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Tuesday, 12 October 1971
Page: 2195

Mr Keith Johnson (BURKE, VICTORIA) - The honourable member for Bradfield (Mr Turner), who has just resumed his seat, has continued this debate in the same dreary, conservative vein as that of his colleagues. We of the Australian Labor Party have never suggested that anything can be obtained for nothing. We have said only that no student should be disadvantaged because of lack of financial standing of his parents, and also that privilege should not accrue to wealthy just because of the existence of wealth. In other words, opportunity should be equal to all and limited only by the capacity of the individual.

In this debate, I wish to speak on one matter in particular. That is the question of Commonwealth scholarships. The current appropriation for Commonwealth secondary scholarships is S7m which, to all intents and purposes, is close to the $6,791,420 spent last year out of an appropriation of $6.8m. The situation with Commonwealth technical scholarships conveys much the same story. This year $ 1.065m is appropriated as against an expenditure last year of $ 1.096m of an appropriation of $ 1.23m. These 2 amounts do not seem to bear any relationship to their logical successors, the Commonwealth university scholarships and the Commonwealth advanced education scholarships, each of which has been increased considerably this year - and this seems to have been the practice over past years, as far as I can see. Perhaps the Minister for Education and Science (Mr Malcolm Fraser) has a logical explanation for the anomaly that seems to exist. However, prima facie it appears curious that there is no significant increase in the amount allowed from year to year for these vital scholarships.

Statistics indicate to us that our population is increasing constantly. Surely it is reasonable to assume that this increase is fairly evenly spread over the age groups in the community, and ours is a young community. The bulk of the people are in the younger age groups; indeed, 38 per cent of the entire population is under 19 years of age. The numbers of people in the younger age groups are also enormous and we can expect the numbers of young people moving from age group to age group to increase annually. Therefore, it is reasonable to say that as the numbers of potential recipients of scholarships increase, as the value of scholarships remains constant and as the total sum appropriated for scholarships each year changes only minimally, then there will be a decrease in the per capita allocation for scholarships. In other words, a smaller percentage of students will receive a scholarship each year.

Children living in areas such as the one that I represent will be further disadvantaged for a number of reasons. Statistics relating to scholarships granted per head of students clearly, show the imbalance that exists already between students in my area and students in more affluent areas. There is a greater percentage of young people in my area. Research shows that 49 per cent of the population in my area is under 19 years of age compared with the national average of 38 per cent. As I have said, there is a less affluence in parts of my electorate than in other areas of the metropolis and because of the inequitous practice of the Victorian Liberal Party Government in opting out of one of the major cost factors of education, that is, the provision of facilities in schools, and thrusting this cost upon parents, school committees and school councils, inequity has become rife. Schools situated in areas where parents are able to contribute are better served with facilities and teaching aids than are those schools where parents are not in a financial position to contribute. This serious situation is compounded by the fact that teachers are human and seek and deserve the best possible working conditions. In the main - and there I am not being critical of teachers - they seek postings to schools which are well equipped and they endeavour to by-pass those schools which lack the tools of trade that a teacher requires.

So the true position is that children who come from a background which is not conducive to extra curricular assistance are sent to schools which are ill equipped with facilities and on occasions staffed with teachers who are only marking time until a vacancy occurs at a school in a more affluent area. It would probably do a great deal of good if honourable members were to consider what I have just said. The student who starts out at a disadvantage remains at a disadvantage virtually for all of his student life. This situation has not been dramatised. I am simply stating my experiences over many years. I lay the blame fairly and squarely at the feet of the Liberal Party. It is in government in Canberra and it is in government in Victoria. If Australia is to progress as a nation of high repute and productivity, both materially and spiritually, we have an obligation to ensure that no intellectual resources are wasted. The best way to ensure that this happens is to see that every child, irrespective of background or the financial standing of the family, is assured of the opportunity to be educated to the capacity of his intellect.

The niggardly attitude of this Government will not solve the problem. A crisis exists in education, and that crisis can best be solved with money. Any money spent on this item is not an expense; it is an investment in the very future of Australia. This is a very deep question which requires a good deal more time than is available in this debate. My colleagues are covering this subject very well, but we will have an opportunity in the future - I trust in the very near future - to debate this subject at greater length and perhaps greater depth. Returning to the question of scholarships, I point out that inequities exist within inequities. Recently a matter was brought to my attention where a lad was attending the fifth form at a State high school and was studying physics and chemistry. He holds a Commonwealth secondary scholarship which entitles him to $200 for living expenses, $50 for books and $150 for school fees, if required. However, as he attended a State school where fees are not required, he received only $250 of a $400 scholarship, the $150 allowed for fees not being claimed. lt so happened that the teachers at this school took industrial action and withdrew their services. The lad's father was concerned about the boy's future, and on the advice of the principal enrolled the boy with a recognised correspondence school so that there would be minimal interruption to his studies. When the lad's father made an application to the Department for the cost of the correspondence course, which amounted to $78, as part of the $150 allowable for fees which he did not claim originally, the application was refused. This Government was prepared to pay $150 towards fees if the lad attended a private school, but it refused to pay $78 when circumstances beyond the control of the father or the son caused the parent to consider that it was in the best interest of his son's education to enrol him temporarily with a correspondence school. The Department's reply was rather interesting. It stated:

The Minister has decided that parents of Commonwealth secondary scholarship holders could not be reimbursed for outside tuition taken as a result of strike action by teachers.

It seems to me to be a spiteful act when Ministers, whose Government's policies cause teacher problems, vent their anger at teachers' action against the innocent parties, the parents of students. There can be no justifiable explanation for such petulant action. 1 trust that the remarks I have made tonight, particularly those in the latter part of my speech, do not fall on deaf ears and that some action is taken to rectify such a situation so that no longer will parents of students who attend State schools be disadvantaged, as this parent was, through circumstances over which neither the student nor the parent had any control.

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