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Tuesday, 27 November 1973
Page: 3885

Mr MALCOLM FRASER (Wannon) - The Opposition wishes this legislation a speedy passage. I think that any Minister for Education would be proud to introduce a Bill of this kind. I am not saying that, if the Opposition had been drawing the Bill, it would have been drawn in precisely the same terms or in the same way as it has been presented by the Government. In 2 respects at least it would not have been so drawn.

Firstly, we would not have detailed, to the extent that this Bill details, the way in which the States must spend their funds. Secondly, we would not have excluded some schools entirely from all payments as the Government has sought to do.

Those 2 matters aside, the Government has introduced measures which cover a broad spectrum of education and which will advance the cause of education quite widely throughout Australia. For that purpose, the Opposition wishes the Government well in relation to this particular matter.

I think we need to emphasise that there is a large area of non-partisan approach to education. There are many programs which the Opposition, when its members were in government, introduced or said in a policy speech - which admittedly was not accepted - it would introduce which are similar to the sorts of programs which the Government has in mind. Other programs which were introduced earlier last year are now coming to fruition. One of these, of course, was the decision to establish the Cohen committee, as a sub-committee of the Commission on Advanced Education, to examine the needs of teacher training throughout Australia, especially the needs of teacher training as it affects handicapped children. The recommendations of that committee, of course, have been incorporated in legislation that the Government has introduced concerning colleges of advanced education. That measure is one which should do a great deal to ensure that more well-qualified teachers are available in Australian schools and especially that more well-qualified teachers are appointed who will have the capacity to understand any remedial problems that might be involved with particular school children and be able to meet the difficulties imposed by children with special learning difficulties. That also is a significant advance. I am glad that the Government has adopted the Cohen committee's recommendations in full.

I said earlier that any Minister would be proud to introduce this legislation. I regret that the Minister for Education (Mr Beazley) is not well and is unable to be here to steer the legislation through the House. I ask the Postmaster-General (Mr Lionel Bowen) who is the Acting Minister for Education to convey those remarks to the Minister for Education. The honourable member for Fremantle is a man who has, for many years, devoted con siderable attention to education. He has won respect, I believe, for much of what he has done and would want to do. I know that he would have wanted very much to be here on this occasion.

Areas where I think the Opposition has a similar approach to the Government include pre-schools, attitudes to technical education, remedies for the sorts of problems that are faced by isolated children, and the special programs that are being introduced to meet the needs of handicapped children of all kinds. Any person who has examined this problem in any depth must know and believe that more needs to be done in that area. The extension to primary schools of the library program, which has been highly successful for a number of years in secondary schools, is a measure which all political Parties support. The implementation of the teacher training proposals of the report of the Special Committee on Teacher Education - the Cohen Committee - are matters, as I have already mentioned, on which all members of this House will agree.

The Bill before the House seeks to make very considerable capital funds available for spending in a 2-year period. I hope that the funds can be spent, and spent to advantage, in that period. But I believe that there will be an obligation on the Commonwealth Minister and all State Ministers to ensure that this heavy influx of capital funds does not unduly add to an escalation of the cost of school construction. I think more needs to be done in this area. Perhaps there should be an expansion or an improvement of the central building unit which has been established in the Victorian Department of Education and which is operating as a service to all Departments of Education. The capital costs of building schools differ very widely from one State to another. Where one State might spend $1.5m on building a school another might spend $4. 5m. There have been such differences in the past. I think it is extremely doubtful whether the States which are spending $4. 5m on a school - I have in mind, in particular, Tasmania - are necessarily providing better education than the States which are spending SI. 5m on a school of an equivalent size. So I think more attention needs to be given to the problem of getting the best value from the capital funds that are now to be made available, at the primary level and at the secondary level, for special schools and disadvantaged schools. We should make sure that the Australian taxpayer gets maximum value for the funds spent.

