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Thursday, 22 May 1980
Page: 3065

Dr CASS (Maribymong) -Overall, the statement that has been made by the Minister for Education (Mr Fife) on behalf of the Government demonstrates once again the Government's lack of real concern for education; its policy of downgrading education instead of using it as an instrument for the betterment of the Australian population and society generally. I believe the statement is designed to give effect to the Government's policy of elitism without stirring up more opposition than is necessary. It is a sort of lick and a promise of paint on the surface. Even before these proposals have been implemented it will begin to peel and to expose the genuinely run down nature of the education system in many areas.

In regard to the tertiary area, I have not been able to find any obvious initiatives which one might have expected to arise from the Williams report. As honourable members will recall, that Committee was set up in 1976 and its report was received in 1978 with enormous fanfare. One would have thought that if any of the proposals or ideas that arose from that report had been accepted or implemented, the Government would have trumpeted that fact, but there has been a deathly silence in that regard. The report seems destined for a quiet burial and to rank with the Vernon report of 1965 as one of the great dustgatherers of our time. Apropos of making comments on reports, I ask the Minister whether the Government intends to act on the recommendations of the Committee of Inquiry into Nurse Education and Training? Is the Minister aware that if a decision on those recommendations is not made within the next month the Tertiary Education Commission will find it difficult, probably impossible, to make any grants for the next triennium based thereon. One hopes that the Minister will make a statement on the matter before that period expires. If not, the TEC probably will not be able to do anything about the report.

Again, no mention has been made of the place of the proposed Defence Force Academy in all of this. Presumably it will cease to be a defence item in the same way as the Australian Maritime College is no longer considered a transport item. In fact, in his statement the Minister mentions the Australian Maritime College but not the Defence Force Academy, which presumably will be a college of the University of New South Wales. What is to be the source of its funding over the triennium?

The Tertiary Education Commission has complained over a period of the squeeze on research funds. It looks as if that is to continue. So much for the Government's concern for science and technology, for medical research measures that might help to contain the rapidly increasing cost of health care in this country. The Minister's statement mentions neither area. One feels some doubt and anxiety about the proposal to spend $400,000 on 'evaluative studies'. After all, did not the Williams inquiry make an evaluation of what was going on? Does not the TEC regularly evaluate what is going on? Are we to have still one more policeman approach to the whole education area? Will these funds be used to supervise the TEC studies or to conduct evaluative studies separate from those that are conducted by the Commission? One can suggest only that this proposal will raise the level of paranoia amongst academics, which is already pretty high as a result of this Government's policies.

The guidelines ought to explain in more detail the Government's attitude in all of these areas. The Australian Labor Party, when in government, will certainly increase specific funding for research in universities. I do not think that any longer it can be just buried in general funding. We must make a particular effort in that area if this country is to maintain its position in a society that is rapidly becoming increasingly complex and in which the way out will be more and more technological innovation which, in turn, must spring from research and development in universities.

The Government makes much of technical and further education, but in real terms grants nowhere enough funding for that purpose. We all know that for many years that particular sector has been rundown. Despite the effort that was initiated by the Labor Government, the backlog has still not been overcome. There is need for enormous funding for the replacement of quite hopeless buildings and facilities, yet in real terms capital grants have been frozen.

Turning to the schools themselves, I say that once again the Government is hiding the real needs in the oversimplified statement that there is a decline in enrolments, that growth is levelling off. But the Schools Commission has pointed out that there is an enormous deficit in meeting capital needs. That deficit is becoming not less but greater. The requirement is not to freeze funding but to increase it. This arises for a variety of reasons. Let me provide an example. The population is moving around. In some areas it is ageing and in others it is becoming younger. I refer to growth areas such as Gosford- Wyong in New South Wales and the Gold Coast of Queensland. These areas cannot provide for the needs of children without an enormous increase in capital expenditure. More schools are needed. One cannot simply shift kids to where the schools are. New schools must be built, yet in this constrained atmosphere there is to be totally inadequate funding for such purposes. I shall refer later, in speaking of the general education area, to other reasons why funding should be increased.

Let me just touch on the problem of the disadvantaged schools program, which has been stationary. In his statement, the Minister said:

The allocations for disadvantaged schools and special education will be at the same real levels as in 1980.

