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Wednesday, 10 October 1984
Page: 2017

Mr GEAR —My question is directed to the Minister representing the Minister for Education and Youth Affairs. By what percentage has the Government increased spending in the education portfolio for 1984-85? Is this percentage an increase in real terms? Is he aware of proposals to increase spending even further in this area? If so, has any costing of those proposals been prepared? Would the further expenditure on these proposals significantly increase the deficit unless there were corresponding cuts in other areas? Finally, is he aware of any proposals for equivalent cuts in expenditure to make room for these additional expenditures?

Mr DAWKINS —I thank the honourable member for Tangney for his question. The fact is that when this Government came into office it found an education system which had been allowed to run down under the administration of our predecessors. We found a situation in which the participation rates in education had fallen dramatically, in which the dropout rate of young people had risen dramatically and in which the number of young people going from school to continuing education in universities, colleges or technical and further education colleges had dropped alarmingly. We set about doing something about that. Over the two years we have restored the good health of the education system, although of course we cannot overcome all of the damage that was done to the education system by our predecessors. But, in conjunction with the States and with the non -government school sector, we are working towards that goal.

In the 1984-85 Budget we provided an additional $458m for education, or an 11.2 per cent increase. That is on top of the $370m that we provided in our first Budget. The greatest proportional increase in education funding has been in the area of school funding and funding for TAFE. We have also acted in both Budgets to increase student allowances and to ease the means test to ensure that those allowances provide realistic assistance to students continuing in education. This year's Budget represents a 4.5 per cent real increase in education expenditure.

I have seen some ideas which have come forward from the Opposition. At this stage they are fairly vague and bland and fairly difficult to cost-that is, unless one were to cost the rhetoric, in which case they would cost a fortune. We do see that in those proposals there is a basic competencies program which would cost at least $5m, a teacher exchange program which would cost at least half a million dollars, extra resources to non-government schools which would cost $12m, a computer education program which would cost $14m, an increase in the tertiary education assistance scheme allowance to bring it up to the rate of the unemployment benefit, which would cost $57m, a review of higher education which would cost half a million dollars and an open university which would cost about $15m-a total of over $100m which the Opposition intends to add to education outlays.

I wish to make two points about that. The Opposition has not suggested any areas which might be eliminated in order to make way for this additional expenditure, so one assumes that this is on top of the existing education outlays and would therefore add $100m to the deficit. The other point is that it is extraordinary that it is only when the Liberal Party and the National Party are in opposition that they begin to realise the deficiencies which they created in the education system. What were they doing for seven years in relation to funding for student assistance and the important areas of school funding? This Government believes that by careful, prudent and well targeted increases in education spending, we are providing the sort of education system that all Australians ought to expect.