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Tuesday, 13 June 1989
Page: 3816

Senator TEAGUE(10.12) —This package of Bills provides funding in line with government policies for schools, technical and further education and higher education. Specifically, the States Grants (Schools Assistance) Amendment Bill 1989 amends the 1988 principal Act to provide an additional $36.6m in appropriations for schools in 1989, bringing total funding for 1989 to $1,982m. That amounts to almost $2 billion for schools this year. The Bill, in effect, increases Commonwealth funding to take account of price increases and for this year only makes adjustments in Australian Capital Territory (ACT) school funding to take account of the advent of self-government in the Territory. The second Bill, the States Grants (Technical and Further Education Assistance) Amendment Bill 1989, also increases appropriations to reflect cost movements and will provide funding to the ACT from 1 July. Supplementation amounting to $9.5m is provided by the Bill. The third Bill, the Higher Education Funding Amendment Bill 1989, also supplements funding for higher education, taking into account additional costs. The Bill also takes into account the new structure for the overseas student program and the new arrangements in the Australian Capital Territory for education following self-government in the Australian Capital Territory. The Bill provides an additional $24m this year, $20m in 1990 and $2m in 1991.

These three Bills provide supplementary funds in the usual manner in which we consider this kind of supplementation at this time of the year. On behalf of the Opposition and in consonance with my colleagues in the House of Representatives, I shall move the following amendment in relation to these Bills:

At end of motion add: ``, but the Senate:

(a) condemns the Government for its policies on schools, TAFE and higher education; and

(b) calls on the Government to adopt policies that will facilitate the true advancement of education in Australia''

The fourth Bill dealt with cognately in this debate is the Student Assistance Amendment Bill 1989. This measure will not be opposed by the Opposition. First, it provides that wording in legislation with regard to the new vocabulary for higher education be brought up to date. Secondly, it relaxes reliance on administrative procedures, in so far as they have up to this point required direct ministerial decision. This flexibility is sensible and is supported by the Opposition. Thirdly, it makes for more flexible appeal procedures under Austudy with regard to student assistance. Again, there are sensible reasons for this flexibility, and the Opposition supports this aspect of the Bill.

My caution about the Bill relates to the attempt to introduce a simplification of the Austudy Act to enable a proposed set of simplified regulations to be implemented. The student assistance legislation has been with us in this form since 1973. Over that 16-year period most interested bodies around Australia have come to understand the student assistance regulations. I do not believe that it is an urgent priority to try some rationalisation or simplification, because such innovation may, in fact, complicate the matter. In any event, within a year or so, the Opposition will be in government and we will undertake a comprehensive review of Austudy arrangements. The appropriate time for those changes to be made would be then. So I do not encourage the change that the Minister for Employment, Education and Training (Mr Dawkins) indicated in his second reading speech is to be undertaken at this time to simplify the regulations for student assistance.

In respect of the Student Assistance Amendment Bill 1989, I shall move:

At end of motion, add: ``, but the Senate condemns the Government for:

(a) its inability to appreciate the special needs for assistance of students from rural areas; and

(b) the turmoil caused by its policies on, and administration of, assistance of students in higher education institutions''.

Honourable senators will know that July marks the two-year anniversary of this lacklustre, fizzling-out Labor Government. It also marks the second year in the office of Minister for Employment, Education and Training of the present Minister, Mr John Dawkins. This package of Bills provides an opportunity for the Senate to review the impact that this Western Australian member of the House of Representatives has had on education during the last two years. It has been a dramatic two years in which the Minister has done great damage to education in this country, all in the name of reform. John Dawkins has identified some real problems in education, particularly higher education and, to a lesser extent, schools. Largely, he has left schools on the back burner.

The Minister did not have to go far to find out what the problems were. The coalition spelt out the widely canvassed problems in black and white in our education policies in the run-up to the last election. I give credit to Mr Dawkins for reading our policies and discovering the need for change. He discovered the need for objectives such as a dramatic increase in the number of students studying in our universities and colleges. Under former Minister Susan Ryan, we had plateaued entirely in higher education and there was very little growth. There was the increasing problem of unmet demand. A second objective he has discovered from reading our policies is the need to abolish the restrictive binary funding system which denied research funding to colleges of advanced education and institutes of technology. Another objective he has picked up from us is the need to restructure the system of academic tenure along the lines of a Senate inquiry into tenure, to make it sounder, more flexible, more accountable, and generally more bona fide.

Another objective Mr Dawkins picked up was the need to have a better skilled and better educated work force. Do honourable senators remember the day I suggested that to relate education in schools to future employment was some sacrilege against the goals of the progressive educators? Increasingly we have gained public acceptance, even among educationalists themselves, for the idea that the principal outcome for any school leaver is the lifetime of work, and that his schoolings ought, not indirectly but directly, to relate to his being a skilled, educated participant in the work force. This is for his own fulfilment and for the betterment of Australia. Again, this is clearly underlined by the acceptance of this objective by Minister Dawkins.