I have indicated that there is a wide area of agreement between the Government and the Opposition Parties in this field. I was therefore disappointed to see on page 17 of the roneoed copy of the Minister's second reading speech a comparison of expenditure figures which, I am afraid, is an invidious, unreasonable and, I think, quite unfair comparison. In the comparison he made when he introduced this legislation the Minister compared the present Government's programs basically with the kind of expenditure which was involved in the programs that the Opposition Parties had initiated as a government last year and for which legislation already has been passed. He did not add to it any of the programs that would have been encompassed throughout the autumn and the spring of this year as a result of policy speech commitments had we been returned to government. So to get a valid comparison between what the present Government is doing this year or is intending to do next year and what the Opposition Parties would have done or would have been doing if they were in office one would basically have to add to the Opposition Parties' earlier commitments the sorts of commitments that they undertook at the time of the last election and which they have not had an opportunity to put into effect. I think that that passage in the Minister's speech marred the presentation of this proposal.

There has been a good deal of criticism over the last week or two about the Opposition's attitude to another Bill which is not unrelated to this measure - the Schools Commission Bill. I want to emphasise that the Opposition has had 3 things in mind. It is not objecting to the Government's establishment of a Schools Commission, but it wants to ensure that the Schools Commission is formed in the best possible manner. We accept that the Government has a right and the authority to establish such a Commission. At the same time we believe that our amendments will make the Commission work better and within the philosophy of what the Government has itself said. So we are not going against anything that the Government has in mind or anything that the Government has stated as being in its mind in moving the amendments that we foreshadow. We are concerned about the composition of the Commission. Since it will be dealing with State and independent schools, we do not believe that the Commonwealth Minister should be the sole arbiter of who should be on the Commission but that the Commonwealth, State and independent school authorities should have some prerogatives in that area. We want to make sure that the powers of the Commission spell out the necessity for the Commonwealth to be concerned with all school children and not with giving paramount importance to one group of children at the expense of another group. Therefore, amendments were moved to the powers of the Schools Commission itself. Also, we moved amendments which we believed would make sure - this is what I think the Minister for Education has said he wants to do, even if sometimes there is an appearance to the contrary - that due note was taken of the wishes, intentions and plans of other education authorities and which would remove the perhaps somewhat arbitrary powers that we believed the Bill in its initial form gave to the Commonwealth Minister to do precisely what he liked.

I should like to come to one or two points in the States Grants (Schools) Bill which it might well be possible to answer. On the first page of the Bill in clause 3 there is a definition of a board for Catholic systemic schools which will be established in accordance with the regulations. The Minister either in his second reading speech or in a supplementary statement spelt out how those boards would be established in different States. I think that the way in which this is spelt out in his statement is satisfactory. It ought to be satisfactory to the school systems concerned but that is only a statement and it could be changed in changing times by altering regulations from time to time. I should like to see a commitment from the Acting Minister for Education, the Postmaster-General, that the kind of structure which is envisaged in the Minister's statement is the kind of structure that will be continued into the future in relation to the board for Catholic systemic schools.

There is another point on which the Acting Minister might be able to offer some clarification. In looking at page 3 of the Bill which relates to the definition of a handicapped child, and, I think, at page 5 relating to the definition of special education teacher training courses and the definition of special schools, I would have some doubt as to whether children experiencing special learning difficulties would be covered in the ambit of this legislation. While this legislation does make provision for assistance to be given to disadvantaged schools - the special schools looking after handicapped children in the traditional sense of the use of the word 'handicapped', which does not include children with SPELD problems - there is doubt about whether it is the Government's intention to include children ..with special learning difficulties under the general definition of 'handicapped child' and 'special school' in which case they are being lumped in with all other handicapped children. Basically, that is not something which parents of children in this category or experts in this area would like or want. In any case, I should be grateful to the Acting Minister if he could explain the impact of this Bill on this problem which does cover quite a significant number of Australian school children with special learning difficulties in all schools. If the Bill does not touch this problem, what is the Government's intention in this area?

