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Wednesday, 27 September 1972
Page: 2015


Mr Malcolm Fraser (WANNON, VICTORIA) - I think it is appropriate for me to intervene briefly at this stage to reply to a number of matters which have been mentioned by honourable members. I thank them for their concern. The problems of isolated children have been mentioned. I well know that for a significant number of people, individuals and students at primary or secondary school level, this is a real problem. However, this is one of the matters to which the States hitherto have given a certain amount of attention. Because State activities have not been adequate for the changing requirements of isolated children requests have been made to the Commonwealth. I remain in close communication with the organisations fighting in the interests of isolated children. At the moment the Commonwealth is in the position at the time of the Budget where, because of much greater financial resources available to the States as a result of recent Premiers' Conferences and Loan Council meetings, it believes that the States themselves ought to be able to make greater provision for isolated children.

I have no doubt that the people in favour of Commonwealth involvement in this area will be making further approaches to the Commonwealth but I merely point out that in this area the States have traditionally shown some interest. One State Minister of Education - if my memory is correct he is from the west - indicated that this field ought to become more completely a Commonwealth responsibility. I hope that I am not taking his name in vain. 1 do not think I am. I point out that he has some continuing responsibilities of his own in this particular area.

The honourable member for Fremantle (Mr Beazley) referred to the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation and the development of a science policy. He and all honourable members will know the decisions made and announced by the Government. They will know also the composition of the new Australian Committee on Science and Technology, its wide terms of reference, its ability to initiate studies and to make its own recommendations, and the ability requirement under the terms of reference to have annual reports, and in addition, its being available to pursue matters on its own initiative and matters which the Government might wish to refer to it. In retrospect it is possible to say that greater funds should have been devoted to one area or another of scientific research but basically Australia has performed reasonably well. One of the reasons why Australia has performed reasonably well is that it has had a body such as CSIRO to conduct a very significant level of research which has brought people together through its advisory committees. lt has brought on to the Executive of CSIRO people who have had a wide expertise and capacity to make judgments over on extraordinarily broad field. While the organisation's own charter is quite specific, through its contacts with industry and science and through wisdom and commonsense over a successive period of years, successive Australian governments have had available to them from the organisation the kind of advice that may well not have been available to other countries which entered the field of trying to establish formal science advisory machinery earlier than we did. I do not believe that the countries which entered the field before us can claim that they have used their resources better or with greater effect. In some countries it would be possible to point to the wastage of significant funds on telescopes begun and not completed, sophisticated fighter aircraft projects begun but abandoned and other matters of this kind. Australia has avoided these errors.


Mr Hayden - Are you talking about the Fill?


Mr Malcolm Fraser (WANNON, VICTORIA) - Had honourable members listened more carefully and understood me they would know quite well that I was talking about basic research into developing for a particular country its own supersonic fighter. A small overseas country entered this field, spent very large sums of money on the project and then abandoned it, recognising belatedly that it was not the kind of project that a country with its resources in a modern environment should really have entered. I gave that as an example of entering a field of scientific research which, with the wisdom of hindsight, would have been avoided. It is not related to other aspects that are not the subject of the estimates we are de-bating.

Honourable members on this side of the chamber have recognised other matters that honourable members opposite will be unwilling to recognise over the next two or three months, but thereafter on that side of the chamber there might be recognition.

I have in mind the new programmes, new developments in education and the expansion of old programmes which have taken place over the last 12 months or so. The honourable member for Barton (Mr Reynolds) referred to problems of teacher training and said that significant sums of the unmatched capital grants programme remained to be spent in this year. The States received notice of the programme. The planning and works procedures within the States have led to an excessive part of the total programme being undertaken in its last year. The present advice available to me from the States is that they will be able to spend the funds before the end of this financial year. I certainly hope that that is right. I regret that the programmes have not been pursued more quickly and that the funds when originally available were not spent. Had the colleges designed by the States been opening their doors earlier more teachers would have been coming into the stream in Australian schools quicker than has otherwise been the case.


Mr Reynolds - Are funds available for existing old colleges?


Mr Malcolm Fraser (WANNON, VICTORIA) - They would have been, but under this programme the projects supported are those to which the States have given their highest priority. This programme is now superseded by reports which this Parliament will receive before the end of March next year when the Australian Commission on Advanced Education will make its report to pick up the remaining aspects of teacher training on a triennial basis and to phase in additional recommendations in that area with the current triennium for colleges of advanced education. As I have said, this report will be available by the end of March.

A special sub-committee of the Australian Commission on Advanced Education has been appointed, dragging into the Committee additional expertise and knowledge in the field of teacher training. The subcommittee and the Commission itself will be examining the requirements of individual colleges and the views of State governments or education authorities. The one real condition that the Commonwealth wants to attach to this is that teachers colleges must be moving toward autonomy. We believe that the teaching profession demands the status and dignity of other areas of tertiary education and that the teachers colleges must be moving to a position of autonomy. In fact, the States have ali made decisions in this area.

