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Thursday, 27 September 1973
Page: 1668

Mr FISHER (Mallee) - The Australian Country Party supports this Immigration (Education) Bill 1973. The Bill provides as an emergency measure supplementary class-room accommodation for migrant children. These class-rooms will be built at both state and independent schools so that adequate special instruction can take place. The reasons why an amendment is needed to the Act, which includes provision for capital expenditure on buildings, has been adequately explained by previous speakers and I have no desire to expand on this issue. But I must point out several urgent issues in relation to migrant education.

I think it is advisable at this stage to recall that in April 1970 the Liberal-Country Party Government introduced a program of special assistance to schools in areas where there was a lack of knowledge of English among migrant children. This handicap, in fact the total problem of communication, is the greatest factor limiting the integration of migrant children into the total Australian society. This applies particularly to the children of migrant people. If we are to be successful in removing all discriminations - in general or those against, individuals or certain ethnic groups - that unfortunately do still exist in our society, the expansion of education facilities must be the first priority.

Most migrant children are usually completely exposed to a new environment amongst people who are unaware of these difficulties. They meet alien attitudes and behaviour and of course they meet a language that they can neither speak nor understand. If they can understand it is usually only imperfectly. The migrant child has the compounded problem and stress of having to live between 2 different cultures. Migrant children have first of all to bridge the gap between the beliefs and the duties of their own family and the quite different ways of thinking and behaving in the life they are experiencing in and out of school. If these children reach adolescence experiencing these same stresses, at a time when they are struggling to establish their own identity as persons, the shock of finding themselves unable to communicate even at the simplest level must be a traumatic experience. Naturally they will then become disadvantaged at the most critical stage of their lives. Under these conditions only children with specific language aptitude have any chance of reaching their academic potential.

The present scheme of special classes which offers special English language classes on a withdrawal basis according to the English language ability of the student is a well planned and systematic attempt to overcome the language barrier by employing specially trained teachers. However, this scheme does have defects. The most serious of these is that by offering the English language teaching through withdrawal from normal classes we are leaving the migrant student about 30 periods only a week in which to absorb through the medium of a language foreign to him instruction for which average Australians working within their own language require at least 40 periods a week. It is little wonder that under these conditions so many migrant children fall by the wayside. Another major defect is the shortage of special teachers and an almost total lack of them in many rural areas.

In my electorate of Mallee - and I refer particularly to the towns of Robinvale, Swan Hill and Mildura - large numbers of migrant children require this special instruction and they require special class-room accommodation. Some schools in these areas have up to one-third of their total enrolments made up of migrant children or children of migrant families. I realise of course that in many of the underprivileged city areas there is a distinct need for the provision of portable classrooms and extra accommodation. But I do hope that the Minister for Immigration (Mr Grassby), who is now at the table and who represents a rural electorate with a large percentage of migrants enrolled at the schools in that area, will ensure that some of these classrooms will also be provided in rural areas. Despite these difficulties the development of the migrant children education program has been substantial in the past. The second reading speech points out that the expenditure by the Liberal -Country Party Government increased from $1.8m in 1970-71 to $8.4m for this financial year. The number of special teachers employed has risen from 540 in 1970-71 to 1,500 this year.

The Minister stated in his second reading speech that up to 60,000 children will be receiving instruction in special classes this year. This is a large number of young people. In order to ensure that they reach a level of understanding of the English language comparable with that of their Australian peers, not only are adequate teachers necessary but also it is essential to provide suitable class accommodation. Of the schools that are able to conduct special migrant classes, too often no appropriate accommodation is available and often these classes, as has been stated by the Minister, have to be conducted in temporary quarters, passageways and other forms of substandard accommodation. The initiatives of the previous Federal Government has resulted in advances in migrant child education by providing the funds for salaries of special teachers; the purchase of capital equipment of the language laboratory type; the provision of suitable teaching and learning materials; and funds to cover the cost of training courses for special teachers.

This Bill is a simple one but it will be another step forward in improving in particular the facilities for migrant education and will as a result advance the total role of education available in our community. The opportunities for basic education come only once to us all, but to some areas of our community the need for complementing this basic education is urgent. The needs of children from migrant families whether they be Australian-born or not is one such area and the Australian Country Party is pleased to give its support to this Bill. Migrants have come to Australia from many different countries. They have come expecting higher standards of living and higher educational opportunities. Australia has not only the right but also the potential to give to these migrant people the things for which they come here. The first costs in any program are always the cheapest and, in the long run, any funds used to overcome the serious communication problems faced by migrant children will be more than offset by the future advantages to the whole community. I support this Bill.

MrKEOGH (Bowman) (5.16)- I am pleased to have the opportunity to say a few words in respect of this legislation, the purpose of which is of course to repair or make good yet another piece of Liberal-Country Party inefficiency. For many years, previous governments treated the education of migrant children like so many other aspects of migrant welfare - it was ignored. Generally speaking, once migrants passed through the gates of the migrant hostel and were finally thrown into the community, the Government forgot about them. In fact, it was only in recent years that the previous Government showed any signs of coming to grips with its responsibility for a continuing interest in the lives of migrants and their children.

