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Wednesday, 2 November 1983
Page: 2242

Mr FISHER(6.55) —In the few remarks I will be making this evening about this large number of education reports and responses under discussion, I wish to make it quite clear that the Opposition's policies of these issues relate very much to the freedom we all value to choose the type of education we want for our children and to the support of that freedom of choice by government action. I make it quite clear that I am not judging the present Labor Government on its response to the totality of recommendations in these reports under discussion. No government can be expected to meet all the demands in any area of government responsibility. But I wish to bring to the attention of the House the absolute deception in the Labor Government's record of broken promises and dishonoured assurances on education. In the education porfolio at least 15 promises and assurances given during the election campaign have been broken. It is no wonder that both non-government and government authorities throughout Australia are at present reacting quite violently to the actions of the Labor Government, in particular the actions of the Minister for Education and Youth Affairs (Senator Ryan), and of education Ministers and governments in New South Wales and Victoria. I have here a Press cutting from a paper in my electorate, the Swan Hill Guardian of 24 October. I would like to quote the words of the local branch president of the Technical Teachers Union of Victoria. The report states:

. . . Mr Ron Stanton said on Friday afternoon about 60 teachers at Swan Hill Technical School would stop work tomorrow.

He said Swan Hill teachers were most concerned with the educational and economic repercussions for this area.

'Not only has the Pioneer Settlement lost one of its education officers, but the slashing of $10m in the emergency teacher fund will practically wipe out school excursions to such places' . . .

He said this would certainly have a serious effect on the economic viability of the Swan Hill tourist industry.

Mr Stanton was also critical of emergency teaching proposals.

'Schools are not only limited to one emergency day per staff member, they will also not be able to use any emergencies until they have taken all steps to cover the classes themselves . . .

Mr Stanton concluded by saying:

This is educationally disastrous and totally unworkable.

Mr Deputy Speaker, when you understand that Mr Ron Stanton was a Labor Party candidate in the last State election I am sure you can only agree with what he is saying about your Government and the Government in Victoria. I am also sure that it is not a coincidence that at the time debate is taking place on two of the most significant Bills in the portfolio of the Minister for Education and Youth Affairs-the States Grants (Schools Assistance) Bill and the Sex Discrimination Bill-the Minister has chosen not to be in Australia. She will probably be overseas while the major part of these important pieces of legislation is being discussed.

It is now clear that the Labor Party has absolutely no intention of honouring its pre-election undertakings. Therefore, I think some of them are worth recalling, even if only to demonstrate the cynical and expedient exercise the Hawke socialist Government entered into in the election campaign. Just six months ago, for instance, the Labor Party's policy on non-government schools stated:

Funding at present levels will be maintained during the period of time required to allow the Schools Commission to determine the community attitude and to allow schools, in the light of that determination, to make that decision.

It also promised:

Adjustment assistance will be provided for at least two years to ensure that no disruption occurs to the learning program and that the rights of employees are protected.

I believe today we could well ask the 41 schools which have been severely affected by the Labor Party's policy just what has happened to those promises. We should ask ourselves what the future is for any non-government school when the Minister states:

We intend to provide a capacity sufficient to enable the individual to resist manipulation by massive institutions of capitalism and to make autonomous decisions.

Her intent is obvious; it is to destroy the dual system of education in this country. I assure the House that tonight I am not referring just to funding for non-government schools. In the Schools Commission report for 1984 we find that the Schools Commission itself is extremely critical of Government funding decisions, particularly in respect of government schools. The Commission states that the provision made by the Government falls far short of funds sought by the Commission in its earlier report with recommendations for 1984. It also argued strongly in that report for an increase of 2 per cent in the level of general recurrent grants for government schools in order to assist systems to maintain existing operating standards. In that report the Commission indicated that it believed that the circumstances on which its recommendations were based were valid and that unless an adequate general resource base existed for all schools the effectiveness of the special purpose initiatives of the Commonwealth would be jeopardised.

The honourable member for Diamond Valley (Mr Staples) suggested that we were against a needs based policy. We certainly are not against a needs based policy. In fact, my Party supported the development of the Schools Commission and agreed entirely that education policies, as with all other policies, should be needs based. What we believe is that all students have needs. We believe that each student has a right to a share in the education facilities and to have freedom of choice in the school they attend. In the report that I have been referring to the Commission went on to say that it regretted also the significant reduction which has occurred in the general allocation for the professional development program. While the Commission supported the decision to focus this program on specific Commonwealth objectives and priorities in education and the foreshadowing of a comprehensive view of Commonwealth-State responsibilities in this area, it also believed very strongly that reductions of the order determined in the Government's guidelines have dislocative effects on existing in-service education programs.

