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Tuesday, 30 November 1971
Page: 3846

Mr Malcolm Fraser (WANNON, VICTORIA) (Minister for Education and Science) - 1 rise to oppose the amendment that the Opposition has moved to this Bill, lt will be no surprise to the honourable member for Fremantle (Mr Beazley) who moved the amendment on behalf of the Opposition that the Government would be opposing it because the amendment obviously would mean that no library funds would be made available for a very considerable period. The proposal which was moved by the Opposition is a fundamental one which strikes right to the heart of the Commonwealth's philosophy and approach in support of education in the Slates and tries to replace that with a proposal of an entirely different kind. I do not know how many times it needs to be said, but there is no analogy between an Australian schools commission that would need to deal separately and independently with 1.0,000 primary and secondary schools around Australia and a universities commission which now deals wilh 18 universities, all of which are autonomous and all of which have very substantial administrative organs to support their activities and to support their applications to and discussions with the Australian Universities Commission. Of course, the individual schools, whether they be independent or government schools, around Australia are not so equipped.

Of course the Opposition's approach to and its advocacy of an Australian schools commission is not only designed to establish something which they believe might appear to be attractive to the Australian public but also is designed to bypass the decisions of State education departments. That is something which I believe that we on this side of the House, with the philosophy of government that we have, ought not to entertain because this would involve a centralisation of educational authority, as I have said before, at the very time when many of those with a concern for education want decentralisation of educational authority. To establish a situation in which every school had to make out a case to a Commonwealth Government commission to see whether it ought, to get funds or not is one that runs counter to modern educational theory and also, 1 believe, to common sense, lt would make the State departments of education administrative organs and nothing else, depriving them of the responsibility and judgment which they must exercise concerning decisions in their own particular areas.

In addition to this, if we look at the manner in which the Opposition would run an Australian schools commission we find an approach and a view which would do much to jeopardise education in Australia and certainly set a ceiling on educational quality in both government and independent schools. It has been said on a number of occasions that the Opposition would use the pattern of the advisory committee in South Australia for an Australian schools commission, lt is worth noting that although the terms of reference-

Mr Beazley - Who said that?

Mr Malcolm Fraser (WANNON, VICTORIA) - Your Leader has indicated that on at least one occasion and, 1 think, on more than one occasion. If the honourable member puts me to the task of looking up the specific reference I will, and I will be able to find it. lt is a statement of your present Leader.

Mr Bryant - You should read more of his speeches.

Mr Malcolm Fraser (WANNON, VICTORIA) - Not many of them are relevant. The criteria which that advisory authority ultimately used were not specifically in its terms of reference. There were several in its terms of reference and it came down and said that it had allotted the money on a certain basis. The first criterion was the quality of teaching as indicated by the teacher-pupil ratio and teachers -salaries. One has only to analyse this criterion to understand the nonsense of this approach because if a school has a poor pupil-teacher ratio it thereby qualifies for a grant. It gets a grant and is enabled to improve its pupil-teacher ratio as a result. Therefore in the next year it does not get a grant and it cannot sustain the improved pupil-teacher ratio that is desirable. This, of course, is an incentive to mediocrity because in these circumstances there would be pressure from parents and those concerned to help finance the independent schools to maintain pupil-teacher ratios at a level that would attract the maximum government grant, and that would be at a low level.

When talking about recurrent funds it will be found that those who advocate a means test, as does the Opposition, are unable to establish a single standard or a group of standards or criteria that would enable the funds to be distributed with fairness to a wide range of schools, to parents and to pupils. When talking about capital funds the problem, of course, is a different one. In this area it is possible, as this Government has done, to establish objective standards against which the entitlement Of a school can be judged. This has been done since the inception of the science laboratories programme and the school libraries programme which was introduced about 3 years ago. If a school, whether it be a Government school or an independent school, has facilities to the standards advised to the Commonwealth by a standards committee, then of that school does not get a cent from the Commonwealth, and this has always been the case.

Here we are talking about capital facilities. It is easy to establish objective standards, which we have done, and to judge a school's entitlement accordingly. But when we come to recurrent funds the matter is difficult and much more complex. That is why the Government has in the area of recurrent funds made decisions which have the support of all State governments with the exception, I think, of one. I think that nearly . every independent school authority in Australia supports the means of payment made by this Government and by State governments, while at the same time tending to castigate the Opposition for the means test approach which it adopts.

