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Tuesday, 29 November 1983
Page: 2994

Mr RONALD EDWARDS(8.00) —I am sure that people will be interested to know that the Opposition Whip and one other member of the Opposition are in the chamber, but it seems that members of the Opposition, particularly the shadow Ministers, are not concerned with education. They seem to be more preoccupied with their dinner at this hour. It is good to see the honourable member for Cook (Mr Dobie) in the chamber. We think that education is important. Somehow honourable members opposite do not seem to think so. I hope that the people out in the wider community understand that.

Quite a lot was said today with respect to attitudes towards education. It seems that members of the Opposition have had a number of things to say about attitudes in Australian society. The Australian Labor Party has a philosophy of government and that philosophy is related to bringing about some changes, doing something to improve the general structure and the delivery of a number of things in Australian society. Education is one of those things. (Quorum formed) I thank my colleagues on the Government side. Again I indicate to the people of Australia that still only two members from the Opposition are present in the chamber. It shows their dismal state in terms of their attitude towards education. I am sure that the people of Australia will be delighted to know that , on this important matter, while opposition members tub thump in the wider Australian community, when it gets down to the substantial debate they cannot front up. The Australian people know it. It is a disgrace. All that Opposition members have been able to do during this debate is to call quorums and talk about divisiveness and sectarianism. The Australian people will not be misled by this. They know what is on. We know that we have some substantial policies. Look at the members of the Opposition-the limp, desperate mob left over from the last election. Only two of them can front up in this chamber. It is an appalling show . Mr Speaker, as you well know, the talent on this side of the House is quite considerable and the Australian people know that. When the honourable member for Farrer (Mr Fife) calls quorums he should take into account the fact that we have a substantial team that fronts up and does a good job, and his team does not. With all that in mind, I am sure that the Australian people recognise that, in this debate tonight, Opposition members are not in the chamber. They are out rabble-rousing, trying to stir up a fight between Catholic and non-Catholic schools.

Mr SPEAKER —Order! I invite the honourable member to refer to the legislation before the House.

Mr RONALD EDWARDS —I am talking about attitudes toward the Australian people. Members on the other side of the House have shown that they really have very negative attitudes. We have positive attitudes, and that is reflected in our education policy and in some matters that I want to run through now. When we look at the sorts of things that have been said by honourable members opposite it is important to note that they have made great play about the fact that we have broken the nexus between the government and non-government schools. That question does need to be addressed. If we are to do something about those schools that are poorer in the Australian society, be they government or non- government schools, we have to do something about redistributing resources. We do not back off from that. We recognise that that is an important goal and we have pursued that goal. Honourable members opposite might want to stir up a lot of anger and talk about victimisation in the Australian community, but the people will not fall for it. They recognise that our policy is equitable. We recognise that those schools that are somewhat better off in terms of resources also reflect the community in which they exist. That community, generally speaking, has a higher level of income and a higher level of resources than the average in the Australian community. We are not here to try to find a sectarian argument. We are here to try to put to the Australian community that we have a responsible attitude towards education.

I began by saying that we have a philosophy of government. We understand something about the needs of society. We recognise that education plays a role. I should like to say something in a moment about the structure of the society in which we operate, the role that education plays in improving participation in the work force, and the important role of increasing participation of students in the schooling system. We believe that that is important. We believe that the Australian community recognises that it is important. Certainly that is what a lot of parents are concerned about. I believe also that it is important to talk about such issues as the role of universities, colleges of advanced education, and technical and further education. The honourable member for Tangney (Mr Gear) made a very major contribution to the debate in regard to TAFE, and I will say one or two things about it.

I believe it is important that we recognise that we have a responsibility in government to provide a framework and a structure of education which is equitable, which offers people not only equality of opportunity but also, hopefully, some degree of equity in terms of outcome. Those are our goals; those are our objectives. I think it is rather disappointing that in this debate there has been an absolute lack of attention by the Opposition to matters such as equity, the objectives of education, curriculum content, and the sorts of ways in which we might improve the professional development of staff. These are all the sorts of things that we believe are important in educational objectives but which honourable members opposite have neglected. They have chosen, however, to talk about a meeting in Sydney, which understandably was a very important meeting for those angry people. If honourable members opposite had taken a responsible role they would have said that the real situation in the Australian community is that there are some very poor government and non-government schools , there are some middle level government and non-government schools, and we have a responsibility to deliver resources to those schools. That is what we are on about, and we are trying to do that fairly and with equity.

