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Thursday, 5 April 1973
Page: 1157

Mr MALCOLM FRASER (Wannon) - I welcome the statement that has been made by the Minister for Education (Mr Beazley). He will know and the House will know that the survey of child migrant education was initiated by the previous Minister for Immigration and myself because we were concerned about many of the problems that had been revealed in the report. I think he also knows that the departmental officers conducting the survey had an open hand in pointing to the deficiencies and the shortcomings of the program that had been initiated which, the Minister said, now involves over 1,000 teachers and 37 000 migrant children. Because of the matters that had been raised and because of the circumstances which I had seen in a number of schools especially in the inner city areas, I believed that more needed to be done and, therefore, ought to be done. As a result, the survey was introduced.

The fact that the survey was introduced showed a concern, a willingness and a determination to improve a program that had been begun a relatively short time before. I could have understood it if the Minister had said or had wanted to say that the program should have been begun many years ago. He did not say it, but the fact is that it had been begun and there was a willingness and a determination to improve it, to provide the maximum opportunity for migrant children. The factor to which the Minister drew attention in regard to classroom shortage was one of the factors which persuaded the previous Government to make special capital funds available to the States to help in achieving a greater expansion of state school construction. It needs to be noted that there are wide differences between the States in these matters. It is my belief that Victoria and New South Wales have problems that Western Australia and Tasmania do not have. If the Minister is successful in breaking some of the Treasury formulas which determine that funds should be divided on a certain basis, so that a greater proportion of funds can be allocated to the inner city areas of Melbourne and Sydney, I wish him well because in relation to this particular problem these are some of the areas where the greatest support and the greatest funds are required.

I believe that the problems of the 2 largest States outweigh the problems of the smaller States. I can remember asking to be shown the school in Perth which the Minister wanted to knock down next. It was not possible to be shown such a school. In Melbourne of course, and in Sydney I would believe, it is a different matter. The previous Government recognised a significant part of this problem by providing additional capital funds to the States and to independent school authorities on a continuing basis. It is my understanding and my hope that that capital program will continue.

There is one point to which the Minister did not draw attention - maybe he did not because it overlaps into areas of other ministerial responsibilities - and that is that this problem of migrant children, or of children generally from underprivileged families and underprivileged homes, cannot be tackled or solved solely in the school itself. There is an inter-relationship, a connection between what happens within the school and what happens within the home. This is going to be of quite crucial importance. Some schools are tackling this problem with vigour. I know of some that have national nights for those of Greek origin or for those of Italian origin so that the families can come along to the school to see what happens and to participate in school activities, and to encourage a real concern for what their children are doing. In other areas the situation is more difficult, perhaps because of background, location or lack of attractiveness in the school facilities. But the inter-relationship of what happens within the school and what happens within the home is of quite critical importance. It will be a very difficult problem to overcome.

If a child comes from a migrant family it may have bad only 2, 3 or 4 years of schooling in its own language. The mother may not show a great capacity to learn English. The father does learn English because of his contacts at work. The child will be taught English at school and will then return to a home environment in which a language foreign to us is spoken. There are, I believe, difficulties and divisions within the family which the school alone will find it very difficult to tackle. That is one of the reasons why the previous Government developed programs or indicated its willingness to develop programs in consultation with the States to tackle handicaps of all kinds. lt is one of the reasons why a certain professor from La Trobe University, who had never been a political supporter of the previous Government, was given research funds to help examine the needs of children in the inner cityareas and of underprivileged groups. T hope that his research findings will be of greater value than his political criticisms of the previous Government.

This is a significant problem, lt will not be easy to solve. It is one that will require a total approach - not just as to what happens in the school but maintaining an adequate link between the school and the family. It will therefore require not just teachers but social workers, psychologists and others who will bp able to assist in quite difficult circumstances. I commend the Minister for the way in which he has responded to this report. I hope that the response will be taken further, not only to look at the school environment but also to look at the total environment of the children who are now in part the Minister's concern but still significantly the responsibility of the States.

Question resolved in the affirmative.

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