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Wednesday, 27 September 1972
Page: 2000

Mr MacKELLAR (Warringah) - I think that the honourable member for Banks (Mr Martin) is a little out of touch with the changes which have been brought into the House by the Government, because he made out a most eloquent case for the Government action which has been foreshadowed. I was glad to hear a member of the Opposition talking about the needs of Catholic schools. The honourable member for Banks spoke about the needs of Catholic schools in his electorate and said that they should receive preferential treatment. If the honourable member had read the Estimates he would know that over the next 5 years S48m will be made available for independent schools. The allocation of that money within the independent schools system is the responsibility of a single committee within each State. In other words, all the independent schools within each State have to submit their proposals to that committee, and the allocation of the money will be made on the basis of need. If the Catholic schools in the honourable member's electorate can prove that need against the requirements of similar independent schools, they will be allocated that money. So the honourable member should take a closer look at the Government's proposed legislation. Because he is a fair man I am sure he will agree that this is a realistic and logical way of allocating these funds for capital development.

I want to make it quite clear that the Government's attitude to education is broadly to achieve greater educational opportunities for all school children and to improve the overall quality of education. This is something which is often forgotten by those people who talk only about money figures in relation to education. The Government has the view that it is just not good enough to forget about quality and go for quantity. We think that a tremendous amount of emphasis should be placed on the quality of education provided and we seek to provide this quality of education for all children in all schools. To achieve this aim, it is an absolute requirement that the dual system of education be continued. In the time available we cannot debate at length the manner in which the education proposals of the Opposition would detract from this aim. The Opposition's proposals would have the effect of a slow death for the independent schools system. The Government aims to use the federal system, not aiming to concentrate all power in some nebulous schools commission operating in Canberra. I would like to hear some of the many spokesmen for the Australian Labor Party - official and unofficial - spell out in some detail just how this proposed schools commission would work. I have heard competing statements by various members of the Opposition on what is proposed for this schools commission. I would like it to be made quite plain what it would do and exactly how it would do it.

I spoke about educational opportunities. One of the areas in which a lot remains to be done is that relating to isolated children. The children falling into that category need more emphasis placed on their welfare by education authorities. I am speaking particularly about children in isolated homesteads in the backblocks areas of Australia, about children in schools in (he smaller communities in Australia, about the problems of schooling children in new settlements which may occur as a result of some mineral discovery or ore processing moves - in other words the problems of children in areas in which educational facilities cannot be brought quickly and readily to bear. I would also like to see an open university in Australia. I realise that some universities - particularly Macquarie University in New South Wales and the University of New England - have open university type functions, but I do not think they are extensive enough. I would like to see the inauguration of an Australia-wide open university. I believe this would provide a great educational stimulus throughout the country and particularly for those people living in isolated areas and new communities.

I believe it is possible to cover or go a long way towards covering both these requirements - the needs of isolated children and the creation of a nation-wide open university - by Australia acquiring and utilising the facilities of its own communications satellite. I mentioned this matter earlier this year in an appropriation debate. The technology of a communications satellite is now sufficiently advanced, to the point where individual receivers are quite a feasible proposition. One of the chief arguments in the past against the utilisation of a communications satellite was that the ground receivers for television programmes beamed from such a satellite were so expensive as to make the whole thing unrealistic. On my recent trip to the United States of America I was taken to visit a factory which is responsible for the construction of communications satellites. It has built the Intelsat satellites and has just completed a domestic communications satellite for Canada which will be launched on 1st November this year.

There is a workable design for a communications satellite which has now reached the point where, for a cost of less than $1,500, a receiving antenna can be built and placed on the ground. Of course, this opens up all sorts of possibilities particularly in relation to isolated homesteads, isolated schools and isolated communities. I believe that one of the television bands could be utilised or incorporated in the relay system of the satellite to provide school broadcasts aimed particularly at children in isolated areas but aimed also at providing an open university available to everybody throughout Australia. This would go a long way towards creating a better overall national feeling of unity. It would provide high quality programmes, again to people throughout the country. In my view, it would do a great deal towards expanding the educational opportunities of a lot of children and a lot of adults who are at present virtually disenfranchised because of their geographic position.

I commend this suggestion to the Minister for Education and Science (Mr Malcolm Fraser). I believe that the Department of Education and Science should look very closely at contributing to the overall cost of the procurement and setting up of the necessary facilities to enable Australia not only to own but also to utilise effectively such a miracle of modern technology in a way which, I believe, would advantage a tremendous number of Australians.

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