It also has to be emphasised that in this process we are not afraid to have consultation with people in the community. I have had considerable consultation with people in the electorate of Stirling. There are people there to whom I owe a considerable debt because I believe that they have assisted us in talking about these major educational issues. Some of the people with whom I have had consultation are Mr Neal Rudefurth from the Carine Technical College, Father Nestor and Mr Michael Beech from the Catholic Education Commission of Western Australia, and Brother Valerian and Mr Brian Martin from Newman College. Mr Martin represents the parents and friends organisation. I mention also Mr Grenville Murray from the Servite College. Mr and Mrs Girando, parents of children at the Servite College, are an example of parents who make a major contribution to their children's education. I am saying this because we on this side of the House recognise that we need to understand that school plays a major part in children's development. If we look at the research that was done by Malcolm Rosa for the Australian Council for Education Research in 1973, he indicated that there are some factors that determine the performance of a child through life. The first factor, the family, takes priority. The second factor is the peer group and the third is the media and its all-pervasive influence. The fourth factor is the priority of schooling. As a government we recognise that we have a wider responsibility to do something towards ensuring that children have some degree of equality of opportunity and, certainly, some degree of equity of outcome of education.

I now wish to talk about the contribution of people in the community who have helped us, people such as Mr Peter Tennant and Mr Peter Ryan of Scarborough High School and Daryl Schorer from the Education Council. We have had many productive discussions. At Balga High School I thank Brindley Gearon who acts as my liaison officer there. My children attend Deanmore School. Alan Green is the principal there and does an exceptionally good job within the government structure. Dianne Passmore is the head of the Parents and Citizens Association. We have a commitment to some understanding of the people in the education system and to have discussions with them. I chose to mention those names because we believe it is important that education proceeds on the basis of consultation and on the basis of some agreed objectives.

We are concerned in this debate here tonight and in our whole attitude towards education to try to develop some objectives that recognise that Australia is a society with great potential. One of the ways of achieving that potential is to begin to mobilise our human resources more effectively. We recognise that some part of that is the role of education. We need to deal with certain myths, however. For example, it is not true to say that if we spend more money on education we always get better outcomes because other factors play a part, such as the morale of teachers. One of the comments we could make-one hesitates to make partisan comments-is that under the previous Government and under some State conservative governments a great effort was made to be negative and highly critical of schools and school teachers.

Some of the malaise we find in state school systems can be traced back to the attacks and lack of support from some of our conservative politicians throughout Australia. They did not provide positive support. There was no commitment to professional development. We believe that is important and we are providing funding. But I believe importantly one has to provide a climate of discussion and consensus. Again in this debate we are not about trying to find fault, we are about trying to develop a commitment towards education policy based upon some agreed social objectives and some procedures to achieve those objectives. I talk in those terms because I think it is important that people listening to this discussion recognise that those are the ways to go about developing appropriate education policies.

I said that one should say that funding is not the only way to improve education, but we cannot reverse the coin and say that if that is the case we ought to take away funding because we on this side hold that if one grows up in Redfern, Fitzroy or Balga and has a lower level of social amenities in terms of the house one lives in, the street one lives in, the neighbourhood in general, the parks, the family and income, one at least ought to ensure that the schooling experience is a pleasant experience and that one can take some joy from knowing that at least one got some equity and equality. In this sort of debate the Opposition must pay attention to the fact that we cannot in conscience proceed in this society and say: 'We can allow a schooling system to function in which some schools are markedly poorer, be they government or non- government schools'. We would not do that and we believe the Opposition should not do that. In all the discussion the Opposition has about the 41 schools there is a singular lack of care and concern about all of those schools-government and non-government-that are at the bottom of the heap.

