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Thursday, 3 May 1973
Page: 1691

Mr OLDMEADOW (Holt) - I rise to support the Bill. The 3 major areas in the Bill - financial assistance to needy and destitute tertiary students, increased grants for libraries in colleges of advanced education and provision for increasing training facilities of social workers - have already been referred to in the debate. Each of these initiatives is significant in its own right and I believe the Minister for Education (Mr Beazley) is to be congratulated for the speed with which he has acted to meet the emergency situation in each of these areas. The underlying principle of all 3 points is to ensure that an education of quality is available to all students at the tertiary level, irrespective of financial circumstances. We on the Government side are committed to the principle that no student should be deprived of his educational opportunity because of hardship.

I refer firstly to the matter of financial assistance for needy students. As outlined by the Minister in his second reading speech, $3m is to be made available to assist needy tertiary students and, of this amount, $806,000 is for students attending colleges of advanced education. I believe there are a number of significant points in this area of the 3 Bills we are considering. There is a considerable flexibility in administration of the assistance. It should be noted that assistance can be given in 2 ways - either in the form of grants or of loans. Within the provisions of the Bill it is the Vice-Chancellors or the heads of colleges of advanced education who have been entrusted with the task of deciding to whom assistance should be given. In fact, as we know, anticipating the passing of this Bill, this task has already been completed. I believe this Bill also provides an excellent example of decentralised or localised decision making. It is a co-operative venture in which the Government has complete trust in the ability of those on the spot to make the final decision as to who should receive aid. This no doubt is an important contributory factor in the enthusias- tic response to the scheme by the university authorities.

It should be noted, I think, that there is a significant departure in this Bill in the manner in which the Government's financial assistace to students is to be given. So often in the past assistance has been given by means of scholarships. This has been so particularly at the tertiary and higher secondary levels. The criterion used to determine the successful student has been the ability to pass an examination - frequently, I would suggest, an outmoded type of examination. In the case of this Bill, the criterion that has been established is need. Under the guidelines of the legislation, financial assistance must first be given to those in greatest hardship. This area of the Bill, again, must be seen in the total context of the Government's announcement that tertiary fees are to be abolished as from the commencement of the 1974 academic year. So, it naturally is anticipated that need for assistance of this nature will not be as great in the remaining years of the 1973-75 triennium.

I stress that we on the Government side see this as simply a further step towards the ideal of equality of opportunity for all students at the tertiary level. We readily admit that there is a long way to go. We acknowledge the point made by the honourable member for Chisholm (Mr Staley) that students who wished to enter tertiary institutions this year and could not for financial reasons will not be covered by this Bill. However, I would remind honourable members that at present the Commonwealth Department of Education, in conjunction with the Australian Union of Students, is carrying out a survey in Victoria and South Australia to determine the reasons for rejection by students of university places. One of the pertinent points to which an answer is sought is the importance of financial considerations in influencing potential students to reject places at tertiary institutions.

I would stress again that this Bill is seen only as a step in the direction of achieving the ideal of equality of opportunity at the tertiary level. In this regard and based on a fair amount of experience in the educational field, it is my belief that the students who reach the higher school certificate or matriculation level tend to follow a fairly predictable socioeconomic pattern. The group about which I am concerned is the significant number of students who drop out at forms 3, 4 and 5 because of financial pressures in the home. To illustrate this point, I recall vividly a brilliant young form 3 student who indicated to me that she would be leaving school at the end of the year. Recognising her undoubted ability I questioned her on her reasons for leaving at such an early stage. Her reply was a simple one. She said: 'I have to help mum and dad on the flower farm. They cannot afford to leave me at school'. To achieve fin'ally the ideal that we are seeking - equality of opportunity for students at the tertiary level - these are the sorts of problems with which we must come to grips. I believe that the provisions of this Bill are a significant step in this direction.

I should like to speak briefly on the provision contained in the Bills to provide an unmatched grant of $Sm for libraries in colleges of advanced education. There seems to be general agreement amongst speakers on both sides of the House that this provision is long overdue. 1 would remind honourable members that recommendation 21 of the third report, that for 1973-75, of the Australian Commission on Advanced Education states:

That the Commonwealth Government provide a sum of $5m to be made available to the States on the basis of need and on the advice of the Commission, for the development of library materials in Colleges of Advanced Education.

It surprised me today and last night in the debate on this point to hear Liberal-Country Party members saying that they supported this provision. The previous Liberal-Country Party Government rejected this recommendation. One might well ask why it rejected it. The former Government must have realised - its members are realising it now - the tremendous need that existed in the colleges of advanced education for greatly improved library facilities. Surely those honourable members were aware of the serious handicap to students if library facilities were not adequate. The answer may well be the indifference of the previous Government. Whatever the reason, the facts are that as in the previous 2 triennia the Liberal-Country Party Government was prepared to make available, as unmatched grants, the sum of only $500,000 for the 1973-75 triennium. In addition it said it would make available up to $lm subject to matching arrangements with the States. The provision of an unmatched grant of $5m will greatly assist colleges of advanced education to have library resources in keeping with the status of the studies undertaken in these institutions.