A fifth objective that I believe is picked up from our policy statement is the need for improved standards in our school system. As I have said, these are all objectives which Mr Dawkins has borrowed heavily from the Liberal and National parties. However, that is only half the solution to gaining some of these objectives. The other half is to work out a practical way of achieving those objectives. That is the half that Mr Dawkins has got wrong. Unfortunately, the methods he has adopted will not provide solutions. He is heavy handed and centralist in the methods he has adopted. The only relief from these muddled methods will be the election of a Liberal-National Party government to get not only the objectives right but also the methods right to achieve those objectives.

Let us consider higher education in a little more detail. Mr Dawkins has acknowledged the need for reform in higher education, but he has gone about revolutionising the system and bringing it under his own control through highly centralised, highly bureaucratic and highly authoritarian legislation. These reforms have been forced through Parliament without adequate scrutiny, without adequate debate and without adequate justification. Late last year, in December, as the whole nation will remember, the House of Representatives was recalled for one day, principally to deal with the education Bills which had been rushed through the House of Representatives weeks before after only two hours of debate. Anyone who reads that pathetic debate will see that the legislation did not come under any careful scrutiny whatever which was expressly the intent of Minister Dawkins. It was only here in the Senate-I see Senator Macklin sitting across the chamber-that the Opposition gave careful scrutiny to the legislation. Debate spread over three days which led to significant amendments being made which clearly flagged for this Parliament and for the Australian public the alternative approach that ought to be adopted and which ultimately can be adopted only with a change of government.

These very important education Bills, the outcome of Mr Dawkins's first year of decision making as Minister, were guillotined in the House of Representatives, pushed through-let no-one here deny it-in just 2 1/2 hours. The Government allowed 2 1/2 hours for scrutinising Bills introducing major educational reforms and providing some $18 billion-let me repeat that, $18 billion-for education in this country over the next three or four years. We also saw how much attention Mr Dawkins paid to the views and comments of those involved in education when he took his Green Paper around Australia inviting comment. The public will know that when a government is embarking upon some major areas of reform, it will publish a document called a Green Paper, an options paper. Mr Dawkins published a Green Paper, but there was no consultation before that publication. The idea was that there would be some response from all the interested bodies around Australia and then the Government's decisions would be published in a White Paper about nine months later.

It was hardly surprising to find that despite the barrage of protest and the genuinely constructive comment offered to Mr Dawkins from many quarters, his higher education Green Paper conveniently became the actual White Paper. Can anyone in this chamber point to any significant change between the White Paper and the Green Paper? This centralist, heavy-handed Minister just ploughed on thinking he had got it all right. He gave the Government's decisions in the middle of last year, without any major change from those that he had, with his own limited consultation, determined in the Green Paper some nine months earlier. There was hardly a change. The document was practically xeroxed and given a new cover-the Government just changed the paint. So much for consultation, so much for listening to those involved in the academic community, such as researchers, teachers, students and administrators. As a result we have a higher education reform program with major defects, particularly because of the Minister's obsession with forced amalgamation, centralised decision making and bureaucratic control.

I now refer to the unified national system. The Dawkins reform package is well under way, but the greatest damage is yet to be done. It will occur once all institutions have been brought into the so-called unified national system. It sounds pretty horrific, does it not? This system will take decision making in higher education out of the hands of the institutions and place it into the hands of the bureaucrats. P. P. McGuinness wrote in the Australian Financial Review in July last year that Mr Dawkins wanted to turn the higher education system into a gigantic bureaucratic shemozzle designed to suppress originality of research and initiative. Under the unified system universities and colleges have to submit a profile, a set of objectives, a plan. There is nothing wrong with having a plan or a set of objectives, but let it be one that is initiated by the institution-the university or the college of advanced education. Let those organisations be responsible for the objectives which are tailored to the needs of those whom they serve. Do not let this profile be thrust upon them by backdoor negotiations by a centralist Minister in Canberra. As long as their plans conform to the wishes of Canberra, the universities will receive full funding. But if they do not have a profile which has been negotiated in the backrooms and which is acceptable to this centralist Minister, let it be understood that they will not get the full funding-they will not get the money. The institutions have no bargaining power. The Opposition fears that it will be Canberra, not the institutions who know, which determines the face of higher education in this country.

The traditional academic autonomy of our institutions is under serious threat. I make this very serious charge: it is the Opposition's firm view that after more than a century of enlightened development in higher education in this country, the present arrangements by the Minister place traditional academic authority under serious threat. Success in attracting research funds will be as much a product of selling an institutional profile in Canberra as of excellence in research. More than that, whilst I welcome and support the formation of the Australian Research Council, the ARC, I believe that it is too centralised and too interfering with the autonomy of peer groups of researchers around this country. The clawback of research moneys from institutions is a mistake which the Government still has not corrected.

