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Wednesday, 28 February 1973
Page: 54

Mr MATHEWS (Casey) - I move:

That the following Address-in-Reply to the Speech of His Excellency the Governor-General be agreed to:


We, the House of Representatives of Australia in Parliament assembled, desire to express our loyalty to our Most Gracious Sovereign, and to thank Your Excellency for the Speech which you have been pleased to address to Parliament.

In doing so, I would like to express the congratulations of this House to you, Mr Speaker, upon your election and also to your deputy, the newly elected Chairman of Com- mittees (Mr Scholes). As a new member of this House moving this motion delights and somewhat disconcerts me. I am delighted to initiate for the first time in 23 years debate upon the programme of a Labor Government. I am disconcerted because of the 8 spokesmen for parties opposite who have moved identical motions over that 23 years period not one remains a member of this House. The Leader of the Opposition (Mr Snedden) and the honourable member for Chisholm (Mr Staley) reassure me on this point by living in my electorate but preferring to pursue their political fortunes elsewhere.

There is a convention that the mover of this motion should speak about the electoral division for which he sits. I accept that convention because in speaking about the division of Casey I can speak for all those urban areas whose needs have been studiously neglected by successive national governments. Casey straddles the Yarra on the doorstep of Victoria's Dandenong Ranges. It is the home of more than 130,000 Australians who are as well off in terms of houses, cars and other private property as they are impoverished for such things as education, health care and urban planning, which only governments can provide. As I speak students at local secondary schools in the electorate, are being taught in tents, laundries, staff rooms, sick bays, corridors and assembly halls because the Commonwealth in a Budget, for which, I might remark in passing, the Victorian Government applauded it last August, failed to provide the money which would have been necessary for these students to be accommodated in proper school buildings and the Victorian Government itself is administratively incapable of providing even prefabricated classrooms for which it could afford to pay.

Patients are waiting hours for treatment in the casualty department of the Box Hill Hospital, which is the only public hospital accessible to the electorate, or finding themselves turned away from the wards of that hospital because there are neither public nor private beds available. Our roads, of course, like roads throughout the urban areas of this country, are choked with drivers who reject our antiquated public transport arrangements. The Yarra River is becoming more polluted every year with sewage and sullage and the Dandenong Ranges more scarred and denuded of their natural cover by home construction and quarrying. Households are sad dled with debt far more heavily than is necessary because we have left the development and servicing of residential land to speculators and the provision of consumer finance to the fringe banking system. We lack the youth workers by whom our young people could be taught to make creative use of their leisure and we lack the social workers by whom the mounting incidence of family breakdown, vandalism, crime and other community problems could be held in check.

Last year's general election was remarkable for the emphasis it placed upon all these urban problems. Urban areas responded remarkably to that emphasis. The largest group of new members in this Parliament represent the outer suburbs of capital cities. It is in these areas that the interests and the aspirations of Australians have suffered longest and most heavily from the inertia and apathy of successive Prime Ministers and their Cabinets. It is in these areas that members who occupied the Government benches in the last Parliament have paid most heavily for condoning that sort of neglect. The allocation of Commonwealth finance has never at any time in the last 23 years faithfully reflected the fact that we are the world's most urban nation. Excessive concern for interests of a sectional character has left over little for the cities and regional centres in which 86 per cent of our people now make their homes. It has produced the doctrine that essential facilities such as urban water storage, sewerage, schools, health services and public transport are matters for the States, which of course have very little money to spend upon them, or municipalities, which have even less.

The Governor-General made it clear yesterday that our new Government rejects that doctrine absolutely. This Government will need to have an urban bias if only because the balance to be redressed is so great. We will be guided in the exercise of that bias by a co-operative federalism within which the Commonwealth, the States and local government each accept a proper share of the responsibility for providing those services upon which the quality of our lives depends. It is not by material achievements alone of this sort that Labor governments must judge themselves - it is not by material achievements exclusively. We are a Party of social democrats who look to the same light on the hill as the last Labor Prime Minister, Chifley. The same spirit of egalitarianism moves us as has moved people back through the ages to Colonel Rainborowe who told Cromwell's Commonwealth:

The poorest he that is in England hath a life to live as the greatest he.

We will count ourselves successful to the extent that we enable Australians to become more equal, eager to participate in the democratic processes by which our lives and affairs are directed and better equipped to understand each other and the world in which we live.

A nation is as sound as its education system. Our Government does not propose to attain all its goals simply by providing better schools; but without better schools we will not even begin to move in the right direction. The most conspicuous characterstic of Australian education is the unfair way in which it is distributed. Whereas 87 per cent of the children of Melbourne's professional and managerial workers find places in pre-school centres, only 30 per cent of the children of Melbourne's unskilled workers find places in such centres. Whereas 83 per cent of the children at non-government secondary schools other than Catholic schools receive a full 6 years of secondary education, only 30 per cent of the children at government and Catholic secondary schools receive such an education. Under existing arrangements children whose homes and neighbourhoods provide little support and stimulus for learning are unlikely to obtain support and stimulus for learning at their schools. Under existing arrangements deprived schools and deprived children go hand in hand.

