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Thursday, 11 October 1973
Page: 2002

Mr COOKE (Petrie) - When the Minister for Education (Mr Beazley) introduced this Bill he said, in his second reading speech, that the establishment of the Australian Schools Commission was a logical extension of the principles adopted by former governments in regard to universities and colleges of advanced education. Unfortunately I think the Minister was using logic of a Fabian school rather than of an Aristotelian school. It is obviously quite different having a commission which supervises the expenditure in 12 universities, all of which have a common interest in that they are run by States, from having a commission which is to supervise the expenditure for 9,500 schools, some of which are run by governments and others run by varying groups of parents with different principles and different ideals in view.

I suggest that the task which the Minister hopes this Commission will perform is so enormous that it will emasculate the program. The Commission will get into such a tangled mess trying to work out priorities among those 9,500 schools that the whole of the Minister's grand ideas and grand concepts will crash to the ground. He said in the second reading speech also that the Government attaches very high priority to education, particularly to the quality of education and to equality of opportunity in education. I agree with the principles that he expressed. I doubt that the Bill which he introduced will achieve either objective. I suppose in dealing with the Bill we can only assume that the Commission will proceed somewhat along the lines laid down in the Karmel Committee report. If that is so the quality of education will suffer as a result of this Commission's activities. One has only to look at the efforts of the Karmel Committee in seeking to classify private schools to realise that a category system has been established which gives a positive disincentive for schools to upgrade their facilities. If they upgrade their facilities in one particular year they move into a higher category and the Government support which they receive would drop.

Mr Beazley - That is not so.

Mr COOKE - The Minister might interject but in fact when the matter was pointed out in the Press a spokesman for the Interim Committee was cavalier enough to suggest to schools that if they wanted to go down a category they ought to sack a teacher and increase their student-teacher relationship in order to qualify for a higher grant. That is the type of quality of education that this Commission is likely to produce. What does this Commission mean and what does the Minister mean by the quality of education? Does it mean that he wishes to have modern buildings? Does it mean that the Minister wishes to have playgrounds with trees? Does it mean that he wishes to have sporting facilities? Does it mean that he wishes to have libraries or certain teacher-pupil relationships? The quality of education is one of those vague phrases which are bandied around so frequently by educationists and academics - and the Minister is no exception to either of those groups - and no one really knows what is meant by them. It is one of those things like motherhood that everybody is in favour of but no one quite knows how to define.

The quality of life depends on the value judgment which is made by the community whose needs the particular school wishes to service. So this is something extremely subjective. I suggest that in questions of Government finance of education a vague phrase such as that is absolutely meaningless. We have to get down to tin tacks. One has to say whether the Government will set positive standards for schools. Are we to have class sizes restricted to certain numbers? Are we to have audiovisual aids available for every class? How much and what sort of equipment will be provided for sporting facilities? What type of curriculum will be used in the various schools? I think this would lead to very meaningful discussions about what advances could be made in education. Simply to refer to the quality of education is to be as vague and meaningless as are some of the other terms which, unfortunately, have been used in the Karmel Committee report.

Let me deal with the second principle which the Minister announced as Government priority - equality of opportunity. May I suggest to the Minister that if his Government is concerned about having equality of opportunity in education he is going about it the wrong way round. It is ridiculous to start spending money by making universities free if equality of opportunity in education is the aim. Unless a child is grounded properly in infant and primary school - I leave out of account secondary schools for the moment - there is no point in making attendance at universities free. In the United Kingdom recently a teacher shortage has occurred in secondary schools because of an earnest desire by the Government since the Second World War to make secondary education available for every student. This country has followed exactly the same course. Whether that course has been wise will perhaps be judged in future years, but it is certainly correct to say that hundreds of secondary students in this country today are wasting their time and wasting the Government's money by staying at school. Alternatives have to be made available in order to make sure that children in the last 2 years of secondary education do not waste their time sitting in school simply because they have to and to make sure that they derive something of advantage to themselves when they leave school.

I refer now to the infant and primary schools. The honourable member for Casey (Mr Mathews) referred to this matter. I rather feel sorry for the honourable gentleman because every time he speaks I get the distinct impression that he had a nasty experience in his youth and he has not quite got over the shock. I will refer to the disadvantaged people mentioned by the honourable member. He talked about handicapped children and children with specific learning defects. If the Government wishes to provide equality of opportunity for people like that it must first provide remedial teachers in the infant and primary schools.

Mr Beazley - I suppose the honourable member realises that he is a remedial teacher?

Mr COOKE -'I am glad to hear that. It is no good asking why this was not done 23 years ago. I suggest that 23 years ago remedial teaching was unknown in practically every country. It is only in recent years that educational techniques have advanced to such a stage that learning defects in children can be diagnosed and treated and that persons have been trained as remedial teachers and placed in schools.

Education in general is an expanding and an evolving program. It is no good asking why certain things were not done years ago because years ago the need was not there. I see the honourable member for Brisbane (Mr Cross) trying valiantly to make a sensible interjection. Let me remind the honourable member that when I was a lad in Brisbane, and no doubt when he was a lad there, under a Labor government which was in power in that State for over 40 years there were 2 State secondary schools in the whole Brisbane metropolitan area. Since the Liberal-Country Party Government came to power in Queensland in 19S7, State secondary schools have been established in every Brisbane suburb. This is what has happened in the field of education. It is the process of evolution - keeping up with the times - which has taken place over the years.

