there has been a significant decline in retention rates since 1979 after some 10 years of increases. Also, a comparison of the Government school rates with those of the non-government school sector does show some alarming differences. Most importantly, Australia does not rate particularly well with other countries. Indeed, I have a table from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development Observer of March 1982 which indicates that, in 1979, 44.4 per cent of the full time school enrolment of 15 to 19-year-olds as a percentage of the total age group proceeded beyond the basic secondary education level. Member countries of the OECD that are below that level are countries such as Italy, Spain, Luxembourg, Portugal, Austria, Turkey and Iceland. We certainly do not see included countries such as the United States of America or Japan. I believe there are some very sound reasons for the Government trying to encourage an increasing participation rate in education. First of all there is the intrinsic value of education. The Minister for Science and Technology (Mr Barry Jones), in his very well reasoned book Sleepers Wake!, noted on page 156:

More equitable access to education will not necessarily end the inequalities in society or lead to universal improvement in job status: it would deceive the poor to promise everyone better jobs as a result of more education. Many will achieve this many will not-those who climb the socio-economic pyramid will continue to displace others and push them down. We must, however, assert that education is a good thing in itself-a human right, a consumer good and that it is better to be educated and unemployed than uneducated and unemployed.

The Commonwealth Tertiary Education Commission last year, on page 55 of its very well reasoned report 'Learning and Earning', made similar comments. It noted:

Education is an investment in the quality of life; it is a good in itself and must be seen as such by students and the community. Its impact on the personal development of the individual is related to the whole of life, not merely paid employment.

While one may assert the intrinsic value of education, I believe there is difficulty in relating such expressions to the experience of many early school leavers. For example, a recent survey by the Australian Bureau of Statistics entitled 'Reasons for Completion or non-Completion of Secondary Education', in June 1983, gave as an important reason the fact that almost half of the school leavers were 'fed up with school', to use their comments, and considered some subjects to be useless. Clearly, the educational experience of these young people is not perceived by them as a worthwhile personal investment and a consumer good. I believe there will be a need for changes to the nature and form of secondary education if perceptions of the value of the product are to be shared by its consumers. In many respects, this is really what the participation and equity program is all about.

With respect to the very difficult problems facing the economy with regard to employment, an alternative method-some might say a cynical alternative-of reducing unemployment is to decrease the labour force. An increase in retention rates would, in one respect, help to achieve this. For example, the recurrent cost of keeping a student in a government secondary school is about $2,840 per annum. This would be a great deal less than the cost of creating a job for the same individual, which would be of the order of $11,000 to $12,000, including the administrative, equipment and training costs.

There are all sorts of other reasons that I could go into with respect to the displacement factor, other employment creation aspects and the general question of participation in higher education, but perhaps the most important factor to which I should allude is the social effect. High levels of youth unemployment have been associated with a number of social problems. Society tends to accord status on the basis of occupation. Unemployed young people feel shut out and denied the chance to become useful members of society. They can become demoralised, alienated and sometimes quite desperate. Studies have correlated the rise in youth unemployment with increased delinquency, drug abuse, crime, ill health, depression, suicides, teenage pregnancies and homelessness. It is most important, I believe, that the Government take measures to retain young people in education; to help alleviate some of these problems by providing them with an occupation and, most importantly, with a sense of purpose and direction. Although the increased time spent on education would provide no guarantee of a job, it would certainly increase an individual's chance of employment.

I now turn to the States Grants (Schools Assistance) Bill. I think it is most important that we see this Bill very clearly, as distinct from the honourable member for Farrer, quite obviously, in the context of some of the emotional debate that has surrounded the whole question of funding to non-government schools. I believe the current debate has been characterised by distortion, misrepresentation and, certainly, a great deal of misunderstanding. I think it is most important to point out a number of important facts. For example, one should not lose sight of the fact that there are some 2,200 non-government schools and that the Government will increase in real terms the level of funding for the majority of those schools. In fact, 1,870 of the poorly resourced level 3 schools will receive an increase of 3 per cent in real terms. I remind honourable members opposite that this represents an increase of approximately $ 20 per student for primary school students in 1984 and $32 per student additional to what the schools would have received if the automatic nexus had not been broken.

There is a very good reason why the automatic nexus needed to be broken. It is simply that as far as the disparity between very wealthy schools and very poor schools in the community was concerned the gap between the funding in 1974 and that in 1983 was getting wider and wider. I guess a number of honourable members have been besieged, as I have, with letters from concerned constituents, who, I guess, in many cases have misunderstood the position. Some have certainly been part of the rather deliberate political campaign to distort what the Government is trying to do. I quote from a copy of one letter addressed to Senator Ryan by a Dr William H. Feneley of Bulli, New South Wales. I guess he has written to many other members in New South Wales. he stated:

. . . the Victorian Bishops are all deeply concerned about your own guidelines and also moves made by the Victorian Government. Also Archbishop Francis Carroll of Canberra is greatly concerned about things that have gone on in the Australian Capital Territory since you have been Minister for Education. It is not just some Catholic Bishops; I think I can safely say I speak for them all with the exception-

I ask the House to note this-

of perhaps Archbishop James Carroll, Sydney, who has let his political inclinations outweigh his judgment on this important matter of State Aid.

It seems to me that as long as one person's point of view agrees with that of someone else that is fine, but if it does not, rather disparaging comments such as those I have just quoted are made about a most important person, who, I might add, is Chairman of the New South Wales Catholic Education Commission. Because he has made certain comments the Opposition seeks to make rather disparaging comments about people like him. Dr Feneley not only attacked Archbishop Carroll but also made a very savage attack upon the New South Wales Minister for Education, a very fine Minister, Mr Ron Mulock. It is rather interesting that such people as Dr Feneley talk about the golden age of education some time in the dim distant past. It was rather interesting to go through Dr Feneley's letter because not only does he share the attribute of some other members of the medical profession in that it is very difficult to read his writing but also his letter is full of spelling mistakes. I think the whole education funding debate has been greatly distorted, and, I might add, for gross political purposes. It is most important that all honourable members in this House and all people listening to this debate are aware of the fact that there is not a united Opposition as far as this Government's education program is concerned. I have mentioned the fact that Archbishop James Carroll, the Chairman of the New South Wales Education Commission, thinks the guidelines are very useful. He made the following comments:

The guidelines contain many initiatives which should rebound to the benefit of education in both government and non-government schools.

Similar comments were made by Reverend Father Doyle, Director of Catholic Education in Victoria, and Mr Faulkner from the Catholic Education Office. I make the point that those people who are the providers, those people who are involved in the Catholic education offices throughout Australia, know what the Government's policy is all about and know what it means to the vast majority of children in non-government schools. I congratulate the Government and I commend all three Bills to the House for its support.