Our Government endorses the view of Britain's Plowden Committee that 'the first step must be to raise the schools with low standards to the national average; the second, quite deliberately, to make them better'. We are establishing an Australian schools commission, as the Prime Minister (Mr Whitlam) frequently pointed out last year, firstly to bring the worst schools up to an acceptable standard and subsequently to make all our schools as good as that handful whose students are already educationally privileged. We are establishing an Australian pre-school commission to ensure that pre-school and child care places are available to all those children whose parents want to take advantage of them.

But it is not by measures of th:s sort alone that we will fulfil our responsibility to the education of future citizens. Having placed schools on a sound financial basis we must begin to devise learning centres of a new and different kind. More and more of our students are going to receive five or six years of secondary education. Their aspirations for independence and maturity will not be met unless we break down the barriers which separate schools from the community of which they are a part. We have to take schools more out into the community and bring the community more into the schools. It is this that poses the challenge in the years immediately ahead. Real garages, real offices and real theatres are much better places for learning than imitations improvised in classrooms. School printeries, workshops, kitchens and stenographic centres will be more valuable and be more highly valued when we give students the contracts for goods and services which at present are bought elsewhere.

We need to be warned by the example of the United States against artificially prolonging adolescence and economic dependence. Our secondary schools must not become glorified child-minding centres simply because an increasing majority of their students are not interested in an academic education at the time it is offered to them. Schooling does not have to be an unbroken process stretching from infancy to late adolescence or early adulthood. Boys and girls who have reached the present school leaving age should be able, if they choose, to hold places simultaneously in the work force and in the education system. They should be able to break away, spend months or even years in full time employment and return to the system at a later stage when they are ready for it.

Our parents, teachers and school authorities have been obsessed throughout the postwar period with the financial problems of education, obsessed, I might say, to the exclusion of problems concerning the quality of education. In establishing the Australian schools commission we are liberating the energies of those parents, teachers and school authorities for a long overdue reconsideration of the educational goals and a reconsideration of the means by which those goals should be pursued. But not even financial stringency has discouraged a few dedicated educators from experimenting with new forms of learning in centres such as the Swinburne Community School in Melbourne and the University High School Annexe. Experiments of this sort should have the support of our Government. Efforts have been under way to provide greater opportunities for local participation in the processes by which our schools are governed; these too should have our support. Overall we cannot accept anything less for the children of this nation than that they be given an equal opportunity to develop the capacities with which they are endowed. That is what education is all about. That is what we should be about.

A fairer distribution of our education resources should be accompanied by a fairer distribution of our economic resources. At present far too much of our national wealth is concentrated in too few hands. The combined taxable incomes of the top 10 per cent of our taxpayers are virtually as great as the combined taxable incomes of the bottom 50 per cent. Only one Australian in every 10 owns shares in a public company, and 5 per cent of the shareholders in 102 of our largest companies have been found to own 60 per cent of the shares in those companies.

At the same time we have a situation in which up to a million Australians are victims of absolute poverty. Professor Henderson of the Institute of Applied Economic Research at the University of Melbourne established in 1966 that 7 per cent of Melbourne's households were living in poverty and the Institute revealed in 1970 that the incidence of poverty had increased. It was good to hear the GovernorGeneral speaking yesterday about taxation measures by which this situation will be redressed. It was good also to hear him speak, too, about means of relieving impoverishment not only of individuals but also of institutions. Problems like poverty, environmental decay and the deterioration of our cities will be alleviated when we revitalise our Federal system of government and above all the municipalities which make up its third tier.

There is a new Australia in the making and its aspirations inform the attitudes of this Government. Instead of selling off our country's resources to the highest bidder we intend to conserve those resources for this generation and for future generations. Instead of sacrificing in the name of development our natural, cultural and historical heritage we are going to protect that heritage. Where some have governed by dividing Australia against itself, the foundation this Government wants is a nation reunited. Where some have attempted to hedge round intellect, enterprise and creativity with restrictive laws and regulations, the watchword of this Government will be 'liberation'.

We seek internally a new sense of national identity, a new purpose, a new outpouring of the Australian spirit freed at last from the strait-jacket of aimless affluence. Attuned to a new anthem, inspired perhaps by a new flag, we assert the right of Australians to devise a course of their own both internally and in the region to which geography has tied our destiny. Indebted to nobody, overawed by nobody, we will participate actively in the affairs of the world community through tha United Nations and its agencies and through the British Commonwealth of Nations. Putting behind us the antagonisms, the fears and suspicions of the last quarter of a century we will extend to all those who come in friendship the hand of friendship. Rejecting once and for all that meddling in the affairs of other nations which has so recently been the source of so great a tragedy, we affirm that we will accept no interference in our own affairs, that we will think no price too high to pay for the preservation of the freedom and the peace of this Australia.

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