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Thursday, 25 November 1971
Page: 3736

Mr BEAZLEY (Fremantle) - In general the Opposition supports these 3 Bills. The first one relates mainly to academic salaries, to appropriate additional grants in order that the Commonwealth might meet its share of the cost of the new levels of academic salaries in colleges of advanced education under the accepted matching formula. We have said what we think about this accepted matching formula on a number of occasions tonight, and I do not want to go into that question again. The third of these Bills, the Australian Universities Commission Bill, provides for an additional full time member of the Australian Universities Commission and also provides for some co-ordination of action between the new Australian Commission on Advanced Education and the Universities Commission. Very clearly, of these 3 measures the most important is the one that sets up the Australian Commission on Advanced Education. I want to make some comment on that.

The Minister for Education and Science (Mr Malcolm Fraser) in the previous debate accused the Opposition of having ideas that would lead to centralisation. I am perfectly certain that if last year we had suggested the establishment of an Australian Commission on Advanced Education we would have been told that we were centralising. Here again the Commonwealth is setting up a powerful advisory body, to advise on the financial needs of all these colleges of advanced education. Quite clearly, however much the Minister may disavow it, there is a rise in Commonwealth influence on this whole subject. I would like to take a quotation from an essay titled 'Colleges and the Community' by S. Murray-Smith in which he had this to say about our colleges of advanced education:

Australia', we have recently been told, 'supports universities because people in universities say it should, and because Sir Robert Menzies in the late fifties set up a commission to prove the point by reaching a foregone conclusion'. One could take this further and say that Australia supports colleges of advanced education because some means had to be found of satisfying the insensate demands of the electors for 'qualifications' for their children, and universities had proved to be too expensive, too radical and too unresponsive. The Martin Committee showed us the way forward: To retread the old Australian technical education system, which had been running on the bare canvas for the past 50 years.

I do not think that is a fair comment, but it is a view that is held, in certain circles, of colleges of advanced education. I hope that the setting up of this commission will make quite sure that what we are doing in advanced technical education is not a retread of the tyres that have been worn down to the canvas in the last 50 years. We need to face the fact that there was a bad turn in tertiary technical education. In the 19th century what was begun was very broad indeed. In fact, there were 2 leaders in technical education in the late 19th century. There was Selfe in Sydney and Campbell in Melbourne who were bold enough to advertise that they would teach anything to 6 or 12 people who would get together and say what they wanted to breadth in some of these tertiary or learn. There was a quite remarkable advanced technical education institutions. In fact, some of the great landscape artists of Australia learned their art in such places from teachers who were attracted there.

Then the bureaucrats got to work and one most remarkable thing happened in Sydney. Whereas before 1914 there were 26,000 students in Sydney technical schools, when logic began to be applied as to who should be admitted - there were demands of qualifications for entry and the old breadth of artists and all sorts of people coming in disappeared - almost within 1 year the number of students in Sydney technical schools was cut to 13,000. For years and years they did not recover from that position. The Canberra College of Advanced Education seems to me to restore some of the breadth that Selfe and Campbell had in their bold invitation that they would organise technical education for any number of people between 6 and 12 who indicated what they wanted to be taught. As I say, the result was a fruitful period in technical and advanced education.

The Opposition welcomes the formation of a commission for the colleges of advanced education. Just as the Commonwealth has proved that the establishment of a universities commission has advanced universities, just as it will prove that colleges of advanced education will be developed by this commission, so we say that it is imperative for the advance of Australian education there should be a schools commission and a pre-schools commission to advise the Commonwealth on the needs of those forms of education. There will be no other way for it. The Minister complains about a philosophy of centralisation. He had better go back to the High Court decision in the uniform taxation case. There is the root of centralisation. The States have been left with the expenditure departments, the Commonwealth has the revenue departments, and all sorts of social services have been limping along with that problem ever since.

Having said those things, I would like to say that we support the 3 measures under consideration. One of them is quite major - the setting up of the Australian Commission on Advanced Education - and the others, which the Minister has introduced for cognate debate, are incidental.

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