The third area of the Bill on which I comment is the provision for increased training facilities for social workers. I believe this must be seen in the context of the Government's forward looking social security policy. The Government's progressive policy will be retarded unless immediate attention is given to social worker training in universities and colleges of advanced education. Increasingly in our community there is recognition of the tremendously important role to be played by social workers. Enlightened and concerned municipalities and other institutional bodies have recognised the need for expertise that comes from training. Too frequently, through shortage of qualified applicants, nonprofessional welfare staff has to be appointed. To realise the severe shortage that exists in this field of training social workers, one has only to look at the classified advertisements. In Victoria each week in the 'Age' classified advertisements, there appears a long list of unfilled appointments in every area of human need. To name but a few, social workers are required for work in hospitals, in the field of geriatrics, in child care, among the migrant community, in local municipalities and in Commonwealth and State Government departments. These weekly lists of unfilled appointments are testimony of the need for increased training facilities.

There are 2 areas in which I have been involved personally and where I am convinced of the importance of the work of trained social workers. I am equally aware of the acute shortage that exists at present. These 2 areas are at the local government level and in schools. At the local level the social worker can provide that human contact which is so essential in any welfare program. Close to the grass roots, they can mobilise the voluntary organisations already in existence, they can initiate new programs, and act as the pivot in the development of local social welfare complexes which may well include welfare, officers, youth co-ordinators, home help services, meals on wheels services and so on. Many local councils have shown a diffidence to the appointment of a trained social worker. I know this only too well, having been involved deeply in trying to secure such an appointment for the city of Dandenong. The following sorts of questions are encountered: Are not voluntary services enough? Do we really need professionals? If we approve an appointment can we secure a social worker? Who will foot the bill? Not only must local authorities be convinced of the need for such appointments - often this is difficult as I well know - but they also must be sure that the Federal Government takes the matter seriously. The provisions of this Act demonstrate clearly the high priority placed by this Government on the work of the social worker.

The other area on which I want to concentrate is psychological and guidance services, and I will confine my remarks to the Victorian scene. I think the honourable member for Mallee (Mr Fisher) would agree with me in regard ito the tragic plight of psychological and guidance services in that State. Amongst the psychological and guidance services, the social worker plays an important part. I think this is highlighted in the report issued by the Minister for Education in 1971-72. The section of that report which deals with psychology and guidance states:

The Branch is at present only able to provide minimum services to schools. It is very dependent on temporary employees (36 per cent of the professional staff). It needs at least 400 fully qualified and experienced guidance officers, together with perhaps 200 social workers, to be able to provide a comprehensive service to existing schools.

Later the report states:

There is an urgent need to increase the number of social workers employed as professional officers beyond 5 as at present.

I do not think the honourable member for Mallee should be surprised that he has had difficulty in having a social worker called to a school. I am personally aware of this sad state of affairs. For 6 years prior to entering this Parliament I was in charge of large secondary schools and that mythical thing called discipline - possibly a more apt term would be 'guidance' or 'counselling' - and there were numerous occasions on which I had reached the point with a student where I knew he or she had a deep rooted problem and I was unable to proceed further. What I needed was to be able to call in an expert or, better still, to have a trained guidance officer on the staff of the school and to be able to call on the services of the social worker who would have the ease of movement into the home, which is often very difficult if one is a teacher at a school.

In his second reading speech the Minister emphasised the urgency of the social worker training program. The Bill provides, for the current triennium, unmatched grants totalling $75,000 for the University of Sydney and $240,000 for the University of Melbourne to enable these universities, commencing this year, to increase the number of students being trained as social workers. In the case of the Tasmanian College of Advanced Education, an unmatched grant of $40,000 is provided to enable the establishment of a postgraduate course in social work to commence in 1974. The provisions of this Bill indicate that what the Government can do now, it will do. Immediate finance is made, available to overcome the long neglected social worker need. The appalling neglect of the previous Government in this area is clearly apparent. There has been nearly a quarter of a century of inertia and ineptitude. The previous Government failed to discern the red lights of emergency. The result is a backlog of social claims. What government would not stand condemned if it failed to provide a defence force commensurate with the contemporary military strategy and technological advances? A government should be condemned also for failing to provide the facilities for the training and equipment of professional task forces to combat the attacks of family maladjustment, social disintegration, emotional disorder and urban pressure.

These Bills support the social welfare concept of this Government's policy. They undergird and give practical support to facets of the health and social security program. The Government has a total program. Ministers are not operating within a vacuum. Government legislation is rational and consistent with overall policy. What value . is health and social security legislation if it cannot be implemented because of lack of professional expertise? Conversely, a program of financial assistance in the field of education to provide training facilities is a waste if social welfare lacks vision and planning. The ministries of Education, Health and Social Security are working in the closest co-operation, with Education providing the tools. I commend the Bill to the House.

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