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Tuesday, 11 February 1986
Page: 44

Senator PETER BAUME(4.09) —I move:

That the Senate take note of the paper.

The debates on education continue in this chamber and we debate the education reports as they come up. This report gives us a chance to look once again at the whole approach of the Australian Labor Party and the Labor Government to education, and to raise once again for the Australian public the way in which Labor seeks to downgrade choice, to limit access to higher education and to endanger excellence in education. This report quite properly identifies the Government's goals, and quite properly identifies departmental goals in line with the Government's goals, and quite properly identifies the Department of Education as an organ of government. I have no objection to that, and what I say contains no criticism of the Department of Education because it is there to put into effect what the government of the day seeks by way of policy. But the Department at page 1 of its report identifies its objectives. That exercise is of course one which I always applaud but it identifies as one of its objectives:

To relate policies in Australian education to the Government's social, cultural, economic and foreign policies.

In other words, as the Minister for Education (Senator Ryan) has said many times, if the Government has its way education in Australia will advance the Government's goals for various aspects of Australian life. The concern of the Opposition is that these goals are bad goals, that the Government has little feeling for the need for excellence in education. The Minister for Education has said that the search for excellence has, to use her words, `overtones of elitism'. We reject that. We believe that excellence in education in Australia, and the pursuit of excellence, is absolutely critical to the achievement of our national goals. We believe that the Government has got it wrong in seeking to downgrade excellence in any way. We are concerned about the Government's system of education, which ends up restricting access. We will turn away this year from higher education in New South Wales 30,000 potential students who seek to do nothing more than improve themselves; to add to the pool of skills available to Australia; who seek to improve their own life chances by increasing the number of options which they have available. They will be refused access because of the policies of the Government and the restricted number of places available. If the Department is required to pursue goals which have that kind of effect, they too are bad goals.

The Government has other goals. We can go back to the Minister's speeches over the years. She is not so concerned, as we are, with equality of opportunity for Australians, but she is concerned to seek equality in the outcomes of education. Equality of outcomes almost inevitably means that she is rejecting the idea of equality of opportunity. We have diametrically opposed views. Her pursuit of equality of outcomes will be bad for Australian education. She wonders why parents continue in their droves to vote with their feet and take their children to schools where excellence is admired and sought, where choice is valued, where discipline is part of the offering, where a view of life which values achievement is offered and where equality of outcomes is seen as the empty and wanting goal that it really is. I find this report quite acceptable in terms of the record that it gives of what the Department of Education has done but in the sense that it is a testament to the Government's policies it continues to disappoint Australian parents and to disappoint Australian educational aspirations.

Question resolved in the affirmative.