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Tuesday, 17 November 1964

The PRESIDENT - Order! I ask the honorable senator to return to the Bill before the Senate.

Senator DITTMER - I am directing my remarks to the bill, Mr. President. If you will permit me and be a little tolerant towards me I will show you, Sir, how my remarks are related to the Bill. I may be a little dilatory in my approach, but I wish to show how important it is that qualified and efficient academic staff be paid adequate salaries, because from them will flow that to which the nation will owe much in time.

The Press has a responsibility to the people. I am completely contemptuous of the Press for its failure to recognise that responsibility. The Government has also failed to recognise its responsibility. A salary of £5,200 is to be paid to professors. I am aware that certain advantages are associated with their position. I heard someone say in another place that you have to measure academic salaries in economic terms. You do not necessarily have to measure them in economic terms. Many men with brilliant academic qualifications accept positions at universities because they prefer to do so. In the process of time they have to rear families. They are entitled to adequate salaries commensurate with their qualifications. A man's wife may say: "You are more brilliant than so and so and he is earning £10,000 or £15,000 a year. You should at least be able to provide adequately for your children to attend suitable schools and you should be able to provide for them adequately at home, considering the talents that you exhibited as a youth and that you have had a successful career."

A standard salary of £5,200 for professors is not too much. Let us be quite frank and quite fair about the whole issue. I saw in the report into academic salaries that Mr. Justice Eggleston said that universities had not much difficulty in filling their staff requirements, and that might be so, because of the limited amount that the staff can receive in salaries. As a modern nation, Australia has one of the worst records in the world in staff-student ratio. Australian universities do not meet the staff demands required for a proper staff-student ratio. This ratio varies from State to State, but generally it is worse in Australia than in many other countries. The ratio in Australia does not compare favorably with the ratio in the United States or in many other places. lt is not generally recognised that when the Senate or Council - term it what you will - of a university employs a professor who may have brilliant academic credentials, it is very rarely that it inquires into the teaching qualifications held by the professor or into his capacity to teach. For this reason, unfortunate students are obliged to listen to someone who has no capacity to impart knowledge. It is all very well for a m'an to have an honours degree - all credit to those who have them - but it is more important when appointing a professorial staff to teach graduates who will serve Australia in all phases of industry, development, the professions and so on, to ensure that the staff chosen are adequately equipped to impart knowledge to the students.

The Government has done little to help the universities to obtain suitable staffs. It has said that it will recognise its obligations in this regard, but what is proposed in the Bill will cost the Government nothing. The Government is talking with its tongue in its cheek in introducing this Bill, and if the States do not berate it then they are recreant to their trust. The Commonwealth will provide £175,000 this year to assist the universities and will provide £1.3 million next year. The amount provided each year will be adjusted following an inquiry. In the process of time the Government will have a further inquiry, but it has not determined when or why that inquiry will be held. The proposals in the Bill will cost the Federal Government nothing.

Honorable senators must not forget that it is vitally important to Australia as a nation that the universities have brilliant academic staff. There is no comparison between a first class brain, which is capable of imparting knowledge and which can be obtained for £5,200 a year - or £5,700 as was requested by the staffs association - and a second class brain which is incapable of imparting knowledge and which can be obtained for £4,000 or £4,500 a year. Conequently I believe that the Government has not recognised in full its responsibility. It has not recognised the importance of competent academic staff in universities. It has not accepted its responsibility to expand facilities for university students, nor has it accepted responsibility for the training of academic staff. It has not provided suitable inducements to attract competent men, and it has not provided the facilities and accommodation that are required. We cannot have graduates if the equipment is inefficient and insufficient accommodation is provided. Students will not do well and the number who graduate will be limited. The number who graduate with honours will also be limited, and in the process of time this will cause a decrease in the number of persons seeking academic posts.

