Note: Where available, the PDF/Word icon below is provided to view the complete and fully formatted document
 Download Full Day's HansardDownload Full Day's Hansard    View Or Save XMLView/Save XML

Previous Fragment    Next Fragment
Tuesday, 27 November 1973
Page: 3901

Mr HUNT (Gwydir) - Firstly I wish to say that the Australian Country Party supports the amendment moved by the honourable member for Wannon (Mr Malcolm Fraser). Before devoting myself to the provisions of the Bill I wish to refer to a comment made by the honourable member for Casey (Mr Mathews) in response to an interjection by me during his speech. I questioned him as to why the States were not able to consider the needy. His hypothesis that the Australian Government is closer to the needs of the people living in the States is one which assumes that the State Governments are unable because of political considerations to administer education within their boundaries for the benefit of the children of needy people. I do not agree with that hypothesis. I do not agree with that assumption. But I do understand that the States have had some difficulty in providing for the education needs within their boundaries because of the unavailability of funds that they have experienced over the years owing to the inadequacy of the revenue grants that they have been receiving from the Commonwealth Government. I say that quite fairly. New South Wales, for instance, has devoted over 50 per cent of its total Budget to the needs of education. So it is very dangerous to assume from that that a Canberra based government can minister to the needs of the people more adequately than a government based in Perth, Sydney or Melbourne or that a Canberra-based government can minister more adequately to the needs of the children of Moree than the general administrative structure in Sydney of the New South Wales Department of Education. So, if there is to be any criticism, let it be quite fairly laid at the feet of former Commonwealth governments which have not made adequate revenue grants to the States to enable them to minister or to tend to the needs of young people.

From the outset one must acknowledge that this Bill is the product of the 1973 recommendations of the Interim Committee for the Australian Schools Commission and a nationwide survey into the needs of education in Australia that was conducted by the Australian Education Council in 1969. Most of the Interim Committee's recommendations have been incorporated in this Bill. Some have been varied by the Government for one reason or another. I commend Professor Karmel and his Committee for the outstanding contribution made by them in the survey of education needs in Australia. The Interim Committee was given a near impossible charter because of the haste in which it had to conduct its inquiries. That is, of course, one of the main considerations in the amendment moved by the honourable member for Wannon. There has been some severe criticism of the way in which the non-systemic, non-government schools have been categorised and of the way in which the per capita grants to non-government schools have been abandoned. But this blame should not be directed at the Karmel Committee. The blame should be cast in the direction of the Whitlam Government. The Interim Committee had to operate within the terms of reference which were laid down and, indeed, a directive from the Government that the Committee should make its recommendations on the basis of relative needs and priorities without a pre-determined basic level of support to all non-government schools. In other words, non-government schools were to be penalised according to their degrees of excellence. The better the resources of a school, the higher the teacher-pupil ratio and the greater the contribution made by a school, its parents and friends, the smaller would be the Australian Government aid to that school. It appears to me to be part of a general socialist philosophy which must undermine any incentive amongst those associated with private schools to improve from their own resources the excellence of education in those schools.

This decision by the Government was taken in spite of the undertaking of the Prime Minister (Mr Whitlam) prior to the election that any new forms of aid to independent schools should be given in addition to existing programs of aid. It was a monstrous deception and a mean act by the Whitlam Labor Government. The Government has paid and will pay the price for its deceit, its sleight of hand and its prejudice because its callous deception has marred a generally good approach to the needs of education in Australia. Although the Prime Minister and his Government have broken a pre-election promise, one retains respect for and extends sympathy to the Minister for

Education (Mr Beazley) who sought to do the right thing but was let down by his embittered colleagues whose prejudice against nongovernment schools was deep and vicious.

Unfortunately, as the amendment points out, the Karmel Committee had inadequate time to assess the effects of this category system on non-systemic independent schools but at least recommended that aid to category schools be phased out rather than it be abruptly stopped as from next year. This action will result in heavy increases in fees to be paid by parents sending 33,000 children to category A schools next year, all for the sake of $2m in 1974 and $lm in 1975. Yet any one of these 33,000 children will now have the right to enter universities, colleges of advanced education and other tertiary colleges without payment of fees. What is the crazy logic behind this decision? The abolition of these fees will cost the taxpayers $30m. The abolition of the fees will take place without a means test or a needs test.

I have already supported this concept in the House but I cannot see the logic behind a decision costing about $30m in the first 6 months of its operation and the abrupt withdrawal from category A schools of $2m in this year and $lm in the following year. It is an act of discrimination and prejudice. I believe it to be an act of doctrinaire socialists who have overridden their Minister who insisted that there would be no reduction of aid to any non-government school under a Labor government. This decision could have some deep and divisive consequences in our society. I certainly hope it does not happen, but there are indications that there is some resentment building up because a great number of schools that have been placed into this category happen to be non-Catholic schools.

