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Tuesday, 27 November 1973
Page: 3905

Mr REYNOLDS (Barton) - I rise to suport the Bill. It is a bit hard to know where the Opposition stands. Not very long ago in this debate I heard the honourable member for Petrie (Mr Cooke) refer to the enormous amount of money that the Government was proposing in this Bill to spend on education. We have all listened to the honourable member for Gwydir (Mr Hunt) saying that it is a relatively insignificant amount, that it is much less than is claimed. So what do we believe from the Opposition? The Minister for Education (Mr Beazley), who is held in the highest respect in this Parliament and indeed throughout this country, and who unfortunately is ill in hospital, exhausted by his efforts to produce this Bill and this program for the years ahead, has categorically denied what the honourable member for Gwydir has just said.

The Minister - his words were repeated by the Acting Minister for Education (Mr Lionel Bowen), who read the second reading speech in the Minister's absence - said that in 1974-75 a total of $694m will be available for all schools in the States. That $694m includes funds that were proposed by the previous Government. The $694m is Commonwealth money. In addition we stipulated that the States were to keep up the amount of expenditure that they had been making over recent years. They were to keep up not only the amount but also the proportion of their budgets spent on education. So the $694m is not the total. Of the $694m which the Australian Government will spend in 1974-75 on primary and secondary education, not to talk about the other segments of education, $468.5m will be spent directly as a result of the Karmel Committee's report - not $190m-odd, as the former Minister, the honourable member for Gwydir, said. An amount of $468.5m will be spent by the Australian Government over and above what the Government of which he was a member proposed to spend before it went out of office.

The honourable member also returned to the old bogy of the A category schools. I thought that the earlier speakers had given that story away. I had been led to believe by the honourable member for Wannon (Mr Malcolm Fraser), the Opposition spokesman in this House on education, that the Opposition was in a more conciliatory mood. The honourable member for Wannon had been rather conciliatory except right at the end of his speech, when he returned to the old bogy of per capita grants. These were voted out by the Australian people on 2 December 1972, but he keeps coming back to them. The honourable member for Gwydir reinforced that by referring to category A schools. What do the category A schools represent? They represent 10 per cent of all students in nonsystemic private schools, not counting the vast number of private school children who go to parish schools. They represent the elite, if you like. Those category A schools represent 6 per cent of all private schools.

This is the burden of the honourable member's story. He is talking about 6 per cent of the schools. He is talking about 5.5 per cent of all children who attend non-government schools - not 5.5 per cent of all children in Australia, lt is this same 5.5 per cent of non-government school children whose parents are able to claim $400 a year for each child in taxation rebates. It is these same children who over the years have been winning nearly all the scholarships at the higher secondary level. It is these same children who have been winning most of the tertiary scholarships and going on to universities, colleges of advanced education and institutes of technology. They have had those privileges, and this is the preoccupation still of the Country Party at least, despite all the evidence of the legacy we have received.

Mr Fox - They do not get $400.

Mr REYNOLDS - They do not get $400. Parents are allowed to deduct $400 from their taxable income for each child. The amount that all parents who are able to claim $150 or more get back in taxation rebates is $55m a year. So do not let them cry that they have been denied by this Government. The rumour went around that we were to cancel out the rebate. We did not. We still allow it. Maybe we ought to be criticised by some people for it, but we did not discontinue the allowance; we kept to it. In the future the same category of children will probably go on winning a disproportionately higher number of secondary scholarships and a disproportionately higher number of tertiary scholarships that will give them free education under the Labor Party program. Every child who gets into a tertiary institution as from 1 January next year will get a free education. If children are eligible for it under the means test they will get a living allowance to boot. The elite group will get $55m in tax rebates. This Bill provides an extra $50m for disadvantaged children. So let us get things in perspective. That is what the honourable member for Wannon is inviting us to do.

The other criticism that came from the honourable member for Wannon was about the composition of the Australian Schools Commission. He suggested that it ought to be a representative Commission. At one stage we entertained that thought ourselves. It is not an open and shut case; I will grant him that. But we came down in the long run in favour of a selected commission for much the same reasons as those which the Karmel Committee report gave far having a selected commission rather than having nominees. Paragraph 13.6 of the Karmel Committee's report, which is contained in the book called 'Schools in Australia', states:

In submissions to and discussions with the Committee, the Australian Teachers Federation and the Australian Council of State School Organisations argued strongly for the right to nominate representatives as members of the Commission. The Committee-

That means the Karmel Committee - feels that the Commission should be able to conduct its proceedings on the merits of the business before it, with its members not bound to any particular point of view on specific questions. This does not mean that the Commission should be insensitive to widely held views in the community nor that the membership should not display a range of experience and attitudes, but it does mean that individual members-

I ask honourable members to note that - should be free from the responsibilities of representing constituent bodies. Moreover, the number of organisations that might claim representation is large, so that a Commission based on the principle of direct representation would become unwieldy and inhibited in its capacity to make decisions. If teacher and parent organisations, as such, are to be involved in the work of the Commission, an appropriate place might be rather at the Regional Board level.

That is exactly what the Government decided to do. When we were trying to form our own policy before we set up the Karmel Committee, we looked at what other bodies would claim rightful representation on the representative Commission. I think we ended up with at least 45 people being on that commission. Can anyone imagine a commission of that size being able to get down to work? It would be just impracticable. I will not reply to the honourable member for Wannon, who is seeking to interject, because my time is extremely limited and I have much to say.

