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Tuesday, 1 November 1983
Page: 2089

Mr COLEMAN(2.38) —These are important reports and those of us in the House who are interested in these matters are glad that the Government has brought on this debate. It is probably the first debate on education that the Government has brought on in this Parliament. In view of the Government's terrible record in education it may seem at first sight to show some courage. But I am sure that the honourable member for Ryan (Mr Moore) is right when he draws attention to the fact that public attention today will not be focused very strongly on this Parliament and what happens in it. That must give us some clue to why the debate has been brought on today.

The record is one of disasters and broken promises. The honourable member for Macarthur (Mr Hollis), who has just resumed his seat, was indignant because the honourable member for Ryan drew attention to the fact that countrary to the commitment and undertaking of the Australian Labor Party, the gap between the tertiary education assistance scheme allowance and the unemployment benefit has widened. That is the fundamental and basic fact. It is one to which he and the Government generally should pay some attention because they placed great emphasis on narrowing, or rather on eliminating, this gap. The Government said that it would equate the TEAS allowance with the unemployment benefit and ultimately with the average weekly wage. It attached importance to that. I quote the Minister for Education and Youth Affairs (Senator Ryan) when in opposition. She said:

Whilever there is such a disparity between the level of payment available for unemployment benefit and the level of assistance for full time students, students from modest backgrounds will from time to time be forced out of universities and tertiary institutions and on to the dole. How the Government--

referring to the former Government-

can possible defend and maintain that system really defies rational understanding.

But, in fact, the situation has worsened under the Labor Government. The unemployment benefit has gone up but the TEAS benefit has gone up 5 per cent-in other words, in real terms it has not gone up because it went up at a rate much less than the inflation rate. That is of a piece with many other undertakings or promises in the student or university area. Honourable members should remember the 300 post-doctoral fellowships that were going to advance our national research effort. They should remember the emergency loans scheme which was to replace the former Government's loan scheme. They should remember the facilities that were to be provided for child care on campus to help student parents. All of those promises have not been heard of since, although they were, of course, taken seriously as undertakings. Is it any surprise that the student Press is so outspoken in its criticism of this Government? Tharunka, the University of New South Wales journal, had headlines such as 'Government Stabs Students in the Back' and 'Record of Deceit'. The student paper in Canberra--

Mr Baldwin —Strange to hear you citing them.

Mr COLEMAN —They are in this mood because of this long record of broken promises , promises which were taken seriously by students and others involved in the university or tertiary education area. This is a serious record of broken promises. Woroni has shown a cartoon of the Prime Minister (Mr Hawke) with the caption: 'He lies and he knows he lies'. We know the allusion in that cartoon. This is the sort of reaction the Government is getting throughout the student world. Of course, it is getting this reaction in the wider educational community . The honourable member for Ryan quoted the headline over Mr van Davy's article appearing in the Teachers' Journal and referring to the Government's promise when in opposition of an extra $37m in the first year of government for recurrent resources in government schools. The headline over Mr van Davy's article was '$37 million still owing!'

Worst of all, I believe, is the breaking of the promises to maintain existing funding for non-government schools. Of course, this is an extremely touchy area. Within a very short time of the Labor Party coming to government, 41 schools found that their funding was to be cut. The principle of a basic grant to every Australian school child, with variations and increases in the case of needy schools, has been broken. The percentage link between the per capita payment to a non-government school and the cost of training or schooling in a government school has also been cut and broken. These are radical changes which one can see only as the thin edge of the wedge. It is of a pattern with other moves. For example, we see in section 37 of one of these papers on participation and equity that no new schools are to be opened if there is the possibility that they would take students away from existing government schools in that area. The aim appears to be the dismantling of the independent school sector. Certainly that is what the Australian Teachers Federation and some parents and citizens federations have called for. They are not expressing popular opinion. According to the poll published in the Australian the other day over 70 per cent of parents whose children are at government schools support state aid to non- government schools. That has been accepted by the public for many years. It is one of the achievements of recent times. But now that is going. The Government, egged on by the Teachers Federation which makes no secret of its intention or hope of totally dismantling the non-government school sector seems to be moving in that direction. No wonder the Catholic Bishops of Victoria in October had a pastoral letter condemning the Government's education policies read in every church in Victoria. No wonder the Most Reverend John Kelly wrote to the Age discussing these cuts. I will quote his letter:

It has been announced that cuts will be made from the so called 'wealthy' independent schools. But note the cunning inbuilt contradiction, the money from these cuts will not be given to indigent government schools, rather it will go to 'poorer' independent schools, i.e. mainly Catholic schools. In the face of that blatant sectarian tactic I challenge any Catholic independent school to accept this Judas money.

