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Wednesday, 17 October 1973
Page: 2283

Mr DRURY (Ryan) - In his Budget Speech the Treasurer (Mr Crean) stressed that education is a top priority. The Budget provides in this current financial year for a total expenditure of $843m, which in fact is a fairly substantial increase over the actual expenditure of the previous financial year. I believe, however, that it is misleading for the Government to claim, as it has done, that it is increasing spending on education this year by $404m or 92 per cent over that of last year. Of this $404m approximately $145m simply represents the money that the Commonwealth

Government is taking back from the States in order to establish as from 1 January 1974 financial control of all universities from Canberra. So really this sum is being transferred from the States to the Commonwealth 'and cannot be correctly described, in my view, as an increased Budget allocation. Another $90m of the total funds to be set aside for education is for the purpose of continuing the tertiary education programs adopted by the previous Liberal-Country Party Government. A substantial part of the proposed increases relates to various aspects of education contained in the 1972 policy speech of the previous Prime Minister and has been adopted by the present Government. We have no quarrel with this nor have I, at any rate, any quarrel with the total Budget allocation for education in the current financial year or with the proposed further expenditure in 1974-75 as the various programs due to commence in 1974 come fully into operation.

Education is, I agree, an area of high priority. I support the proposed increases in allowances available under existing scholarship schemes. I support the proposed increases in the Government post-graduate award scheme and the provision of some additional awards. Also I am in favour of the proposed increase of $10m in the unmatched capital grant for the building and equipment costs of technical schools and colleges. The proposed grant for 1973-74 of $2m for emergency supplementary classroom accommodation in state and nongovernment schools to facilitate special instruction of migrant children is, I believe, a very worthwhile move. So too is the provision of special grants to New South Wales, Queensland and Victoria to assist in the training of additional social workers in universities in those States.

The Government's expressed plan to improve the quality of education in Australia has been touched on already in this debate by the previous speaker, the honourable member for Holt (Mr Oldmeadow), and by other speakers. I agree entirely with this plan. The Government's plan to improve the quality of education - something of great importance - will, I believe, be watched very closely and with very great interest. In his statement to the House on 23 August last the Minister for Education (Mr Beazley) amplified the Government's proposals in the overall field of education at its various levels. Particularly pleasing, I feel, are the proposals for assisting special groups such as Aborigines, migrant children, soldiers children and isolated children. A total allocation of slightly more than $45m will be made in 1973-74 for these special groups. I am happy about this.

The report of the Interim Committee for the Australian Schools Commission, while containing some good recommendations, is unfortunately most unjust and discriminatory in various respects. The extraordinary categorisation of schools has, as is well known, caused a great deal of dissatisfaction and concern throughout the country. The recommendations were obviously based on hastily acquired information. Schools were not visited by the Committee, and the way in which many schools were categorised caused confusion, resentment and uncertainty, and cut across the basic principle of freedom of choice in relation to the education of all children. Since the Appropriation Bill (No. 1) which we are debating was first introduced, the Minister for Education has informed the Parliament that quite a few appeals have been submitted 'against the Karmel Committee's findings and recommendations. Let us hope that these appeals receive the full and fair consideration that they deserve.

The apparent adoption of the staff-pupil ratio as the basis of assessment of needs is clearly arbitrary and unfair, as is the phasing out of aid to category A schools a year earlier than was recommended by the Karmel Committee. The Liberal Party believes that the present system of per capita grants of $62 a year for every primary school pupil throughout Australia, and $104 for every secondary school student in the country, is a fair and proper basis and that these grants should continue as a minimum. Additional funds, I suggest, could be provided for needy schools according to the degree of need. Leading spokesmen for the Labor Party gave election assurances that no school would be worse off under a Labor Government. It is regrettable, to say the least, that these promises are apparently not to be fulfilled.

Recently I came across a most interesting and penetrating article written last May by Mr Ian Lister, Lecturer in Education at the University of York. He writes, basically, of the educational position in England but much of what he says pertains to this country and, indeed, to a number of other countries. Not everyone will agree with what he writes but what he says is forthright and challenging and, I believe, deserves attention. In the remaining time available to me I would like to touch upon two or three of the points he makes. He points to a number of key aspects in education and suggests some remedies. He states:

There is no single, magical solution to the crisis; the simple way does not exist.

I do not think we would query that statement. He questions certain assumptions and trends. He criticises the curriculum developers. He asserts:

For many pupils, school life becomes just one damned work sheet after another.

It is true, I believe, that the pressures and tensions on children and adolescents today are too great and too continuous. The conscientious, hard-working student has all too little time in which to enjoy life, maintain a balanced outlook and widen his or her horizons. Dealing with another major aspect Ian Lister says:

We need ... a greater variety of choice both within and between institutions, associated with an establishment of basic law and human rights.

He claims:

Democratisation and equality are myths, used to hide the gap between promise and performance.

Those are very challenging words but there may be more than a grain of truth in them. He maintains that there should be a redistribution of tasks between school and society. He says:

Parents, in particular, should resume a greater responsibility for the education of their own children.

Most schools in Australia, both government schools and independent schools, do in fact receive valuable assistance from parents and citizens associations, but I believe there is still much room for improvement and for greater community involvement in this respect. Recently I visited the Brisbane Independent Primary School at Kenmore in my electorate, a school which is struggling along with minimum aids to provide for 125 girls and boys a primary education which is wider and more flexible than that provided in the systemic schools. Without an unusual degree of parent participation and support this school, unfairly included in category A by the Karmel Committee, could not have been launched, let alone maintained. I believe that we could do with many more schools like this throughout Australia.

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