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Thursday, 24 May 1973
Page: 2666

Mr BEAZLEY (Fremantle) (Minister for Education) - First of all I have to apologise to the House and to the honourable member for Forrest (Mr Drummond) for misinforming him in my answer to a question this morning when I said that 700 isolated children had received the grant. As of today 1,424 applications in Western Australia had been processed for the payment of a grant and of these 384 had also received a payment of the additional grant. There are 2,100-odd applications which have been received. There have been 1,424 granted but of the 5,700 applications which were sent out about 2,100 are all that have so far been returned. That is the first thing I wanted to say. The second thing that I should like to say is that when this scheme was started Victoria's isolated children's scheme was insignificant. The maximum grant was ยง40. New South Wales also paid small allowances to students obliged to live away from home. Queensland had an extensive system which is continuing. Tasmania and South Australia had small schemes. All of the States except Queensland have dropped the schemes. I am not quite sure whether the New South Wales limited scholarship scheme still exists because it was not of great significance but all the States have dropped their schemes and this is contrary to our request, as the honourable member has suggested.

The figures that were fixed pre-supposed the existence of State schemes although it was terribly hard to devise a federal scheme because the State schemes were so varied in nature. Victoria, as I said, provided an amount of only $40. The scheme is not in chaos. Of 10,600 applications that have been returned from all around Australia payments have been made against more than 5,500 - 4,400 basic and 1,200 additional. The Arbitration Court advocates would be grateful for the honourable member saying that we should allow an additional $2,000 under the means test because the State Civil Service regulations provide a maximum of $984 to income for living in these areas. I happen to know this because I am trying to study whether we can liberalise the means test on a zonal basis. We also have to liberalise the means test according to the changing value of money. But when this scheme was adopted in January we just picked up the means test scheme of the former Government's scholarship program and applied that to isolated children. So, the figure of $4,200 and the other figures at which the honourable gentleman has arrived were the figures we adopted from our predecessors.

The second thing I want to say to the honourable gentleman is that we are not trying to run a hard and fast scheme. This is the first incursion of the Commonwealth into this field and the scheme is operating under tremendously uneven conditions around Australia. For example, Tasmania has adopted an education system in which it really has altered the nature of high schools and established certain very definite matriculation high schools. In Tasmania a child who lives near a high school normally speaking is ineligible for an isolated child's grant. But, although he may be next to a quite significant high school, if he wants to be a matriculation student he is in fact an isolated child. So we have had to adjust the scheme in Tasmania for children who want to go to matriculation colleges and we have had to assess them as isolated children on their proximity to or distance from matriculation colleges. In Tasmania 657 children so far have been paid grants. It was a change in the practice which brought that about. I am quite flexible in regard to changing the practice anywhere. When we launched this scheme we said: 'The Commonwealth has not been in this field before. We are taking the means test that was devised by the late Government'. I agree with the honourable gentleman that the means test probably has to be adjusted and I am trying to see what allowances are made under State laws and practices concerning the various zones. In no zone is it said that $2,000 extra has to be paid because of the cost of living. The maximum under Public Service Regulations is $984. If this is unrealistic, then many public servants are being deprived of their just dues, which is not normally argued by honourable members opposite. However, I will not go into that question.

I am grateful to the honourable member for Forrest for bringing this matter up. I am sorry if my comments on Mr Withers were misinterpreted. He issued all sorts of challenges to me to debate this matter and heaven knows what. I did not know what he was getting at. I should not attack him because I myself have been the victim of misreporting and I am not quite clear on what he is saying and doing. However, very many people seem to me to have put a veto on themselves by saying: 'We will not be eligible for anything because of the means test'. I wish that Mr Withers in his statement would emphasise that any isolated child is eligible to receive $350 if he meets the definition of an isolated child. To put the barrier of the means test first causes many parents not to apply. So, if people use the universal eligibility of those who are isolated rather than the means test, I think they will help those who are applying. I want to adjust this scheme. We may have to make adjustments because of what has happened in various States. After all, this scheme was very new. I became Minister for Education on 18 December. I was under pressure to make clear to people that there would be a scheme for these isolated areas. I do not pretend that what we produced in January this year was the optimum. I want to improve it, and in this respect I am grateful to the honourable member for Forrest for bringing up aspects of the disabilities that are developing. I am trying to find intelligent ways of rectifying them.

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