That is what the Most Reverend John Kelly said. The Archbishop of Melbourne, Sir Frank Little, added this on the controversy:

We now have a better sectarianism running riot. It has been described to me as the worst in living memory.

To put it cynically, or ironically it is some achievement in such a short period of months to have disrupted a system that was working well, that had and still has public backing, for the sake of dogmas of one kind or another or to appease some of the teachers federations, and to undermine the established system of funding and move into a system which appears plainly to be one step towards dismantling all funding for non-government schools. I ask the honourable member for Macarthur and others who say they are concerned about these matters to look at this long list of broken promises, at the damage that is being done to the education fabric in Australia, and to put some pressure on the Government and the Minister for Education and Youth Affairs (Senator Ryan) to reverse these policies before it is too late.

I turn to the Commonwealth Schools Commission report for 1984. In Appendix B, the summary of the Commission's recommendations for 1984 and the Government's responses, I notice that, of the 55 recommendations, nine are rejected. Those rejected include recommendations that the total amount for general recurrent grants to government schools in 1984 be increased by 2 per cent in real terms; that the enrolment basis for the allocation of funds in the government schools general recurrent grants program in 1984 be the 1984 school census; in relation to non-government schools, that general recurrent grants be provided on the same general basis as in 1983; that capital grants for non-government schools be increased in real terms by 5 per cent; that funds for severely handicapped children's programs be increased by 25 per cent in real terms; that the general support element of the English as a second language program be increased by 2 per cent in real terms in 1984, to be used specifically to enable Aboriginal children to participate; that the ethnic schools program be known as the community languages teaching program; that the professional development program be provided with the same level of funds in real terms in 1984; and that the country area program be provided with a funding increase of 18 per cent in real terms. Those recommendations have all been rejected.

Of the other recommendations, 12 have had no response at all. They have not been rejected; there has been no response. They include a range of important recommendations, including one that provisions for teacher housing in rural areas within the capital grants program be the same for government and non- government school sectors. That important recommendation has received no response. Regarding the multicultural education program, the recommendation that the basis for the distribution of funds among the States be the same as for 1983 has received no response. I could go on with a whole range of important recommendations to which there has been either no response or a rejection. I hope that attention is concentrated on those decisions by the Government. However, I draw attention in particular to what the Commission said in relation to the important computer education program. It stated:

The Commission welcomes the introduction of the computer education program for secondary schools and the decision to fund it on a triennial basis.

It went on:

The amount provided is less than that recommended by the Commission.

It wishes to emphasise that the extension of the program 'will require additional funds beyond those currently projected for the triennium'. Even here it is worth nothing that, of the funding of $6m, it has to be said that a disproportionate amount-not a vastly disproportionate amount, but nevertheless a disproportionate amount-is going to the government schools as opposed to the non -government schools.

In the last couple of minutes I would like to concentrate on what has happened to the professional development program. The Commission states that it 'regrets the significant reduction which has occurred in the general allocation for the professional development program'. This has been a very significant program, the major aim of which is to improve the quality of schooling by enhancing the professional competence of staff and the capacity of parents to contribute as a sort of school community to the education of their children. It is frequently argued when people are concerned with the quality of education and Commonwealth policies that this is to a very great extent outside the control of the Commonwealth and that it comes within the State education departments. When one refers with dismay and concern to the way parents vote with their feet and drift away from the state schools to non-state schools and when one asks 'Is there nothing that the Commonwealth can do to improve the standards in schools, is there nothing that the Commonwealth Government can do other than spending more and more money on the schools and having no effect on the standards in the schools or certainly no effect of a kind that stops parents voting with their feet against those schools', one is told: 'No. Not the Commonwealth. It will have to be for the States'. Yet one of the good programs that the Schools Commission has been administering which is directed to precisely this area of improving the standards in the schools and certainly in the state schools, which would have some influence in stopping the drift away from the state schools is the professional development program, which has suffered, in the words of the report, 'a significant reduction'.

When the Minister for Education and Youth Affairs says that she is particularly concerned to raise the standard of state schools before we say 'Hear, hear!'-as most of us would if we took the words seriously-we have to look at the fact that one of the programs which we are doing something about raising the standards of and restoring the reputation of state schools has suffered a significant reduction. I think that tells us what this Government is really about.