The coalition has placed much emphasis on the need for institutional autonomy. We believe in freeing up the system in order to let it expand. I have said on a number of occasions that the person I respect most, who has contributed most to education in this country over the last 20 years, is Professor Peter Karmel. He has had more impact on our higher education system and on our schools than any other Australian. The advice that he gave to successive governments was worthy, sensible and enlightened. The Karmel period, from 1973 to the mid-1980s, is over. That rationalisation, that achievement of standards, that injection of additional resources, even the degree of amalgamation that took place in that time, have been achieved. In order to get the best objectives for education in this country we need to see that the Karmel period is over. We need to give increased freedom and encourage a genuine sharing of objectives with the institutions, to give them an initiative, an opportunity for creativity. We have the standard, the foundation, the rationalised base. To go further in that direction is an error. That is why we condemn centralisation, rationalisation, amalgamation, bureaucratisation. There will be a clear change with the election of a Liberal-National Party government. We will stop those processes. We will gain the objectives which Dawkins has picked up from us through increasing the freedom of our higher education institutions and giving them the ability to initiate.

As my time is rapidly coming to a close I will need to consider amalgamation more briefly than I had intended. The amalgamation question is an area of enormous contrast between the Government and the Opposition. We will support amalgamation only where there is a clear educational advantage in doing so. Where there is not a clear educational advantage that is mutually agreed by the amalgamating institutions, or the institutions proposed for amalgamation, we will oppose the amalgamation. It has already been made clear that here, in this city, Dawkins wants three institutions-the Canberra Institute of the Arts, the Canberra College of Advanced Education and the Australian National University-to be the new ANU. This Opposition is opposed to that. Why is bigger better? What is the educational advantage in that proposed amalgamation? There is none. Invite any senator here in this chamber to show where there would be an educational advantage. The costs would be greater and there would be inherent difficulties caused by the different locations of the campuses.

It is now very clear that that amalgamation proposal is dead because this Opposition and the Australian Democrats have opposed that legislation. This is an indication of the Opposition's approach to any other amalgamation that is being discussed in any of the Territories or the States. If an institute can publicly give a reason to support its involvement in amalgamation and define in a credible way the educational advantages that would flow from that change, then by all means let the amalgamation proceed. If that does not happen then the coalition, both in opposition and in government, will oppose any such amalgamation. Let institutions be clearly warned that should they forsake, in some cases, a whole century of autonomy as well as objectives and profiles for the sake of some millions of dollars in the short term, the Opposition does not guarantee to continue that situation should it be elected to government in the near future.

The graduate tax has stirred up more opposition to Government in educational circles than has any other measure. Madam Acting Deputy President, you understand this matter. Without wanting to embarrass you, I know that there are many in your Party who are not at all convinced that the Dawkins decision to go ahead with the graduate tax was a good one. The Liberal and National parties will abolish the graduate tax after the next election. We will ensure that the too onerous user-pays burden placed on the students of Australia by the Dawkins decision will be lifted. The contribution from students will be diminished to one-third of what it is now. Instead of a graduate tax of $1,800, we will have a direct student fee of $600. But, for one-quarter of all the higher education students in Australia, even that fee will be abolished. One-quarter of the students in higher education institutions will be admitted completely free. The awarding of those free places will be based partly on academic grounds and partly on financial grounds. Those students in greatest need can be assured that under a Liberal-National Party government there will be no contribution required of them under the user-pays principle. The onerous burden of $1,800 a year that has been laid on three-quarters of Australian students by this Labor Government will be reduced to one-third-$600.

Under a coalition government institutions will be free to chart their own futures, negotiate pay and conditions with academic staff, devise their own curricula and research programs, and compete with each other for students and funds. Universities and colleges will be freed from Labor's centralist reforms through the abolition of Labor's unified national system, forced amalgamations, compulsory contract funding and graduate tax. The National Board for Employment, Education and Training will be made independent of government. I will refer to schools and technical and further education (TAFE) institutions in the committee stage. I do not omit reference to those areas because they lack priority. Speeches and published policies of members of the Opposition make it very clear that we regard as important the urgent need for innovation in and betterment of schools and TAFEs.

In summary, the coalition's education policy provides for choice, excellence and individual responsibility. In contrast, Labor's education policy stands for standardisation, centralisation and mediocrity. We seek to reward initiative but Labor cuts everyone down to the same low standard. The coalition looks for sound foundations in all fields of education and a concentration on mastering basic educational skills. The coalition recognises that parents have priority in determining the education of their children. Families need to be asked what they want, rather than what the educators want, for their children. I seek leave to move the two amendments together.

Leave granted.

Senator TEAGUE —I move:

In respect of the Higher Education Funding Amendment Bill 1989, States Grants (Technical and Further Education Assistance) Amendment Bill 1989 and States Grants (Schools Assistance) Amendment Bill 1989: At end of motion, add ``, but the Senate:

(a) condemns the Government for its policies on schools, TAFE and higher education; and

(b) calls on the Government to adopt policies that will facilitate the true advancement of education in Australia''.

In respect of the Student Assistance Amendment Bill 1989: At end of motion, add ``, but the Senate condemns the Government for:

(a) its inability to appreciate the special needs for assistance from students from rural areas; and

(b) the turmoil caused by its policies on, and administration of, assistance of students in higher education institutions''.

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT (Senator Zakharov) —Order! The honourable senator's time has expired.