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Thursday, 25 May 1989
Page: 2727

Senator NEWMAN(4.48) —I am sad to say that if Senator Colston believes the Government's response to be satisfactory, he really is easily satisfied. I cannot believe that in his heart of hearts he really is as satisfied as he would give us to understand. I want first of all to draw attention to what the Government has said about the skills that this country needs. I think it is very relevant if we are talking about the education of the most gifted and talented children of our country. In the ministerial statement titled Higher Education in Australia, which Mr Dawkins brought down on 22 September 1987, it is said:

Our traditional attitudes to education and skills formation in Australia have been conditioned by an economy which has been able to rely more on natural resources than on human skills to support our living standards and national development. Just as these circumstances have changed dramatically, so too must our attitudes and practices in education and training . . .

Our universities and colleges of advanced education are the main source of the highly educated men and women so essential to our continued economic growth.

The Minister also said:

In summary, there are critically important challenges ahead if Australia is to achieve the standards of intellectual capacity essential for success in an increasingly competitive world. The Government has committed itself to working towards change within an expanding system.

In the document called Strengthening Australia's Schools, the Government said:

Priority should be given to meeting the basic skill requirements and special educational needs of disadvantaged groups from the earliest years of schooling through to the successful completion of the secondary years.

It went on to say:

One of the most fundamental aspects of fairness for all students is the provision of a disciplined school environment in which they can learn, acquire skills and develop their aptitudes.

It is quite clear from the response which the Government has made to the Senate Select Committee's report on the education of gifted and talented children that those are only words. What really counts are the sorts of reactions we got from Senator Walsh when I, Senator Macklin and Senator Haines were all interested in when this Government's response would be brought down. Senator Walsh said that he did not even know about the report because he had more important things to do than read Senate reports. He said that the delay probably indicates something about the degree of respect which the Government has for Senate committee reports, a degree of respect which by and large is entirely justified. This attitude is what comes through in the Government's response to this report. As Senator Colston has just said, the report recognised the difficult areas of constitutional responsibility when it comes to education. It made only nine recommendations, all of which were really within the area of the Commonwealth to deal with.

Sadly, the children who are leaving school, even though they are the brightest and most talented in this country, drop out because their talents are not recognised. They play up in school, their teachers cannot cope with them and they develop a negative attitude to school. They leave the education system forever. Australia is being disadvantaged. We are not taking these children through the sort of skills development that this country needs and that the ministerial statement spoke about in such glowing terms. This Government has failed to provide for the education of a disadvantaged group in this country-namely, those who are gifted and talented.

If I had more time I could go through each of the responses from the Government. They are totally inadequate; they are mouthing platitudes. For instance, the Commonwealth believes that the interest fostered by the report will result in an increased emphasis on professional teacher development. It will be nothing of the sort unless the Commonwealth is prepared to put in more resources and give leadership in this area. The Commonwealth puts a lot of money into teacher development and training in this country. It could give a much greater emphasis to the need for teachers to develop skills in order to recognise gifted and talented children and to develop techniques to train them.

The Government says that a national centre for research into the education of gifted and talented children is under consideration by the Australian Education Council and will be discussed in October 1989. We will then see whether the Government is really prepared to do anything meaningful. That is an important recommendation that needs to be taken up. It is not prepared to do anything much about curriculum materials for children, particularly in isolated areas. It has a responsibility for the education of girls, disadvantaged children and Aborigines. In these areas it could be doing something constructive about the education of gifted and talented children within those communities. It is not prepared to pick that up either. The Government agrees with the Committee that the activities being undertaken by volunteers could be expanded if they had further financial support but it considers that that support should come from the private sector. Once again we have seen the failure of the Government to do anything meaningful for gifted and talented children.

The DEPUTY PRESIDENT —Order! The honourable senator's time has expired.

Question resolved in the affirmative.