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Tuesday, 11 September 1984
Page: 1056

Mr DAWKINS (Minister for Finance)(12.14 a.m.) —One of the extraordinary things about the Budget debate this year, as with most Budget debates, is that Opposition members have abused the Government for spending too much, but when it comes to areas such as education they claim that the Government is not spending enough. What the Opposition does not quite understand is that the bottom line is the sum of the parts. A Government like this, which is concerned about bringing in a responsible Budget appropriate for the circumstances of this country's economy and which is dedicated to the economic recovery which we are now seeing unfold in this country, has to be concerned about ensuring the greatest possible restraint in public expenditure.

Mr McGauran —Why make all the promises? You promised those things.

Mr DAWKINS —I am coming to the honourable member for Gippsland. I have sat in this place rather longer than he has. I have been wondering where all the heroes of the Liberal Party and the National Party have been in relation to the advocacy of education and youth affairs. I was a very long voice for a long time in drawing attention to the shortcomings of our predecessors in relation to education priorities and education funding. Now of course it is easy to forget all of the legacies which were our bitter inheritance in education.

The honourable member for Dundas (Mr Ruddock) must get the gold medal for hypocrisy. After all, he was here during all that time. At least the honourable member for Gippsland and the honourable member for Richmond (Mr Blunt) came down in the last shower of rain and can therefore perhaps be excused for not understanding the history of education funding in recent times. I say to the babes in the wood that in relation to education it is interesting that the National Party, when it finds a couple of candidates who have done better than third grade, trots them out with such great alacrity that it forgets to tutor them in the history that they are bound to defend.

It is interesting that the National Party has now chosen millionaires from Melbourne and shiny pants from Sydney to represent it in this House. Indeed, the Richmond toff had the particular brilliance of inventing a new college of advanced education called Macquarie. I would be interested if he could tell me exactly where it is, which will perhaps explain why it slipped through the funding net.

What the National Party, and particularly the recent articulate members of it, have to be reminded of is that the real and great problem with which we were confronted on coming to government was the tragic situation relating to participation in education. Over a period from about 1975 to the early 1980s there was in fact a 25 per cent drop in the participation rate of young people in tertiary education. That was the first problem we had to address.

The second problem we had to address was that in the name of fiscal responsibility capital funding to colleges of advanced education and universities had been cut in a most dramatic way to the point where the Commonwealth Tertiary Education Commission was forced to report to the Government and the nation that there was a serious deterioration in the capital and repairs and maintenance votes for the restoration of that vital and important resource which was represented by the capital in CAEs and universities . Therefore, it was not a question simply of our maintaining the fabric of education or maintaining participation rates, but rather a question of cranking up participation rates so that Australia could perhaps begin to hold its head high in terms of international comparison, something it had not been able to do for many years, and also to begin the great task of rebuilding the great educational institutions in this country. Therefore, I am not all that rapt in hearing the sanctimony of members of either the National Party or the Liberal Party when it was we who had to address the wreckage which was our legacy when we came to government. Nowhere more than in education was our inheritance more bitter. Nowhere more than in education was it such a disaster. We have had to address those questions and the problems which have confronted us in very constrained economic and fiscal circumstances. We are now seeing a rebuilding of participation not only in secondary education but also in tertiary education. We are beginning to rebuild the value of tertiary allowances. Education and training allowances remain an area which needs to be addressed and improved to remove the kinds of disincentives which exist between those allowances, but we at least have made a start and we at least have indicated a very definite and determined commitment to do something about recognising that education is a vital investment as far as the Commonwealth is concerned.

I will not bother about addressing the particular issues which members of the Opposition have raised because I, more than perhaps anyone else in this chamber, know of the history of the Liberal-National Party's performance in the area of education. I perhaps more than anyone know the disastrous decline which occurred in tertiary and secondary education in this country during the dismal Fraser years. Therefore we have nothing at all to apologise for. We were confronted with an education crisis and we have embarked upon solving that crisis in a way that does not involve simply throwing money at a problem but rather a very determined, very persistent and very intelligent addressing of the great issues that confront us in relation to education. Far from the abuse that has been visited upon the Minister for Education and Youth Affairs (Senator Ryan), she deserves to be toasted by anyone in this country who is seriously concerned-

Mr Ruddock —Are you saying Dr Ryan was not serious? Is that what you are saying?

Mr DAWKINS —It is interesting that the honourable member has mentioned Dr Adrian Ryan. Is that not the same Dr Adrian Ryan that we have recently appointed to the Commonwealth Tertiary Education Commission? Is that not an indication that we are prepared to listen to the views even of those who criticise our actions? That is in sharp contrast to the kinds of approaches taken by our predecessors, the Government which the honourable member so enthusiastically and sycophantically supported for so many pathetic years. We have addressed that question. We have put Dr Ryan on to CTEC. We hope that he will make a positive contribution, perhaps even more positive than the contribution he made in the article to which the honourable member referred. The Minister for Education and Youth Affairs has begun in a very concerted, positive and effective way to address the huge problems in education. I think that rather than being attacked by members of this paltry Opposition, she might at least be acclaimed by them.

Proposed expenditure agreed to.

Department of the Treasury

Proposed expenditure, $528,058,000.

Department of Finance

Proposed expenditure, $66,609,000.

Advance to the Minister for Finance

Proposed expenditure, $160,000,000.