We are not pretending to have a monopoly of wisdom on our side and we do not say that we are the only ones who recognise this circumstance. But what we are saying is that if one is sincere about the matter and looks at the education policy, a logical conclusion is that one must do something to provide an increase in funding for those schools which are down the heap. Bear in mind that I have said already that funding is not the only answer, but one cannot in conscience allow demonstrably poor schools to exist in those suburbs where people are demonstrably disadvantaged. One cannot allow that situation to persist. We believe that, be they government or non-government schools, there ought to be a policy commitment to reducing that inequity.

That is the general thrust of our policy. We have talked in terms of needs. We are looking at a much wider community based index of need which we believe will take account of a number of other social factors. That index provides a substantial recognition that the criterion for success in educaton is not only a financial one. Such important factors as the kind of climate that the school functions in, the professional development and morale of teachers, the facilities and the external factors that operate on education are all part of the approach. We believe we recognise those factors. We hope we are creating a climate of educational debate and discussion in which those factors are taken into account. I hope that following this debate tonight there will be a greater recognition that those factors are important.

I need to touch briefly on the fact that one of our commitments towards what we call participation and equity is to try to provide increased funding so that people are more likely to stay at school towards the end of their secondary education. That is not a way of trying to avoid the recognition that unemployment is high, but it is a way of saying that one improves one's job mobility and access to jobs when one increases the amount of one's education. That is an important goal. We believe that funding is one way of achieving that goal. It ought to provide a basis of resources in those suburbs where in fact resources are currently rather limited. In fact, in 1984 we will provide $39.5m for government schools and $4.5m for non-government schools. For technical and further education-I believe this is important-we will provide some $26.9m.

They are important goals. We believe that both government and non-government schools and the TAFE sector offer opportunities for improving people's access to jobs. It is one way of working towards that goal of equity. They are important commitments. If honourable members look at the figures they will notice that there is some disparity between government schools and non-government schools. Again this policy recognises that it is important to provide funding in areas of need. Already a priori we have some recognition that in fact those areas of need tend to be around some of the areas in which government schools are based. That is very important.

The question of the labour market is also important. One of the things we must increasingly see in the Australian community is a greater recognition of the role of tertiary education-TAFE, the colleges and the universities-in meeting the demands of the labour market. Obviously there is a role for what we might call pure research but there also must be considerable emphasis given to that important goal of giving people job skills that they can use. I know that the Management Development Centre of the Western Australia College of Advanced Education is doing a substantial job. It is making the transition between what one might call the commercial industrial world and the tertiary education world. A colleague at the college, Maurie Woodworth, does a substantial job in building the bridge between those two environments. I think we recognise that bridge in terms of our goals of education but in terms of philosophy those who set up the structures and run the educational institutions have increasingly to recognise that, be one on the other side of this House or on the Government side, we have some major national problems. Obviously all those problems cannot be redressed by education.

Quite clearly, one of the ways of coming to terms with improving society and getting a greater level of performance and equity is to do something about human resources. That is what we believe the role of education is about. It is to do something about generating human resources in such a way that people feel that they have at least some equality of opportunity. We cannot be so sure about the equality of outcome because, as I have already indicated in my earlier remarks, other factors outside a school play a part in educational attainment. Those factors, particularly, the family and peer group pressures, are quite considerable. As I said earlier about the 41 schools, we already recognise that those schools, given that they have certain degrees of resource coverage, clearly do not need a disproportionate amount of resources because in effect other supportive factors determine their educational performance.

To sum up, I think it is important to say that in this sort of debate that we have in the Australian community and in the Australian Parliament, we must recognise that we have a policy on education which attempts to do something about equity and participation and which attempts to do something about restoring some of the education imbalances that were allowed to grow under the previous Government. It is obviously not an exercise in which one ought to point the finger and score points. It is an exercise which is of vital importance. A lot of people are engaged in it. About the most important resource that Australia has is its people. We are very proud of our people, but we have a commitment to ensure that the education systems offers those people some degree of equality of opportunity, certainly some degree of resource equity and, hopefully, some degree of dignity in terms of their life performance. I believe that these Bills set the foundation, the framework for achieving these goals. We hope that in this discussion on education the Australian community shares our perception that these are very important goals.