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Wednesday, 2 November 1983
Page: 2236

Mr STAPLES(6.18) —We really have heard some fantastic speeches from the Opposition during this debate. It is so full of fantasy that Walt Disney could have scripted a really great film from the Hansard on this occasion . I look at many of the schools in my electorate of Diamond Valley and see the years of neglect-in fact the decades of neglect-of the Liberal State and Federal goverments. At Eltham High School, for instance, I see school rooms that do not have proper floors in them. I see window frames that do not have glass in them. I see buildings that have not been maintained for years because the funds just have not been provided. Eltham East Primary School is a school full of portable classrooms that fill the play yard. I ask: Where has been the planning and the capital funding all those years? At Hurstbridge High School, my son's school, I look at a library that is so small and so inadequate that one just about has to take the books outside to open them.

A decade ago, the Karmel Interim Committee for the Australian Schools Commission found that there was a resource gap of about 25 per cent between the poorest of the non-government schools and the general standard of government schools. It found that the gap between the general standard of schools and that of the wealthiest minority was even greater. The Whitlam government set out, despite the conservative Opposition, to close that gap. The fact is that after seven years of Liberal-National Party administration-really I think that should now be called National-Liberal Party administration-more than 80 per cent of non -government schools still operate at levels of resources about 25 per cent below the government school level standard. The fact is that in that very same period that National-Liberal Administration chopped the grants to government schools from $143 to $123 per pupil-a real decrease of 12 per cent. At the same time it set about increasing from $189 to $509 per pupil the per capita grants to the wealthiest group of non-government schools. That represented an increase of more than 250 per cent, while we had a cut of 12 per cent in grants to the government sector. These facts prove something that should never be forgotten by the Australian electorate. The National-Liberal Opposition is not there to protect the vast majority of resource-poor, non-government schools. Their lot in life has not changed much in seven years. It is clear that the National Party-Liberal Party Opposition is not interested in protecting government schools and the education system that was entrusted to its administration. The Opposition parties clearly want to enrich a very small minority of the non-government schools that operate with resources which are, on average, about 63 per cent higher than those available to the community through the government school system and to the majority of non-government schools.

One of the greatest achievements of the Whitlam Government-there were plenty of them-was the perspective and direction given to the total education system of this nation. After seven years of the regressive education policies of 'bad King Malcolm', we are now leaving those dark ages and embarking on a program that will allow the maximum opportunity for participation and equity in education for all Australian children, regardless of their wealth, their position and their IQ . Since it has been about seven years since we have had a real occasion to see some true participation and equity beginning to take place, it is worth while for me to use the time of the House tonight to refer to the Labor Government's four broad policy objectives of its education program. They are: To assist schools to give a positive and effective education to all children and to make substantial progress towards more equal outcomes of education, such as access to paid employment and higher education; to assist schools to respond effectively and appropriately to the diversity of Australian society; to assist and help shape economic recovery and development; and to restore the community's confidence in the Government's determination to give all children access to properly staffed and equipped schools. That is the theory. I am sure that members of the former Government used many of those phrases-if honourable members will pardon the expression-at times in their speeches in this House over the last seven years.

Let us look at the difference between the former Government and this Government , and the difference is between theory and practice. Let us look at a few of the ways that this Labor Government will put that theory into practice. By restoration of retrospective cost supplementation in respect of wages and salaries for Commonwealth education commissions programs, the Government has injected a large degree of stability into educational planning. The computer education program, while clearly only a first step at this stage, provides the basis for greater participation and modern skill development for all Australian children. The honourable member for Ryan (Mr Moore) and the honourable member for Wentworth (Mr Coleman) earlier chastised the Government for not spending enough on the computer education program. Computers did not come from outer space last week. They have been around for much longer than seven years. The former Government did not spend a dollar, let alone $6m, in that time. I cannot see it now spending $125m, the sum that they are chastising this Government for not spending. Children in secondary schools throughout Australia will clearly have the opportunity that has been until now the privilege and advantage of those schools with the most abundant community and parental resources.

The reactivation of the Curriculum Development Centre, in consultation with the States, clearly indicates the concern of the Government to have a much broader education base, while the very fact that it has had to be reactivated and brought out again points the finger at the former Government for its neglect of the education system. The work of the Curriculum Development Centre will be available to non-government and government sectors alike, and that is an important point. The CDC will play a major role in the development of the arts, Aboriginal studies, community language, and programs to assist education of girls. It will play a vital role in the development of curricula which will make years 11 and 12 much more attractive and which will make late-secondary and post -secondary education much more meaningful and desirable to our young people.

