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Tuesday, 6 September 1960


Mr BRYANT (Wills) .- The honorable member for Wentworth (Mr. Bury) was, of course, as usual a prophet of gloom and woe. He told us of the things that cannot be done. He is pleading for action on a report that was tabled long since and on which the Government has taken its normal course and done nothing. The honorable member was struck with the difficulties that we shall face if we try to implement the social policy of the Australian Labour Party. The honorable member was struck with the difficulties of finance; we are concerned with people and personalities. That is why the Leader of Opposition (Mr. Calwell) chose this debate to take up the cause of the most important single social problem affecting the nation - the development of a proper education system.

I know that honorable members on the Government side are inclined to say, with due deference to their leader, " This is not our pigeon because some 60 years ago, certain people drew up a document which did not give us this job to do. So now, we try to avoid our responsibilities in this field and close our eyes to the responsibilities we have already haphazardly accepted." So tonight, I hope that we shall get some forthright statement from the Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies) about what action he proposes to take to develop a national system of education and a national attitude on the part of this Parliament about priorities.

This problem appears to have escaped the honorable member for Wentworth although he is a man of erudition and experience here and overseas. Unfortunately, he seems to have been wandering in an intellectual and physical stratosphere. This is a simple system of priorities. Just where are we going to place our priorities, and to what extent is the Government going to direct national income and wealth to overcoming the deficiencies evolved from probably 100 years of neglect of the State education systems? You do not need to travel far to see exactly what is needed. One can easily find depressing school buildings. You do not have to look far into statistics to find overloaded classrooms. You do not have to turn the pages of many newspapers to find references to the struggles of educationists in any field in trying to do the job that they are expected to do. Therefore, the Opposition says that this is simply a matter of priorities.

While Australia lags behind the other nations, whether Western nations or otherwise, in its percentage of national wealth devoted to this task we are not doing a good job. This is not a question that can be escaped by the simple diversion of constitutional arguments. A country which can buy Boeings and Viscounts almost by the dozen and which can spend extraordinary sums on defence of various sorts can well turn its attention to the people's schools, which are the principal cry at this moment. The Leader of the Opposition pointed out that we had received dozens of telegrams asking us to take up this subject. Most of them have come from New South Wales where the Labour Government's education committee has commenced its task of conducting a full inquiry. If the Government will not attend to this matter, we will press on. There are lots of questions to be answered. The first task which any government with a national conscience ought to undertake is the development of a system to give equal educational opportunities to every person in the Commonwealth.

It is not necessary to look far into statistics to realize that there is not equality of educational opportunity offering to the young people of Australia. The expenditure per capita by the States on education is a significant indication of the educational opportunities available to the people of those States. I shall cite figures from a report which was published last year, although they are a couple of years old. The annual expenditure per capita by the States is as follows: - Tasmania, £12 16s.; Western Australia, £12 10s. 6d.; New South Wales, £13 9s. 4d.; Victoria, £10 11s. 7d.; South Australia, £10 6s. 8d.; and Queensland, £8 1 2s. 5d. It should be noted that the Premier of South Australia has been knighted for his activities of this sort and that Queensland is a Liberal-Country Party controlled State.


Mr Hamilton - There was a Labour government there for a long time.


Mr BRYANT - The present Government has been in office long enough to overcome the position. No government conscious of its obligation to Australia can escape these facts, nor should we attempt to avoid them by any plea of constitutional difficulty. The expenditure statistics are reflected in the number of people who reach the highest educational level. Earlier this year, I received some figures from the Commonwealth Office of Education. I had asked for the number of people who had sat for the matriculation examination last year in the various States. They are printed on page 1265 of "Hansard" of 28th April. These are the figures for 1959-

 

The proportion of students who sat for the matriculation examination in the various States is significant. It will be noticed that of a total of 29,930 who sat throughout Australia, 12,700 were in New South Wales. Almost 50 per cent. of students sat in the State which had about 38 per cent. of the population! Under twenty years of Labour government in New South Wales, an educational system has been produced which offers greater opportunities to people to reach matriculation standard than the system of any other State. Here, we are simply voicing the same sentiments which have activated the New South Wales Government in such a way that it has produced that state of affairs.

This indicates that the people of other States, principally South Australia and Queensland, are suffering from a lack of opportunity. Queensland has 14 per cent. of the population, but had only about 12 per cent. of matriculation students in Australia last year. South Australia I find has managed to get a proportion of students to the matriculation standard which is greater than its proportion of the population. It is in Victoria that the most serious deficiency exists. Of course, various factors have to be taken into consideration before reaching a final decision on this matter such as the period of high school study necessary to prepare for the matriculation examination which, in Victoria, is six years. But there is evidence on the basis of simple statistics that the people of Australia are not receiving equality of education opportunities.