I think that this is a notable advance in teacher training. It embraces not only the official State teachers colleges but also preschool teacher training colleges. This will give an opportunity, perhaps for the first time, to get the resources into an expansion of pre-school teacher training facilities that, over a period of years, could well go far beyond the unmatched capital grants programme of S2.5m which is still not completed because of difficulties over land and land purchase in one or two States. This is a significant advance which honourable members might recognise.

A significant point which needs to be noted is that the Commission on Advanced Education has been asked to look specifically and directly in the course of its examination of teacher training facilities at the facilities available for remedial teachers - teachers of the handicapped and of children with special learning difficulties - which are required for particular purposes where there are certain difficulties that need to be overcome.


Mr Reynolds - There would also be technical problems involved.


Mr Malcolm Fraser (WANNON, VICTORIA) - This would be part of it. But I was thinking here particularly of children who suffer some kind of disadvantage or handicap. I think that this has a special significance in the light of the views that have been put and the credibility which needs to be given to the case of those who are working to overcome the problems of children with special learning difficulties.

But this is only one of the areas of education. A number of areas arc involved and the Australian Commission on Advanced Education will be examining in a fairly short time scale a number of very wide issues concerning teacher training and will be reporting to the Commonwealth before 30th March 1973. This is an important new development. We will be debating at a later stage other areas relevant to this matter so 1 will not mention them now, even though some aspects are contained in the Estimates for this year. I instance the programmes to extend the rate of construction of both government and independent schools.

I should like to mention 2 other areas where programmes have been expanded and where I hope, with experience, modifications will be able to achieve improvements. In fact, I am sure that through experience, modification, changes and new development we will achieve improvements. One of these areas is that of Aboriginal education where the study grants scheme for post school training offers a variety of courses in a number of institutions. Another area is the child migrant education programme. I can well understand people saying that this sort of programme should have been commenced years ago. The fact is that it has now commenced. We will learn from the development of the scheme in its early stages and, as a result, the scheme will be improved. I think that an honourable member mentioned figures during the debate which indicated that the programme is continually expanding. It now employs over 800 teachers and more than 30,000 children are benefiting under the programme. These are important matters which strike at areas of inequality. They are an example of the kind of policy which this Government, at any rate, would want to pursue.

The scholarships programme has come in for some criticism. It is worth noting that no sooner are changes made in the types and nature of scholarships than the new proposals attract an equivalent kind of criticism. It needs to be noted that this reveals a basic objection to the principle of scholarships. What the opponents of the scholarship proposals are really advocating is a system of payments based not on academic ability of any kind but on different criteria.


Mr Kennedy - Quite right.


Mr Malcolm Fraser (WANNON, VICTORIA) - I notice that the honourable member for Bendigo says: 'Quite right'. If a country is to advance and if people are to advance at different levels academic performance needs to be recognised.


Mr Kennedy - That is mediaeval.


Mr Malcolm Fraser (WANNON, VICTORIA) - I can repeat only that it is important to recognise academic merit. While all children need to be encouraged and are encouraged, it is important under particular proposals of assistance provided by scholarships to take into account 2 things. One is the academic ability of the student in question, and the other is the particular means or circumstances of that student or of that parent. This has long been the case in the tertiary area, and the changes made in the scholarships programme in that area are more far reaching than any that have been made since the scheme was introduced in 1951. I refer to changes in the means test, the increases in the allowances and, in addition, the increase in the number of scholarships that are available.

At the secondary level the principles that have been established for so long in the tertiary area have been applied to a modified and completely changed and restructured secondary scholarship scheme. Honourable members know that the number of scholarship holders has increased from 10,000 to 25,000. The great change here is that the greater part of the assistance will go tolow income families and the, smaller part will be a reward for academic ability.


Mr Reynolds - If they win a scholarship in the first place.


Mr Malcolm Fraser (WANNON, VICTORIA) - The honourable member for Barton might be very surprised to find how many of those who win such scholarships do, in fact, qualify under a means test. In the university scholarships scheme, where under the old arrangements, over 40 per cent qualified under the means test, under the new means test arrangements, because of the changes which have been made, a significantly greater proportion of scholarship winners will qualify for means tested assistance.

Actual payments at the secondary level are smaller than at the tertiary level and that, therefore, will have impact, but apart from that, the means test at the secondary level will be operating on the same basis as it operates at the tertiary level. I will be surprised if a significant number of students do not qualify for means tested support. This is a significant advance and one which will assist a large number of low income families, and all the talk from members of the Opposition cannot hide that fact.







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