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Thursday, 11 October 1973
Page: 1992

Mr REYNOLDS (Barton) - I rise to support the Bill. Before I go on to make my own positive remarks on the Bill let me refer to a few of the remarks made by the 2 speakers for the Opposition who so far have taken part in this debate. The honourable member for Wannon (Mr Malcolm Fraser), a former Minister for Education, seems to have learnt nothing. He has forgotten nothing, but he has learnt nothing from the experience of 2 December 1972. He still goes on with the same old complaints about centralism, talking about how this new enterprise - the Commonwealth Schools Commission - is going to centralise the task of education in Australia.

We remember his pre-election prophecies about how this Commission would want to appoint every teacher to every school in Australia and all this sort of nonsense. He conveniently forgets that his own government or governments of his kidney in previous times set up comparable bodies at the tertiary level - such as the Universities Commission and the Commonwealth Commission on Advanced Education - on which this Schools Commission is very much modelled.

The honourable member quite conveniently forgets those things. He ignores the provisions in the Bill when he talks about centralism. He ignores the provisions in the Bill that give the Commission, with the sanction of the Minister for Education, power to set up all kinds of consultative bodies in the community. Why all this nonsense about centralism when it is explicitly stated in the Minister's second reading speech that the State governments will still have control of State education and all that we will be doing will be helping them to do it a lot better. The honourable member for Wannon talked in a derogatory way about the Commonwealth taking over the financial responsibility for tertiary education. Does he not remember the outcry from every State Minister for Education about the formula imposed upon the States by the previous Commonwealth Government in respect of financial grants to the States whereby for recurrent benefits the States had to find $1.85 for every $1 that the Commonwealth provided? What was the result? The result was to distort the educational pattern.

We had very good universities and we had very good colleges of advanced education. But look around the community, look around the inner suburbs - but do not restrict it to that - and look at the condition of so many of the primary and secondary schools in Australia. Do not look for pre-school education because so little of its exists. Do not look very much for the welfare of the handicapped children in our community because they are still running chocolate wheels to raise funds to maintain their own schools. I could go on with further examples. The former Minister for Education has the hide to say: 'Our concern is for a high standard of education for all children and our particular concern is for those most in need'. That is a laugh when one remembers just how the previous Government gave flat rate grants right across the board, niggardly as they were, and the poorer schools got exactly the same amount per capita as did the richest schools in the country. Yet the honourable member for Wannon refers to that as 'our concern for those most in need'.

Does he not remember the science grants provisions whereby twice as much per head was spent on private schools as was spent on state schools? Does he remember what the previous Government did not do about the report of the Senate Standing Committee on Health and Welfare which was tabled in May 1971 in respect of the welfare of the mentally and physically handicapped children in Australia? That report culminated from an inquiry set up in 1970 in the Senate at the behest of Australian Labor PaTty senators who at that time, with the co-operation of the Democratic Labor Party, had control in that place.

That report lay on the table for 18 months prior to the last election and hardly a thing was done about it. Like so many other reports it was pigeon-holed. It was referred to an interdepartmental committee. We went to the election on 2 December and all those handicapped children in Australia, not only those in private schools but also those not able to get into any school at all, were deprived. The least of God's children, you might say, were deprived by this former Minister for Education who now expresses his concern for all children.

I could go on with other examples of this woeful state of affairs that I have referred to in regard to so many of our government schools. But what about the concern expressed by him about there being no guarantees. The honourable member for Chisholm (Mr Staley) - if he would care to listen to my remarks - was looking for guarantees in respect of private schools, but he ought to know that many of our private schools had to close down. Look around the countryside. Look- at the number of private schools, the number of Catholic and other schools that have had to close down. At this stage 40 per cent - and the percentage is rising every year - of the children who would have liked to go to, say, a Catholic school have been denied that choice because those schools could not be maintained. The previous Government did nothing to help to sustain those schools. Yet in this Bill the aid for all such schools has been more than trebled. I know what the reaction is in my electorate. The private schools have been amazed by the liberality of this Bill and the provision it makes to sustain them. I am talking about not only the non-systemic schools but the systemic schools as well. Our prime concern, I suppose, always has to be on behalf of the approximately 75 per cent - and it is rising still higher - who go to state schools. We have an obligation to them, an obligation which the previous Government ignored.

