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Tuesday, 29 November 1983
Page: 3011

Ms MAYER(9.36) —The Leader of the National Party (Mr Anthony) knows quite a lot about buckets but unfortunately this one was a bit empty. One of the things that we have heard from the Opposition in this debate is the repe- tition of malicious distortions one after the other. As far as a cut in Aboriginal secondary grants is concerned I will read from the Budget papers 1982-83 which state that $21 1/2m was provided for 1982-83 and $25 1/2m for 1983-84 is allocated. If that is a cut then the honourable member ought to go back to school and learn his arithmetic a bit better. Just in case he read the wrong line, I point out that in 1982-83 Aboriginal study grants totalled $13m and in 1983-84 they totalled $15m. So if that is a cut let us have a whole lot more cuts in a lot of programs like the one I have mentioned because that sort of cut will certainly assist a great many people.

There are two issues in this debate, the funding for the participation and equity program and the funding for non-government schools. The participation and equity program is designed to increase retention rates through providing funding for more relevant and attractive courses of study with the assistance of the Curriculum Development Centre, to provide greater participation in courses leading to technological skills, to provide greater access to arts education and to give girls a chance to develop their talents free from the discrimination which has for so long been a feature of the education and employment practices. There is real desire on the part of young people to remain in education, to develop their budding talents, to receive an educational experience directly related to their vocational choices and that is illustrated by the fact that every technical and further education program in Victoria will turn away up to four times as many applicants as they accept. The Box Hill TAFE college which conducts years 11 and 12 specific skills programs is one in this position. Every TOP course has such competition for entrance and the teachers at those colleges know that much talent is going to waste in the community as only a few of the very talented gain admission to the course of their choice. The success of these courses so far amply demonstrates the waste that has been involved through the narrow choice of courses available to our young students. The planned expenditure in 1984 of $26m for TAFE and $39m for government schools with some flexibility in the allocation between these areas will allow development of courses and programs where the appropriate populations exist and where existing resources can be increased.

The previous Government had a blinkered view of education, blinkered by its concern with traditional forms of education, blinkered by its failure to understand the need of the education systems to match developments in society and in employment and blinkered by its attachment to elitism as a philosophy. The low retention rate of young people in education is a measure of the failure of that kind of approach. One of the reports that has been published about that, the Studies of Tertiary Student Finances Volume 4, states:

It is important to recognise at the outset that the principal limitation on rates of participation in higher education in Australia is the low rate of retention in the senior years of secondary school.

What are our policies in that regard? Our participation and equity program recognises that we can no longer choose to waste the talents and resources of our young people by continuing to look backward with nostalgia instead of forward with confidence. The education of girls and young women has a special place in this program. Mounting evidence has shown us that girls have not and do not receive the same education and access to education that boys and young men traditionally have had. Differential courses, differing treatment in the classroom, differing expectations and differing career advice have all mitigated against girls achieving their full potential as individual members of society. This Government is firmly against discrimination in education and employment, and it is very aware of the damage to our progress as a nation resulting from such discrimination.

Funding for projects of national importance will enable the Schools Commission to undertake projects arising from the results of its present examination of the educational needs of girls and young women. The Curriculum Development Centre will have a very important role to play in the development of appropriate curricula for the participation and equity program. Any development of school and post-school courses must be underpinned by the appropriate consideration of the curriculum best suited to the aims and objectives of the course. Additionally, curriculum planning must look forward to the needs of the future. It must look at the gaps in present curricula and provide creative proposals to fill in those gaps. As we are all experts on education, I assure honourable members opposite that I have been in education for 30 years and I actually know what I am talking about. They should listen to what I have to say.

One of the most shameful characteristics of our schools curriculum is that studies of Aboriginal history and culture have only been undertaken in the sketchiest fashion as appropriate curriculum resources simply have not been developed. Part of the work of the reactivated Curriculum Development Centre, which was abolished by the previous Government, will be to assist in providing those resources so that this omission in our school curriculum can be rectified. It will work also on curriculum in the areas of education for girls, education in the arts, and the development of community languages. It seems a little odd that the Leader of the Opposition (Mr Peacock) and some of his friends talk of the vital importance of education to the country when the Government of which he was a senior member abolished the Curriculum Development Centre, ignored the plummeting retention rate, ignored the waste of talent, and ignored the changes so necessary to the curriculum and resources of the schools and post-secondary education institutions. The so-called pursuit of excellence left excellence and opportunity out of the education system and left in a blind pursuit of narrow competitiveness.

One of the most distasteful parts of this debate has been the sanctimonious way in which Opposition members have assisted in the orchestration of the defence of the wealthiest schools in this country against the proposition that they should share with less wealthy schools some of the money available for education in non -government schools. Those schools have more money made available to them for capital works, indexed against inflation, which is something the previous Government did not think about. They will be able to take advantage of the participation and the equity program and computer education programs. The drum that Opposition members are beating on behalf of a few of their constituents is empty of everything but noise. It seems proper to repeat the facts, and they have been stated by the honourable member for Diamond Valley (Mr Staples). Some 41 schools, which can and do charge between $3,000 and $4,000 a year, are being asked to take a cut of between $2 and $3 a week for each student. That represents $134 a year for secondary students. Honourable members opposite have the same evidence that I have. Those are the kinds of fees those schools are charging.

Considerations of equity, resources, participation, retention, planning for the future, access to decent education for girls and many young people for whom the tradition-tied school programs have no meaning, have all been put aside by the Opposition. Members of the Opposition have shown no concern at all for any aspect of our education system but the income of schools which have the option to lower their fees by cutting some of the more extravagant trimmings rather than raising them, to disadvantage parents whom they have said are making sacrifices to give their children what is advertised as a first class education. The question that must be answered is this: Why do some parents think that non- government schools give their children a better chance? The answer lies in the abysmal record of the previous Government in respect of government schools and educational institutions. Members of the previous Government, now members of the Opposition, never hesitated to blackguard the government schools, the teachers, the students and the parents. We recognise that government schools deal with the most difficult students, who can be problems to themselves, their parents and their teachers. The very people who carry the burden of educating the majority of Australia's children and young people were neither supported in their difficult task nor praised for their efforts. The Government has a real responsibility to all Australia's children and young people.

The participation and equity program provides support for equity of educational outcome. It recognises that we are moving towards an information society, to a society which should and will be proud of its history, not just 200 years of it but the whole of it, a society sensitive to its environment and the artistic expression which arises from it, and to a society in which women will no longer be trammelled by discriminatory educational and employment practices. There is some need to talk about nexus. There is a nexus educationally between geography and tertiary education. My colleague the Minister for Science and Technology (Mr Barry Jones) has pointed out on a number of occasions that an examination of the suburbs from which university students come shows that few students come from his electorate of Lalor, for example, compared with the the number who come from the electorate of Kooyong. Does that demonstrate an equitable outcome or does it demonstrate a real need to share educational goods? Will we have a nexus between need and funding or between greed and funding? Giving equally to all is giving equity to none, and that is the result of the previous Government's policy.

I conclude by quoting the Australian Council of State Schools Organisations, an organisation which represents the majority of Australian parents:

Education is a responsibility the community accepts for all its children, not something bought and sold in the market place by those who can afford it, or choose to afford it.

The schools which need this Government's support are the schools which will get it, and that is most of the schools in this country. Even the 41 schools are receiving a measure of Government support which is generous to say the least. Schools in this country are not like schools in the United Kingdom and the United States of America, where parental choice is paid for wholly and solely by the parents. Schools in this country are funded very generously, and the participation and equity program will continue the generosity of that funding.