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Tuesday, 22 August 1972
Page: 496

Mr BRYANT (Wills) - I understand that we are limited in time in the debate on this Bill and that we should cut our speaking time down to 10 or 12 minutes each. I do not approve of that proposal but I will agree to it in keeping with my normal co-operative attitude. I only wish that that attitude could seep across to the other side of the House and- that honourable members opposite could realise that these issues have to be debated at some length. Goodness knows when we will get around to a full debate on the marathon discussions or the omnibus statements that the Minister for Education and Science (Mr Malcolm Fraser) has been making. I suppose this matter is the, 'Blue Hills' of the .Department of Education and Science. Back in 1968 it started to make money available for the building of teachers training colleges. Some time last year it had to extend the time for expenditure of this money to the end of June 1971. was extended to 1972 and now, here we are in business again extending the -time for the expenditure of the magnificent sum of about $2.5m - about half the cost of . a Boeing- throughout the. whole of Australia until 1973. This simply demonstrates the approach of this Government to almost everything it does and to all those things it should do. It is dilatory in action and perfunctory in its acceptance of responsibility and I believe that this legislation shows the total inadequacy of its concept of education.

What is this Bill about? It is an effort to launch pre-school education on a new wave length for the 1970s. What does it do? All it does is compound the existing inadequacies and the existing differences between States. There has been no effort made to reduce the inequalities between States, areas or in any other sphere. This is the typical Commonwealth attitude of largesse, but let somebody else accept the responsibility. It would be quite instructive for people to read what has happened in the field of pre-school education. The bodies to whom we have passed responsibility are private institutions. They have no resources at their disposal to cope with local councils, to acquire land compulsorily or anything else. The slightest administrative hookup and they have to stop in their tracks. One has only to consider the general position; in Canberra 52 per cent of children of the appropriate age attend preschools while in New South Wales it is 3.1 per cent, in Victoria it is 28.9 per cent and in Queensland it is 13.2 per cent. Even the Northern Territory has managed to get to 34 per cent.

There can be no adequacy in the Commonwealth's approach unless it accepts the responsibility to give every Australian equal access to whatever kind of education is going, whether it is tertiary, technical or pre-school education. It is the fundamental responsibility of this Parliament to see that Australians are treated equally wherever they are born and whatever their social or economic background. The Australian Labor Party recognises the importance of the first 5 years of a child's life on the road to intellectual and cultural development. lt is rather odd that we are drifting into this field in such a perfunctory way. Although I am critical of this Government on this issue because it has had the facts of life before it for many years and the resources of the Commonwealth at its disposal for many years, it is true also that educationists in Australia have not accepted the responsibility or taken an appropriate attitude towards pre-school education. 1 have the 1971 return of the Bureau of Census and Statistics and it is interesting to search through it for what it contains about pre-schools. Is a pre-school a school? I would say it is but I cannot find pre-schools included in the appropriate statistic. They have not been acknowledged. I hope in future that the Department will include pre-schools in its statistics and so make them a little brighter. It is over 200 years since Johann Oberlin in Germany launched into pre-school education and nursery centres for the children of his village and surrounding districts. Robert Owen, one of the socialists of the last century, did the same thing in Scotland and Montesori in Italy established a new approach to education at this level. It has been going on for 2 centuries. Even in this benighted country 30-odd years ago the Lady Gowrie centres were established around Australia as an example to the States. There is nothing more fruitless than to try to set examples for State governments in the expansion of services or the further expenditure of money. It is increasingly obvious that pre-school education is a fundamental part of the cultural and intel lectual capacity of the nation and we have to accept responsibility for it. The Commonwealth through the legislation before us does not do that in any way.

What are some of the problems associated with pre-school education? The fact that it is hardly acknowledged in statistics is an elementary and fundamental demonstration of our approach to it. Pre-school education has no official status whatever apparently. College staff, according to the evidence given before the Senate Standing Committee on Education, Science and the Arts when it inquired into pre-school education, have totally inadequate salaries ranging from $3,600 to $7,200. Compare those salaries with the salaries received by lecturers at teachers colleges and universities and with the salaries of those engaged in almost every other form of social endeavour. Members should look closely at the salaries set out at page 402 of the Hansard report containing evidence given before the Standing Committee on Education, Science and the Arts. There is no need for me to demonstrate that teachers entering the system of pre-school education sacrifice thousands of dollars a year from the day they start. There is a strong need for a total approach to pre-school education. The Labor Party believes that a statutory authority would need to be established, in all probability - a pre-school commission, call it what you will, set up however you might - in what is an important an area as many others. In many parts of Australia it is much more important than other fields of activity. Early learning is a fundamental part of a person's life.

