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Tuesday, 9 October 1984
Page: 1958

Mr SHIPTON(9.52) —The education Bills being debated cognately come before us in an atmosphere and an environment of uncertainty about the true position of the Government on education. The previous speaker, the honourable member for Petrie (Mr Wells), said that this was just a step in what he believed was the right direction. The right direction is the direction which the Minister for Education and Youth Affairs (Senator Ryan) talks about all the time. She talked, as recently as yesterday, about socialist ideology and levelling outcomes of education in this country in order to pander to the ideologues of the socialist Left. That is the true position and that is the step which the honourable member for Petrie says is a step in the right direction. That is the direction in which he is going. We do not know from these Bills what is the true position of the Government. But we know it is a step and that there are great deficiencies contained in the measures. We do not know whether the legislation to be administered by the Minister means that the true position outlined at the Australian Labor Party National Conference will be brought into effect. The tertiary education legislation gives the Minister great power to do this.

I would like to make some comments in the brief time available to me this evening about the philosophical direction of the legislation and the philosophical differences between the Opposition and the Government. It is my view that equality of opportunity leads to better educational outcomes for young Australians. I am not against equality of outcomes. I believe that if we have greater equality of opportunity, we will have outcomes in education. The Government and the Minister for Education and Youth Affairs want equality of outcome at any price, not equality of opportunity. They want to manipulate and conscript the process so that all outcomes are equal. As I have said, I am not against equality. But in adopting the Government's approach, one brings everybody to the lowest common denominator, to the lowest level, rather than lift the level of the lowest to achieve the greatest equality of opportunity and a better outcome. Ideologues in the Labor Party do not like excellence. They do not like people achieving and doing well. That is why it is the Government's policy to have equality at any price. I repeat that equality of opportunity is what education should be about. I recognise, and state that I recognise, that one needs assistance to get that equality of opportunity. That goes without saying.

Let us look at this legislation in some detail because it still discriminates against certain private schools, including certain Catholic schools. The honourable member for Lowe (Mr Maher) talked about what the previous Government was alleged to have done to Catholic parish schools in his electorate and how the situation had been fixed. I have news for him. I am pleased to talk on behalf of a school in my electorate that proves the exact opposite of what the honourable member for Lowe stated previously. I refer to St Cecilia's Primary School at Glen Iris, which has had its second application for funding rejected by the Commonwealth Schools Commission. At my request the Director of the Schools Commission referred the original application back to the State Planning and Finance Committee for reconsideration. Originally, St Cecilia's applied for funding for a new administrative block, renovating and refurbishing of old classrooms and a new additional classroom. When this application was rejected by the Government, St Cecilia's parish undertook the responsibility for upgrading the old school building and a revised submission was then lodged for funding of $70,000 of a total of $95,121 for the new administrative block. This second application of St Cecilia's has also been refused. I have been advised that the decision will not be reversed by the Government.

Obviously, the school, the parents and students are disappointed and I share that disappointment because in this case parish parents and teachers have worked hard to better the educational opportunities for the students, to no avail. It is unfair to these hardworking parents and the children at the school, and it is a great school. I went there fairly recently to present an Australian flag. They are great students. They have a great feeling about their nation. It is a great small parish community school in my electorate. It is an example of another Government attack on the independent school system. It is a small parish school which is unable to fend for itself and which serves my electorate and the community at large well. To me, it proves beyond all doubt that there is still a Government hit list of private schools and St Cecilia's is one of those schools that has been hit.

There is a general view in the community that the education debate has been put to rest by the Government just before the election, that there is not a hit list of private schools any more and if there is such a list, in contains the so- called 12 'wealthy' schools. St Cecilia's is not a wealthy school. It is a small Catholic parish school in my electorate and it is on the Government's hit list. It has been denied funding. I believe that people in charge of education, particularly in Victoria, pursue the same line as the Minister in pushing the left wing barrow of equality at all costs and not worrying about opportunity. They are busy devising slogans and schemes without really worrying about the students, the betterment of the students and the fostering of excellence.

I will briefly talk about universities because they are being squeezed under this legislation. People at universities are finding out that Labor governments do not do what they promise, do not care about them and neglect them. The whole university community-students, teachers and academics-did better under the coalition administration.

Mr Milton —Nonsense!

