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Wednesday, 7 September 1960

Mr TIMSON (Higinbotham) .- Last night and to-day I listened with great interest to the debate on the estimates for the Prime Minister's Department. I recall that when I was a new member of this House the subject of education was hardly mentioned during the debate on the estimates for the Prime Minister's Department, but, as each year has gone by, more and more time has been devoted to that subject until on this occasion the debate is devoted almost entirely to the question of education.

Without going into constitutional issues, which I place in a separate category, I believe that the facts are that no State government is anxious to have Commonwealth grants ear-marked for education. Admittedly, there is a very strong private pressure on the Commonwealth to take this sort of action, as every member of this committee knows, from the propaganda that is directed to him from various quarters. But the States press the Commonwealth for more money to cover all their activities. Indeed, this is an annual exercise. They support their demands with evidence of the difficulty they experience in keeping pace with the requirements of education and other urgent activities. The fact remains that no State will happily surrender its full responsibility for this, one of its major activities. In my own State, Victoria, the budget vote for education is always outstandingly the largest vote. Victoria, as we all know, is the most firmly reluctant of all the States to surrender its rights in this matter of education.

At a recent national conference on education held in Sydney, from which most of this organized pressure emanates, by the way, the Victorian Minister for Education delivered an address, and I looked forward keenly to learning what he said to a conference of that kind. He expressed no enthusiasm whatever for specifically earmarked grants from the Commonwealth for any purpose at all. What the States do press for is a larger share of revenue to cover education and other activities.

There is another leg to this education campaign organized, if I may say so, by the Australian Teachers' Federation. That is to press for a Commonwealth-sponsored inquiry into primary, secondary and technical education throughout Australia. For myself, I regard this as a grave reflection upon the competence and precise local knowledge which the State Governments possess.

Mr Anderson - The Labour Government threw that idea out.

Mr TIMSON - Undoubtedly it did. I wonder whether this propaganda is accurate. Is education as restricted and as far behind as these people would have us believe? When the House met this afternoon, I looked up at the public gallery, which was then packed with school children, and I wondered whether those kids were receiving an education which was far less than that to which they are justly entitled from an advanced community such as ours. [Quorum formed.] We hear about the lack of facilities at schools, that schools are overflowing, that the children are being educated under all sorts of temporary measures of expediency and so on. I went to a public school in Victoria - it would be known in New South Wales language as a great public school - and when I hear criticism of classes averaging over 40, I think back to the days when I was at school. Certainly, that is some time ago, but it was no exception at my college to have classes of 45. Yet, to-day, a class of 45 seems to be considered an unutterable sin. Is this right or wrong?

I find that some of the people who approach me on these educational matters, and who represent the Australian Teachers' Federation, are not the most desirable members of our community. I find that they are followers of most peculiar and, to me, most undesirable political faiths and leanings. I have no time for these people. I wish to make it clear that I have no desire to reflect on the teaching fraternity in Australia generally for whom I have the greatest admiration, but there are those among them whom I regard as most undesirable citizens and they seem to be amongst those who are agitating most strongly for this reform. It is easy for a schoolteacher to convince members of mothers' clubs, parents and citizens associations and others that their children are being very badly dealt with in this matter of education. For myself, I do not believe it.

Certainly, any country which is experiencing the tremendous impulse of development that we are will find it difficult to keep pace with the needs of education. We are finding it difficult to keep pace with developments in every field, but in my own electorate within an area of 4 square miles, the Victorian Government has built four or five State schools, a high school and a technical school in the past five or six years. To me, this is a magnificent achievement and it is not confined to the electorate of Higinbotham but applies similarly to the whole of the State. The Commonwealth Government has done a great deal in the field of education and not only in its direct activities, such as the provision of assistance to universities, Commonwealth scholarships and so on, but also by making more money available to the States which they can devote to education as they see fit.

I rose mainly to speak very briefly about an anomaly which I believe exists as between universities. It appears strange to me that the matriculation requirements for particular courses vary from State to State. For example, the matriculation requirements for commerce at the Melbourne University differ from those stipulated by Adelaide University. A student who has completed his second or third year of commerce at Melbourne and who, for strong family or other reasons, wishes to continue his course at Adelaide, is not acceptable because he has not taken some special subject requirement of the Adelaide University matriculation statute.

I feel that it should be made possible for students, in proper cases, to inter-change between universities as a matter of procedure without this sort of obstruction. From inquiries I have made, it seems that some universities are unwilling to cooperate in a satisfactory arrangement whereby a student may change from one university to another and proceed with his course uninterrupted.

It is not within our province to interfere with the domestic arrangements and standards of individual universities, but the universities themselves should recognize this problem. I hope that this matter will receive the attention of the vice-chancellors of the universities when next they meet to discuss matters of common interest as I understand they do from time to time.

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