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Wednesday, 1 November 1967

Dr J F Cairns (YARRA, VICTORIA) - Mr Speaker,it should not take the House long to pass this Bill. When the Government stated its general policy on the establishment of colleges of advanced education, it declared that it would provide financial assistance for residential accommodation at those colleges in a manner similar to that in which financial assistance has been provided for accommodation at universities. It said that the Commonwealth would match funds provided by sources other than the States - that is, funds provided by private donations - on a $1 for $1 basis. However, when this provision was made in the principal Act, no machinery was established for the purpose of making this assistance possible. Apparently. this was because no proposals had come forward for the raising of funds from private sources for residential accommodation. However, the provision was there and ft now seems that in Queensland two proposals have been advanced for new colleges at Rockhampton and Toowoomba. It is the Government's policy to encourage the establishment of these colleges, and therefore it proposes now to make these grants available for them. The Bill requires the States to match privately raised funds. So, for every $1 raised privately, the State will contribute $1 and the Commonwealth $2.

I do not intend to say a great deal about this measure. So far, the Opposition has supported the principle involved in the establishment of these tertiary colleges, though we on this side of the Parliament have expressed substantial reservations about them. It is believed - and confirmed by. experts - that it is desirable to have some kind of tertiary education institution geared to vocational training, but different from the universities. This may very well be valid, but so far we have not been able to see what form this development will take. We in the Opposition have considerable reservations about it. At the very most, we say that we have an open mind on the question and will observe developments to see what happens. But we have stressed on a number of occasions in this House - and I do not intend to do more than simply refer to it again in the case of this amending Bill - that these colleges can very well become a substitute for universities for students who, because of the inadequacy of funds provided for universities, and therefore because of the inadequate number of vacancies, are unable to get places in universities. They can be diverted away to a form of tertiary education which is inferior to university education although they are qualified for a university education if it were available to them. There is a danger of this. At the same time, the Opposition has no wish to deprive the financially betteroff students who are able to attend the colleges of the advantages of a better education. We cannot allow this action to pass any more than we have allowed any other similar action to pass, without pointing out that governments in Australia, Commonwealth and State, have not lived up to their responsibilities to provide assistance for poorer people, particularly in primary, and to some extent in secondary, schools. The Commonwealth Government cannot say that the answer to this is that it is not responsible for primary education. It has responsibility for anything to achieve which it can make a grant to the States. With these reservations, the Opposition supports the first part of this Bill.

The second purpose of the Bill is to make adjustments in the building programmes for the School of Mines and Industries at Ballarat, the Bendigo Institute of Technology and the Queensland Institute of Technology in Brisbane. These adjustments are being made as a result of the requests of the States concerned. It appears that the adjustments are a necessary provision to meet new circumstances. It appears that the acquisition of a new site in Ballarat has brought about the need for a different kind of development programme. A new site is also being developed in Bendigo. This change is in order to allow this development to proceed. The Minister representing the Miinster for Education and Science (Dr Forbes) informed us that in the case of Brisbane the revised programme is for the purpose of providing for the completion of the two buildings that were started under the interim grant arrangements and takes into account these revised principles. That is the substance of the Bill and the Opposition supports it.

I want to say one further thing only on the Bill, and that as a passing reference. I refer to section 5 of the State Grants (Advanced Education) Act 1967, of which this Bill is an amendment. When this Act was passed the Opposition had little to say about section 5. I regret that that happened, because the Opposition should have noticed the provisions of section 5. I do so how. Section 5 is in a sense the foundation for ministerial power in relation to these colleges. On the one hand the colleges are regarded as autonomous and on the other the Minister has very extensive powers in relation to their operation. Section 5 (1 .) says:

For the purposes of this Act, the Minister may -

(a)   approve courses of study and proposed courses of study in respect of a college of advanced education;

(b)   approve, in respect of a college of advanced education specified in the Second Schedule, particulars of a project specified in the second column of that Schedule;

(c)   approve, in respect of a college of advanced education specified in the Second Schedule, projects additional to those specified in that Schedule, being projects consisting of the purchase of land with or without buildings, and approve particulars, including the estimated cost, of each project so approved; and

(d)   approve, in respect of a college of advanced education, proposed library material, and may revoke or vary any such approval.

Section 5, sub-section (1.), provides very extensive powers for the Minister. One of the things that those concerned with education over the centuries have been careful about is the maintenance of as much independence as possible. What the Government has been writing into Acts - it is being written into this one and it is to be written into one that we will be dealing with later - is very extensive powers for the Minister concerned. I would like all those involved outside the House to know that we in the Opposition are concerned about the way in which this is working. Has the matter gone far enough for those who are concerned with this conjunction of powers to know how it is working out7 Are they happy about the role the Minister may be playing in respect to this? Do they feel any restrictions or any inhibitions because the Minister's powers, as I mentioned, are very detailed and very considerable? He can approve the course of study, the particulars of a project, the plans for building and proposed library material. If a college wants to buy a book it would appear that the Minister can exercise his power in respect of that. For a Liberal Government this seems to be a very extensive range of ministerial power.

As I said, the Opposition did not have much to say about the previous measure before it became an Act, but we want to know if we can be told at this stage - it will not be long, I should think, before we can find out for ourselves - how this is working. We do stress at this stage the significance of the ministerial powers in relation to these colleges which the Government has chosen to write into the legislation. With those various reservations, the Opposition supports the Bill. I have nothing further to say at this stage.

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