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Thursday, 8 March 1984
Page: 588


Senator MACKLIN(10.32) —The last report of the Education Research and Development Committee is in many ways a report which brings to mind, certainly in its appendices, the type of activities in which the Committee has been engaged over the years since its foundation. From the beginning of the report one gets some idea of what the report is talking about when it refers to the fact that we are withdrawing financial support for the research grant program, the cessation of the research training fellowship program and the dissemination program.

The statement of the Minister for Social Security (Senator Grimes) on behalf of the Minister for Education and Youth Affairs (Senator Ryan), refers to something about which the Minister for Science and Technology (Mr Barry Jones) has often talked-the funding for research in Australia, research not only in education but in every area. We know that private industry, for example, in Australia has been remiss by comparison with private industry in other countries of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development in that a very small percentage of the budgets of the larger companies goes towards providing adequate funds for research. As a country, we have tended to live on the research done in other areas. In education this has proved a dismal failure, and there are very good reasons for that. By and large each country has developed, historically and socially, an education system suited to itself, and much of the research which is done in other countries on education matters is not easily transferred, and certainly not easily applied, in countries which have different educational institutions and different social structures.

I remind the Senate of some of the research programs which were undertaken by funding of this Committee. From those, one can see fairly clearly that we are not talking about something which the previous Government said was a matter for State governments. I think it is useful to indicate the programs of national importance that the Committee was attempting to fund. One such program dealt with cognitive abilities of moderately and severely mentally retarded individuals. That program, as one sees when one reads an abstract of the work that was done, which is well known in the education community, was not bounded by lines on the map. It concerned a group of people within the Australian community who had similar problems. It is not bounded by the different types of educational programs that the States mount. It is a national issue and ought to be addressed at the national level.

A piece of research which was undertaken in my own State into the effects of class size on pupils was of world class. Attempts have been made for 20 to 25 years to establish the relationships between class size and educational outcomes . This piece of work was one of the two-the other was undertaken in the United States of America-pathfinders in this area conclusively to come up with what is necessary for the types of things which every teacher knows but which have never up to this stage been able to be linked in any effective way. Another such program was for the teaching of basic reading skills and a mastery of learning procedures. Another dealt with language and numeracy demands on work for school leavers. If that is not a national issue, I do not know what is. Other programs dealt with semantics for early deaf communication, reading disabilities, the education of severely and profoundly hearing impaired children, young hyperactive children, specific learning disorders in migrant children, transition from school to work and nutrition and physical education. So the list goes on. They are very important matters that need funds over and above those which are available at the State level. The previous Government made a decision which had no educational backing whatsoever, a decision which has been defended in this place by Senator Peter Baume, the previous Minister for Education, and which effectively pulled the guts out of the educational research in our universities and colleges of advanced education. Eventually that has been turned round to the type of statement put down by Senator Ryan today.

I agree with the sentiments expressed by Senator Baume, although I find it very difficult to understand why he is expressing them now. I would have much preferred him to express them on the many occasions when I asked questions about this issue when he was Minister for Education. The last two paragraphs of Senator Ryan's statement leave one in wonderment. The criticisms of the razor gang's decision in the first paragraphs are good ones, but one has to ask: What is the follow-up from this Government? I condemned the previous Government's action, which action was supported in this place by such people as Senator Baume and Senator Teague, but we now find that Senator Ryan is not willing to undertake the necessary restoration in that area or to indicate from which alternative institutions those funds will be available.

It is not necessary to re-establish that Committee to be able to provide those funds. However, I believe that on any objective and dispassionate reading of this report, particularly of the appendices, one would be hard pressed to think of a better way of dispersing scarce funds for maximum returns. It is not just a matter of someone coming up with an idea, applying to this Committee and having the idea accepted because some money happens to be around. The Committee, over the years it worked, came up with some very rigid and very useful guidelines for education funding. The Committee was the only body which was able to oversee the direction of research in this area in Australia. Indeed, it had many cases before it of admirable research programs that it refused to fund. The reason it refused to fund them is, precisely, that they were being conducted elsewhere or it did not seem to the Committee that the argument put had sufficient contact with ongoing research or the ability to effect practice.

All those types of things that people outside the research area feel fairly strongly about were taken into consideration by this Committee. If one were to speak to anyone in the education community one would find that the Committee was held in the highest regard. Yet in a report that had no educational backing, a report that went from a group of people whom I believe had no understanding as to what they were doing, the previous Government cut the ground from under a very admirable way of organising scarce resources to maximum effect. I must admit I am at a loss to think of a better way of doing this. Yet the current Government has not indicated in this statement how it intends to follow through those things that it was criticising and still is criticising in the first two paragraphs of this statement. For that reason this is an extraordinary statement . Why bother bringing it in, why bother putting these types of propositions, unless we know where we are going now? We have a new government, a government that has made claims to the electorate. Yet in this report we find absolutely nothing of what this Government intends to do. Surely any government, in tabling a statement on a report, should be prepared not only to criticise actions of previous governments but also to put down the positive programs that it intends to implement.