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Thursday, 27 September 1973
Page: 1662

Mr MacKELLAR (Warringah) - The Bill before the House seeks to amend the Immigration (Education) Act which was first put before the House in 1970, debated to the second reading stage in 1971, and became law in 1971. It arose out of the then Government's concern that both adult and child migrants should have every assistance and every opportunity and in fact should get specialised assistance to acquire facility in the English language rapidly. At that time there was plenty of. evidence which showed that the problem was serious. In the debate on 16 February 1971 it was mentioned that a joint CommonwealthNew South Wales Department of Education survey showed that, of 7,700 migrant children surveyed, English was spoken at home all or most of the time in only 15 per cent of the households. In fact English was never spoken in 42 per cent of the households. If this situation had prevailed the difficulties in the progress and assimilation of those who were restricted in this way are easy to imagine.

The previous Government, as I said, took action. The Minister for Immigration (Mr Grassby) who is at the table has detailed some of the action that the previous Government took. A series of promulgations was brought in and an amount of money was made available so that the salaries of special teachers could be paid to provide special instruction to migrant children and to purchase approved capital equipment of the language laboratory type for use in special classes to be established. Also, money was made available for the provision of suitable teaching and learning materials and for the cost of training courses for special teachers.

The then Opposition, in response to the initiatives by the Liberal-Country Party coalition Government of that day, did not reject or seek to oppose the Bill. An amendment was moved to the Bill by the then shadow Minister for Immigration and present Minister for Services and Property (Mr Daly), but the only real sub stance to the Opposition's case was that there was no provision in the Bill for capital expenditure in terms of the building of extra classrooms. That was in fact the only real argument put forward by the Opposition. I should point out that at that time the shadow Minister for Immigration had this to say about the scheme:

The full cost of the migration scheme is extremely high. Only a small percentage will be spent on the education of migrants, yet this is generally accepted as the most important factor in their assimilation.

He was talking, of course, about education. He went on to say:

Is it too much to ask that a substantial amount be made available for capital expenditure on buildings to alleviate this problem? Members of the Opposition believe that this should be the most important part of this legislation, quite apart from the provision of teachers, and-

He went on to make this prediction - unless the amendment is adopted we believe the scheme will fail.

I think we can assess whether the scheme has failed by having a closer look at the second reading speech of the Minister for Immigration, which was presented in this House just recently. He spoke about the difficulties that had been experienced and said:

.   . there has been a substantial development in the child program. Expenditure has increased from $1.8m in the financial year 1970-71 to an expected $8.4m. in the present financial year. The number of special teachers employed to give instruction in special classes has risen from 546 in 1970-71 to approximately 1,500 in the current financial year.

The Minister went on to say:

We expect that close on 60,000 children will be receiving instruction in special classes this financial year.

I think the Minister for Immigration, who is sitting at the table, will agree with me when I say that that is a substantial endorsement of the policy of the previous Government. The prediction by the present Minister for Services and Property that the scheme would be a failure if the then Government did not adopt the amendment put forward at the time by the then Opposition has been shown to be nonsense. However, as the Minister for Immigration has pointed out, it is obvious that more needs to be done.

I was interested in the reference by the Minister for Immigration to a survey of child migrant education in schools of high migrant density in Melbourne. That survey was initiated late last year. I commend the Government for the part it played in the conducting of this survey. The survey was undertaken by the Victorian Education Department, the Catholic

Education Office in Victoria, the Commonwealth Department of Immigration and the Commonwealth Department of Education. I think that this co-operation between and coordination of effort by the Commonwealth Government and the Victorian Government has much to commend it. In fact, it is the way in which we of the Opposition believe that agreements and activities which it is hoped will bring about worthwhile results should be undertaken. As a result of this investigation, as the Minister has said, Cabinet has approved a joint submission by the Minister for Immigration and the Minister for Education to extend the child migration education program to include provision for supplementary accommodation. This is to be done by means - as he described it - of demountable or portable classrooms. I suppose 'demountable' is a jargon term.

Mr Grassby - It is a New South Wales Department of Education term. I have accepted its term.

Mr MacKELLAR - I think it adequately describes the fact that these classrooms can be moved easily to a position in a school which is in need of them and, when the need for them has passed, be shifted elsewhere for use rather than become redundant: Again I commend the Government for the fact that following its decision the State and independent school authorities were asked to establish priorities. I am glad that the Government has acknowledged the fact that the State and independent school authorities have more idea about the need for the provision of these facilities than a centralised bureaucracy located in Canberra', lt is unfortunate that the same approach is not adopted right across the broad range of Federal Government activities. However, the Government has sought and obtained the co-operation of these authorities.

I notice that 420 schools have been listed by the various education authorities as being schools where additional classrooms are required for this purpose. The cost of the provision of an additional 550 classrooms will be quite substantial. It has been estimated that at an average cost of $9,500 for their provision, erection and furnishing an amount of $5.225m will be required over a 2-year period. I notice that the Minister has set aside $2m for 1973-74 for the emergency classroom accommodation program. The Minister went on to say that further expenditure can be expected in the course of the 2 years for which the program is designed. I hope he will be more precise about that and not just say that it can be expected. I think a lot of people would be happier if he were to detail this program with more precision than just the somewhat amorphous statement that further expenditure can be expected.