For many years, Australia's immigration program was based on an incoherent system of establishing annual targets, some settlers having their full fare paid for them, and others coming here under their own steam and paying their full fare. Generally, the target that was sought was based upon a one per cent addition to the population, the rate of growth from natural means also being assessed at one per cent. That meant that the annual target increase of the Australian population was 2 per cent. This was the target balance that was set by the late

Arthur Calwell when the immigration scheme was introduced in 1949. The scheme was adequately suited to the early 1950s. However, for almost 20 years the Liberals stuck to this balance, ignoring the fact that gradually over the years the circumstances that originally warranted a target of one per cent had changed drastically and, consequently, in the minds of many economists and others actively concerned with the welfare of migrants and their assimilation into the Australian way of life, the target became economically unjustifiable.

Another factor which in recent years contributed to the eventual awareness of the previous Government of the need for action in relation to English language training was the increasing numbers of unskilled workers with low levels of education who were arriving from non-English speaking countries. I would like to refer to an article in the 'National Times' of 25 September 1972 which referred to a Ph.D. thesis being prepared by an Australian student, Andrew Jay. Mr Jay referred to the problems of Australia's immigration policy and said:

The trouble with Australia's immigration policy is that it has never had one.

The article continued;

Nowhere has this shown up better than in the recent statement from the Minister for Immigration, Dr Forbes, ' tossing a few random extra dollars to the Good Neighbour Councils here, pumping a little more into child migrant education there, setting up a few infactory language courses for new settlers, and grandly announcing a whole new approach to selection and counselling.

In theory it all looks fine, and like the curate's egg is good in parts, even if the egg has been rather belatedly laid. In practice the statement is a perfect example of the twin theses which have always underlain Australia's immigration thinking.

First, that given a few language tools 'they', the imports, would eventually all become like 'us', the hosts, and integrate.

One of the main factors that certainly has contributed to the problem over the years has been the fact that the responsibility for immigration, rightly, has been that of the national Government. The Australian Government introduced the scheme and accepted full responsibility for it. Admittedly, supplementary schemes have been operated by various States, but the main impact of immigration on the growth pattern of this nation has been rightly the responsibility of, and has been conducted under the authority of, the Australian Government.

It has been only in recent years that the Commonwealth has shown some interest in assisting in the financing of education. But for many years the responsibility for financing education and providing the resources for the provision of education of a general nature or of a particular nature, such as was required by the non-English speaking migrants, was that of the States and of course, this is where the scheme of things broke down. This fact was recognised by the previous Government in 1971 when it introduced the Migrant Education Act.

The Bill that is now before the House provides for an emergency grant for the supplementary classrooms that are needed for the accommodation of children in our schools who require this special education. The grant is to be provided to state and independent schools catering for large proportions of migrant children. As the Minister for Immigration (Mr Grassby) said in his second reading speech on this Bill, these classrooms are required at some 420 schools that have been listed by the education authorities. The Minister said:

At some schools, two or more classrooms would be needed.

An initial estimate is that 550 classrooms will be required in all. At an estimated average cost of $9,500 for provision, erection and furnishing, an amount of $5.25m would be required over the 2-year period. Two million dollars has been provided in 1973-74 for the .'emergency classroom accommodation program.

That is the' amount provided for in this amending legislation. Despite the statement by the honourable member for Warringah (Mr MacKellar) . that the success of the scheme introduced 1 by the previous Government had not been referred to by the Minister, I think it is very timely to bring to the attention of honourable members the need for this legislation and to remind them of the facts I mentioned' a few seconds ago, indicating the grave . shortcomings of the previous scheme. These shortcomings of course were forecast by the spokesman for the then Opposition during the debate on the previous legislation - now the Minister for Services and Property (Mr Daly) who was then shadow Minister for Immigration - when he proposed just such an amendment during the original debate. Of course, the clear indication that he gave then has been borne out in the years since.

It was revealed to a large extent by the survey conducted into the needs of child migrants in the schools in the high density migrant areas of Melbourne. The idea that such, class rooms would be provided by this Government was indicated in March this year when that report was tabled by the Minister for Education (Mr Beazley). He said that part of the discontent among migrant children sprang from the inadequacy of school premises to house the number of special classes that were warranted by the children in attendance. There was no provision under the Child Migrant Education Program for accommodation of classes. The Minister went on to say that the schools surveyed showed that only 29 per cent of the rooms used for migrant English classes were proper class rooms. That meant that the teachers and children were working in sub-standard .accommodation. It was revealed that this accommodation often amounted to staff rooms, cloak rooms, store rooms, offices, sometimes corridors and even sick bays, and in one particular instance a shower room and a laundry.

Mr Grassby - And a cellar.

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