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Thursday, 7 October 1971
Page: 2021

Mr REYNOLDS (BARTON, NEW SOUTH WALES) - I address a question to the Minister for Education and Science. Is it a fact that the Government has refused consistently over the years to make its own national inquiry into the needs of primary, secondary, technical and teacher education in Australia? Did it instead ultimately agree to co-operate with State Education Ministers and private education authorities in making what was stated to be a coordinated nationwide survey according to agreed upon criteria? Did not the then Commonwealth Minister for Education and Science participate in reviews of the report before it was presented? Was it not at Commonwealth direction that the survey of private school education was repeated to conform with Commonwealth requirements? Finally, why is it that after all these consultations and opportunities for the Commonwealth Government to influence the report it now proceeds to rubbish it?

Mr Malcolm Fraser (WANNON, VICTORIA) -The last part of the honourable member's question is certainly contrary to fact and contrary to what has happened. The Commonwealth Government has not ignored the report nor has it rubbished it. In fact, the Government has responded in a positive manner to the investigations which have taken place over the last 2 years and to the information that has been made available by the various State authorities. The Commonwealth Government has 2 ways of supporting education in the States: First, by having its own specific programmes, such as for science laboratories or for libraries, and programmes to support teacher education; secondly, by supporting the State recurring funds and the State loan programmes. This often has been the preferred course of State Premiers. It enables the States to get the largest possible amount that the Commonwealth can make available through tax reimbursement grants measures which have been improved greatly over the last 2 years. This assistance has been added to in the last year by the provision of an additional growth tax to the States with the Commonwealth handing over to them payroll taxation. I understand that most have already increased the tax to increase the resources available to them from that tax.

Over the last 2 years the Commonwealth has concentrated on building up the States' own financial resources. I pointed out that when the estimates of needs for recurrent resources was brought forward the States based their estimates of the shortfall on the fact that with their additional funds available for education recurrent funds would increase by 10 per cent a year. In fact they have increased by a much greater rate than that. In the year before the last 2 Premiers Conferences they had increased by 154 per cent. In the last year, from the State budgets just brought down, funds for education have increased by 17 per cent, much more than the 10 per cent that the State authorities estimated would in fact be available. This is a direct reflection of the increased financial ability of the States resulting from Premiers Conferences and the arrangements that have been made to support the State budgets over the last 2 years, and this represents a very positive result of this particular survey because the information available was taken into account, as I said in the statement, when the Commonwealth was coming to decisions on the degree of support available. This is basically, as T have indicated in the statement, the preferred approach of the Premiers.

If I might mention one or two other aspects of the honourable gentleman's question, the Commonwealth did co operate. The question of the information relating to independent schools was not referred back and re-drawn, as 1 think was the implication in the question, by Commonwealth direction. The States had themselves made a decision not to make any inquiries or to collect any information in this area, so the Commonwealth collected the information, and that information was tabled when I made the statement. The Commonwealth, in sum, has responded positively to education needs. This has resulted in increased financial ability of the States. This does not mean to say that as resources become available and as policies further develop there will not be Commonwealth initiatives on future occasions. I have no doubt there will be. There has been a very positive response to this survey, as was clearly evidenced by the States' much greater domestic allocations for education, greater than anyone thought possible when the survey of needs was first envisaged and first launched.

One final point: The Commonwealth had not undertaken its own national inquiry into this area, not so much because the Commonwealth consistently refused to undertake the inquiry as because the States quite deliberately launched the survey of needs approach as their preferred approach. I am not aware that the States, or a majority of the States, want the Commonwealth to launch its own national inquiry in a way which would intrude quite definitely on the States specific area of responsibility.

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