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Wednesday, 12 February 1986
Page: 155


Senator Sir JOHN CARRICK(11.10) —The Senate is debating the Commonwealth Tertiary Education Commission Amendment Bill 1985. That Bill seeks to amend the present structure of the Tertiary Education Commission. That structure was put in place by the Fraser Liberal Government. I should add, so that my remarks are clearly understood, that I was the Minister at the time who put that structure in place. Therefore, some may, if they choose, view the remarks that I make now as subjective. I believe that the structure was, and is, the optimum one for the development of the post-secondary sector. I believe that what is happening with this Bill, if it is passed, is retrograde. I believe that the Bill effectively destroys the three councils-the Universities Council, the Colleges Council, and the Technical and Further Education Council; that it pretends that they have a function for the future, but, by making it simply in semantics an advisory council, by taking away its right of independent reporting, by taking away its right of reporting on finance, virtually emasculates it. It would be better that it were removed than left in that state of shambles.

To understand this situation one must look at the antecedents. One must first remember that the universities themselves gained their great impetus by the recognition by the Menzies Government in the 1960s of universities for Federal funding. One must also look at the impetus given to colleges of advanced education from two factors of the early 1970s. First of all, there was a report from a standing committee of this Senate on teacher training-a committee on which I was proud to serve. This report was picked up by the then Minister for Education, Mr Malcolm Fraser, and, as a result of it, a series of reforms were made and foreshadowed for colleges of advanced education. Above all, what was recommended was that there must be drastic reforms in teacher training in Australia and that single purpose colleges should, desirably, be made multi-purpose.

The second thing to understand is that when the Whitlam Government came to power, in its first two years it gave, very generously, funding to universities and colleges. There was a large expansion in those sectors in those days. In its third year it put on the brakes and caused considerable confusion. I commend the gesture of giving more generous funding. That was needed. At the end of the Whitlam era-and this must be understood - the Whitlam Government had put on the table in another place a Bill to create a tertiary education commission. That Bill sought to create a single stratum commission combining both universities and colleges. That Bill was never passed. It completely ignored, in fact, technical and further education.

When the Fraser Government came to office, it found a circumstance which was, to say the least, chaotic. First of all, the three sectors each were in a state of great anxiety. The universities had seen themselves as becoming simply factories for primary degrees. They had lost that sense of feeling that they had other creative needs in terms of research and higher degrees. They were fearful that the colleges might dilute the nature of tertiary education and that we might get sub-standard institutions. The colleges were in absolutely total disarray. The Council of Advanced Education was totally demoralised. I use these words advisedly. The colleges did not know where they were going. They feared that they would be engulfed by the universities. They saw themselves as second class citizens. They had no reason to, but they found themselves in that situation. They feared, with great trepidation, that they would be engulfed in a Tertiary Education Commission of one strand. Technical and further education was nobody's baby. It was not recognised federally. The States had not developed it fully. Yet it was the most significant sector in Australia's hunger to create more technical skills amongst its people.

I faced this situation as Minister and I came to the conclusion that a number of things must be done. What I concluded then, I put to this Senate, was right then and is right now. I concluded, firstly, that it was imperative that technical and further education be brought into the same stratum as the other two. Secondly, each university, college and technical and further education institution must be given the right to show what its needs were and what its hopes and aspirations were, to feel that it could develop into a pursuit of excellence in its own way and to feel that no institution was superior to another.

There is talk in this new Bill about cross-sectoral development. One thing that is certain is that there could be no cross-sectoral development in the pre-Fraser regime because there was no way in which there was a placental relationship between colleges and technical and further education institutions. Yet fundamentally that is where the placental relationship had to exist. It has to be understood that what I and my Government were seeking was the pursuit of excellence in each sector; not that colleges must always remain colleges. Indeed, if colleges could develop in their pursuit of excellence, they would create unique institutions of their own.

Those who know America, England and the Continent know that institutions do not have to lie in special compartments. Those who know Australian colleges know that the directors of central institutes of technology colleges - the Canberra College of Advanced Education, the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology and so on - all developed in a superior way. There is no question of people arguing whether the Canberra College of Advanced Education is inferior to the Australian National University. That is not in dispute. They are both pursuing their own goals. Under the creation of the three sectors lying side by side, there was a chance for an institution to develop without an inferiority complex and without a fear that the other institution was going to engulf it. Fundamentally the colleges believed, and will now go on believing, that the universities were much more skilful than they in pleading for funds, in manoeuvring and in lobbying, and that, unless they had some say in the financial situation, unless their cards were on the table as were the cards of the universities, they would be outbid. Therefore, we devised a system which created a dialogue.

My great quarrel with this Bill is that it institutes a monologue. When I read the Bill and I read the phrases in the Bill justifying it, I could almost hear a dictator speaking.