Mr SHIPTON —There has been neglect and discouragement. The honourable member laughs. He should visit campuses such as those at Monash University-I think he has something to do with Monash-and the University of Queensland and ask the people about the situation because there is a squeeze at the moment. Not only is there a squeeze; the Government went back on a decision about a pay rise for academics and teachers at those universities. It is an interesting point that I think links in very well with the neglect by this Government of the scientific community and the comments made by the Minister for Science and Technology (Mr Barry Jones) that we could not expect money for science-and, ipso facto, I would say educational institutions in this country-in an election year. The Minister for Science and Technology was saying that after the election was over, if the present Government were re-elected, it would put up taxes so that it could make some of the funds available. That is the attitude of this Government.

As previous speakers have said, there is absolutely no encouragement in this legislation for private schools. People are deserting the public school system because many parents are dissatisfied with certain schools and the outcome of education at those schools. They want to send their children to private schools. There should be diversity of choice in the education system. The great thing about the private or independent school system is that it does provide competition with the public school system and from both we should get a better equality of outcome. But this legislation provides no encouragement for the establishment of private schools, whether they be Protestant, Catholic or private non-denominational, and I think the Government must stand condemned for that.

This legislation also puts into effect the withdrawal of support by this Government for halls of residence. One of the earlier speakers in this debate-I think it was the honourable member for Petrie-said that no one in the community would be adversely affected. I have news for him. In the time that is available to me tonight I have time only to mention the case of Warrnambool, in the electorate of the honourable member for Wannon (Mr Hawker). There has been a big sellout by the Federal Labor Government in that the Warrnambool Institute of Advanced Education has missed out on Federal money for student housing in the next two years. This is an example of the way in which this Government, by means of this legislation, has sold out on a community. Students will be affected. Students from the Western District area of Victoria who attend the Warrnambool Institute will now miss out on educational opportunities because of the action of the Federal Government. It is even worse than that, because I understand that the Victorian Post-Secondary Education Commission had in fact recommended that a $940,000 grant be made available for new student housing facilities at Warrnambool. So much for that point.

Mr Hawker —That is right.

Mr SHIPTON —The honourable member for Wannon, who is in the chamber tonight, has endorsed my remarks. He acknowledges that what I said is absolutely right, that there has been a sell-out by the Labor Government of the people of Warrnambool. I am sorry that the honourable member for Melbourne (Mr Hand) is not in the House at the moment because I understand that he spent some of his early formative years in Warrnambool. Perhaps he could tell his friends and colleagues in Warrnambool why they are going to be rejected and neglected in this way by the sell-out of not making halls of residence available to them.

The States Grants (Tertiary Education) Assistance Bill 1984 is a draconian measure which gives the Minister enormous power to restructure the education system. The Minister has power to declare and determine school allocations. I have no doubt that this will be done in accordance with the ideology of the socialist Left and the Minister. I think that this legislation gives far too much power to the Minister.

In the remaining time available I would like to talk about the participation and equity program. At first blush the words 'participation and equity program' sound marvellous. But it embodies the old socialist Left ideology. This program replaces the old school-to-work transition program-an excellent program that helped students bridge the gap between school and the work place, the work community. I remember seeing a number of these very important programs at the Caulfield Institute of Technology in my electorate. These were great programs. But now we have to change it all. We have to bring in ideology and use the term 'participation and equity'. We delay, mess up and abandon the old system. Virtually nothing has been happening for 18 months. There have been administrative delays. All of a sudden we have to get money out of the participation and equity program-the PEP-by the end of the year because the funds are made available on a calendar year basis. So under this badly administered scheme there has been a sudden rush by schools-certainly this is the case in Victoria-to spend this money under PEP by the end of this term of which only another five or six weeks are left.

Mr Gear —Tell us what you are talking about. You know nothing.

Mr SHIPTON —I know exactly what I am talking about. I know that schools have to spend this money along these ideological lines. I know schools-I will not name them-that would rather buy a computer or other equipment that would be of much better use in the education of their students. This Government has done nothing about providing computer education in the schools of Australia. The previous Administration was in fact going to do something had it been re-elected. I know of schools that want computers but which have to go along with the ideology of the Minister and the Government. There is a need for students to be able to operate and understand computers, which play such an important role in the world today. I think that my time is drawing to a close.

Mr Gear —Thank goodness.

Mr SHIPTON —Obviously my remarks are hurting Government members. I have touched a raw nerve because what I am saying is absolutely true. Honourable members opposite do not care about the true education of the students of Australia; they just want the lowest common denominator in education. That is why students are leaving the government system in their droves and opting for the private system. I am glad to see the honourable member for Lowe in the House. I draw to his attention what I said earlier about St Cecilia's Primary School in my electorate . I support the comments made by members of the Opposition about the grave deficiencies of this Bill. The Bill is a tragedy for the people of Australia. The perception that the Government is putting about that there are no schools on the hit list and that the education debate has been laid to rest is totally and utterly false.