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Tuesday, 12 October 1971
Page: 2215

Dr SOLOMON (Denison) - Might I have a small second bite at this cherry? Unfortunately most honourable members opposite have not brought the same constructive approach to this problem as did the honourable member for Fremantle (Mr Beazley) in the last few minutes of his speech. This matter of education provides well-nigh intractable problems. It encompasses an area which is probably vaster than that of almost any other portfolio, certainly in terms of the expectations of the recipients of any money which may be given under the system. I think we should set to rights so far as honourable members opposite and the public at large are concerned just what it is that we are attempting to do in this field. In saying this I do not make apologies for any inadequacies or any lack of invention on the part of the Government now or in the past. But let us get the matter on a reasonably balanced keel.

The plain fact of the matter is !hat the Commonwealth has gone into the broader field of education in very recent times, la doing so it has brought considerable assistance to particular areas and in some general areas of education down to the school level. But largely this assistance lias been in the area of tertiary education. This is a fact which is often gainsaid by honourable members opposite and by many of our critics in the electorate at large. However, it should be restated that the Commonwealth is taking a major and significant share in the total burden of education at the moment. As the Commonwealth collects the taxes, why should it not do so?

But we cannot go on wilfully pretending that the States do not have obligations in this regard. In saying that I mean that practically the whole of tertiary education is now paid for by the Commonwealth in fairly direct measure. In the primary and secondary areas of education, Commonwealth assistance, so far as it can be enumerated, comes largely in the area of specific grants involving this $345m about which the Minister for Education and Science (Mr Malcolm Fraser) has spoken. If we look at particular areas of education we cannot talk about a diminishing involvement when we say that colleges of advanced education on which less than $12m was spent 4 years ago will have $37m-odd provided for them in the Estimates for this year. We are telling the same sort of -story in relation to teachers colleges. They had $4.Sm spent on them 4 years ago and it is expected that $13m will be spent on them in this financial year. So the story goes on. Scholarships generally have moved from $24. 5m to more than $43m in the same 4 years. It is not enough to say: 'Here is more money. I am aware of the position.' The plain fact of the matter is that on every hand, in every field of education that we turn to, significant - not paltry - increases are being made by the Commonwealth in its specific grants. That leaves us with the States.

The Minister for Education and Science pointed out in his statement on education a week or so ago, as did his predecessor, that when the States were given the increase of 15 per cent or so in grants, which the honourable member for Bradfield (Mr Turner) referred to as 'in globo grants', against an expected 10 per cent increase some 2 years ago, of course this had implications for the $ 1443m worth of educational need, assessed in that survey. It is really pathetic to find no less than the Leader of the Opposition (Mr Whitlam) again tonight reiterating, as all teachers' federations in this country have and still are in editorials, on front pages, and elsewhere in their journals, that this figure stands fast - that any increased grants to the States have no bearing whatsoever on this.

This is not a question of lack of intent. The Commonwealth is doing things on all hands that it has so far taken on. It may not be enough but it cannot do both of these things increasingly all the time. Sooner or later members of the Opposition will have to recognise that the States must rearrange or give greater emphasis to their priorities in respect of education if that position is to be improved. It is not basically a matter for the Commonwealth to come to that very considerable need of, for example, the inner city schools and perhaps some country ones. The inner city schools, almost by definition, by lack of education basically in that particular community, by lack of income, and as a result of that by the environmental deficiencies that have accrued, have provided less for themselves than some other schools but to me it is negative thinking to say that those people who will or can help themselves should not be helped any further because there are others who are less capable of helping themselves. It is in fact an intractable problem. You cannot win both ways without an infinite amount of money. But the plain fact is that if you means test everything you will test for mediocrity in the long run. You will not have any emphasis on self help. You will destroy incentive and if the parties on this side have ever stood for anything, they have stood for initiative, self help, incentive and matters of that kind.

That still leaves us with some intractable problems. I know and I accept this but we have to find a way in which, by per capita grants of some sort, somehow we catch up with those deficiencies in certain areas. I believe we will be very lucky ever to catch up with them unless we take a view that I could not accede to and that is that we allot money in inverse proportion to the capacity of people to make use of it in a productive fashion and to end up with a world in which apparently it is intended that everybody is absolutely equal because we have applied money in sufficient quantities and sufficiently differential fashion to make them absolutely equal. If they ever tend in those circumstances to be more than totally mediocre I will be extremely surprised. That may be a great world to live in but I tend to think that we will have lost our total zest for living.

In saying all this I am not advocating that we should keep the depressed schools depressed and depressed people depressed and keep allocating money to people who do not need it. Of course, the system as it operates can be better operated but I do not believe it is a change in total kind that is required; what is required is a change in emphasis. I believe that change ki emphasis is already in train. I hope I have made my point clear and that 1 have not made it too convoluted. In saying what I have said I believe I understand the problems of teachers federations here, there and everywhere whose members in fact see inadequate buildings, aging premises and a lack of equipment in certain quarters. Those problems are real; they can be seen and they can be understood. But the plain fact is that it will not be sufficient now or, I believe, at any other time for this or any other government to say that it is entirely your fault, the States are playing a great game, your Hugh Hudsons and others are doing their jobs and we exonerate them from all responsibility in making good the State deficiencies in education.

The basic things at primary and secondary level will have to be fixed by the States by their ordering of priorities. The Commonwealth cannot take over the whole field and 1 do not think it should. Whatever the government, I think it is most unlikely that it will take over the whole field. As my colleague the honourable member for Fremantle (Mr Beazley) said, the portfolio of Education and Science is certainly becoming increasingly complex and vast and he may well have a good point in suggesting a division of responsibilities. However, I will not take up that point now. Perhaps those sorts of things will help, but they will not help the basic problems that have been enumerated here tonight. I ask for a display of a sense of responsibility in making an assessment and in trying constructively to solve the problems, lt is of no use, for political or other purposes, beating a can which has long since sounded very hollow indeed. We must find a better means of spending the money that any government will make available.

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