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Wednesday, 13 June 1984
Page: 2935

Senator RYAN (Minister for Education and Youth Affairs)(4.24) —The Senate is debating, cognately, a package of Bills, the States Grants (Schools Assistance) Amendment Bill 1984, the States Grants ( Tertiary Education Assistance) Amendment Bill 1984 and the States Grants ( Education Assistance-Participation Equity) Amendment Bill 1984. The Government has introduced these Bills to supplement funding to schools and tertiary institutions throughout Australia. It has also introduced an amendment to the Commonwealth Schools Commission Act which provides for the re-establishment of the Curriculum Development Centre. In response to the points made in the course of the debate, I must express my sincere regret that Senator Baume yet again has chosen to avoid a serious and constructive discussion of educational issues and chosen, instead, to engage in some wildly untruthful and irrelevant allegations during this debate. It is a matter of concern to the Government and to the education community generally throughout Australia that, at a time when we are all-all, except Senator Baume, I would say-seeking to come to grips with the many problems that beset our education system and sincerely seeking to create better educational opportunities and better educational outcomes for children so that they might better progress to the next step of employment, Senator Baume chooses to use his opportunities as Opposition spokesperson on education to engage in the lowest and the most trivial kind of political point-scoring and, as usual, uses totally untruthful claims and allegations in that exercise. It is no wonder that Professor Dame Leonie Kramer has chosen to join the Malcolm Fraser think tank and has specified education as an area on which the Opposition is failing lamentably and which needs the input of somebody like Professor Kramer who understands educational issues and who will be able to make the contribution from a conservative perspective which Senator Baume is clearly unable and unprepared to make.

Senator Baume raised a number of issues during his contribution. One of them was the claimed inequity of funding of the participation and equity program. I simply repeat-this matter is on record and Catholic education authorities have discussed it with me at length and understand it-that the purpose in the first year of the participation and equity program was to enable those schools which had not been able to retain their students through to the end of secondary schooling to bring in some improvements and some changes so that the children would have better opportunities and would be motivated and assisted to get the benefits of full secondary education. For that reason the money for the program was not distributed on a simple per capita basis because many schools do not have such problems. Many schools are able to keep children through to the end of secondary schooling. It was, instead, to be allocated, particularly in the first year, to those socio-economic regions and those schools which had particular problems in providing a suitable program for students through to the end of secondary schooling. Therefore, it was weighted towards the public sector because there were many neglected secondary schools in the public system, particularly in the poorer areas of our States, which were not able to provide what was needed and which needed assistance. Similarly, in the area of the non- government school sector, those schools, mainly the Catholic schools serving the poorer communities, were to get the greater part of the assistance. That funding according to need and the putting of a priority on giving assistance to the areas which are serving students which most need assistance are our Federal Government's approach to the question of school funding generally.

I have checked during this debate the particular issue of the funds available to the Western Australian Catholic Education Commission. I must place on the record that neither the Schools Commission nor the Department can recall any complaint from the Western Australian non-government school bodies about their share of the participation and equity funds. The Commonwealth Schools Commission had an inquiry from the South Australian Catholic office about how the sharing was calculated, but there has been no complaint. It seems that Senator Baume was doing his usual trick of trying to whip up discontent when none really existed. During his speech, he corrected the figures that he had initially used in making the point.

Let me pass to the question of the Academic Salaries Tribunal, the Ludeke decision, and the Government's response to it because that has been raised by Senator Baume and by Senator Macklin on behalf of the Australian Democrats. I must say by way of introduction to this point that Senator Baume's crocodile tears over the circumstances of students and academics are really very hard to take. If we looked at what happened to higher education funding during the period the Government of which Senator Baume was a part was running higher education in this country, we would see a very sorry picture indeed. We would see that funds for capital and equipment in higher education from 1976 to 1983 were reduced in real terms by 50 per cent by the Fraser Government. Yet, a representative of the same political party now has the hide to complain about the current difficulties faced by people working in higher education and by students. Similarly, total enrolments in higher education from 1979 to 1983 rose by some 26,000 in number. However, recurrent funds were reduced by some $4m. That is a reduction of 5 per cent per student. So, both in terms of capital-that is, the buildings in which academics have to teach and students have to try to learn-and in terms of the capacity of institutions to employ academic staff and tutors to assist the students, there were serious reductions in the period of the Fraser Government. Yet Senator Baume has the hide to weep crocodile tears about the current difficulties being experienced, as a result of the build-up of disadvantage, cuts and defects carried out during the time that the Fraser Government was in office.