It has been stated that the report was made in haste. It had to be made in haste, and in a minute I will tell the House why. It was not made quite as hastily as it appears because the Interim Committee already had available to it as did the former Minister, the honourable member for Wannon, the findings of the Australian Education Council in its Nation Wide Survey of Educational Needs for Australian Schools. The Committee had all that information. It had the information about handicapped children that was provided by a special Senate committee, which information lay idle for 1*8 months and about which the former Liberal-Country Party Government did nothing.

What is the legacy that we inherited? I will quote what the Minister had to say, in part, in regard to the background of what we inherited before we set up the Interim Committee. He said:

There were disadvantaged schools, especially in inner areas of great cities. Teacher education left much to be desired. The education of handicapped children was characterised by omissions to meet need which bordered upon the callous. Migrant education was profoundly unsatisfactory. Some States had no schemes for the assistance of isolated children worthy of the name of assistance. Primary school libraries were characterised by general neglect.

I interpolate there to say that they received nothing. Every primary school I visited in my electorate and in other electorates hammered me with the question: 'Why is it that the Government in Canberra gives grants for secondary school libraries but gives nothing for primary school libraries?'. Every teacher worth his salt and every informed parent knows that library habits are first established in the primary school. That is where they are developed. The Minister went on to say:

Buildings, playground space, physical education facilities and the capacity to employ teachers were generally defective. Clerical and ancillary assistance in schools were woefully inadequate. A scheme existed through the Australian Department of Social Security to assist the education of handicapped children by private charities, but not in State schools. Knowledge of _ the medical, psychological and physical characteristics of young children, and their home environments, was a closed book to the first teachers enrolling them at school. Disadvantaged children and handicapped children suffered greatly in this situation.

This is the education legacy that we inherited when we became the Government in late 1972.

This Bill is not the culmination of an education study. It is significant as it is the mere beginning of a new deal in education. This Bill provides not for the end product but rather some of the means by which education can be changed markedly in quality, quantity and distribution. All our talk of millions of extra dollars should not be allowed to hide the fact that what we are really aiming at is a cultural, social and economic revolution in our society with a new respect for the rights of every individual, not just an elite, to have the opportunity of living a personally satisfying life as a member of a genuinely democratic community. The implications of such a generalised statement are many and they are either explicitly stated or clearly implied in the Bill, which itself reflects so faithfully much of what is contained in the Karmel report.

Some of these implications and assumptions are: Firstly, the need for continuing research not just for today, tomorrow, this year, this period of 6 months or this period of 2 years - for the values, attitudes, abilities, appreciations and tastes that might deserve to be cultivated in our education systems. I emphasise the word systems'. These in turn form part of the agencies that mould the continually changing society in which we live. We are reminded - and I want to remind the House - that the school is not the only agency in the community that helps to educate our children. Think of the media and the opportunities it has, and think of the opportunities that it foregoes.

The second assumption I would refer to is that both this research and the ongoing educational programs that flow from it should invoke the views and activities of as many interested persons as possible; hence the various advisory committees which will be established to help the Commission and the Government in its program. Diversity of approach, experimentation and creativeness rather than uniformity and deadening conformity should, we believe, inspire our educational efforts. The Bill strongly subsidises this approach at all levels. I will not go through all the statistics that have been mentioned because everybody can see the way in which we are going to help the education program in Australia. It needs to be more emphatically recognised - I really want to drive this home if I can - that children are born into a wide range of environmental circumstances. Socially, culturally, economically, intellectually, physically and in terms of motivation their inheritance is different.

The assumptions in the Bill are that all children, and indeed all persons, should have the opportunity to develop their own particular socially desirable talents to their fullest capacity. For far too long far too many have been condemned to live out their lives according to the accidental limitations of their own birthright. For too long society has lavished its rewards on those who were born lucky. This Bill puts new emphasis on society's obligation to provide compensation for the very great many who were born not so lucky. In addition to the greatly increased capital, recurrent and library grants which will apply to almost all students, there will be extra millions of dollars in each of these and other aspects of education for those in disadvantaged schools - children of lower income families, many migrants with low incomes and language and social adjustment problems, Aborigines and children living in isolated areas.

Likewise, the Bill will give high priority to redressing one of our most shameful legacies of almost a quarter of a century of conservative government - the wholesale neglect of those who are physically, mentally and emotionally handicapped and the great many, often undetected until it is almost too late, who have other kinds of special learning difficulties which interfere with their educational progress, for example, special reading difficulties which were referred to earlier. The Bill sets out to help all these people Instead of their being disadvantaged they will be over-compensated under a Labor government. If that is socialism, I accept the label.

Having said that, one has also to recognise how very much the advancement of society in all its aspects is dependent on the comparatively few very bright people in the community. The geniuses who advance the quality of our living by their wonderful inventions, their outstanding cultural talents and their other distinctive creative skills are indede comparatively few in number. It is not only in their personal interest but to society's benefit that they, too, be identified and given special opportunities in their early years of schooling, and this enlightened Bill aims to do just that.

Another assumption contained in the Bill that flows directly from what I have said is that teaching is to be encouraged to reach an increasingly higher professional status. This will be reflected, not only in generally higher initial training qualifications but also in far greater access to in-service training courses provided by employing authorities in some cases, by other outside bodies in other instances such as universities, colleges of advanced education and the like and, very importantly, by the teachers' own professional organisations in other circumstances. Notably, the Commonwealth is prepared to help finance the professional teaching organisations to establish and maintain their own voluntary in-service professional growth. I cannot spell out all of the implications of this Bill. I have not relied on statistics. I can only say that this is a monumental educational effort. The Minister, the committee that has helped him and all the other bodies in the community which made submissions to that committee, deserve their proper recognition at this time.

Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr Jarman - Order! The honourable member's time has expired.

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