Whenever anyone pleads that there is too much paper, too much dialogue or too much discussion, they are the words of the Hitlers and the Mussolinis of this world. The whole art of this Parliament is to institute dialogue. Indeed, if we are going to rationalise, let us not have a Parliament. Fundamentally, the basis of this new situation is contained in the second reading speech, which says that the real reason for this Bill is to overcome excessive report writing, considerable duplication and unrealistic resource bids. The whole of the democratic institution is built upon the need to create dialogue, the need to argue one's sectoral and special needs, the need to have report contending against report. The whole of this democratic system is based on the expression of one's needs through the bids for finance for those needs. There is no possibility of considering institutions which can simply put up generalised concepts of their needs without attaching the Bill or the account to them.

Indeed, the ludicrous nature of this Bill is that, taken to its logical conclusion, in the present process of putting together the 1986-87 Budget we should abolish the bids by the 30-odd government departments for their financial needs for the coming year. If it is wrong to have so-called unrealistic resource bids-those are the famous words here-if that fundamental principle is wrong, let the Government, Mr Keating and the Treasury say to the departments: `No longer are you to put in your bids, because they are duplication and they are unrealistic. After all, we have in Cabinet and in the Ministry a representative of your department'. That is the argument here: `We have that; so we do not need your bids'.

I repeat the fundamental fact that, wherever democracy has its fora to put forward its arguments, it creates dialogue, it institutionalises dialogue, and that dialogue is based upon needs expressed in terms of money. That is the whole basis of it. When the Fraser Government put its Tertiary Education Commission together, it brought TAFE in alongside the other two and therefore allowed placental exchange, cross-sectoral development and argument between universities, colleges and TAFE institutions. The Fraser Government said to each of them: `This will be a two-strata organisation. Each of you will have your own council. Each of you will have full freedom to search amongst your particular sector-universities with universities, colleges with colleges and TAFE institutions with TAFE institutions-and, without any restriction on your report, to report what you consider to be your needs and what you consider to be the finance necessary for your needs. You-the Tertiary Education Commission-having got together those reports, shall report how you achieve a balance of understanding between those three. All of you shall report in public so that everybody will know and there cannot be any suspicion that the universities are better bidders than colleges or TAFE institutions. Every card is on the table'. Of course, there is duplication. In fact, the very duplication that is being opposed here is the absolute essence of contention. Indeed, if contention were not a good thing rather than a bad thing, this Senate would not be necessary. This Senate is based upon the contention of ideas.

It was said, therefore, that we would know and there would be no kinds of conspiracy, no need for anyone to develop an inferiority complex, no need in future for people to think they were second class citizens. If there were problems such as whether colleges should do research or whether that should be a preserve purely of universities, that could be discussed. That could come up through the sectors to the Tertiary Education Commission. If there were a situation in which an institution was growing to a stage where it could be a university, that could be done. After all, to say that it could not be done under the present system is to deny the ability to amalgamate some dozens of colleges with universities around Australia, which was done.

Of course, there has been cross-sectoral development, duplication and paper work. Of course it could be simplified. We could cut out nine tenths of the paper work in putting together this year's Budget by simply saying to departments: `Forget your input into this altogether. We, the Cabinet, will do it because we are structured very similarly to the new Tertiary Education Commission. We have a representative from each of the departments. We will know what to do'. To say that is nonsense.

We need a system in which quality as well as quantity should develop and one in which, for example, the CAEs should be lifted up, not simply by changing their names from teacher training colleges and raising the salaries of lecturers, but also by making them into multi-purpose institutions, by developing their quality and saying to them: `You have all the horizons before you to improve your pursuit of excellence'. That used to be the structure. Let us look at what is to be. First, these councils are not to report on finance, so that the fundamental matter in which they are interested-the quantum of money to do all their intra-sectorial work-is not for them to discuss. But it gets incredibly worse. They are to inquire into and recommend only what they are told to inquire into and recommend. They are not to think wider than that except perhaps once every three years. I will read proposed new section 21A which is contained in clause 15 so that we understand what we are talking about. It states:

The Universities Advisory Council shall inquire into, and furnish information and advice to the Commission with respect to, such matters relating to universities, or relating to university education, as the Commission requires.

It is not to be furnished with information that the councils think fit. What are the councils to do? They are to inquire into matters or furnish information only if they are directed to do so. It is not clear, but apparently once every three years they may have a flight of fancy. Fundamentally they are to have an input year by year as budgets occur. What is the use of a flight of fancy once every three years? I should add that that provision is the same for universities, colleges and TAFE so that the double stratum of the Tertiary Education Commission has been virtually wiped out. They are no longer advisory councils. These bodies can advise only on what they are instructed. They do not have freedom at all. They cannot advise on a budget. That is a fundamental use of the institution. Their functions are to be changed because of their sins of excessive report writing.