Let me turn now to the report itself. The report had to be produced in a hurry. Let us be frank and admit that. The urgency of the situation demanded it. We gave a guarantee that when we became the Government we would set up this Interim Commission, and we did that immediately we became the Government. Within 5 months this very capable body, this dedicated body of men and women, produced this report. That body has done a magnificent job on behalf of Australian education. Of course there are defects in the report. What body, exercising such a wide charter, could avoid making some errors? Well, it has the opportunity to revise the report. The Commission that will be set up as a result of this report will be widely representative. More will be said about that during the debate, I would imagine, as we go into the Committee stage of the Bill.

The overriding principle guiding this Bill is that it should provide for quality of education and that it should provide for equality of educational opportunity. As a first step towards achieving that which provides the basic requirements that are so much denied one does not have to go very far - just go to schools in all of our metropolitan areas all over Australia - to see the dingy schools, the dingy class rooms, the high turnover of teachers who refuse to remain in those schools and playgrounds that are represented by a dingy little piece of potholed asphalt. Yet, on the other hand, we have schools that occupy literally acres of green pastures. This is the kind of thing we decry and that is why we sought a mandate from the Australian people to give something like equality of opportunity. Until we can bring all those schools which have been so neglected up to a reasonable standard we are going to restrict the amount of grants that we will give to those schools which already have reached the standard which the Karmel Committee reckoned was a reasonable standard for the Australian school system.

I have not heard any of the State Ministers for Education decry this Bill or its provisions. In fact in New South Wales, at a time approaching the State election, the Minister for Education is busying himself going around announcing how many teachers he is going to recruit.

Mr Beazley - State Ministers of education attending the Australian Education Council unanimously commended the entire Karmel exercise and the offer of funds.

Mr REYNOLDS - Let that interjection be recorded. They all accepted it willingly. In my State of New South Wales at the present time advertisements appear day after day in the newspapers to recruit more teachers. We did not see that during the Liberal-Country Party regime. We see that more school buildings are to be erected, more ancillary staff are to be recruited and more librarians are to be trained. The State cannot get the bodies quickly enough now and it has funds like it never had before. Surely that is the prerequisite to setting up a decent educational system in Australia. We are not concerned only with the qualitative aspects; we are concerned also about the quantitative aspects, despite the remarks of the honourable member for Chisholm who suggested that we lacked some kind of value system and that we were concerned only with material things. As a former teacher in the educational system in New South Wales I regard that remark as a gross reflection on the vast body of teachers in government and non-government schools. To say that teachers concern themselves only with material values is a gross reflection on any body of people, and in my view this is a dedicated body of people.

Not only have the State Ministers applauded what has been done. The Australian Council of State School Organisations, the schools themselves, their professional bodies, and parents and teachers alike have applauded this step. Why should they not applaud it after looking at some of the figures. I will not have time to say all that I would like to say. Why should not these people applaud this step when you consider what the Karmel Committee report provides. For the 2 years 1974 and 1975 the Karmel Committee report will provide an additional S467m. That is additional to the amounts that were to be provided under the previous Government's scheme. Taking into account what the previous Government was going to do, that provision will give the government and non-government schools of this nation $693m more than the 1972-73 provision. In the 2-year period, 1974 and 1975, government schools will get $476m extra on what the previous Government had provided in 1972-73. They will get $476m extra. It is said that we are not making any guarantee for the existence of non-government schools but they will get $123m extra during that time compared with what they got in 1971-72.

Mr Malcolm Fraser - Come off it.

Mr REYNOLDS - This is in the record and the honourable member for Wannon has been supplied with the details. He may not have had time to read them but they are on record. The tables are there for him to read. I shall refer to one of them - payments to or for the States in 1973-74.

Mr Malcolm Fraser - I raise a point of order. I ask the honourable member for Barton to table or have incorporated in Hansard all the documents he has which he believes prove that independent schools are getting $170m more than would have been provided by the previous Government.

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