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Thursday, 7 May 1987
Page: 2769

Mr MILES(10.38) —I would just like to correct a few statements which have been made by the honourable member for Capricornia (Mr Wright) and which the Australian people would have heard over the radio. It was interesting to hear him expressing the point of view that some people on our side of the Parliament might spend more money on one night's entertainment than people would spend in a week--

Mr Wright —On food.

Mr MILES —Yes, on food. Yet only last week the Prime Minister (Mr Hawke) was at a dinner in Melbourne that cost $460 a double.

Mr Slipper —How much?

Mr MILES —It cost $460 a double.

Mr Wright —He is not introducing cuts in education.

Mr Cadman —He is in welfare.

Mr MILES —Yes, the honourable member was talking about welfare, and that is the type of hypocrisy we have in this Government at this stage. He then went on to say that the Liberal Party of Australia and the National Party of Australia have a policy that would impose a fee of $100 per week on university students. That is absolute nonsense. It is incorrect and it is an untruth. The Liberal and National parties have no policy as such and it is just rumour-mongering by the Labor Government.

The States Grants (Tertiary Education Assistance) Amendment Bill, the States Grants (Schools Assistance) Amendment Bill and the States Grants (Education Assistance-Participation and Equity) Amendment Bill authorise retrospective payments to the States and the Northern Territory for cost increases. The Opposition does not oppose these Bills as such. However, we strongly oppose clause 8 (4) in the States Grants (Schools Assistance) Amendment Bill which prescribes certain projects that will not be funded. However, these Bills represent, in a very important sense, the general thrust of government policy and its approach to educational needs at the tertiary, secondary and primary levels.

The approach by this Government to education has been, first and foremost, to make it an instrument whereby socialist goals can be promoted. It is for that reason that the honourable member for Tangney (Mr Shack) said so well yesterday that there is an unprecedented crisis in Australian education. Parents are concerned about the future of their young people and the type of education which they are receiving. The interference and the regulation that this Government imposes on education in Australia is to be rejected. Secondly, this Government has financially leg-roped present tertiary institutions and poured cold water on the establishment of any private university. Thirdly, it has continually dismissed and now rejects any notion that belief in God is a fundamental premise of education for many Australian families. I will return to that proposition towards the end of my speech. I now return to the first proposition, namely that the Government uses the education system to achieve its own socialist goals. The Australian Labor Party 1986 platform states that the Labor Party will maintain the education system `that facilitates the achievement of Labor's objectives'. The honourable member for Capricornia said that that is exactly what the Government is about; so the Government admits that it has objectives that it wants to achieve through the education system of this nation. Let us look at just one of those objectives which states:

. . . that the structural and institutional dimensions of education provisions should promote political development necessary to produce an equal society.

What are the mechanisms that the Government has or is attempting to put in place to create this flat earth society, a society where everyone is levelled down to the breadline? For certain in the last few days it has been brought home to this Parliament and the Australian people that a great increase in poverty has occurred under this Government. That is the consequence of the levelling down approaches of this Government to create, as it says, an equal society. It is an equal society of poverty where people are on the breadline.

In the first instance the Labor Government views society as having a class war. There are government schools and there are other schools. Do honourable members remember the 41 schools with some of the best records of educational success that had funding cut and that that number has increased to 90? In the last financial year the Government denied funding to over 30 new schools. I am not saying this because I come from a private school background. All my education was in government schools and the overwhelming majority of my teaching time was spent teaching in government schools, not only in Tasmania but also under the New South Wales system and in the Australian Capital Territory. Instead of this Government encouraging successful schools in educating our children it has slashed and cut their resources.

I will give one example of the types of schools which this Government would like to restrict. It is interesting to note the following results from year 10 students in a private school under a State examination moderation system: In this school the only equipment students had for science was the jam tins that the students brought in. They were the beakers that were used as their science equipment. It is not a well endowed school. The average income of the parents who send their children there is below $20,000 a year. That is below the Australian average.

Let us look at the results. At the top level of English, the State average of students in that category was 33 per cent. In this school, which was totally underresourced as a private school, in its first year of year 10 graduates the average was 46 per cent. In its second year, 61 per cent of its students graduated at a level 3 standard when the State average was 33 per cent. In mathematics, the State average was 31 per cent. But in 1985 this school's average was 46 per cent and in 1986 it was 39 per cent. In science, the State average was 33 per cent. The 1985 result for the non-government school was 58 per cent. That was when students used jam tins for beakers because they had no other equipment. Last year the result was 67 per cent, which was double the average achievement of the State. Yet this Government is willing to slash funds from those types of schools-those which are successful. Rather than do that, it would be better if the Government promoted the successful schools. The old socialist syndrome is envy. If someone is successful, innovative, creative or achieving, then the Government cuts that person off at the ankles. It will not let that person get away with it because if it did it would create an unequal society. That is the Government's philosophy.

But the Government was not satisfied with just cutting off resources to non-government schools; it then began to pursue all schools. The bureaucratic dampener of the paper war began and schools have been increasingly required to fill out forms. Both government and non-government schools are required to provide comprehensive information in all relevant areas, including sources of income, both public and private, purposes of expenditure, enrolment exclusion policies, details of ownership, policy-making structures and employment policies. I will return to employment policies when we come to the Committee stage later. All these areas represent a totally unnecessary bureaucratic and intrusive approach to an area of education which is the province of State education departments or the responsibility of the boards of management of private schools.

Once the information is collected from the non-government schools it is published annually in order to satisfy public interest. Of course the parents who are associated with those schools know what is going on, so it is absolute nonsense for that information to be published. A particular nonsense is the fact that the Government wants an accountability record of money from private sources. The fundamental reason for this standover approach is to develop a dossier on each school so that the Government can mount an argument against the efficient and successful schools in order to deny them taxpayers' funds.

