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Tuesday, 12 October 1971
Page: 2198

Mr REYNOLDS (Barton) - In March 1969 a nationwide survey of educational needs was established at the behest mainly of the State Ministers for Education forming the Australian Educational Council. However, the Commonwealth gave its blessing to this project and promised to co-operate with it. Moreover, it was also promised that the private schools and their needs would be surveyed. This lifted the hopes of people in State education and in private education. But what has come to pass? The nationwide survey was killed by the Commonwealth's failure to provide leadership. It could have ensured that an overall national viewpoint was reflected in the inquiry but it deliberately chose not to do so. It now eagerly pounces on the report's inadequacies and inconsistencies, both real and imagined, as an excuse for further evasion. The acknowledged misunderstanding about who was to inquire into what and on what basis is both pathetic and absolutely scandalous.

The matter of private schools comes to my mind. The Commonwealth thought that the States were doing the survey. The states did not do it. Ultimately the Commonwealth had to go out and conduct some kind of survey itself in the private schools. It is the young generation particularly and the nation generally who must pay the price of this downright incompetence bred out of the Commonwealth's determined reluctance to become properly involved in the inquiry. Notwithstanding these virtually admitted evasions by the Commonwealth, it still claims that the States have been put in such an improved financial position that they should be able to meet most of the needs outlined by the survey for both the public and private sectors of education. Time will not allow me to mention anything more than some of the most obvious fallacies in this claim. The Minister for Education and Science (Mr Malcolm Fraser) says that the average State education budget now shows an annual increase of 17 per cent.

Mr Malcolm Fraser (WANNON, VICTORIA) - This year.

Mr REYNOLDS - This year; very well. He compares this with the 10 per cent assumed annual growth in State education expenditures which was the basis of the survey's calculation of needs. The survey concluded that over the 5 years 1971-75 $ 1,443m extra would be needed urgently from the Commonwealth by the States for their government primary and secondary schools and teachers colleges alone. Docs the Minister really mean to say or imply that this extra 7 per cent above the assessed 10 per cent now being spent by the States is anything like equivalent to the $ 1,443m which the survey says will be needed over the next 5 years? Nowhere are we given any statistics or provided with any calculations even to suggest such a possibility. All the indications are that the increased finances available to the States will go nowhere near meeting the needs outlined in the survey.

This conclusion applies particularly, in my view, to the capital or building needs - the school buildings to be constructed, the land to be purchased and the playgrounds to be formed - mentioned in the survey. The survey indicated that an additional S722m would be required from the Commonwealth over the period for the capital needs, as distinct from recurrent needs or running costs, of the State public schools and teachers colleges. According to research I have had done with the aid of the Parliamentary Library this would require an estimated growth in capital funds of almost 28 per cent annually. But the increase in Commonwealth capital grants to the States in 1971-72 amounted not to 28 per cent but to a meagre 4.5 per cent.

It is no wonder that it was reported that the State and Federal governments' spending on buildings for education in New South Wales dropped - not increased - by about 15 per cent in the 6 months to the end of May this year. The situation becomes even more desperate when it is realised that out of their so-called greatly improved finances the States are supposed not only to meet the total of Si, 443m needed for the capital and recurrent costs of government schools but also another $267m which the survey says will be needed by the non-government schools for similar costs. Quite frankly many of these non-government schools, especially the Catholic parish ones, are in as bad a position as the worst of the government schools. None of these education authorities would imagine for one second that the position of the schools would be substantially or dramatically improved by the per capita increases that have been provided by the recent State budgets. Apparently they can expect nothing further from the Commonwealth Government.

Let it be stressed that the survey dealt only with primary, secondary and teacher education. It had nothing to do with preschool education, the education of the handicapped or with the vast field of technical education at the pre-tertiary lc /el. Somehow the States' alleged 'greatly improved' financial position has also to try to meet all these educational needs along with their heavy commitments to universities and the quickly growing sector of colleges of advanced education. I am sure that not even the Minister for Education and Science or the Government sincerely and honestly believes that the States are now in a satisfactory financial position to meet this kind of challenge for the 5 years ahead. The Commonwealth, I believe, is trying to carry out a massive deceit on the Australian community. It has dumped its responsibilities as far as the nation wide survey is concerned. It ought at least to be decent and frank enough to say so. It did so at least in the case of the kindergartencumchild minding centres. 1 believe the Minister is desperately clutching at straws when he refers to the case of the unspent $8. 5m Commonwealth grant that was available to the States for the capital costs of building new teachers colleges in 1970-71, the first year of the triennium. This pointed reference was meant to suggest that the States were physically unable to use all of the money that the Commonwealth was already providing. Why should they be clamouring for more? From my own personal experience I know that the main reason for this situation was that the States bad insufficient notice of the grants to be able to carry out the detailed planning for the construction of the colleges within any short time after the grants were announced. Unfortunately there had not been any recent research into the forms modern teachers colleges should take.

Moreover, the Commonwealth grants were limited to capital or building needs. Contrary to the advice of the Martin Committee in 1965 the Commonwealth made no provision for the very substantial running costs of teachers colleges. This I believe put another brake on State activities in this important field. In this, as in so many other areas, and not forgetting the nationwide survey which we are currently discussing, I believe the Commonwealth has had pathetically poor relations and understanding with the States. May I make the positive suggestion that whilever the system of specific Commonwealth grants to the States for educational purposes endures, it be on a 5-year basis rather than 3 as at present. This I believe would make for better planning and continuity of development. 1 am becoming increasingly more convinced of the need for clearer and more definite political responsibility for education. No doubt this could be true for many other spheres of our community life. For education I think there is a good case for clearly dividing responsibility so that the States retain pre-school, primary and secondary education and the Commonwealth accepts responsibility for all post-secondary and tertiary education. This would, of course, have to be a matter for agreement between the Commonwealth and States. Technical education, so closely allied to the economy and to employment policies, seems admirably suited to Commonwealth responsibility. Now that teachers colleges are being absorbed into colleges of advanced education and universities and, thankfully, becoming less tied to education departments, they also would readily fit into a national pattern of tertiary education. These bodies - teachers colleges, colleges of advanced education and universities - have or are receiving a substantial amount of autonomy. As such there can and ought to be a healthy diversity in their development. At the same time they could help form an integrated and interrelated national pattern.

Apart from these considerations the overriding thought in my mind is that such a solution would help to rid us of the present indecisive control in which there are no clear lines of financial responsibility. Without the burdens of having to meet the Commonwealth's conditional grants for tertiary institutions the States could accept full and definite responsibility for the very important pre-school, primary and secondary schooling. Whilst 1 regret what has happened in regard to the survey on educational needs I would stress that the Commonwealth should not opt out but it ought to accept the proposal of the Australian Labor Party to set up an Australian schools commission which would not only carry out a thorough investigation into all these levels of education but would do so on a continuing basis.

The DEPUTY CHAIRMAN (Mr Drury) - Order! The honourable member's time has expired.

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