Mr Wells —Fraser tried to abolish it.

Mr STAPLES —That is right; he tried to abolish it, but he does not have that opportunity any longer. The fact is that the Fraser Government did nothing to counter the declining participation rate in post-compulsory education. That is a national disgrace which will not be erased by a train-load of America's Cups.

The Fraser Government set about fabricating a self-fulfilling prophesy that government schools were inferior to non-government schools. It was able to do so by starving the government schools of resources and recurrent funding. It starved the government schools and the education system in general of curriculum development and professional development. It starved the schools by limiting access to a national comprehensive computer education program. It only paid token attention to discrimination against girls and other disadvantaged groups in education. It did little to assist girls and the disadvantaged to gain the confidence and skills that are so necessary if all people are able to participate equally and take up opportunities.

The Australian Labor Party has always recognised that education, equality and the economy are inextricably bound together and that education will give all individuals access to a wider range of employment options and to a world with a higher standard of living. Adaptability is very important in times of changing employment patterns. The ALP has recognised for a long time that we cannot develop as a self-sufficient nation and as a self-sufficient economy without a much broader and a much more sustained education base than we have now. That is why the Labor Government's education policy is needs based. It is true that Australian teachers support the ALP. They support the ALP because the ALP's policies support as equitably as possible the total education system. Most Australian teachers know this and that is why we have their support. The Opposition in this argument has put the cart before the horse.

The Labor Party and the Labor Government has had a long commitment to needs based funding and it will continue as long as those needs exist. The policies are needs based because we cannot have a system that provides abundant resources for a wealthy minority group and expect the benefits of that expensive subsidised education to drip down into the lives of millions of other school children who are being relatively ignored and left to fade out of education completely.

As the Opposition is so fond of quoting assorted individuals from the non- government sector, let me add a few quotes from that sector as well. The Independent Teachers Federation of Australia, in welcoming the guidelines, said that the guidelines could provide a more coherent and equitable national pattern of education in Australia. The Independent Teachers Federation also said that the greater scrutiny of fringe non-government schools was particularly welcome. The Association of Independent Schools of Victoria said that there were several good things in the guidelines, particularly the Government's intention to help low income groups and to increase school retention rates. The Catholic Education Office of Victoria commended the general thrust of the guidelines. The Director of the Office, Father Tom Doyle, is reported in the Age on 30 July this year as saying that the significant increase in money to the most needy schools was particularly important and that it was consistent with the Government's aim of providing equal opportunity to children and so decreasing divisions within the community.

The honourable member for Wentworth went on for all he was worth through his litany of rejection of recommendations. The Opposition rejected years ago the importance of education as an integral part of our national development. If we want to look at some of the comments of the Schools Commission, which he did in his speech, let us look at some of its comments in response to the Government's participation and equity program. It stated:

The Commission welcomes the emphasis in the guidelines on the allocation of resources to schools on the basis of need. This emphasis is consistent with the Commission's charter.

It continued:

It also welcomes the introduction of the participation and equity program, special support for Aboriginal education, and the initiatives in respect of capital funds for government and non-government schools, special education, arts education and the education of girls.

The Commission believes that the restoration of retrospective cost supplementation and the agreement to triennial funding and forward commitment arrangements for some programs will markedly improve planning at the State level and the effectiveness of these Commission programs.

The proposal to re-establish the Curriculum Development Centre within the framework of the Commission was also strongly supported by the Schools Commission. It welcomed the introduction of the computer education program and other initiatives. The Commission quite correctly pointed to some deficiencies in general levels of funding. But those deficiencies only exist now because they were not faced by, and they clearly were not funded by, the former Government- the present Opposition-in its years in office, when it had plenty of opportunity to do so.

There is a long way to go but one does not have to be much more than a fourth rate prophet or more than seven years old to know that the members of the Commonwealth Education Commissions would be renting their garments and wearing sackcloth and ashes if the former National-Liberal Government had another chance to hand down a Budget. Bearing in mind the deficit that Government produced, its well known restrictive economic and selective educational attitudes, I think we would have seen a much harsher situation. In summary, Mr Deputy Speaker, the participation and equity program outlined in the Government's guidelines for 1984 is clearly a framework upon which to build a much more broadly based and equitable education system. It is through that broadly based and equitable education system that we will not only enhance the opportunities for a full life for all Australians but also lay the framework for sustainable economic growth and development well into the twenty-first century.