This Government has a blinkered, tunnel- vision approach to education and by its discriminatory policies it denies its own platform. Not only does it reject its own platform-for example, tertiary fees-but it also rejects the right of parents to choose. In areas such as the environment and civil and political liberties, the Hawke Government has made much of giving practical expression to international agreements. However, this expression has been highly selective and very ideologically based. When it suits the Government to use international agreements it does so; when it does not, it ignores them. For example, principle 7 of the United Nations Declaration of the Rights of the Child states:

The best interest of the child shall be the guiding principle of those responsible for his education and guidance; that responsibility lies in the first place with his parents.

Yet even in government schools the Government keeps parents at arm's length. In the Australian Capital Territory, where the Government has direct control of schooling, parents would like both to have greater involvement in government schools and to set up more non-government schools. But because involvement of parents would run counter to the Government's desire to control, monitor and manipulate, it has kept parental participation in government school boards to a minimum and has discouraged attempts to expand non-government schools-even though 50 per cent of parents who now send their children to government schools in the Australian Capital Territory would prefer to send them to non-government schools.

The Government is blinded by its assumptions that a class war exists in society and that the state is the only trustworthy authority in education. The Liberal Party of Australia entirely rejects this eighteenth century view of society and the ill-conceived methods adopted by the Government to create a flat earth society. The Liberal Party believes that there is a need for both government managed and parent managed schools in Australia. We believe that parents should be given greater control of the education of their children, and when we are returned to government we will facilitate moves that will give more parents a direct say in the teachers appointed, the curricula used and the values of their schools. Freedom of choice and reduced red tape for parents involved in their child's education will be the hallmark of a Liberal approach to education. The contrast with the control mentality, dossier collecting and the bureaucratic approach of this Government will be marked. The social engineering approach will be out, and parental access and involvement will be in.

Secondly, the Government has financially leg-roped present tertiary institutions and has poured cold water on the establishment of a private university. The Government maintains that if it cannot provide the funds to expand places at tertiary institutions, then neither can anyone else provide the money. Why should the universities and colleges not be free to raise extra money? Why should private companies not be encouraged to donate some of their money to improve educational opportunities for our young? Why should a young person who cannot obtain a government funded position not be able to pay his own way if he has met entrance requirements? Why should that not occur? There is no logical answer to that question. The Government, though, does not want to lose control. The only answer to these three questions is that the Government does not want to lose the control that it now has. It recognises that if funds begin to flow from private sources there might be changes that it does not like.

The Liberal Party of Australia rejects this regulatory approach and believes that all resources that are possibly available for expansion of places in tertiary institutions should be tapped. This would markedly improve the changes of the 30,000 qualified students who are presently locked out of higher education. The Government allows fee paying overseas students to attend but denies access to our own students. This discriminatory position must end. Not only will the Liberal Party free up access to tertiary institutions but it will restore autonomy thus returning to them much greater freedom to chart their own destinies without the conformist constraints currently imposed on them by the Government. Excellence of achievement will be promoted together with the encouragement of non-government sources of revenue. Along with strong support for present institutions, the Liberal Party will welcome the establishment of new private institutions and an expansion of the existing institutions. The Government has failed to keep pace with the demand and only with the return of a Liberal Government will this situation be rectified.

I now turn my attention to the second Bill, the State Grants (Schools Assistance) Amendment Bill. I shall make only a few brief points, as I know that time is limited. We have here an attack on the fundamental right, the fundamental belief that many parents in the Australian community hold that a belief in a religion is fundamental to the education of their children. In this Bill an attack is made on funding. A provision in proposed new section 25b refers to the provision of `. . . facilities for use, wholly or partly, for or in relation to religious worship'. That is a very narrow view. It is considered that, in relation to the education of our children in the religious schools in the non-government sector, there is a church down at one end of the playground and that is where the students go to receive their religious education. However, it is not like that any more. In many non-government schools students are taught in an atmosphere in every classroom where there is a belief that there is a God and that they believe fundamentally they are accountable to that divine being. That influences the whole educational atmosphere in the classroom. With this measure the Government is reducing funds to the private schools. Hundreds and hundreds of parents are knocking on the doors of the Roman Catholic schools, the Presbyterian schools, Uniting Church schools, the parent controlled schools--

Mr Slipper —Anglican schools.

Mr MILES —Anglican schools, a whole range of schools in this nation. Because children are not being taught values in our government schools parents are concerned. That is the only reason why parents want their children to go to those non-government schools. They do not go there because they are cheaper, as they are not. However, those parents are prepared financially to forgo many other benefits that could be provided to their family in order to send their children to a private school. This is because many of those schools believe firmly that there is a God, that there is a religious basis to life, and they want the children to be taught that ideal. But this Government is taking the first step to deny that fact. Of course, that adds up to the Government's idea that education is secular, that it is nothing to do with one's beliefs. That is fundamentally the problem with education throughout Australia. That is the reason for the low standard of achievement in many of our government schools. I plead with the Government to look very seriously at this aspect of the legislation, because what we do want in this nation are better attitudes and a better standard of values amongst future generations. That is where we must focus our attention. There is so much emphasis placed on knowledge and on obtaining skills, but fundamental to education are the values that are taught to our young people. The Government is set on a course of destroying the values that are being taught in the non-government schools. One might say that that is a long way off, but it is not. It is the first step in the direction of this Government's cutting off the fundamentals to many of our private schools in Australia. I ask that the Government address itself to this situation.