The world recognises the urgent need for greater numbers of adequately equipped people, but Australia is spending a smaller percentage of its national income on education than practically any other country. When I make that statement I am not referring to British Guiana or the Falkland Islands, and I exclude Portugal, Spain and Turkey. But many countries are spending on education much more than is Australia, yet the Government claims credit for its approach to education. I give credit to the Prime Minister (Sir Robert Menzies) for his brilliant original thought that led to his instituting an inquiry into the needs and likely needs of. Australian universities; but neither he nor the Government has made first hand contact with the universities. The Government has never visualised the need for the expansion of university facilities. It has never thought of the effect of the rapid increase in the number of students, or of the demand for new universities. lt is more than three years now since a committee was appointed to inquire into tertiary education. The findings of that committee are not yet available to members of the Parliament or to the people of Australia. The Government cannot claim any credit for what it is doing tonight in bringing in this measure during the dying hours of the session. Never has a Cabinet been more guilty than the present one, with respect to this matter but never has an Opposition been more ready to accept its obligation than is the present Opposition. By rushing this legislation through the House of Representatives and the Senate in this manner the Government is being completely contemptuous of the Parliament. It is deriding the Parliament and the rights of Parliamentarians and thereby is making the people justifiably contemptuous of it.

Notwithstanding what I have said the Opposition commends the measure. The Bill does provide what can be accepted as reasonable salaries for professors, readers and associate professors, but the committee's terms of reference were too limited. Although the Government was not prepared to extend the terms His Honour saw fit to include in his report what he thought should bc the range of salaries for lecturers and senior lecturers. How these things happen, I do not know. If he was not prepared to approach the Government why did he include these issues in his report? What he should have said was that they were outside the ambit of his authority and he was not prepared to do anything about them. These are busy people and they are entitled to consideration. Not only the professors and other staff members who were embraced by the terms of the authorisation of the inquiry are entitled to consideration. Other people serve a useful purpose and many of (hem may be equally as brilliant as the professors. The opportunity for advancement for them does not exist. There just happen to be no vacancies or if there are vacancies they are in places to which they do not want to go. The Government has to think of these people, of the purpose they serve and of the number of students who graduate under their hands.

When we think in these terms we must realise that there is something wrong with the system. Of the students who enrol at a university, in the process of time, either in the set time or in a longer period, 65 per cent, graduate. Approximately 40 per cent, graduate in the time set for a degree course. However, there is a tremendous waste of talent. There must be something wrong with the system because there are limited enrolments, and the situation is becoming worse. In certain universities there are a number of vacancies in second year. .What do we find? Students matriculate, enter first year at the university, pass the examinations but are not allowed to proceed to second year because there are not sufficient vacancies. How tragic this is for the nation and how terrible it is for the individual and his or her parents.

Irrespective of what salaries are paid to university professors and teachers, this situation will not be remedied until the Government adopts a bigger and better approach. A student passing an examination with 60 per cent, marks is not brilliant at all, but this was accepted in the past. Is he or she to proceed to the next year in the course? The Government is to give professors £5,200 per annum but it is not prepared, because of its miserable and parsimonious approach, to do anything in regard to the provision of the equipment and so on at universities which is so necessary and is needed so much not only for the students but for the nation. I know that every honorable senator is anxious to get home.

Senator Paltridge - And how! '

Senator DITTMER - That is only because an election is to be held. The honorable senator is interested in what I am saying although he would not appear to be. He might not be so interested after six o'clock on 5th December when all the issues have been determined. Perhaps what happens then might be a salutary lesson for him. He might trim his sails then not to the prevailing breezes but to the needs of the nation and the rights of the people. Perhaps this is not an appropriate occasion to speak in terms of Labour's policy or in condemnation of the inequity and the constantly recurring inefficiencies of the Menzies Government. The people will have the opportunity to deal with those matters on 5th December.

But that is by way of digression. I just say that the Opposition does not commend the Bill. We do not oppose it. We are accepting it because it provides a method of economic justice for certain sections of university staff. But in no way does the Government proposal measure up to the demands of this nation as regards the provision of adequate technical facilities in the field of tertiary education. There has been no recognition of the rights of the junior ranks of academic staffs. Whether the Government acts on what His Honour suggests, outside the ambit of his authority, is a matter for the Government.

As regards the field of secondary and primary education, nothing is being done. With no solid foundation, how can you expect a reasonable superstructure? The Government has consistently refused support in this regard. It will pay a professor £5,200 a year to mould the minds of many people. These are persons who, in previous years, have never had any solid foundation in the field of primary and secondary education. So. this suggests to me that irrespective of the economic justice meted out to the professors, associate professors and readers, the Government is completely irresponsible in all fields of education in Australia. The Government does not recognise the needs of the nation. It does not recognise the rights of the individual child to utilise all the talents with which he or she was born. The Government does not recognise needs in other fields of education. Now, the Government fails to recognise that in establishing an aristocracy of science, it is not necessarily entering the kingdom of wisdom.

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