There has been no movement in that area for four years now, but the Schools Commission repeatedly has pointed to the need for increased effort. In the country areas program we have the same sort of problem. Those schools are, in essence, disadvantaged in exactly the same way. We need to increase the effort, not just maintain it. Let me elaborate that point by quoting from a document entitled 'Education and the Country Dweller', one of the Needs in Education series produced by Senator Button, the Labor Party's spokesman on education. It reads:

It is essential to the quality of Australian life- for economic, social, and national reasons- that we have strong, vigorous country communities. Governments must encourage families to remain with and, indeed, move to provincial, rural and outback communities. A minimum condition, if this aim is to be achieved, must be to ensure that country communities have access to services in areas of health, communication, transport, community and welfare services and education equal to that available to the city dweller.

.   . The Schools Commission Report for the 1976-78 Triennium published in June 1 975 specifically examined the special needs of country children.

The document stated further:

.   . where possible, educational opportunities should be brought to students, rather than that children and parents should be subsidised to live away from home.

If we move them from the country to the city, the chances are that they will not ever want to go back. Of course, many of them cannot afford to take advantage of the opportunity to move to the city. In 1976 the Senate Standing Committee on Education and the Arts published its report on its inquiry into the education of isolated children. It stated that better co-ordination between Federal and State governments in the education of isolated children is necessary particularly in the areas of transport facilities and so on. It made a very strong argument for increased support in this area by the Government. It has all been ignored in this statement. In fact, the shortfall between Government spending and the Commission's recommendations will be of the order of $8m by the end of 1981.

Let us revert to the link between subsidies to non-government schools and the costs of maintaining government schools. We are to have what seems to me to be the annual argument on this very vexed question. The Minister made the following comment in his speech:

Honourable members will recall that nongovernment schools in level 6 continue to operate with resources some 30 percent below the average resources of government schools.

That is precisely the case. Of course that need was ignored by the Liberal Government for many years. In the period leading up to the time when the Labor Party came to power, funds were made available for non-government schools but the bulk of those funds- to hazard a guess, more than 90 per cent- went to the rich schools and not to the poor schools. It was only the advent of the Labor Government and the establishment of the inquiry into education needs and the subsequent Karmel report, which proposed the distribution of funds on a needs basis, which led to a significant increase in funding for these sorts of schools. The need is still there- the Government admits it- yet there is to be no substantial increase in the funding for these schools. There is to be some increase- I must acknowledge that the Government has granted a minor increase- for level 6 schools -

Mr Fife - Significant.

Dr CASS - Well, it is not significant in terms of need. Of course, the Government continues to increase funding for the richer schools. The whole position remains lopsided. The fact is, sadly, that this Government will maintain the elitist nature of the better schools not only in the government sector but also in the non-government sector particularly. That will be done largely at the expense of the disadvantaged schools in the State sector and the non-government sector. That situation can be but deplored. The Government has gone quiet on its professed aim of ensuring that all non-government schools receive at least 20 per cent of the sort of support that has been given to government schools. One can understand that because we are in difficult times, but one would have thought that the Government would have made a little more effort in the area of disadvantaged schools, particularly in the nongovernment sector in view of the Government's admission of the deficiencies in that area.

One can approach the problems of disadvantaged schools and disadvantaged pupils in a more general sense from the point of view that all the children in the disadvantaged areas such as the western regions of the major cities of Sydney and Melbourne- no doubt there are other such areas but I do not want to list them all- have in addition to the problems I have mentioned the added problem of the ethnic mix. There is a high proportion of children from nonEnglish speaking backgrounds in schools in those areas. It adds to the problems of the already disadvantaged schools. There is little or no real effort to cope with this problem. I agree that some funding is given for multicultural education but it will be nowhere near enough. What is needed is, in large measure, more teachers. To overcome the problems of those children there needs to be more face to face contact between teachers and pupils. We now have the problem, seemingly, of an excess of teachers. Teachers are unable to get jobs. In real terms, particularly in disadvantaged schools, there is a severe shortage of teachers but because of the funding limitations the State systems are unable to employ more teachers. Nothing which is contained in the proposals put up by the Government at this stage will alleviate that problem. In fact, it will only get worse.

One would think that nothing was happening in society generally throughout the world. I was going to say in Western society, but it applies to all parts of the world, including the Eastern countries. No notice is being taken of the significant change in direction which education must take if we are to cater for the increasing technological nature of this society. The Government has virtually ignored the fact that in many cases completely new facilities will need to be provided. For instance, with the funding that is to be provided, I wonder how many poor schools will be able to buy computers in order to start the job of educating children for the computeroriented society. We know that some of the better off schools, the rich schools, have them because they have been able to afford them. No mention is made of that matter in the Minister's statement. The children in the State school system and the children in the poorer section of the private school system will be kept back. They will not be exposed to these new directions in education of which we must inevitably take note if our children are to be able successfully to bridge the gap between school and work.

Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER (Dr Jenkins)Order!The honourable member's time has expired.

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