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Thursday, 25 November 1971
Page: 3725

Dr SOLOMON (Denison) - The honourable member for Fremantle (Mr Beazley) in a somewhat untypical rambling speech, on his own admission, roved quite widely beyond the field covered by this Bill. But nevertheless I do not accuse him of utter irrelevance because when he talks about the question of $1 from the Commonwealth for $1.85 from the States in the matter of universities finance he is, of course, talking of actualities, lt may well be that the total acceptance of tertiary education by the Commonwealth to the exclusion of other bodies may in fact be a sensible proposition. I think 1 could say reasonably that it has not been beyond the comprehension or the exercise of thought of supporters of the Government. Nevertheless that is not really the issue at stake at the moment, although I suppose that it can be projected from this Bill that the whole question of Commonwealth educational responsibility might be brought into issue. The question of defence expenditure is, I think, almost totally irrelevant.

The problem here was one of making good discrepancies between university budgets and expenditures in the triennium 1970-72. The reason for the problem that occurred was that non-academic, nonteaching salaries and wages did not rise automatically or were not provided for automatically as were academic salaries by other means. The result has been that after submissions to the Australian Universities Commission and after strong persuasion by that body, as I think the Minister for Education and Science (Mr Malcolm Fraser) mentioned in his second reading speech, the Commonwealth has provided supplementary finance for the purpose of nonacademic salaries. I cannot give the position of all universities but the University of Tasmania budgeted for roughly a 4 per cent annual increase in these salaries. This was found to be inadequate to the extent of about $800,000 for the 1970-72 triennium.

One of the problems which remain, is that the total of State and Commonwealth finance now coming forward as a result of this Bill in the case of the University of

Tasmania runs at around $420,000 or not much more than half of that which it identifies as being needed in this triennium. Of course it is not quite as simple as that. There certainly appears even at this point that there will be ah inadequacy after this legislation comes into effect But we do of course have the problem of rates of increase and just how much these should be. It is well known in this chamber that universities have increased their population of both teaching staff and students at an unprecedented rate in the last 2 decades and probably in particular the last one, and provision on the whole has been made for that. It is not relevant, nor would it be possible, in this debate to question the whole business of the relationship of these increases to the increased amounts of finance that have been made available. Nevertheless it is true to say that basically those increases have been sufficiently underpinned, even at one or two stages very well underpinned, by the Commonwealth's greatly increased expenditure in this field.

That of course still leaves us with the problem of just how efficient the universities are in the management of their finances. I think most people outside universities would see them as fairly inefficient institutions. Some of us who have been inside them for some time would likewise see them as reasonably inefficient in the manner in which they go about some of their increases in staff and their developments of one sort or another. Whether that makes them in any sense unique in this community I doubt. Tn fact I think it is probably fair to say that the inefficiencies of universities are certainly no more than the inefficiencies of this institution, and that may be a case for improving the efficiency of both.

However, as I say, I do not think we can examine that problem thoroughly here but it is one which is relevant. So I think that because of the great demands that are being made increasingly on the Commonwealth in the whole field of education, some of them justifiable, some of them less so, it will be incumbent upon the universities - I think they have recognised this already - to tighten up to the best of their ability, subject only the difficulties of the human condition and the manner in which we operate our democratic processes through committees and the like, the manner in which they spend their money, both salaries and other forms of expenditure, so that it is expended in the best and least wasteful possible ways.

Having said that, I do not want lo take up an undue amount of time. I believe we are very far behind schedule. I merely want to make the point that welcome as this Bill is, recognised as is the problem which has brought about the Bill, the problem is not totally solved and it will require both this Government and the State Governments, and in fact the universities themselves, to work with considerable enthusiasm to ensure that this problem does not recur more or less incessantly, which is something about which, I think, the honourable member for Fremantle was somewhat apprehensive. In that sense I join with his sentiments in that matter.

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