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Thursday, 30 August 1973
Page: 640

Mr OLDMEADOW (Holt) - I rise to speak in this Grievance Day debate to applaud the Government for its massive expenditure on education and to refute the arguments advanced by the vocal few - I stress the point that it is the vocal few in the community - who have criticised the Government on this point. I listened to the speech of the honourable member for Gwydir (Mr Hunt). I heard him use the words such as vicious', 'discriminatory', 'brutal' and 'prejudiced'. I am astounded to find any intelligent person who can read such descriptive words into the Karmel report. Either such a person is not capable of looking at all the values on which that report is based and of looking at the full statement that is made in relation to the whole field of education, or such a person is incapable of reading the report.

The Karmel report, a most significant document, is the basis on which Government policy with respect to education is being developed. That report in education circles and in education journals is described as the most significant document on education ever to be tabled in the Australian Parliament. I sincerely believe that it is of the utmost importance for the Australian people to keep in perspective all recommendations and aspects of that report. It is the document which provides the blueprint for Government policy on primary and secondary education. I for one am delighted with the priorities in budgetary expenditure for 1973-74. I believe that most Australians are pleased that expenditure on education is the fastest growing component in the Budget, and that $843m which represents a rise of 92 per cent on the expenditure approved last year by the former Government, one of whose members has just spoken, is provided for expenditure in this field. The provision will give education the shot in the arm that it so desperately needs. I speak as one who has come to this Parliament after 25 years experience in government schools in Victoria.

I move to the criticism that has been made with respect to decisions affecting category A schools. Let us remember that here we are speaking of 105 schools which represent 14 per cent of the total non-systemic schools and 5 per cent of the total non-government schools in Australia. In other words, to put it more kindly, this represents 10 per cent of the Australian enrolment. I believe that a number of pertinent points must be kept in mind to answer the points made by critics of the action of the Government. As has been explained by the Minister for Education (Mr Beazley), these schools have the right of appeal to the Australian Schools Commission for a reassessment of their position if they can demonstrate a substantial change in circumstances since 1972, if mistakes have been made by schools in rilling in the form that they have sent in or if they believe that there is some injustice. In such circumstances a school is entitled to a reassessment.

We must remember also that per capita grants are only part of the aid that goes to category A schools. If a category A school believes that it is entitled to capital grants, it can apply for such a grant. It is interesting at this stage to examine capital assistance given to category A schools with respect to science and library programs. I emphasise that these figures relate only to category A schools. Grants received to 30 June 1973 totalled $7,399,169. Grants to be paid from 30 June 1973 to 31 December 1974 involve an additional amount of $1,827,826, giving a total to the end of 1974 in excess of $9m. I find that my home State gets the lion's share - some thing like $4,017,000. I do not know whether that suggests that in Victoria there are more, what have been termed in the Press, tall poppies, but those are the figures. I find that in my own electorate there is one school in category A - -Haileybury College, Keysborough - which has received in capital grants an amount of $303,263. I admit that that is not a typical amount, but it gives some idea of the sort of aid that is being given. I might say that Haileybury College will be given more money in the 18 months to 31 December 1974.

Some people are trying to introduce the sectarian issue into this matter. They accuse the Government of favouring Catholic schools. This accusation is arrant nonsense. The answer is a very simple one. The greater amount of aid is being given not because they are Catholic schools but because they are the schools which have the greatest need. This thread has run right through our whole philosophy on education.

Mr Chipp - Like Xavier College?

Mr OLDMEADOW - The honourable member knows the answer to that question as well as I do.

Mr Chipp - I have 2 sons going there. It is one of the wealthiest schools in Melbourne.

Mr OLDMEADOW - Yes. A further pertinent point is that some Press reports prior to the Budget predicted that the maximum tax deductions for a child's education expenses was to be severely cut. In fact, it remained at $400. It has been estimated that the total cost to the Treasury in the next 2 financial years in respect of those who claim between $150 and $400 will be $55m. This is a greater amount than the Karmel report recommends should be spent on disadvantaged schools in the next 2 years.

Also there are those State-righters who claim that the Australian Government wants to take over decision making in the field of education. Regrettably, the Victorian Minister for Education is in this group. He continually complains that he wants money from the Australian Government for education, but without any strings attached. There is no doubt about the constitutional position. Education is a State matter. Also it is clear that for a number of years Australian governments have been using section 96 of the Constitution to make available money to be spent in specific areas, such as secondary school libraries and science laboratories. We are merely extending that principle. I am concerned about whether the Victorian Government will be able to spend the increased money that will be at its disposal - about $134m - in the field of education. One wonders whether the cries of centralism and big brother are not smokescreens covering up for the inability to spend money. For example, one can only be concerned that the Karmel report, of which 2,200 copies were received in the Victorian Education Department on 24 July, arrived in schools on only 24 August, a month later and the last day of the term.

This raises the whole question of decision making in the educational process. The total thrust of the Karmel report and the Government's policy is towards devolution of responsibility to the local level;- to the people who are involved in the educational process - principals, staff, parents, senior pupils and the community. What a departure this is from the present. In most of our schools the huge State bureaucratic monoliths are chiefly responsible for decision making. In this regard the Karmel report talks of 'centralised manipulation of change' and of the traditional process as imposition of new policies from above on schools across the board' and says 'the emphasis has been on the condition of the participants'. My experience in the Victorian Education Department attests to this being the state of affairs. Now the challenge is thrown out to those at the grass roots level to become a vital part of the decision making process.

The prolonged hullabaloo of the critics about the categorisation of the nongovernment schools and the cries of the Staterighters, unfortunately, has focussed attention on what posterity probably will judge to be the least significant aspect of the report and the Government's policy. A great breakthrough has been achieved in the field of education. Although the Government has shown itself to be concerned with quantity, by far the overwhelming preoccupation is with quality and equality in education. This, I submit, represents an exciting shift in the role of the Australian Government in the field of education,

Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr Lucock - Order! The honourable gentleman's time has expired.

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