Let me explain what the significance of the Academic Salaries Tribunal is. The Special Minister of State (Mr Young) tabled in the House of Representatives on 6 June two recent reports by the Academic Salaries Tribunal. They were tabled together, as Senator Macklin might have noticed. They were the report of 17 April 1984 following the inquiry by the Tribunal into academic salaries and a subsequent report of 5 June 1984 concerning an inquiry into the phasing in of the 5 per cent salary increases determined and recommended in the report of 17 April. The Tribunal, following the second inquiry, accepted the Government's proposal that the salary increase of 5 per cent for academics should be phased in by two instalments. The first instalment of two-fifths of the 5 per cent is to be implemented from 17 April 1984 and the second instalment of the remaining three-fifths of the 5 per cent will be implemented from 17 April 1985. The Tribunal determined and recommended on that basis.

I emphasise that the Government has accepted the report of the Tribunal. While the Government accepts the Tribunal's determination and recommendation that an increase in academic salaries is justified in order to create a firm and equitable base for the operation of indexation, we are pleased that the Tribunal has recognised the Government's submission that the increase, in the public interest, should be phased in in two instalments. Academic staff will continue to benefit from the operation of indexation. Funds will be made available at once through the Commonwealth Tertiary Education Commission to enable the first instalment of this increase to be paid by the institutions. An additional $11. 41m will be required for this purpose for 1984.

The Government places importance on the role of the Tribunal as an independent body constituted to conduct inquiries into academic salary rates that should be used as a basis for funding universities and colleges of advanced education and confirms its policy that funds will not be provided for academic salaries paid at levels above those recommended and determined by the Tribunal. It should be clear to everybody concerned that the Government has accepted the decision of Mr Justice Ludeke and that phase in does not involve a rejection of the determination. The phase in has been endorsed by Mr Justice Ludeke and all academics will benefit from that decision as from 17 April-a date which has, of course, already passed.

I turn briefly to a matter which I think was improperly raised by Senator Baume during the course of this debate. Since it was raised and since he has placed some wildly dishonest claims on the record, it must be addressed and the correction must be made by me. Senator Baume claimed that he had a report and accused me, the Minister, of having had this report and having wilfully and for some sinister purpose withheld it from the Senate. All of those claims are deliberately dishonest. I say to honourable senators at this point that not only the Government and me but also the entire education community are becoming heartily sick of Senator Baume pursuing the education debate in terms of wildly untruthful allegations against me. It is not only an irritation to the Government; it is an irritation to all of those people in the education community who actually care about what is happening to their children in schools , who actually have aspirations for improvements in their children's education. Yet all we get are wildly untruthful, ridiculous claims and stunts from Senator Baume.

The truth of the matter, as I have just been advised by the Australian Capital Territory Schools Authority, is that the report of the Australian Council of Educational Research-the one which Senator Baume claimed I was concealing-was to be presented to the Australian Capital Territory Schools Authority's accrediting agency today and that agency will advise the Australian Capital Territory Schools Authority at its meeting next Monday. The agency's technical advisory committee has had access to a draft of the report in order to evaluate it from a technical viewpoint. Until that process has been completed, obviously the matter is in the hands of the Australian Capital Territory Schools Authority. To claim that I have had the report and have been deliberately withholding it is one of the wildest inaccuracies and one of the most dishonest statements which Senator Baume, who has become extremely notorious for his dishonest statements, has made . The Schools Authority stated that it is planned to release the report on Monday, 18 June, after it is formally received by the Authority. To facilitate discussion of the report the Schools Authority intends to distribute a copy to each secondary college and upper secondary school, together with multiple copies of the statement prepared by the Director of the ACER, Dr J. Keeves. Interested parties will be invited to put their views to the agency in time for consideration by the agency in early August, and the Schools Authority on 20 August. I understand from advice I have been able to get from my Department that Senator Baume sought to get a preliminary copy of the report. I have been advised that he did ask Dr Keeves for a copy of the report but was told by Dr Keeves--

Senator Peter Baume —What?

