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Thursday, 3 May 1973
Page: 1695

Mr BRYANT (Wills) (Minister for Aboriginal Affairs) - I do not propose to delay the House for very long, but today is about the 15th anniversary of the day when I raised in this House a matter of public importance calling for the Commonwealth to start to take a real interest in education. I recall that on that occasion the matter received what might be called patronising commentary from those members who were then on this side of the House, those who are now in permanent Opposition. So on this occasion I want to congratulate my colleague, the Minister for Education (Mr Beazley), for the measures that he has introduced.

There are one or two matters which have been adverted to this afternoon in the debate on this legislation to which I should like to refer. First of all there is the question of needy students. I think it is time that the community faced the fact that when people come to the tertiary student stage some kind of regular financial assistance should be available to them based not on the need of their parents or the wealth of their parents. In other words I believe, and I think the community in the long run will have to face this, as it has with say teacher trainees, that students whose parents are wealthy ought not have to depend on their charity and that students whose parents are poor should not have to depend on the charity of a government. At this stage students ought to be treated as people as such with a role in the community as important as that of anybody in the work force. The provision of assistance to all students would be a pretty severe financial burden. It may not yet be the time for us to do that. But the expansion of support for students is, I think, a very important contribution to equality of opportunity in a community such as ours. I think this is probably the most important subject we are talking about this afternoon. We are simply salvaging some of the situations that were created by the previous Government's parsimony to colleges of advanced education in relation to libraries and facilities such as that. The provision of these facilities is what one would expect to be happening with a progressive government such as we now have in office.

I think that the amendment presumes that this assistance will have to continue for a long while and that the system will not be changed. There will be a radical change in the way in which the Commonwealth faces its responsibility in education within the next 12 months. Fees will be abolished, and I think that is a very important step. I know that such a move comes in for criticism because many people who have enough to pay the feees now are therefore advantaged. But I think there are very few people in the community in their early twenties for whom the payment of university fees is not a heavy financial burden. I do not completely go along with my colleague opposite - I think it was the honourable member for Warringah (Mr MacKellar) - on the question of academic excellence. Tertiary education should be the logical prolongation of one's education. As the world continues there will be less demand for people to be in the work force and more demand for opportunities for them to develop their intellect and their cultural level. In the next 12 months we will be making a substantial improvement in that situation. Therefore I am pleased on this occasion to be speaking fromthe Government side on the acceptance by the Commonwealth of a real responsibility in education. It has been a long time coming, but we now have a government which accepts no constitutional inhibitions and which will place our rights and duties to the citizenry of Australia before any theology, including State rights or constitutional precedence.

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