The Bill makes provision for building grants for general school purposes, for science grants and for recurrent expenditure for Government and independent schools. It makes provision for library grants, for librarian training courses and for the replacement of teachers. I think that this is a useful innovation and I am glad to see that it has been adopted. Especially in the smaller schools, it is sometimes difficult when a teacher for a special training course is lost. But this raises another point. I know that teachers would argue that they need all the holiday periods they can get and all the holiday periods that are available to school children. But I believe that that is a debatable question and I would have thought that the facilities in colleges of advanced education and in universities, which are not fully utilised, especially in the long vacation periods, could be used for a number of these special courses, whether it is for training librarians or for some other purpose. I see no reason why this should not be done during the long vacations in institutions that have already been established. The expenditure would be a good deal less. Of course, this also would apply to the general proposals for in-service training. I do not know whether costs have escalated as much as might appear from the figures. But if my memory is correct, the figure placed on in-service training would seem to be a good deal greater than that which I had previously been advised by the Department would be adequate for a reasonable in-service program. May be costs have escalated. May be the Government's ambitions are significantly greater, but I would like further explanation of these points if I can get it and I would like an explanation on whether the librarian or in-service training is to be done merely by taking the teacher out of school or whether a real effort will be made to use government funds economically and have the training done in the long vacation, which is when, for the most part, I believe it ought to be done.

Capital and recurrent funds are provided for disadvantaged schools under this legislation. They are provided for Catholic systemic schools alone; not for other independent schools. I can understand how somebody might make an assumption that the only disadvantaged independent schools are the Catholic systemic schools, but I would have thought that that is not really a valid assumption, not necessarily a realistic assumption, and that there ought to be provision in the legislation itself to provide special assistance to other disadvantaged schools that might qualify and that might appear. Certainly, with the haste that necessarily accompanied the Karmel report, there could be no guarantee that there are not some other disadvantaged schools that should be entitled to benefit from the special assistance available to disadvantaged schools in the government area and in the Catholic systemic area. I think it would be reasonable for this House to ask the Acting Minister for Education to examine that point to see whether he might not move an amendment to broaden the scope of the definition of independent schools that could be advantaged by the special provisions for disadvantaged schools. If subsequently it is demonstrated that there are no schools in the area that qualify no harm is done. No money would be allocated for that purpose. But I think it would be unreasonable to exclude a school merely because of the manner in which the Bill is drawn up and merely because of the manner of the Karmel recommendations in that particular area.

The Bill also involves grants for handicapped children, capital and recurrent grants for government schools, recurrent grants for nongovernment schools, but not capital grants for non-government schools, because I understand that there might have been a belief that the non-government schools in that area would want to come within the ambit of government supervision and authority. That may be so, but I think that is an area again where the Government might need to review its decisions.

The Opposition approves the provisions for special education, teacher training, replacement teachers and vacation training. These measures ought to advance the cause of education. The teacher education centres should assist in a move towards a greater degree of professionalism within the teaching profession. While they are being established on a reasonably experimental basis to start with, I make the point that I think that such centres might well be needed more in municipal areas and country towns where there are some disadvantages compared with a great city. In Melbourne and Sydney it is possible for teachers to gain a wider variety of contacts than in a country town of 10,000 people. In a country town of 10,000 people there might well be a greater real need for this kind of development than in the city areas. So while these centres are being established largely, as I understand it, on an experimental basis, I would again ask the Acting Minister to see that at least part of the experiment covers the requirements of decentralised country towns. I know that he has expressed views in another capacity throughout the course of this year about what happens in country areas. I hope that those views will not be allowed to determine his judgment on this particular issue. There are projects for special education. These ought to encourage experimentation, and I imagine that they would be a useful adjunct to the work of the Partridge Committee and its proposals.

The Opposition has amendments that I would like to foreshadow, because it is not possible to tell what will happen during the Committee stage of this debate or any other debate during this Government's period of office. This is because the Leader of the House (Mr Daly) so often comes in with the guillotine in his hand and we do not really know if there is to be a Committee stage debate or not.

Mr Lionel Bowen (KINGSFORD-SMITH, NEW SOUTH WALES) - That is spoiling a good speech.

Mr MALCOLM FRASER - What I have said is an impartial statement. It is a fact of life. We just do not know. If the Minister is prepared to give me an absolute guarantee that there will be an adequate Committee stage on the three or four points that we want to make-

Mr Lionel Bowen (KINGSFORD-SMITH, NEW SOUTH WALES) - There should be a Committee debate. It depends on how long you take.