There are some philosophic oddities in the Opposition's desire to establish an Australian schools commission with a means test as a basis on which it would provide funds to schools. This viewpoint stands very much at odds with the Opposition's approach to pensions which is an area in which the Opposition does not want a means test. Why place a means test on education? Why place a means test on children when the Opposition do:s not want to place a means test on age pensioners?

Mr Beazley - The need of a school is different from the need of an individual parent. There can be no means test on a school - a needs test.

Mr Malcolm Fraser (WANNON, VICTORIA) - The Opposition spokesman on education has had his say on this matter. If the oddities in the philosophic approach of the Opposition are sometimes revealed by the inconsistency of their policies, there is no reason for the honourable member to be concerned when that is being laid bare. The only other thing 1 would like to say in relation to this matter is that the honourable member for Fremantle himself has said that it would be quite impossible to indicate the cost to the Commonwealth of the proposals that may be recommended by an Australian schools commission if it were in fact established. The honourable member did indicate that a $180m emergency grant would be provided. In a debate on another occasion he seemed to indicate that this amount would be the total . grant that might be provided or recommended. He also indicated that in a subsequent year this might be subsumed in proposals to relieve the States of the costs of education in the tertiary area. But' the figures I had earlier given in regard to the cost of :he Opposition's educational proposals wore valid and accurate. The honourable member for Fremantle may well have forgotten that his Party and he himself made proposals concerning pre-schools, pre-school teacher training, educational television, reduction in class size, a schools . commission which would have some recurrent expenses concerned with it, secondary and technical scholarships, financing of tertiary education, non-government teacher training, the abolition of university and college fees, an extension of living allowances and also a matter concerning the open university. As I indicated during question time the other day the annual total expenditure on these matters, including the capital expenditure which might be required to make the proposals practical over 6 years, would be about $546m over the next 6 years. I think that is a little more than the figure 1 quoted in the House but the figure has since been more accurately costed.

The matters I referred to were all specific promises. When the Opposition makes a proposal, as it has tonight for the establishment of an Australian schools commission, it has an obligation to say whether it is merely a promise which it has no intention of fulfilling or it is a promise which it is gong to put into effect in1 year, 2 years, 3 years or 20 years, that is, if it ever gets into power. But if the Opposition makes all the promises on equal terms as though it would be put into effect immediately it became the Government, if it ever did come to power, then either it is expressing itself accurately, and if so its proposal is vastly expensive when put alongside the Opposition's other promises, or it is not accurate, in which case the Opposition is not entirely honest in its approach to the wooing of votes at this time. The cost of implementing all these matters would, I repeat, be about $546m a year. That amount is additional to the funds that the Commonwealth already provides for education, and that is a very significant sum indeed.

The Opposition has indicated that it would not be reducing defence expenditure, so that removes that area as a source of funds for educational expansion. The only other means available to the Opposition in finding additional funds - unless it is prepared to indicate some other area in which it would reduce Government activity - would be to increase tax of one kind or another. I have already indicated in the House in answer to a question that this would be the equivalent of a 16 per cent increase in the rate of income tax. Alternatively, if the Opposition did not want to touch that area, it would mean an increase of one-third in the company tax rate.

When members of the Opposition make promises or imply promises in relation to education or any other area they have an obligation to say whether they are serious on these particular matters and if so how these matters would be costed and how they should be funded. The Opposition has totally failed to indicate how its educational programmes might be funded if it were ever given the opportunity to put them into effect. This is one of the reasons, of course, why the Opposition would not be given that opportunity. The proposal to establish an Australian schools commission, inherent in the amendment, is something that the Government cannot accept, It will not advance the purpose of the Government which is to try to. progressively upgrade facilities in all schools, both Government and independent. This is an objective which is being pursued under the science laboratories programme and under the libraries programme to the great advancement of education in Australia. This is the kind of approach which the Government will continue to pursue to upgrade the. quality of education in all Australian schools. It will do this in a sensible and objective manner as resources become available and it will not entertain the kind of policies being pursued by the Opposition.

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