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Tuesday, 12 October 1971
Page: 2176

Mr WHITLAM (Werriwa) (Leader of the Opposition) - The former Prime Minister said on 3rd March 1969:

It is in my view a requirement that the educational facilities available to a child should be of roughly comparable standard whether that child is born in Western Australia or New South Wales or Queensland or wherever it may be.

Referring to the nationwide survey of educational needs, he pledged in his 1969 election policy speech:

When the survey is completed the States and ourselves will discuss the assistance we should each provide to promote the further development of education in all schools.

All these brave words have now been nullified by the new Prime Minister (Mr McMahon) in his efforts to achieve total de-Gortonisation. Not even the interests of schools are more important to the new Prime Minister than erasing systematically from the record every one of his predecessor's proposals which has not actually been enacted by the Parliament. His Minister for Education and Science (Mr Malcolm Fraser), who knows better but has learnt to bend, was sent into this House a week ago with a statement on the survey which amounted not to an affirmation of Commonwealth support but to an abdication of

Commonwealth responsibility. Liberals now assert as they have asserted under every leader except Mr Gorton that in schools as in hospitals the role of the Commonwealth which has the greatest resources should be not to assist in the planning and provision of facilities but to reimburse fees and forgo taxes. These benefits go to those who do not need them rather than to those who do, and have no effect on capital and management decisions. Scholarships do have a bearing on education such as it is; they have no bearing on standards of education as it should be.

The Minister failed to mention in his statement that de-Gortonisation has now acquired a new dimension. The Prime Minister now proscribes not only proposals put forward by his predecessor in the nation's highest office but measures initiated by him as Minister for Education and Science. At the instigation of the Prime Minister Cabinet has agreed that the science laboratories programme upon which the Minister said he placed considerable importance shall be phased out as soon as those facilities have been provided for which it can be demonstrated a need existed in December 1970. lt has maintained in the face of bitter opposition from the Minister and at least one resignation from the Advisory Committee that there shall be no provision for new need either in government or in non-government schools.

The real casualties of the Liberal power struggle are not the Ministers who have lost their jobs but the children who have lost their chance of a better education. The nation-wide survey revealed that State governments would require between 1971 and 1975 an additional $ 1,444m and non-government school authorities an additional $268m over and above their foreseeable resources. These sums were not required to create the equality of opportunity to which the Minister has suddenly discovered a commitment but merely to ensure that the present gross inadequacies of primary and secondary education are not further exacerbated. Recent tinkering with Commonwealth-State finances will not bridge this gap. The proportion of our gross national product spent on education rose between 1956-66 and 1969-70 by only 0.2 per cent.

Thus the inequities of Australian education will persist and fester. Less than 15 per cent of Australian children are eligible by age for pre-school education are able to find places in pre-school centres on which we spend annually per capita in New South Wales 4.7c, Queensland 14.8c, Western Australia 34.3c, South Australia 59c, Tasmania 59.4c and Victoria 92.1c. A recognised pre-school education is denied to all but 2.9 per cent of the eligible children in New South Wales, 7.3 per cent in Queensland, 9.9 per cent in Western Australia, 14.3 per cent in Tasmania, 14.5 per cent in South Australia and 27.1 per cent in Victoria. For every 100 teachers employed in pre-school centres the number professionally qualified for their duties is 33 in Tasmania, 55 in South Australia, 57 in Victoria, 59 in Western Australia, 88 in New South Wales and 89 in Queensland. Only Si. 2m has so far been spent out of the $5m allocated for new pre-school teachers' colleges in the triennium which ended last June. Compare pre-school education in each and any of the States and in Canberra, where one year of pre-school education is available to all children and all pre-school teachers are fully qualified. Professor Goldman has estimated that preschool education on the scale applying in Canberra could be provided throughout Australia for little more than $40m a year and could be provided in the inner-city areas of the State capitals for little more than $20m.

The inadequacy of pre-school education particularly penalises migrant children whose families speak at home languages other than English and the 400,000 children whose families earn incomes below the poverty line or just above it. Seventy per cent of the children from suburbs where migrant and low-income families congregate score below average in the communication skills which are fostered by a pre-school education whereas in more privileged suburbs the incidence of below average scores is only 30 per cent, less than half as great. The indifference of the States to pre-school education is revealed by their failure to include it in the terms of reference for the nation-wide survey. The indifference of the Commonwealth is exemplified by the exclusion of the Department of Education and Science from the original inter-departmental committee on the childmindingcentrescumkindergartenschildmindingcentrescumkindergartens which the former Prime Minister promised to establish in his 1970 Senate Opening Speech and which the present Prime Minister has now shelved.

A complete secondary education is received by 79 out of every 100 students at non-government schools other than Catholic schools but by only 23 at government schools and 30 at Catholic schools. Many students cannot afford even the free education which in government schools now costs from $50 in grade 6 to at least $200 in the matriculation year. Students at government schools and Catholic schools are not less able or intelligent than those at other non-government schools but they receive a far smaller share of the available accommodation, equipment and staff. Whereas the number of primary pupils per teacher varies in non-government schools other than Catholic schools from 16.3 in the Australian Capital Territory to 22.3 in Queensland, it varies in government schools from 22.7 in Victoria to 32.6 in Western Australia and in Catholic schools from 32.6 in South Australia to 44 in the Northern Territory. Whereas the number of secondary students per teacher varies in non-government schools other than Catholic schools from 13 in the ACT to 18.8 in Queensland, it varies in government schools from 15.9 in Victoria to 19.4 in Western Australia and in Catholic schools from 15.7 in the Northern Territory to 27.1 in Victoria. The Minister asserts that Commonwealth aid for schools should be allocated on a needs basis within but not between our 3 school systems.

Non-government schools other than Catholic schools received per capita in science laboratory grants in the last year for which information is available $24.08 and Catholic schools received $23.16 but government schools received only $10.58. Commonwealth secondary scholarships are awarded to 15.6 per cent of the applicants at non-government schools other than Catholic schools but to only 6.9 per cent in Catholic schools and 4.4 per cent in government schools. Professor Fensham has shown that the wealthiest schools now cost Australia's governments as much per pupil as government schools cost them and much more than Catholic schools cost them.

The Minister marked his return to the Education and Science portfolio by rubbishing the nation-wide survey which throughout his previous term of office he had promoted as the hope for all Australian schools. He has cast gratuitous aspersions upon the Government of South Australia for applying to the detriment of the wealthy schools he favours those same needs criteria of professional and objective judgement based on publicly stated standards which he embraced last week in his second reading speech on the States Grants (Secondary School Libraries) Bill. In now arguing against the national approach to education he has highlighted the gross discrepancies between States which more than ever justify a national approach. Inconsistencies and incoherencies in Australian school systems can no longer be allowed to perpetuate the shortcomings which would be regarded as intolerable in any comparable country. They can no longer be allowed to delay the establishment of an Australian schools commission through which the Commonwealth can do as much for schools as it has done since 1959 for universities through the Australian Universities Commission.

The DEPUTY CHAIRMAN (Mr Cope) - Order! The Leader of the Opposition's time has expired.

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