Mr MALCOLM FRASER - You see, we cannot be given an absolute guarantee. So I think it is necessary to give an indication of the sort of amendments that we have in mind. There are only a few amendments because, as I have said, we support this legislation. We wish it a speedy passage. I will be moving to the motion that the Bill be read a second time an amendment in these terms:

That all words after 'That' be omitted with a view to inserting the following words in place thereof: 'whilst not declining to give the Bill a second reading, the House:

(1)   in recognising the need for substantial additional funds for schools, notes (a) the haste with which the Interim Schools Commission conducted its inquiries-

That carries no criticism because the haste was necessarily so-

(b)   the fact that requirements differ between different States, and (c) that the States are the best judge of their own needs and priorities, and

(2)   is of the opinion that the Government should allow an accountable flexibility between different categories of expenditure on the initiative of the States, which would be accountable to the Commonwealth for any such changes, enabling the maximum advantage to education in Australia to be achieved.'

I understand that the Standing Orders do not allow us to move amendments to the committee stage to this extent because they would alter the direction to which the funds would go and that is beyond the Standing Orders, or so I am advised. This amendment is drawn having in mind the fact that the Government is really asking for a very considerable sum of money to be spent in a 2-year time scale and that it might well be possible, especially in the field of capital expenditure, for sums to be spent in one particular manner whereas for various reasons - maybe planning problems, drafting problems or problems with construction - they canont be spent in another. To enable maximum advantage to be taken of the funds that this Parliament will be making available I think this kind of flexibility could usefully be built into the scheme. Whilst we propose the words 'on the initiative of the States', I do not think anyone would quibble with tine view that it should be on the initiative of the States but with the approval of the Commonwealth Minister. I think that would be a reasonable modification of our approach. This amendment will be moved as a second reading amendment at the appropriate time in a few minutes.

The first series of amendments is merely a formality. If the advice that the Opposition has been given is correct, all they do is make plain the meaning that is already intended to be in the Bill. Clause 14 (1) (a) of the Bill says, in part: the State will, without undue delay, pay to each school authority for Catholic systemic schools in the State such proportion of the amount of the payment to the State as the Minister, on the advice of the Board for Catholic Systemic Schools for the' State, determines, ...

The plain English of this is that the Minister gets advice and then he makes his determination. I am told that in draftsman's language the words in the Bill mean that the Minister would have to accept the advice and would have to make allocations as the Board for Catholic systemic schools advises. If that is so the Government ought to have no objection to the words which we propose to insert in order to make the meaning quite plain. We propose to substitute in place of 'on the advice of the Board for Catholic Systemic Schools' the words in accordance with the advice of the Board for Catholic Systemic Schools'. Throughout this Bill is a series of amendments which for the purpose of consistency would need to be adopted if that amendment is acceptable, and I hope that it will be.

The other amendment that I would also hope would be acceptable - and I would ask the Minister to look at it closely - refers to sub-clauses (1), (2) and (3) of clause IS which really do give to the Minister for Education quite arbitrary powers. However closely those powers are followed on the advice of his Department, the powers in terms of the legislation are arbitrary, without appeal, and stand for a time scale of 2 years. Therefore we have drafted a series of amendments that have a common purpose. That common purpose is to enable schools to appeal for a review of the Minister's decision - not only his immediate decision but also towards the end of the first year to appeal for the re-categorisation of a particular school for the second year of operation of this legislation. We also believe that there ought to be an impartial tribunal to which appeals against the Minister's decision could be made. If the Minister does not like having a tribunal standing over his own decision, it could be a departmental decision subject to appeal to an impartial tribunal. I would. have thought that if there were such an impartial tribunal the Minister would be very considerably helped and he would avoid the embarrassment of facing the kind of situation which occurred earlier this year when, as a result of appeals from a job that has plainly been hastily done, the number of category A schools was reduced from 105 to just over 50.

There were 200 appeals, of which 140 were successful. There are still some outstanding for which no answer has yet been given. I do not know how long it will be before answers are given. But that kind of situation indicates a fairly hasty beginning to this measure. In the interests of justice, and I would have thought in the interests of protection for the Minister, some appeals system would be well worth while and could be fairly introduced. We are suggesting, of course, that the appeal body should be established by regulation. That leaves its form in the hands of the Minister. But also, we are saying in the amendments that the Minister should, by regulation, establish the criteria on which the original categorisation of schools is made by himself and against which the appeals tribunal would judge future reviews of that decision.

