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Wednesday, 17 October 1973
Page: 2292


Mr MATHEWS (Casey) - At the outset I should like to congratulate the honourable member for Forrest (Mr Drummond) who has just made a most humane and sensitive speech on education - a speech of the kind we are not accustomed to hearing from the benches that his Party occupies. It reminded me strongly of speeches that I heard from members who are now in government, over a period of years when they pleaded with the honourable member for Wannon (Mr Malcolm Fraser), the then Minister for Education and Science, to take account of what was happening in schools across Australia, other than those elite and fortunate schools from which he sprang and to which he, and his colleagues, customarily send their children. There was a good deal of the resonance of that honourable gentleman's attitude in the speech that was made a little earlier this evening by your colleague, Mr Lucock, the honourable member for Darling Downs (Mr McVeigh), who expressed great satisfaction with the approach to education of the previous Government when he said that every child was treated the same way and that that made the system relatively easy and simple to administer. He paid some recognition - as I think he would not have done a few years ago - to the fact that such things as disadvantaged schools and disadvantaged children exist in our community. But he went on to say that if additional assistance over and above per capita grants were given to such schools and such children it would be charity and not justice. I thought that, too, had a strong resonance of the attitudes which we used to hear so frequently from the honourable member for Wannon, as Minister for Education and Science. I used to think that the attitudes of Opposition members were activated by malice. Over the years I have come to the conclusion that the cause is much more likely to be ignorance. Few members of the Opposition have had any direct contact with government schools or any first hand experience of what occurs in those schools.

A week or so ago, the honourable member for Warringah (Mr MacKellar) indicated that he had been educated by a government correspondence school at one stage in his career. He seemed to feel that that qualified him, by way of first hand experience, with the system. The honourable member for Bendigo (Mr Bourchier) tonight produced a remarkable explanation for the difficulties to which the honourable member for Scullin (Dr Jenkins) referred - the low rate of reading competence among children in the early years of secondary education. He said that these difficulties were due to poor teachers. I think his phrase was that poor teachers were at the base of the problem. This reminded me of an exchange that took place last night between the honourable member for Bradfield (Mr Turner) and my colleague, the honourable member for Holt (Mr Oldmeadow). The honourable member for Holt, I might say, has had a long and distinguished career in the Victorian Education Department as a secondary school teacher. He is a man who enjoys, in the Victorian secondary teaching service, an unusual and perhaps a unique reputation for the warmth of his relationship with the children he has taught over the years. Yet, the honourable member for Bradfield, having heard the honourable member for Holt say how much he wished that the children he had taught had had the advantages enjoyed by students at those schools now classified in the Karmel Committee report in category A, said:

I want to listen to envy, hatred and malice from the honourable gentleman.

The honourable member for Holt replied:

Yes, envy, hatred and malice from one who spent 25 years as a teacher in government schools.

The honourable member for Bradfield then said:

And one who went on strike often, I suppose?

That seems to me to be a remark as revealing of incomprehension of the conditions in government schools as one made in another era by the honourable gentleman's mentor, Sir Robert Menzies, who, it will be recalled, referred to the students at government schools as 'clever pagans'. That again was a remark that resonates with the speeches which we have heard over the years from the honourable member for Wannon.

It seems to make no impact on the consciousness of honourable members opposite that a gross discrepancy exists between the resources available to the schools of which they traditionally and continually have been the champions and the schools at which the great majority of Australian children receive their education. If the Karmel Committee had done no more than to document that discrepancy Australia would be very much in its debt. Once again I draw to the attention of members opposite figures established by the Karmel Committee and published in its report. If the index of resources devoted to the education of a child in a government school is expressed as 100 units, children who attend Catholic parochial schools and Catholic systemic schools have devoted to their education 70 units, and the resource allocation for children at non-government, non-Catholic systemic schools ranges from 40 units to 270 units. These figures have been before the Parliament now for 5 months yet members, such as the honourable member for Bendigo, aware as they are of these very gross discrepancies, can still rise in this place, or sit in their seats and interject, and attribute gross rates of illiteracy in government secondary schools - and, I might say in passing, even grosser rates of illiteracy in Catholic late primary grades and early secondary grades - to poor teaching. It does not seem to occur to the honourable member for Bendigo and those who think like him that there may be some -


Mr Cooke - To what do you attribute the illiteracy of the children?


Mr MATHEWS - I attribute it to the reality which is expressed in the difference between the annual input of 40 resource units and an annual input of 270 resource units.


Mr Cooke - Would you mind explaining that?


Mr MATHEWS - An input of 270 resource units means small classes, favourable pupilteacher ratios, an abundant supply of teaching materials, lavish libraries - all the stimuli which will encourage children to take advantage of the capacity with which they are endowed. This, after all, is the goal of this Government and the objective which is enshrined in the Karmel Committee report. This is the objective in trying to establish, over Opposition resistance, the Australian Schools Commission on a statutory basis to make sure that every Australian child has an equal opportunity to develop the capacities with which he is endowed. I recall to honourable members opposite that whereas 80 per cent of the children from those schools for whom they speak in the Parliament complete their secondary education, only 30 per cent of the children from government and Catholic schools, for which honourable members on this side of the chamber speak, are able so to complete their secondary education.

The DEPUTY CHAIRMAN (Mr Lucock) - Order! The honourable member's time has expired.







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