The Hudson Committee goes to great lengths to say that reports often do not arrive in time for the Commission to get on with its work. We are burning down the barn to roast the pig. If the whole of the trouble is simply that the timetable is wrong, a better timetable should be put in and the parts of it should be placed in their right order. One does not excuse the action of trying to wipe out any right of advice by saying that the advice does not get there in time. That is an absolute nonsense. Comments of excessive report writing have been used by dictators and would be dictators of history to say that they believe in monologue not dialogue.

What is excessive? The viewpoint is that we do not want the duplication of advice of councils as well as that of the TEC. In other words, we do not want contending bids-that is wrong. How can anybody argue in this Parliament that that is wrong when every aspect of what we do is structured about that. So it goes on. There is considerable duplication. This institution of parliament is based on considerable duplication, excessive report writing and contention. It is getting to the nub of the contention that matters. But then big brother speaks, or is it big sister in this regard? The real crime is that this problem leads to unrealistic resource bids. Who says that these resource bids are unrealistic? Is it big brother? How do we know that they are unrealistic unless they have been stated, a counterstatement is made and we have some comparison?

The Government has a fervent desire to have a monologue, not a dialogue, to enforce its will so that it can decide what shall be the budget for post-secondary education and so that it will not have the embarrassment of the public knowing that the various councils do not agree with the Government and that the councils have quite different bids. I cannot believe that anybody with a parliamentary background could take from an advisory body the right to recommend budgets and finance when in fact fundamental to the Tertiary Education Commission is its preparation of a budget.

We have three councils and each is supposed to have expertise in its sector. Each university council is supposed to know the separate needs of its institutions, those that over bid and those that are shy, and ultimately to produce a balance which it puts forward. The same thing occurs with colleges and TAFE. Only such bodies can really know by looking into these matters what is the right budget. Is the Tertiary Education Commission to set up an overview of each institution?

Will the Commission now monitor each institution and decide which needs more money, which needs less and which is overbidding? How can it do that as well as the sectoral council which has expert knowledge? How can any of us know why it arrived at its decisions unless we have the bids on the table.

The Commission says that each advisory council will publish a triennial report. That is simply writing history and reporting that the horse is out of the stable. Three years will have gone by over which it has had virtually no influence. The needs of post-secondary education change enormously year by year. The growth of unemployment and the tragic persistence of juvenile unemployment in the last three or four years creates a demand for us to be constantly reviewing needs in the education sectors. How can we believe that a TAFE council can report only once every three years on the absolutely vital needs of post-secondary education when every year something like 20 per cent or more of our 15 to 19-year-olds who cannot get a job and are unlikely to get a job are turned out of our high schools? As each year goes by under this Government its period of unemployment gets longer and longer.

There is a need for education in the transition from school to work. It is a system which I tried to initiate but which has not been fully developed. That need needs to be scrutinised day by day, week by week and month by month. We cannot wait. Are we to tell the technical and further education sector that it has a privilege to report in 1989-that is what is said-on the needs for transition from school to work programs and the needs of the TAFE sector? The statement of these things simply exposes the fallacy of them.

In trying to cloak its true intent, which was to take away the clout and the power of the councils to investigate and report effectively, the Government has used euphemisms which are not true. It has destroyed the councils. It calls them advisory councils but they can advise only on what they are instructed to do and no more. They cannot advise on budgetary matters and therefore are completely useless. If they cannot advise on budgetary matters, they cannot advise on the particularity of the structure of their internal budget. They cannot advise on how much a particular institution, university, college or secondary college should get or how much more one should get than another. So presumably, rather than saving money, the Tertiary Education Commission will have to set up some kind of mechanism to advise it on its shopping list at the end of the day. Otherwise, where will it get that shopping list?

I suppose the most derisory comment in the second reading speech is that this is great because it will save $100,000. But how many millions of dollars is the Government setting aside at the moment for some of the wonderful bicentennial inquiries into what women do at home and things of that nature? Here we are talking about the most vital domestic issue before us in Australia today-how to upgrade the skills of our young people, how to motivate them, improve their self-esteem and equip them in this technological age. We are being totally out-competed on world markets.

The only way for Australia to overcome its adverse trade balance, to uplift its manufacturing industries and to create jobs is for our productivity to equal that of our trading partners. That simply means that we have to upgrade our skills and our attitudes. Education is absolutely vital to that end. The solution of this Government is to destroy dialogue. It says: `We believe in monologue. We believe that the Tertiary Education Commission can get the answers to this. We do not believe in putting all the cards on the table. That involves too much paper. We do not believe in the right to free advice. We do not believe that the councils should have the right to bring down a budget. In fact we are pretending that they still exist because they will have no real purpose'. I believe this is a seriously wrong judgment. In the end the Australian people will want organisations which set out exactly what are perceived to be the needs of the sectors. I believe the step being taken is a very retrograde one.