Senator RYAN —This is advice that I have had-that it was not available. In the light of that, Senator Baume has pursued his usual course of action of trying to get a leaked copy of the report and to use it for entirely dishonest purposes. Senator Baume claimed to have the report and said he would agree to table it. As a result of the tabling exercise, we have a few rather badly photocopied pages which may or may not have been taken from the report. I have not had time to look into this point. He chose to quote one short paragraph from the report. He did not choose to quote the final paragraph-if indeed, it is from the report- which states:

Drawing causal inferences from non-experimental investigations involves many problems and it is only when particular findings have been replicated that one can have confidence in their validity. Many of the results reported in this study are tentative until further investigations have been undertaken. However, such further intensive investigation should prove rewarding.

I do not want to detain the Senate on this matter but it was necessary. Given this now typically, I have to say, dishonest behaviour of Senator Baume, this typically dishonest claim that there was a report that I had withheld when the facts are quite to the contrary, as I have just placed on the record, it was necessary to correct those wild untruths and also to correct them for the sake of the ACT Schools Authority which properly, under the ordinance under which it operates, has responsibility for managing these matters. It is extremely unfortunate that the level of education debates in this chamber has had to be reduced by Senator Baume's persistent dishonesties to this stage. I can only repeat that I have no difficulty in understanding Professor Kramer's disappointment at Senator Baume's performance and her feeling that there is a need for some educational input into the thinking of the Liberal Party.

As to the question of the membership of the Curriculum Development Centre, both Senator Baume and Senator Macklin have indicated that they wish to say more about it during the Committee stage. When we get to that stage, I will explain why the Government has chosen to reactivate the Curriculum Development Centre in the form that we have chosen and which is contained in this legislation. With regard to Senator Macklin's contribution, I must say that it was a welcome relief, after having to endure Senator Baume's stuntsmanship, that Senator Macklin at least contributed in terms of educational issues. Senator Macklin remained pessimistic about the overall success of the participation and equity program. I assure him that I do not share his pessimism. The early reports from teachers in the classroom and parents that are available to me suggest that the program will do what it set out to do-that is, to provide more and better opportunities for students in their upper secondary years, particularly those who in recent years have dropped out and have found that they have no alternative other than the dole. That is the preliminary objective of the participation and equity program. Of course, it is too soon to say that we have succeeded. But I think Senator Macklin's pessimism will prove to be unfounded. I am sure that in that event he would be as pleased about that as I would.

He also expressed high hopes for the success of the Curriculum Development Council. I share those aspirations, as does the education community generally throughout Australia. Clearly, there is a need for a national curriculum function. Although the States have the major responsibility for developing curriculum and seeing that that curriculum is implemented in the schools-the non -government schools also play an important role in curriculum development-there is a need for national action and national back-up and support on curriculum questions of national significance. I believe that the reactivated Curriculum Development Council will be able to do that.

I should explain briefly that the reason why the Curriculum Development Centre has been revised in a form which integrates its activities quite thoroughly with the activities of the Schools Commission is so that we can achieve the kind of co-operation between the work of the two agencies which was not previously achieved. That is not to detract from the success that was achieved. But at a time when we have many needs in education which are investigated by the Schools Commission, and many of those needs lead to the need for a new kind of curriculum, it is very important-and I think Senator Macklin would agree-that there be a close correlation between the efforts to upgrade the resources of schools, in which the Schools Commission is involved, and the way in which those resources are used in terms of curriculum and professional development of teachers, which will be the concern of the Curriculum Development Centre.

I do not foresee a situation of the tail wagging the dog, because I do not see the two institutions in terms of a leader and a follower. I see the two agencies coming together in a very constructive partnership to develop improvements to education in the interests of all Australian children. Because of the co- operation and partnership character that we wish to create, we have made the decisions about the composition of the Schools Commission and of the Curriculum Development Council which are set out in this legislation.

Senator Macklin expressed some concern as to whether a person who is a full time schools commissioner would also be appropriate to chair the Curriculum Development Centre. I do not share his reservations about that, but quite clearly it is my responsibility and the Government's responsibility to ensure that we have available to us as a full time commissioner a person who is capable of offering leadership in the area of the Curriculum Development Centre. If we fail in that responsibility, it will be quite clear to Senator Macklin and to everybody else, but we do not intend to fail. I conclude the second reading debate, because the other matters which have been foreshadowed by Senator Baume and Senator Macklin will be dealt with in some detail in the Committee stage. I commend the Bills to the Senate.

Question resolved in the affirmative.

Bills read a second time, and passed through their remaining stages without amendment or debate.