What are the problems? In this instance we are taking a handful of institutions - 6 or 7 of them - which are all privately run except for the Launceston Teachers College because Tasmania has accepted the view that pre-school education is part of the education system and simply expanding these existing institutions. They have no relationship to the rest of the education system. What are the problems in establishing a pre-school system throughout Australia? At present there are nearly 2 million children in the primary schools in Australia. We could divide that number by 4 or 5 to determine the number of children who should be in pre-schools; it is perhaps 400,000. In primary schools in Australia there are about 70,000 primary school teachers. This is another demonstration of the inadequacy of the return of the Bureau of Census and Statistics in relation to schools. Perhaps the figure is in it somewhere but I could not extract the number of teachers working in primary schools. However, if we divide the number of teachers by 4 we get 15,000 or 16,000. There are about 18,000 teachers in training for Australian primary schools and if we divide that by 4 we get 4,500. At present we have some 1,000 teachers in teacher training colleges. We have a handful of children in the pre-school system throughout Australia. The Minister has said that the Labor Party's policy of universal preschool education is a dream, that it is something at the end of the rainbow and asks: How on earth could we afford it? Of course, last week's Budget demonstrated that money is no object if we have to buy votes because of our reaction to a gallup poll or if we want to see that the graziers are fixed up all right.

Mr Cope - Where are they getting it from?

Mr BRYANT - I suppose the Government is printing it. The whole, situation opens up a new form of educational challenge in Australia.

I represent the industrial area of Brunswick - Coburg in Victoria. At present, it is a densely populated area with about 110,000 or 115,000 people of great political perception; but there are only about 10 or 12 pre-schools in the whole area! There are 4 or 5 pre-schools in Brunswick and 6 in Coburg. One of the interesting points is that the citizens of this area are not really making the full use of these, pre-schools. So I believe that there is a need for an educational programme for parents. Those of us who have lived in other areas such as in the outer suburbs or in country towns know that there is no difficulty in filling the kindergartens in those areas when they are opened. In the outer suburbs of Melbourne, pre-schools have waiting lists of literally hundreds of names of people desiring to get their children in to pre-schools, while in the areas in which the children perhaps most need pre-school education the parents are not aware of the necessity to make the greatest possible use of pre-schools.

Therefore, while the House accepts this piece of legislation, it recognises it as a remarkable demonstration of the Government's dilatory approach to this matter. This is no way in which to approach the situation. One has only to read the evidence given before the Senate Standing Committee on Education, Science and the Arts to see that this is not even a stopgap measure. It is simply a fill ' in or a sop to the whole system. I recommend that honourable members obtain the official Hansard report of the Senate Standing Committee on Education, Science and the Arts for Monday, 25th October and read the statistics, comments and pleas from the people who are associated with the kindergarten and pre-school system..

I regret that we are hot able to debate' this matter at much greater length. I hope that the idea of pre-school education will become as important in this1 House as has university education. I believe that the campaign that has been conducted both inside and outside this House over the last 16 or 17 years to make the Commonwealth conscious of its direct responsibilities will bear fruit only when this Government is replaced by a government more conscious of its responsibilities. I can think of no reason whatsoever why this Parliament should not direct all its energies and resources towards equalising Australian educational opportunity and 'giving education a new sense of direction. Part of that new sense of direction means the development of pre-school education. It is interesting that it is in this area that the first ideas of the free flow of the child's thought and activity inside the school takes place, but that increasingly, as he passes through the education system, he becomes more restricted and inhibited. In fact; from the way that the Government controls this House, one would think that its. members were produced by the most restrictive education system possible. I will conclude on that note and I hope that you, Mr Deputy Speaker, will use your good offices with honourable members opposite so that at some stage we can have a more appropriate debate on this subject.

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