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Thursday, 11 October 1973
Page: 1987

Mr MATHEWS (Casey) - Let me say at once that the Government gladly accepts the inclusion in this Bill of the extract from the Declaration of Human Rights from which the former Minister for Education and Science, the honourable member for Wannon (Mr Malcolm Fraser) has quoted, embodying, as it does very thoroughly, the philosophy and statements of faith on which the legislation before the House rests. Although it accepts that amendment from the Opposition, the Government rejects the remainder of the Opposition's amendments as totally undermining the hope of achieving the great aspirations set out in the Declaration and, indeed, emasculating the legislation which we are debating. The former Minister for Education and Science, upon whose shoulders rests a very formidable share of the responsibility for the present state of Australian schools, has, in the name of fighting centralisation, proposed amendments which would destroy the most hopeful initiatives in the direction of decentralisation in the administration of education which this country has yet seen.

The honourable member for Wannon, in proposing to combat bureaucracy, has chosen to concentrate the overwhelming weight of School Commission representation in the hands of 2 bureaucracies, namely, that bureaucracy made up of the State Departments of Education, as expressed through their Ministers and institutionalised in the Australian Education Council, and that other bureaucracy, no less hidebound, which is institutionalised in the independent schools authorities. The membership proposed for the Australian Schools Commission, and foreshadowed in the Interim Committee for the Australian Schools Commission which was announced by the Minister for Education (Mr Beazley) on 24 September this year, reflects very closely the membership and the spread of interests represented on the original Interim Committee for the Australian Schools Commission, which was appointed under Professor Karmel as one of the first acts of the present Government.

The work of that Committee, unrepresentative and flawed as the honourable member for Wannon would have us believe it, led to the production of the interim report of the Australian Schools Commission which was hailed by the former Prime Minister, the right honourable member for Lowe (Mr McMahon), as 'this magnificent report'. It produced a document which that right honourable gentleman said his own government should have produced. The great body of teachers in Australia and that great body of parents whose efforts have done so much to keep the education system afloat in this country throughout the postwar period will view with great trepidation the amendments that have been proposed by the honourable member for Wannon and will similarly regard the philosophy of which those amendments are an expression. There will be no doubt in the minds of those organisations that there would be no place on a Schools Commission, staffed by a government in which the honourable member for Wannon was again the Minister for Education, for persons such as Mr Ray Costello, the President of the first Teachers Federation, who has been appointed to the Interim Committee by the present Minister for Education. There would be no place on such a commission for Mrs Joan Kirner, who has been appointed from the Australian Council of State School Organisations. Mr Costello and Mrs Kirner are people with a knowledge as deep, an experience as extensive, a commitment to education equal in every way to anyone-

Mr Malcolm Fraser - I raise a point of order. May I gently correct the honourable member for Casey? What he has just said is not correct. I initially gave the funds to the Australian Council of State School Organisations to establish a central secretariat.

Mr SPEAKER -Order! There can be no debate. No point of order is involved. If the honourable member has been, misrepresented he can make a personal explanation at the conclusion of this speech.

Mr MATHEWS - The honourable member for Wannon shows himself no less adept at taking up the time of other speakers by the procedural forms of the House than he accuses other members of being through interjecting. It is quite clear, given the terms of the amendments moved by the honourable member for Wannon, that neither of these people, enormous though their potential contribution is to the cause of education in this country, would have any hope of finding their way on to a commission in which the honourable member for Wannon had any say. Indeed it was clear from the speech made by the honourable member for Wannon that the existence of the Schools Commission itself will be in serious doubt should he again return to the office which he has twice occupied. He said his Party would preserve its own right and make its own decisions on this matter. I regard that as a very ominous warning for the prospects of any objective process of inquiry into the needs of education in this country.

Honourable members will not find it hard to recall how, prior to the 1969 election, the honourable member for Wannon promoted the idea of a nationwide survey on educational needs as a means of staving off the demands not only of teachers' organisations and of parents' organisations but also of State Ministers and others who make up the Australian Council for Education, for which he has suddenly developed so high an opinion, until after the Government of which he was a member could get over a critical pre-election period. How rapidly he and his leader moved to discredit the results of that survey as soon as the election was over. The whole philosophy of members opposite in matters of Commonwealth assistance for education has been based on a 3 -tier model of the education system.

