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Wednesday, 27 March 1968

Mr Malcolm Fraser (WANNON, VICTORIA) - I move:

That the Bill be now read a second time. This Bill seeks authority for the Government to continue, during the next 3 financial years, grants for the construction and equipping of science laboratories. The scheme was introduced in 1964-65 and has been continued in subsequent financial years up to 30th June 1968. These grants for the construction and equipping of science laboratories represent one part of what can be regarded as an overall Government programme to up-grade scientific skills in Australia.

The Government recognises that if Australia is to develop as we wish and if we are to make the greatest use of our own resources we need a greater number of welltrained scientists and technologists. If we are to maintain and improve our position in the modern scientific age it is clear that the Government must give attention to the standards of training. The Government has therefore attempted, in co-operation with the States, to upgrade the level of scientific training in the schools and universities and in post-graduate research. Scientific training in the universities has greatly benefited from increasing Commonwealth support for universities.

The universities use a proportion of the recurrent funds generally available to them for research but, wishing to give particular attention to the needs for research, the Commonwealth has been making increasing funds available specifically for this purpose. It is indebted to the work of the Australian Research Grants Committee which recommend the allocation of these funds, which have been increased from $4m in the first triennium of the Committee's operation to $9m in the second and current triennium. While not limited to universities, the greater part of these funds go to research in universities.

It was clear that students entering universities would not be able to make the maximum use of the increased facilities being provided unless adequate facilities were available for their training at school. Such facilities are expensive and in many cases have been beyond the resources of the authorities previously responsible for providing them. Four years ago the Commonwealth therefore began its support for the construction and equipping of science laboratories.

Under existing legislation, grants for science facilities totalling $42,291,200 will have been provided between 1st July 1964 and 30th June 1968. A total of $28,951,200 will have been provided to Government schools, and payments totalling $27,114,000 have already been made. These grants have been used to build laboratories at 383 Government high schools throughout Australia as selected by the States. Details of these are given in the lists that I have circulated. In addition every State Government school in Australia which teaches secondary science has received some additional science teaching apparatus as a result of the Commonwealth grants.

The balance of $13,340,000 will have been provided over the 4 year period to independent schools in the States. The lists which I have circulated give details of the independent schools which have been assisted under the scheme and the amount granted to each school in each year of the scheme. Of the 750 applicant independent secondary schools, 508 have received some assistance under the scheme.

The bill proposes that a further amount of $37,721,400 be available over the next 3 years. Of this amount, $21,713,400 is for assistance for science facilities in government schools and $ 16.008m for independent schools. The amount for independent schools will continue to be, as it was in 1967-68, at double the rate it was in the earlier years of the scheme. The money once again will be allocated in specific amounts to groups of schools, but the opportunity has been taken to revise the allocation on the basis of more up-to-date population and secondary enrolment figures. On the basis of the population figures obtained from the 1966 census and statistics for secondary enrolments in 1966, the latest' available, the annual distribution will be as shown in the following table, which, with the concurrence of honourable members, I incorporate in Hansard:

In relation to independent schools it has been decided that part of the total amount available will be used, in the first place, to meet the balance of the reasonable cost of science buildings already assisted and then to make grants to schools which have built science laboratories to plans approved by the Minister on the advice of the Standards Committee but for which they have not received any assistance. The other part will be available for allocation on the recommendations of State Advisory Committees for completely new projects at independent secondary schools.

As a result of the grants now proposed, by 1971 substantial inroads will be made into the backlog of needs for science facilities in both Government and independent schools. On present information, it appears that a further triennium with reduced funds would be sufficient to complete the exercise with respect to existing schools. 1 am pleased to report that the Commonwealth and States have co-operated fully in improving the science facilities available to students attending government schools and that the scheme has been most successful in providing such facilities. I should like to pay tribute to the members of the Standards Committee who, notwithstanding their other duties as senior members of the staffs of independent schools and universities, have visited every applicant independent school to assess its needs for science facilities. They have made themselves available too, for numerous discussions with school principals, school boards and their architects so that the plans developed to meet needs will be of the highest standard. Honourable members will appreciate the amount of travelling involved in this achievement.

I wish to thank the committees convened, at my predecessor's request, by the senior Roman Catholic and senior Anglican Prelate in each State to recommend priorities for Roman Catholic schools and schools other than Roman Catholic respectively. The work of these committees has been most valuable in ensuring that local knowledge is brought to bear in the determination of priorities amongst needs. I will be providing these committees this week with information about the current needs of applicant schools so that their recommendations for the proposed extension of the scheme may be available as soon as possible. I commend the Bill to the House.

Debate (on motion by Mr Crean) adjourned.

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