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Thursday, 9 December 1971
Page: 4436

Mr BEAZLEY (Fremantle) - The Opposition welcomes an increase of expenditure on education of $29.7m. We are, unfortunately, not in a position to assess exactly how this will meet the needs in certain key States because the Nationwide Survey of Educational Needs of May 1970 has not yet been conveyed to us in the sense that the 2 biggest States, New South Wales and Victoria, have not tabled their findings. So, we do not know what these additional grants mean in terms of adequacy in relation to the needs of New South Wales and Victoria. The second thing that the Opposition would like to say about this is that it hopes that the States have been sufficiently consulted to be in a position readily to use this money.

If honourable members look at the history of science laboratories, of library grants and of the finance for teachers colleges, it will be seen that the Commonwealth's action in these respects was quite precipitate. It was highly beneficial to those who actually had a plan to build science laboratories or actually had a plan to build libraries but there were many who, not knowing that this was going to be available, had no plan and did not receive the benefit and States, not knowing that the grant for teachers colleges was to be available, had no plan and were unable to spend money. The expenditure of these sorts of sums of money requires a degree of preparation. I presume however that if this is just a straightout grant, the State authorities and the private authorities will be able to adjust their systems to use the money to the optimum.

However, I want to say something about this system of making per capita grants to private schools. Surely it is not beyond the wit of man to devise in each State a Catholic education authority and an education authority for the other independent schools, to make a grant to them which may be calculated on a per capita basis and for them to be given the right to spend the money according to need. The Government may lay down guidelines of need, but a Catholic education authority in- Western Australia, shall we say, would get approximately $4.37m - I think that is what the grant will be - and that Catholic education authority could spend the $4. 37m according to need. It would be a better system than the system of making grants tied to specific schools which may not have a need.

The second weakness in the grants system is that it is geared to schools in being, whereas the great problem for independent or church schools, and especially those of the Catholic Church where it tries to provide schools in parishes regardless of their wealth or poverty, is that there is constant development in new areas but a school has to be in being before it can attract a grant. There must be some means of assisting these church; authorities to bring a school into being, for which this present system does not . adequately allow. We should remember that expenditure on education is economically valid expenditure. I do not believe that there is any economist who seriously regards expenditure in this direction where there are such needs as being inflationary in its effect. Expenditure on schools and hospitals is not inflationary expenditure. The Government already is putting money into areas where there is a great need, and it is not getting a luxury surplus to chase scarse goods or scarse materials. This action which the Government has taken in providing $29.7m is really a token addition.

It may keep the wolf from the door. I have a feeling, at least so far as Catholic parish schools are concerned, that the money which the Commonwealth provides is always just enough to stop them from sinking under, but not enough to enable them to organise an effective school system.

I do not imagine that increasing the grant from ยง35 to $50 for a primary school pupil and from $50 to $68 for a secondary school pupil will solve the problems that were indicated to the country by Archbishop Guilford Young in his television programme, nor will it relieve from bankruptcy the 20 schools to which he referred. The making of a straightout grant of an adequate amount to a Catholic education authority in Tasmania which had a discretionary power to assign this sum of money according to need and which was able to make a greater grant to the most necessitous schools, seems to us to be a better system. But having said that, we consider that the position of education is so parlous that we are not prepared to cavil at additional expenditure of $20m in the State school sector or $9. 7m in the private school sector, although we do protest about the failure of the 2 great States to publicise what are their educational needs. We believe that there is no provision for real alleviation of the poverty of some of the private schools and no provision for real capital advances to enable private schools of the Catholic nature to be built in new parishes. The present system puts a premium on a school being in existence and makes a grant that is just enough to keep the wolf from the door without there being much discretion to apply the money to the areas of greatest need. Having said that, I stress again that we welcome any such increase in expenditure on education.

Motion (by Mr Giles) proposed:

That the debate be now adjourned.

Mr Bryant - Mr Deputy Speaker, in accordance with the appropriate Standing Order, will you record my dissent from the motion that the debate be adjourned? I think it is a disgrace to do things like this. This matter was not even listed on the blue paper. The Prime Minister has blown through; he did not even listen to what was said.

Question resolved in the affirmative.

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