There is only one other point to which I would like to draw attention. It concerns clause 66 of the legislation in which the Minister is proposing the repeal of earlier legislation. The Opposition parties will be opposing the repeal of that earlier legislation. It is necessary to do this for 2 reasons: Not only because it is our conviction that it ought not to be repealed, but also because we want to make honest men out of the Government. Therefore, it is very much in the Government's interests that we ought to refuse to repeal that legislation. Some documentation of that point is needed. On 20 November last year the present Minister for Education was asked: ls it the intention of the Federal Labor Party to continue per capita aid to independent schools for 1974 and following years?

The answer that he gave in a letter dated 24 November 1972 was a very simple 'Yes'. He said the same sort of thing in public on 20 November 1972. On 20 June 1972, after these proposals had been announced by the former Prime Minister, the present Prime Minister stated:

The ALP has never voted against any Bill proposing Commonwealth aid for education and it will support any forms of benefit already existing.

We would not want the Prime Minister to find that that pledge was not kept. In front of 3,000 or 4,000 people at the Festival Hall in Melbourne the Prime Minister also said:

We will not repeal or reduce any educational benefit which has already been paid. We will confirm any which are there already.

Mr Lionel Bowen (KINGSFORD-SMITH, NEW SOUTH WALES) - What was the date of that statement?

Mr MALCOLM FRASER - That statement was made in May 1972, which was before the new proposals were announced by the former Prime Minister. But the statement which I read first was dated 20 June, some 6 weeks after the Prime Minister had made that commitment on 1 1 May.

Mr Lionel Bowen (KINGSFORD-SMITH, NEW SOUTH WALES) - Parliament would not have been in session.

Mr MALCOLM FRASER - Not on 20 June, but it was in session when the Prime Minister made this commitment because it was contained in a statement made in the Parliament. I quoted from a speech by the Prime Minister - I am sure that he has copies of it in his office - to the Catholic Luncheon Club of Melbourne on Tuesday, 20 June 1972. I have the full text of the statement. So the present Prime Minister had made that kind of statement both before and after the statements of the former Prime Minister in relation to those new policy proposals. In addition, letters written to Mr Dixon on 13 December would have indicated that the same approach was to be adopted. For all these reasons I think that there is a considerable weight of evidence which would indicate that the Government did make a commitment, and if it did make that commitment it ought not to propose the repeal of our legislation, as it does in clause 66 which we will oppose. The other point, which I do not really want to go into, concerns whether or not the Karmel Committee was given a direction. I remind the Minister that there is a question on notice to the Prime Minister which has not yet been answered.

A great deal of money is being spent under this legislation. After that, educationists will need to concern themselves more with the philosophy of education and the approach that ought to be adopted in schools. We are or will be doing much in physical terms to provide equal opportunity for all children, but we will need to do a good deal more to make sure that what happens in schools old and new is of the highest possible quality. The teacher training proposals ought to help in these particular matters. There can be no certainty that some of the present or modern methods of teaching will advance the cause of education and the cause of children. It needs to be remembered in this area that when experimentation takes place it is not like experimentation in a chemistry laboratory. (Extension of time granted.) I thank the Minister. I shall take only one or two minutes more. There is a very great difference between experimentation in the physics or chemistry laboratory and experimentation in a school. Any person who experiments in a school is dealing with people. Teachers therefore need to be much more cautious in their approach to experimentation when dealing with school children than a chemist or physicist might have to be in a laboratory.

I sometimes wonder whether that care and concern has been present in all the experimentation that has been undertaken in the classroom. It is certainly not a job for politicians. It may be something the Partridge Committee can look at more closely. What happens within the classroom itself is of paramount importance to the future of individuals and the future of Australia, and I am not at all sure that enough attention has been given to that aspect of the problem in the past. I move:

That all words after That' be omitted with a view to inserting the following words in place thereof: whilst not declining to give the Bill a second reading, the House:

(1)   in recognising the need for substantial additional funds for schools, notes (a) the haste with which the Interim Schools Commission conducted its inquiries, (b) the fact that requirements differ between different States, and (c) that the States are the best judge of their own needs and priorities, and

(2)   is of the opinion that the Government should allow an accountable flexibility between different categories of expenditure on the initiative of the States, who would be accountable to Australia for any such changes, enabling the maximum advantage to education in Australia to be achieved.'

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