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Thursday, 24 August 1972
Page: 453

Senator WHEELDON (WESTERN AUSTRALIA) - I can assure Senator Wright that the fact that the point of order has not been upheld does not mean that the debate will be in any way prolonged, other than for the time it will take to hold a division.

Senator Wright - That does not induce any undue exaltation.

Senator WHEELDON - It should not induce any great discomfort on the Minister's part. As I was endeavouring to explain, the Australian Labor Party is of the view that just as the Australian Universities Commission is essential to university education, there should be an Australian schools commission to deal with the problems of primary and secondary education throughout Australia.

Senator Wright - The Bill deals with kindergartens.

Senator WHEELDON - I thought the Minister was aware of that fact, but I was about to remind him of it in case it had slipped his memory and he had not given thought to the matter, which I am sure he should have done. Similarly we believe that there should be an Australian pre-schools commission to deal with the very great problems of pre-school education. At this late hour on a Thursday night I do not want to labour the point, but T think it is generally accepted by educators throughout the world that one of the most important branches of education is pre-school education. What happens to children until they reach the age of 5 years can determine the subsequent pattern of their lives. Preschool education is not a subsidiary or trivial part of their education, as has often been considered in the past; it is an integral and very important part of their education. It is gratifying at least to know that the Government, following pressure from the Australian Labor Party, has partially acknowledged this fact by the grants which are proposed in the Bill.

We believe that the present provision made for pre-school education is grossly inadequate. To a very large extent the people whose children receive the benefits of pre-school education are middle class and upper middle class parents who are able to afford to maintain by private subscription the kindergartens and pre-school centres in the localities in which they live. To a very large extent the people whose children are most in need of the services of pre-school centres and kindergartens are those people whose children are deprived of that education. We believe that a preschool commission should have as one of its tasks a rational and systematic examination of the needs of the whole community in relation to the provision of pre-school centres. They should not be provided on the piecemeal basis on which they are provided at the moment.

The proposal contained in the amendment is a modest one. We merely ask that a pre-school commission should be established to raise the level of pre-school education throughout Australia at least to the level of pre-school education in the Australian Capital Territory. Although the Australian Capital Territory clearly leads the rest of Australia in the provision of this type of education, pre-school education in the Australian Capital Territory leaves a great deal to be desired. About 52 per cent of eligible children in the Australian Capital Territory at present are receiving pre-school education. The percentage of Australian children of pre-school age who receive the benefit of pre-school education is only 14.8 per cent. The variations in the percentages of children receiving the benefit of education in this very important part of their lives range from 34.6 per cent in the Northern Territory to 3.1 per cent in New South Wales. In the largest State only 3.1 per cent of preschool age children are receiving the benefit of this type of education. In my State. Western Australia, only 12.8 per cent of children receive the benefits of preschool education.

The results of the inability to provide pre-school education can be seen in many areas where working class parents do not have the facilities that are available to their more affluent fellow citizens to provide the sort of home assistance that is necessary. They cannot make provision for their children to be transported some distance to a relatively expensive kindergarten. Throughout Australia, particularly outside the Australian Capital Territory, there is clear evidence that the most depressed sections of the community - the sections of the community most in need of pre-school education for their children, particularly those children of recent immigrants from countries where the language is not English - are deprived of a very essential advantage in the upbringing of their children.

All that the amendment asks is that there should be provision made for the establishment of a pre-school commission. I realise that it is probably unnecessary for me to speak at any great length this evening because in 6 weeks or 2 months, there will be a Labor government in office and it will immediately establish a commission. It would be a pious act if the Government were to accept graciously the wisdom of my remarks and the amendment which I have moved because it would not have the time or the opportunity to establish a commission. I commend the amendment to the Senate. I can see by the attentive faces of my audience that I have convinced a great many senators of this proposition. I anticipate that the Minister will shortly announce that he is prepared to accept the amendment.

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT (Senator Withers) - Is the amendment seconded?

Senator Mulvihill - I second the amendment.

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