There is only one Parliament that can take the necessary steps to overcome that state of affairs and it is this Parliament. The kind of steps which have been taken in a rather diffident way in relation to uni- versity education should be extended down the educational ladder to the other spheres of education. All these difficulties and inequalities throughout the Commonwealth are having their effect on the community so that there is a rising public demand for action. People can see, in the light of taxation and constitutional developments, that the position can be rectified only in this Parliament. There are all kinds of special difficulties. There is the question of raising the school leaving age to fifteen years all over Australia, so that the other States would be on terms of equality with New South Wales. In one State the school leaving age is sixteen. Surely this matter should have the first priority in an educational programme. Yet there is no action and it appears from the reports that have been published that the State governments find themselves incapable of taking action. So here is one simple measure which the Commonwealth could make the basis of its activities.

What can the Commonwealth do in its own sphere? The Commonwealth, as the Leader of the Opposition has pointed out is, at the present moment, actively engaged in education in a -much more wholesale way than any State. The Commonwealth has the only research university. It operates kindergartens through the Department of Health as style leaders or pace setters in every capital. It would not be a bad idea if members took the trouble to study this question and see what is going on. From the highest research institution, the Australian National University, to preschool training, the Commonwealth is already involved in education in a wholesale way. Therefore, the Commonwealth Office of Education is inadequate to give the Prime Minister the kind of expert assistance and advice which he needs to discharge his responsibility.

No Minister of this Government is responsible for all the Commonwealth's educational activities. Although millions of pounds are being poured out in the development of universities and of education within the defence system, nobody is responsible for education as a whole. The Government spreads largesse and lets somebody else have the responsibility. The Minister for Territories (Mr. Hasluck) is in the chamber now. Who is responsible for the development of the educational programme in the Territories under his control? I understand that in the Northern Territory, education in the schools is the responsibility of the South Australian Department of Education. If we are interested in the curriculum observed in Northern Territory schools it is useless to direct our questions to the Minister for Territories. The answers can only be given by a Minister in the South Australian Parliament. The Minister for Air (Mr. Osborne) has a school at Butterworth in Malaya. This is another case in which the Commonwealth pours out the largesse but educational responsibility lies somewhere else. To whom do we look for information concerning education at Butterworth? I understand that we would turn to the Minister for Education in Victoria. There is no point in asking him questions about his own education system, let alone those to which he attends as our agent. The Minister for the Interior (Mr. Freeth) has some of the most magnificent schools in Australia under his control in Canberra. Is there any point in asking him about education in them? Not a bit of it! The primary parliamentary responsibility for them lies in the Parliament for New South Wales. So there is a diversification of our effort. The first thing that the Prime Minister ought to do in the fifteen months which remain to him in his high office is to bring the educational activities of this Commonwealth under control so that the responsibility for them shall lie in this Parliament. About sixteen Ministers are in active pursuit of educational aims laid down by acts of this Parliament. This educational activity is scattered through many government departments and instrumentalities, yet no one has a direct responsibility to this Parliament in this regard. Therefore, without spending a penny and merely by using its intellect, the Government could observe the principle of parliamentary control which has been advocated this evening by making a Minister directly responsible to this Parliament for educational activities.

There are many things we can do as a Parliament, and as a Commonwealth Government, to give immediate assistance to the States in the matter of education. The first thing we should do is to bring teacher training within the ambit of the

Universities Commission. Teacher training is tertiary education. An article appearing in one of the Melbourne papers to-day points out the necessity to raise the status of teachers. Teacher training must be given the status of tertiary education. It must be tertiary education in name and in fact, and by legislation if necessary, and it must be brought within the jurisdiction of the Universities Commission. This is a logical suggestion, and I cannot understand why it has not been adopted previously.

We can also develop such accessories as educational television and broadcasting programmes. The Australian Broadcasting Commission at the moment has the nucleus of an organization which could be built up to do something in this field. But these are merely sidelines. They are incidentals of the educational system.

There is no doubt in the minds of all those engaged in educational activities that there is a big job to be done. Thousands of schools in Australia are out of date. There would not be more than three or four high schools of the 130 or so in Victoria with adequate assembly halls, let alone gymnasiums and such amenities, which are considered bare essentials in modern educational institutions. The Commonwealth Government is the only body that can assist the States to provide these amenities.

What of the Commonwealth Scholarship Scheme, which is the sole responsibility of the Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies) himself? I can give the right honorable gentleman information about this scheme, if he wants it, which has been supplied by his own department. The number of scholarships awarded has remained at the same figure for years, despite increased pressure by the States for more scholarships.







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