I believe the Australian Teachers Federation should direct its next donation of $750,000 not to the Australian Labor Party for election campaigns but to its own organisation so that it can examine why parents in droves are choosing non- government schools, often schools that have lower resources and poorer facilities than government schools have, but schools that have different values, a different ethos and different attitudes towards discipline. I believe that the Teachers Federation could well give support to the vast majority of teachers and principals in good government schools who are responsible, talented and dedicated and who are being unnecessarily maligned by a few people in their union.

I wish now to turn to one or two specific areas in the education funding program that are clearly of disadvantage to people and students in country areas . I refer to the country areas program. The Government has provided $9.34m for 1984 right across Australia. This is the same level of funding in real terms as that provided in 1983. I applaud that. I am concerned that the Commission, in bringing forward a phasing-in of a changed funding index with a distant loading factor-about which I have no complaint-has not provided adequate funds to ensure that those States which will be disadvantaged under this new formula are compensated at least to the level of their existing programs. I am extremely disappointed to see that Victoria, which has a very successful country areas program, will see a major reduction in its annual grant in 1984 terms.

The previous Government set up the country education program in 1977 to look at new ways of delivering education experiences to isolated rural schools and communities. The major aims of the program were to develop a clearer definition of the nature of rural disadvantage and rural education. This program was set up to involve local schools and communities in assessing their educational needs, determining their priorities and particularly in developing and implementing programs based on those needs and priorities. It was also set up to encourage the process of co-operation and sharing between all schools and communities in designated rural areas-this has been a major success of the program-as well as looking for new ways of bringing these education experiences to isolated rural schools and communities. It is, therefore, a great disappointment to me to find that funding to Victoria-a State in which tremendous success and advantage have been gained through this program-has been reduced in a year when overall funding across the board for education at both State and Federal level has suffered major cutbacks.

The other issue I wish to raise in the education debate is the widespread concern that now exists for country people throughout Australia, particularly in Victoria, who have students wishing to further their tertiary education in the metropolitan area. The honourable member for Canning (Ms Fatin) spoke of the study on living away from home facilities for isolated children. Obviously she agrees with it. But I wonder why she did not acknowledge the fact that the Government in Victoria, in combination with the Federal Government, has now taken action to ensure that country students seeking to obtain accommodation in metropolitan areas will be further disadvantaged. I raise this concern because of two recent actions: The first by the Victorian Government through its Minister of Education and the second by the Federal Minister for Education and Youth Affairs. The Victorian Government has proposed the closure of a number of student hostels which presently house tertiary students. Unfortunately, combined with this the Federal Government, through its Minister, has taken a decision which will reduce the small amount of assistance that residential colleges and halls presently receive. It has reduced by 25 per cent the $9 received per student a week, which will of course increase the cost of these colleges and halls by some $2.50 a week for all students. I have already asked the Federal Minister to clarify the situation and to explain to country people why the Government is attacking students who are already disadvantaged in endeavouring to obtain tertiary education. At this point the honourable member for Canning has not responded to this call.

Young people from country regions have few alternatives. The few hostel places available are not available to many, particularly the important group of first year students. These young people often do not know of their acceptance into institutions until February and, naturally, hostel places have already been taken up by second and third year students. The halls of residence and hostels in the past have provided a necessary transition to urban life for first and second year tertiary students. They provide parents with security in the knowledge that their children are living in satisfactory environments with good meals, accommodation and supervision. The sad part of this decision is that the State and Federal governments, who I believe have taken this action in a desperate attempt to save or obtain further money for their high spending programs, have not responded to this report by the Commonwealth Schools Commission on the study of the living away from home allowance for isolated children.

This report acknowledged the many efforts on the part of education authorities over recent years to improve and extend educational services in rural areas. It has assisted students and children moving away from home for educational purposes. At present some 14,000 students are receiving a boarding allowance as assistance towards furthering their education. We all know the cost of upgrading and refurbishing this accommodation is increasing more quickly than many other costs. It is most inappropriate that the Government has taken this decision at this time. When parents are looking for increased provision of boarding places in both government and non-government schools for secondary students in regional centres and for tertiary students, particularly in the metropolitan areas, it is important that the quality of pastoral care and the extension of students' aspirations be given encouragement.

Hostels do fulfil an important need in rural communities, yet the Hawke Government has not responded to this need. It has not responded against the Schools Commission report, which has acknowledged the right of children who live in rural and isolated areas to have reasonable access to an adequate range of educational opportunities. The report recommended that this should be recognised and facilitated and indeed has recommended to the Government that the states grants Act should be amended to permit students hostels to receive capital and special purpose funds for projects which assist in the provision of living away from home facilities for isolated children. It is ironic that a government engaged in a rhetoric that indicates a concern for the education of the disadvantaged is reducing support in so many areas. The breaking of these promises and the injustice being wrought on students and parents in restricting their freedom of choice and their right of access to tertiary education is a condemnation of the Government.