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Tuesday, 4 October 1983
Page: 1300

Mr FREE(9.43) —This evening I address some comments to the estimates for the Department of Education and Youth Affairs. The details of the Government 's decisions in this area were announced by the Minister for Education and Youth Affairs (Senator Ryan) in her guidelines statement on 28 July and they have been given effect to in this Budget. These decisions reflect the very high priority which this Government gives to education. Despite the backlog of failure of the former Administration, despite the difficult financial situation inherited by this Government, funds have been allocated to make a real start in raising standards and to introduce greater equity into our education system. In 1983-84 direct spending on education will rise by 11 per cent to $4.2 billion. Most of this amount, about $3 1/2 billion, will be spent on programs administered by the Commonwealth Schools Commission and the Commonwealth Tertiary Education Commission.

A major initiative of the Government among these programs is the provision of over $70m to raise the appallingly low rate of participation of young people in post-compulsory education. The participation and equity program aims to lift secondary retention rates from the present 35 per cent to a point where, by the end of the decade, most young people will have completed a meaningful, useful and fulfilling secondary education. Clearly the program will require broader curricula and new offerings in schools. In many places it will probably require new patterns of organisation. In this respect this evening I particularly commend the New South Wales Minister for Education, the Hon. Ron Mulock, for his recent announcement that a pilot senior high school will be established in western Sydney. The need for action on participation is greatest in that area because that is where many of the local schools have very low retention rates. His action in applying resources to the area of greatest need is entirely in harmony with the philosophy of this Government.

Apart from the participation and equity program, other government decisions will provide a new computer education program for secondary schools-that program will cost $18m over three years-will provide for a significant increase in capital funds for government schools and, most importantly, will provide the opportunity for planning on the basis of predictable and stable funding. That opportunity for planning will be provided through three specific measures contained in the guidelines. First of all, the retrospective cost supplementation arrangements that were abolished by the former Government in 1981 will be restored. Secondly, new programs will be funded on a fixed triennial basis. Thirdly, the States will be able to commit in advance up to 70 per cent of capital funds allocated by the Commonwealth in 1984. These three measures together will significantly aid forward planning and allow schools and systems to make plans with some firm basis of fixed funding for the future.

In addition, funding for tertiary institutions and tertiary programs has also been increased by 1.5 per cent in real terms. The Government aims next year to increase participation in the tertiary sector by providing an additional $10m for 3,000 extra student places in universities and colleges of advanced education. The Government has asked the Tertiary Education Commission, in recommending on the allocation of these places, to pay particular attention to disadvantaged groups in society, especially those in outer metropolitan areas which have for far too long had relatively little access to higher education. An additional $13m has been provided for the technical and further education sector . Apart from involving TAFE in the participation and equity program, these additional funds will allow at least a start on the capital works backlog in the TAFE sector.

It is a pity that the Opposition, in responding to these far-reaching decisions which are clearly addressing the areas of great need in education, has chosen to focus, mostly in a dishonest fashion, on one aspect of the Government's decisions in education. The honourable member for Ryan (Mr Moore) this evening was no exception. That aspect, of course, is the decision to re-allocate some resources within the non-government sector. Let me this evening very briefly set the record straight. The decision requires a mild re-allocation from the resource rich schools to the resource poor, from a small number of schools, whose private income alone allows them to operate at 95 per cent of standard costs, to the great mass of under-resourced non-government schools. It is not, as has been claimed by the Opposition, a total reduction in funding. Those 41 schools will still receive next year $254 for each primary student and $402 for each secondary student. In other words, those 41 schools which have been the subject of so much misrepresentation by the Opposition will still receive next year a total of $13m from the Commonwealh alone-not counting anything they will be receiving from the States. The decision is not, as the Opposition has claimed , the thin end of the wedge or, as the honourable member for Ryan said this evening, a breaking of the ice.

In fact the real level of general recurrent funds going to non-government schools will increase as a whole next year. What will change is the pattern of distribution of those funds with real increases of one per cent to schools in group 2 and 3 per cent to schools in group 3, that is, the largest group containing the neediest schools. Given the Government's firm commitment to direct assistance to those in greatest need, and given that additional resources are scarce, this funding decision, this decision to have a mild re-allocation of resources from those who can well do without to those in great need, is entirely defensible, entirely rational and entirely just.

I listened with interest to the comments of the honourable member for Ryan on the areas of need in student assistance and the need for a special program in primary schools. It is certainly true that these were promised by the Australian Labor Party in the campaign leading up to the election on 5 March. The point I want to make this evening is that these decisions in 1983 obviously do not contain all that the Government would like to do in education. We intend to be occupying these benches for many years to come and we will be introducing those programs that we promised. We will be implementing in the years to come those parts of our policy that have not been implemented in this Budget. We will have many years in which to introduce them and in which to introduce new policies. In that sense, increasingly 1984 will come to be seen as a year of transition-a year of transition between the policies of the old Government and the policies of the new, a year of transition between the failures of the past and the promise and achievement of the future. A number of those policies are still being developed and it is for that reason that the Commonwealth Schools Commission has been asked to delay its next triennial report until 1985. I look forward to that report and to the progressive recommendations and implementations of Labor policy that I am confident it will contain.