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Thursday, 29 October 1970

Mr N H Bowen (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) (Minister for Education and Science) - in reply - These 2 Bills do 2 things. Firstly, they carry out the recommendations of the Sweeney Committee which recommended that where a college of advanced education employed a lecturer who had the same qualifications or was doing the same work as his opposite number in a university he should have the same salary. This involved an increase in the salaries of these people in colleges of advanced education and this Bill provides for the Commonwealth's share of that increase. All the States to a greater or lesser degree have agreed to carry out the Sweeney Committee's recommendations and this Bill will enable the Commonwealth to do its part in raising that range of salaries. Secondly, the Eggleston Committee recommended certain increases in the salaries of University professors, readers and lecturers as from 1st January. We announced that we would pay our share of this increase to any States which adopted this particular recommendation of the Eggleston Committee. All the States now have adopted it and this Bill will enable us to carry out our promise and meet our share of the increase in salaries. This flows across to the colleges of advanced education.

Two matters were raised on which perhaps I should comment. Some observations were made about the percentage of gross national product which this country devotes to education. I do point out that this country is very often compared with countries whose figures include such items as the following in their educational expenses: school meals, free milk, the nation's cultural activities, scientific research, sport, youth activities, child welfare, armed services colleges, radio and television and so on. We do not include any of these things in our educational expenses. If we compare our figures with those of countries which load up their education expenses with these items of course we will not compare favourably. If one travels around the world and looks at the other educational systems one sees a different picture comparatively. Of course, whilst there are problems in this country which is advancing faster now under the present Government than it has done in its history, it is in fact giving a better education than most other countries.

Another point I wish to refer to concerns the abolition of universty fees. This has been mentioned and it has been suggested that this would be beneficial to people who could not go to the university at the present time. I do not want to take up the time of the House but I would point out a number of simple facts. If we abolish university fees we will not create one more place at a university; not one more place. To do that we would have to have capital to erect buildings, and provide recurrent expenses to employ lecturers. We will not create one more place by abolishing university fees so whoever is getting the university education free will have to compete for the existing number of places. The National Union of University Students has estimated that of the total cost of going to the university, fees represent, in the case of people living at home, about 25 per cent. For those who are not living at home the fees represent about 20 per cent of the total cost, about one fifth. What honourable members are talking about is approximately one fifth of the cost of going to the university. They are not even starting with the problem. And this alone would cost very close to $15m a year. The Opposition needs to know what it is talking about. It is talking about a very much larger figure than $15m a year.

When they are considering this they need also to consider that one of the reasons why some people have difficulty in attending a university is that they do not want to forgo the earning capacity they would have if they did not go to the university. They could be earning money. They have to give that away and go to the university and we cannot cure that by abolishing fees, except in only a fraction of the cases. Therefore, all we are doing is allowing some additional people, a fraction of them, to compete for the existing number of places. What would actually happen in the main is that the same people would get these places. All that would be occurring would be that we are giving them a bonus whereas at the moment they can afford fees and do pay them.I think there are other ways of dealing with those who are in need and they are much better ways. This looks simple enough but in fact it is a complex problem and the Opposition is endeavouring to oversimplify it. It is not the way to cure this particular problem. It is a gross oversimplification.

Mr Beazley - Does the figure of$15m allow for the abolition of fees under scholarships? Is this a net increase?

Mr N H Bowen (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) - I will not take up the time of the House other than to say that if we abolish the fees in universities it will cost $11. 5m and this would be after making the adjustment of the saving to the Commonwealth through having abolished certain income tax collections. There are a number of such matters with which the Opposition will be familiar. We cannot abolish those fees without abolishing the fees to colleges of advanced education and if we did that the adjusted figure would be of the order of $3m a year after adjustments for income tax. This would involve a total cost of $14.5m a year without the Government actually achieving anything for the people in need. This is one of these terribly sad matters which hold out expectations to the people - 'independence for New Guinea in 1972', 'free education at tertiary level'. They sound simple. They can be said in a sentence and they do not mean a thing.

Question resolved in the affirmative.

Bill read a second time.

Message from the Governor-General recommending appropriation announced.

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