One of the other serious consequences is that it is now unlikely that parents, staff and councils of independent schools will work hard to raise the standards of their schools for fear that they would automatically be lifted to a higher category and so lose state aid. Nobody could truthfully say that the overriding financial considerations have denied category A schools of State aid. The Australian Country Party and, indeed, the entire Opposition, supports the policy of applying per capita grants to independent schols tied to a percentage of state school recurrent costs to help these schools with their recurrent expenditure.

Such a policy ensures the right of each child to an equitable share of education funding. These per capita grants should be adjusted each year so that they maintain a relationship with state school costs and respond to the inflationary pressures in the economy. It is clear that the 20 per cent formula is insufficient and that a higher percentage of the State school costs should be extended across the board to all independent schools. The needy schools should receive additional supplementary grants for the acquisition of land for school purposes, the provision of new school buildings and the replacement of old schools and other capital facilities where these are inadequate and below acceptable standards. The category system could well be used for the capital grants based on priority needs but certainly not for recurrent expenditures.

It is clear that any Australian government has enormous responsibility to assist the States to meet the heavy costs of education. It is clear that such policies, while assisting substantially needy schools, should not discriminate against parents who choose to send their children to schools of their choice. Having pointed again to that dark cloud that casts its shadow over the better aspects of this Bill, I want to express my general support for the long strides that the Government has taken to assist the handicapped children, the funding of libraries in primary schools, the general building grants program, the provision of funds to the States for the housing of teaching and other staff in country areas, the disadvantaged schools program, the teacher development program for assistance to in-service teacher training and the special projects program. All these are worthy projects within the total program. I also welcome the assurance in the second reading speech of the Postmaster-General (Mr Lionel Bowen) that the States will retain responsibility for their own construction program for their own State schools and the schools for handicapped children. lt is essential, however, that there be flexibility for the States in the administration of funds allocated within the various schedules of this Bill. Unless this is so it will impose rigid and impossible administrative burdens on the various State administrations. In the interests of common sense and the education of our children the desire for centralised control of education must be cast aside.

I return now to the education of handicapped children. The Government is to be congratulated for making substantial funds available for the 33,000 handicapped children throughout Australia - $20m for a building project for government schools, $14. 16m for the recurrent expenditures in government and non-government special schools, and $8.25m for special education training courses and related teacher replacement in special schools. The total appropriation over the next 2 years is $43. 5m. There is additionally the $2 for every $1 now available for building projects at non-government special schools under the handicapped children's assistance Act. This also will complement, assist and supplement programs already in force. It does constitute a long overdue and massive attack on the problem. Before the debate concludes I hope that the Postmaster-General will give a clear indication to this House that those children with specific learning difficulties as distinct from handicapped children will be taken into account with respect to remedial teacher training. There is a great need in this respect. I know that the honourable member for Casey raised this .point and supported this concept. SPELD has been advocating assistance in this direction for two or three years and I hope that the Postmaster-General will give an assurance that children suffering from specific learning difficulties will be covered under the terms of this Bill.

Although it is not my intention to rubbish the Government for increasing the allocation of funds to assist education I wish to clarify the actual degree to which the Government is increasing expenditure in this field. The honourable member for Holt (Mr Oldmeadow) referred to what he termed the short halting steps of the former Government in the field of education. That is not fair and is not true. There has been a continuing and evolving program of assistance, particularly in the field of tertiary education. It was not a flatering and halting sort of approach to the problem at all. It is true that the States complained that they were not getting sufficient revenue grants to provide sufficient funds from their own resources for the total problems of education. It has been said that the Whitlam Government has increased expenditure on education to the extent of $404m, or 92 per cent more than last year. The net additional expenditure is very much less than $400m. Of this figure, $ 144.6m is a direct transfer payment from the States to the Commonwealth and represents expenditure for the last 6 months of this financial year when the Commonwealth will take over all tertiary education. The Commonwealth no longer will be making this $144m available to the States by way of special grants for university education. This is merely a transfer of funds from the States to the Commonwealth for education purposes. It is a matter of appropriation.

A further amount of $90m in the total sum of $400m was approved in principle for teacher training by the former Minister for Education. I suppose that a more accurate figure of additional expenditure in the field of education would be something of the order of $150m. The great increase in the total expenditure for education in the Budget has been in the area of university and tertiary education, including, as I said earlier, what were the States' grants for advanced colleges of education, for universities and tertiary education. I do not argue against what has been done by the Government in this respect but I believe that we should get the facts right. The Commonwealth has taken over responsibility for tertiary education on the understanding that the cost will be deducted from the financial assistance grants to the States. Indeed, when one examines the overall total government and private consumption expenditures on education in 1973-74 one finds that it will be over $2,000m compared with $ 1,743m in the previous year - an increase of 14 per cent. When one finds that 80 per cent of final consumption expenditures on education are devoted to payments for salaries and wages one recognises that substantial salary increases will account for most of the expenditure. With inflation raging at a rate in excess of 10 per cent, the increase in real terms could well be marginal. I seek leave to incorporate 3 tables in Hansard. I discussed these earlier with the Postmaster-General.

Suggest corrections