The honourable member for Wannon and those associated with him have always had a very special affinity with and concern for a very small group of schools in this community whose students are already receiving education of a very high quality. They have been prepared to spare a few crumbs for those parochial and government schools in middle and outer suburban areas which have been represented in this place until recently by members of their own Party. They have had no concern whatsoever for those schools at which Australia's least privileged children receive their education. Three groups in particular have missed out throughout the long period of Liberal Party Government of this country. I refer in particular to children who are handicapped by being born into socially and economically disadvantaged households, children who are drawn from migrant households in which the language spoken is a language other than English and the cultural assumptions are other than those of our own society, and children who are born mentally or physically handicapped in some degree. Although any community should acknowledge a great and overriding obligation to those 3 groups of children, it is these children who, under the government of the honourable member for Wannon and his predecessors in the Education portfolio, have missed out. I have little time to develop the extent to which they have missed out but I draw attention in that time to a few indicative facts, including those set out in the report of the Migrant Task Force Committee of Victoria which was tabled recently in this Parliament. The first conclusion of that report states:

Recent surveys and reports Indicate that: effectively only 20 per cent of the children in the schools surveyed who need English tuition are receiving enough of it . . .

In effect there in a blatant denial of the child's right to a meaningful and fulfilling educational experience.

I turn to the needs of the handicapped children and particularly those who are psychologically disturbed and have specific learning difficulties or have difficulties of language expression and articulation; that is, to children who, under any proper system of priorities for educational expenditure, would receive prompt and proper care from the phychology and guidance branches of education departments, from the speech therapy branches of education departments and from remedial teaching staff of education departments. A report presented recently to the Victorian Minister for Educa tion revealed that in that State, with a school population of 600,000 children, a mere 98 officers in the Psychology and Guidance Branch were available, 43 of whom were still in the process of training. I think that is a fair indication of the priority attached by the honourable member for Wannon and his State colleagues to the needs of the child who is handicapped by emotional disturbance or by specific learning difficulties. The report went on to point out that the speech therapy branch of the Victorian Education Department had barely half the speech therapists necessary to meet its estimated workload.

I wonder whether the honourable member for Wannon and those who, like him, try to undermine the process by which these facts could regularly be brought under public scrutiny have any comprehension of the misery of the family and the child when defects of speech get steadily worse over a number of years while that child is waiting for treatment and none can be provided for him. I have seen children identified by officers of the Victorian Education Department as having defects of speech in their first or second year at school and denied treatment for 3 or more years because of the gross shortage of speech therapists. For 3 or 4 years these defects became exacerbated and fed on themselves until the children concerned became speech cripples. I wonder whether the honourable member for Wannon has any comprehension of the distress of parents and the child where specific learning difficulties are identified and where 80 per cent of the children who receive the assistance which they require in the first year or 2 years of their school career, recover from those difficulties. A majority of the children with these defects are denied the assistance that they need up to grades 5, 6 and beyond, even into secondary schools, where the prospects for successful action are remote indeed.

I bring these very few instances to the attention of the House and to the honourable member for Wannon because I am convinced that the great contribution that the Australian Schools Commission will make to the affairs of education in this country is to bring before the attention of the public, this Parliament and the State Parliaments not only the great and glaring problems of education in which we all share most directly but also those problems of special education, special services, education for handicapped children and education for migrant children which have so long been swept under the mat and which will not receive the attention to which they are entitled until they are regularly exposed to the light of day.

This process of an objective inquiry is one which will not be well served if the people responsible for it are drawn exclusively from the bureaucracies of State education departments and from the teaching and parental hierarchies of the independent school system. The selection of the Interim Committee for the Australian Schools Commission - that is, the committee that was headed by Professor Karmel - was a triumph to bringing into play in this field of educational investigation the best resources that our community has to offer. There is a very considerable overlap between that initial interim committee and the interim committee announced by the Minister on 24 September. If the amendments that will be moved by the honourable member for Wannon are carried it would be most unlikely that more than one or two at the most of the people who were represented_on those committees would figure as members of a permanent schools commission. That would be a tragedy for this nation, for its schools and for its children.

I hope that there will be no retreat by the Australian people from the commitment into which they entered last December for a new deal for the schools of this country. I hope that they will not allow themselves to be frightened off from the new processes of objective inquiry and from the greatly increased scope of financial commitment on the part of the Australian Government to the Australian education system. I hope that we can go forward from the recommendations which have been put forward by the Karmel Committee and adopted overwhelmingly by the Government to new uplands of education in this country. The Karmel report is a great charter for the development of Australian schools and the present Bill gives that charter lasting form.

Mr SPEAKER -Order! The honourable member's time has expired.

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