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Wednesday, 4 November 1970

Senator WHEELDON (Western Australia) - This Bill deals with grants that are being made by the Commonwealth to various institutions of tertiary education in Australia. The Opposition does not intend to oppose it. Clearly, it would be foolish for us to oppose a Bill that provides for additional grants to be made to the impoverished tertiary education institutions of Australia. However, the Australian Labor Party is of the opinion that introducing this piecemeal legislation, which periodically comes before the Parliament to provide a grant to one institution or a grant to another institution, is not the proper way of dealing with the problems of Australian education, whether it be tertiary education or primary, secondary or pre-school education. For that reason the Opposition last night in the debate on the estimates presented certain propositions to the Parliament. lt is our opinion - an opinion reinforced by the fact that the standards of education at all levels in Australia are at present in a most deplorable situation - that countries which only 2 or 3 decades ago were well behind Australia as far as the level of education is concerned are now well in advance of Australia. I refer to countries like Yugoslavia, for example, which some 20 or 30 years ago would have been a long way behind Australia not only in the number of university students and graduates but in the number of primary and secondary school students. Even on the question of literacy it was well behind Australia. Now it is so far ahead of Australia in this field of education that this is one of the major obstacles to us getting migrants from there to come to Australia. The parents of children who may be attending school at some time in the future are reluctant to leave their home country, even though economically it may be much poorer than Australia because they are aware of the hardships they will have to endure if they are to give their children the sort of education which is available to them in their homeland. We find now that countries such as Albania, which until some 20 years ago did not have a university, now has a higher percentage of university students in its population than there is in Australia. lt would be impossible almost to talk about a brain drain from Australia because there is practically nobody to drain. We are so far behind foreign countries in the number of people graduating, not only in the humanities but in the various applied sciences, that we are finding it necessary in many fields, including the academic staffs in our universities, to import instructors from overseas universities.

The Opposition has made its position clear on the matter of education. The Leader of the Parliamentary Labor Party, Mr Whitlam, is making our policy perfectly clear in the current Senate election campaign. There is no doubt in our minds that the people of Australia will be endorsing the policy put forward by him. One of the reasons for their acceptance is their growing awareness of the inadequacies of the Australian education system. At the present time it is so inadequate that shortly 19,000 school teachers in New South Wales will go on strike, lt is a system which in no sense can be regarded as being adequate for the Australian people. We are losing teachers to Canada and we are not attracting people to enter the teaching profession. Our percentages of university trainees and university graduates are well behind those of other countries.

There is one particular matter within the Bill to which I wish to make specific reference. It is the proposal contained in the fourth part of the Bill relating to a grant by the Commonwealth of $200,000 to the Western Australian School of Mines at Kalgoorlie to assist in the establishment of a residential college at that School. The Opposition welcomes the fact that this grant is being made. It has long been a problem for students of mining at the Kalgoorlie School of Mines to find satisfactory accommodation. This grant certainly will be of some assistance to them to enable them to pursue their studies at the School. The School has a very high reputation among those concerned with mining. This institution has done a great deal for Western Australia.

While speaking on this subject I want to make a suggestion. My suggestion does not reflect a policy decision of the Australian Labor Party but 1 put it to the Minister for Works (Senator Wright), who represents the Minister for Education (Mr N. H. Bowen), as a subject for consideration. My suggestion is that in due course the Kalgoorlie School of Mines should be adapted in such a way as to lead it to becoming a university college, if not a university in its own right. Despite the present fluctuating fortunes of the gold mining industry it does seem that in the long run Kalgoorlie will have a reasonable bright future as the centre of other mining industries, such as nickel mining. Presumably there will be quite a substantial population living in the eastern gold fields area of Western Australia in and around Kalgoorlie. It is the largest centre of population outside the metropolitan area of Perth and Fremantle. In my view it could well warrant the establishment of a university college. There would no doubt be a great deal of benefit for the education of people engaged in mining in Western Australia if the Kalgoorlie School of Mines were able to award university degrees.

There are other quite noted universities which have developed out of schools of mines. For instance, in the United States of America the Colorado School of Mines which began purely as a school of mines is a university which teaches a vast variety of subjects other than those strictly related to mining. The University of Witwatersrand in Johannesburg was at one stage the Johannesburg School of Mines. It has developed into the largest English language university in the Republic of South Africa. On the basis of the existing Kalgoorlie School of Mines it seems to me - this certainly is the view of a great many Western Australians - that consideration should be given to developing it into a university college or into a separate university with other faculties available so that the people living in the gold fields and in areas closer to them than they are to Perth would be able to receive the benefits of a better tertiary education than is presently available to them. The Opposition does not oppose this Bill.

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