Despite the Minister's activities in this respect there are many questions still to be answered. I have interested myself in reading the reports of the task forces established by the Minister in the various States. I was particularly interested to read the report of the Queensland Migrant Task Force, which detailed some of the problems occurring in Queensland in relation to, in particular, pre-school education of migrant children. Perhaps I should refresh the Minister's memory on it. The report reads:

Children are raised in a non-English speaking environment and on reaching primary school arc unable to participate in school activities ... On 11 January 1973 the Director-General of the Queensland Department of Education approached the Department of Immigration for funds to establish pre-school facilities for migrant children in existing centres in West End and Paddington in Brisbane. The cost was estimated to be approximately $30,000 per annum. It was envisaged that similar areas would be established nee the West End and Paddington centres became operative.

I am sorry to read the next sentence in the report: It reads:

This application was not successful but it was suggested to the Director-General of Education that he approach the Australian Government Department of Education for assistance in the form of a research grant or, alternatively, contact the Australian Government Pre-Schools Committee. The latter course of action has been taken. If this application is unsuccessful-

Perhaps the Minister could tell us from his knowledge of Cabinet activities whether the application has been successful- the State Department of Education has indicated they would like their original submission to the Department cf Immigration reconsidered.

I am very sorry that the Minister did not grant this application earlier this year because, as I am sure he would appreciate and endorse, pre-school education is of immense importance in the total education of any child. If, as is suggested by this report, we could reduce in particular the difficulties faced by migrant children at this early stage of their development more costly educational programs later in their educational experience might be avoided.

I was also interested to read that part of the report of the Queensland Migrant Task Force which stated that consideration should be given to a review of the requirement that only Australian Government funded teachers should take classes for migrant children, that a regular staff teacher could take special classes for migrant children and that salary reimbursement should be made for the appropriate time. 1 would commend that suggestion to the Minister. Perhaps he will agree in the future to amend the legislation so that an appropriate salary reimbursement can be made.

I have already said something about his somewhat amorphous statement that further expenditure could be expected. I draw his attention to the concern expressed by the Queensland Migrant Task Force about this aspect. It reported:

The present child migrant education program has been operating for approximately 2\ years and the State education authorities are anxious to learn whether the agreement will be renewed at the end of the 4-year term.

Once again this is an endorsement of the previous Government's attitude and action in relation to this very important matter which has been carried on, I readily admit, by the present Minister. I am sure that the Queensland education authority and education authorities in the other States will be anxious to learn whether the migrant education program as detailed in this legislation will be carried on and renewed for another 4-year term following its expiry.

The New South Wales Migrant Task Force Committee also investigated in some depth the problems of migrant education, particularly in relation to children. The Minister for Immigration in his second reading speech referred to one aspect of the problem; that is the urgent need to extend to the fullest possible extent the present system of teaching migrant children English as quickly as possible. Another problem found by the Migrant Task Force was that there is a general lack of knowledge amongst the normal teaching staff at schools of cultural backgrounds of migrants, their customs and attitudes. It was found that this had unfortunate results for many of the children. I certainly endorse that sentiment. I wonder whether the Minister has any plans in assessing this program whereby this very serious problem may be overcome. The problems of assimilating migrants from many countries throughout the world are too obvious to be detailed in the House at the moment. There is no doubt that on a general level Australia has benefited, and I hope will continue to benefit, from the influx of . migrants who have come here in substantial numbers since the end of the Second World War.

Any of us who have had much to do with assisting migrants in regard to the problems of settling in and making their way in Australia and coping with the myriad problems which beset any persons when they come to a new country would support, I am sure, any move by this Government or any other government to make this assimilation easier. The benefits both to the individual and to the country are so great that the Opposition will fully support this Bill. Two aspects of the .situation concern me more than others. One aspect concerns young children, as I have already mentioned. I believe the Government should be looking more closely at young children of preschool education age. The other aspect concerns female migrants. I believe there are many female migrants in every major city in Australia, particularly wives of migrants who may be in the older age bracket, who have a great deal of difficulty, and it appears not a great deal of incentive, in learning English. If we could break down this isolation which lack of knowledge of the language of the country imposes I am quite certain that we would avoid many of the problems which now face us, particularly in the major cities.

Unfortunately, in my view there has been a tendency in the cities to build up ethnic conclaves to what I regard as a disturbing extent. I believe the program should be continually assessed in relation to the education of migrants in the English language before and after they arrive in Australia. I think we could avoid many of the problems which face migrants to this country, particularly those who lack fluency in the English language if before they arrived in this country they had more adequate English language education courses.

As I have said, the Opposition supports the Bill. Obviously we support it because we initiated it in the first place. We are pleased that the Minister has seen the advantages to be gained by the implementation of this scheme. In supporting it I personally hope that a continuing review is maintained so that the scheme can be further improved with the objective of assisting not only the migrants in Australia in a personal sense but also improving the whole welfare of this country.

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