Let me return to the concept of equal opportunity. The report of the Karmel Committee, if honourable members care to read it, has this to say about the concept of equality:

The Australian interpretation of equal opportunity has, then, been confirmed to public schooling, and has been interpreted there as equal and, in the main, uniform provision throughout the State for which each education authority is responsible.

Mark these words:

Given the spread of population, the degree of equality of provision which has been achieved is, by world standards, impressive.

So much for equality of opportunity. But if one reads on in that report by the Karmel Committee one sees the real thrust of this Government. It is a thrust inspired by either jealousy or envy against independent schools. The report says that independent schools in general enjoy a higher standard of educational facilities than government schools. So, what does this Government propose? Instead of maintaining the independent schools at their admitted high level of operation, it seeks to cut down aid to independent schools and to lower their standards rather than to try to pump money into the government school system to improve government schools and to bring them up to the same acceptable high standards which independent schools have achieved very largely at great financial sacrifice to the parents of the children who attend those schools. I do not accept for one second that all parents of independent school children are wealthy. If the Karmel Committee worked on that theory, this is another glaring example of how it has approached this matter with a mind completely closed to the facts.

Mr Beazley - Have you read the report?

Mr COOKE - I have read it several times. I must say - and I will when I come on to the point directly - that some of the concepts mentioned in the Karmel report are academic bunkum. I refer to the concept of need and the way in which it is defined. I will deal with it now so that the Minister will have the benefit of my observations. The Karmel Committee's report deals with the concept of need in these terms:

The concept of need is not easy to define.

I would agree with it there. It continues:

Beyond a basic minimum level, the needs of schools can only be considered in relation to the objectives set for them and in accordance with what is considered appropriate in terms of the wealth of society.

That is what the Karmel Committee says about need. So, dealing with the need of an individual school, presumably one must find out what objectives the parents of children at that school set for the school and what wealth in the society is available to finance those objectives. What does the Karmel Committee report do? It says: 'This is too hard to do. So, we will devise some mystical formula which produces inconsistencies of classification.' Even blind Freddie could realise that that formula is stupid.

Mr Doyle - Who is he?

Mr COOKE - He is not the honourable member for Lilley; he is stupid but not blind. The Karmel Committee report works out some silly mathematical formula-

Mr Doyle - I rise to take a point of order. I take offence at the suggestion made by the honourable member for Petrie that I am stupid. I am stupid only in that I am sitting here listening to him.

Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr Luchetti)Order!I ask the honourable member to withdraw that remark.

Mr COOKE - I withdraw. I was provoked by the honourable gentleman, and I am sorry. However, I am not sorry for the remarks that I am making about the Karmel Committee's concept of need because it is the most fallacious formula I have ever seen.

Mr Keogh - What formula should it have used?

Mr Beazley - The same grant for the school with 1,380 as for the school with 204; that was your formula.

Mr COOKE - The Minister has mentioned a most interesting point. One wealthy independent school in Queensland - or one school recognised in the Karmel Committee report to be the most wealthy independent school in that State - will receive more money from the Government than it received under the LiberalCountry Party Government. That is the position. An independent school in my electorate which depends entirely on the support of the parents of its pupils and which has no endowments at all is classified in the same category as the most wealthy school in Queensland.

Mr Beazley - How do you know that?

Mr COOKE - This formula is complete bunkum.

Mr Beazley - They are all subject to appeal. Some of them have put in wrong returns.

Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr Luchetti)Order!I ask the Minister to cease interjecting.

Mr COOKE - The Minister says that they are all subject to appeal. Well, I suppose one can say that it is an appeal, but it is a curious sort of appeal when the person who hears the appeal is exactly the same person who has classified the school and knocked it out in the first round. So, the same person or people will reconsider the decision. If that is an appeal, I will eat my hat. This concept of need, according to the Committee, takes no account of whether a school is run at a surplus or a deficit. Surely one of the basic criteria to determine whether a school is in need is to see whether its balance is run in credit or in deficit. The Committee takes no account of debt charges or whether higher fees can be charged. This is a patent and manifest fallacy. If parents are saving in order to pay school fees at a particular level and that school still has not the facilities necessary to give their children a decent education, surely one would say that that school is in need. But not according to the classification of the Karmel Committee. The fact that parents are paying as much by way of school fees as they can does not matter twopence to these academic gentlemen who have sat down and worked out a mystical formula for the distribution of government moneys. This is one of the main objections that I have to the Schools Commission: Parliament will be asked annually to appropriate bulk sums of money for expenditure on education. It will then be distributed to the States presumably under section 96 grants earmarked for schools in accordance with the recommendations and the formula determined in secret by the Commission. There are no bases on which any school in Australia can work out its own classification or formula. Goodness knows what mess this Commission will get into when it starts categorising government schools.

Does the Minister suggest that the Commission will classify every government school in every State on the basis of need? How will that be done? Will the Commission have a different formula from the formula it used to classify need for independent schools? If so, it is a blatant discrimination against the parents of those children who go to independent schools. If not, surely the report itself makes nonsense of the concept of classifying government schools in accordance with need because the States have set minimum standards for every school. Certainly there are areas in which more money needs to be spent on education. But it ought tobe spent in a more rational and sensible way. People ought to toe told what are the criteria on which this Commission will operate, what are the standards which this Commission sets for schools, and what the Commission considers to be the proper use of resources. Do honourable members imagine for a moment that this Commission will not use the power of the purse to interfere in the way in which schools all over this country will spend their money? I suggest that this Commission is nothing short of an attempt by the Government to introduce a Fabian concept of equality into education that is doomed to disaster and failure.

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