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Tuesday, 27 November 1973
Page: 3916

Mr MacKELLAR (Warringah) - 1 was very interested to hear the concluding remarks of the honourable member for La Trobe (Mr Lamb). He stated quite unequivocally that this Bill was the be all and end all of the way to ensure equal education opportunities for all. I do not think that it is given to any honourable member in this place to put forward such a proposition and honestly expect everybody to agree with it. Certainly there is much disagreement with many of the aspects of the Karmel Committee report, excellent though many facets of that report were. I am surprised that the honourable member for La Trobe should have taken that unequivocal stand, although I can understand that he was a little carried away in his eloquence on this occasion.

I was interested also in remarks made by previous speakers on the Government side. The honourable member for Casey (Mr Mathews) revealed in a Freudian slip the thinking behind the present Government's attitude towards funding education when he said that the State governments did not look after disadvantaged schools because they were not capable of doing this as their educational expenditure was largely directed to the furthering of political ends. I cannot speak for other States, but I can speak for my own State of New South Wales when I say that I refute absolutely and completely the suggestion made by the honourable member for Casey. I know of no evidence - if the honourable member for Casey knows of any I should like him to bring it forward - to indicate that the New South Wales Government has spent money on education for political purposes. I once again completely refute that suggestion.

The honourable member for La Trobe, who has now left the chamber, revealed some aspects of the Government's attitude towards any opposition, by us or others, to suggestions that it makes when he said: 'If you do not pass this Bill and if you persist with what I regard as trivial amendments, you will have to face the consequences'. Honourable members will agree that this is an example of the old blackmail statement: 'If you do not agree with us, you are wrong'. I again refute that statement. I would hope that members on both sides of the House would honestly and diligently consider any amendments put forward by any honourable member or any political Party in this Parliament to ascertain whether any amendment of this legislation, which covers the expenditure of a tremendous amount of public money, should be accepted because it would upgrade the standard of the Bill. I would hope that all honourable members, no matter on which side of the House they sit, would take that attitude.

I, in common with other honourable members, welcome the increase in expenditure on education which is provided for in this Bill. Some honourable members on the Government side believe, and would like the Australian population to believe, that the improvements in education are all this Government's doing in terms of concern for education and of investigation of the needs of education. The Acting Minister for Education (Mr Lionel Bowen), in his second reading speech, pointed to the fact that this greater concern for education commenced really when a survey was undertaken in 1969. Once again I point out, for the record, that this was in the time of the previous Government. So, whilst I think that the present Government is to be commended for many of the aspects of this Bill, honourable members should not lose sight of the fact that the previous Government was also concerned with the needs of education. If one examines the increasing expenditure on education undertaken by succeeding Liberal-Country Party coalition governments at the Federal level from 1962 onwards, one can see that not only the present Government but also previous governments reflected an increasing concern by the Australian people in the upgrading of education, no matter where in Australia it was taking place.

I should like to speak on many aspects of the current Bill. I am particularly pleased to see the emphasis which has been placed upon educational provisions for disadvantaged children. I point out that we should not look at the contents of this Bill as providing all the answers for disadvantaged children, regardless of what type of disadvantage is encompassed. There have always been disadvantaged children. There are disadvantaged children at the moment and there always will be disadvantaged children. Whilst this Bill does go a long way in helping in many areas of disadvantage, let us not for a moment imagine that all the cases of disadvantage will be covered by the provisions in this Bill. A continuing effort must be made by the Government to see that the needs of these children who for whatever reason are disadvantaged, are assessed and that provision is made to help overcome the disadvantages they face.

I have noticed that tremendous emphasis has been placed on the amount of expenditure contained in this Bill, as though expenditure alone was the panacea and that if one allocates hundreds of millions of dollars all the problems will be overcome. I suggest that the sheer amount of expenditure could bring problems itself. I find it very easy to imagine in the present economic circumstances in Australia, when we have difficulties in obtaining builders and building materials, just to name 2 areas, the enormous difficulties which Education Departments and school systems will have in expending the money allocated to them. In fact, this factor could have a serious effect in driving up costs, particularly building costs, in the next couple of years as schools and school systems compete with each other for scarce resources, be those resources men or materials.

I add the warning that we cannot expect sheer money alone to overcome the problems which at present exist in the Australian educational systems and which will continue to exist as far as one can foresee the future. I was pleased to note in the general building grants that provision is made for government and nongovernment schools to upgrade existing school buildings. The Acting Minister for Education, in his second reading speech, stated:

The grants for non-government schools may also be used for replacing and upgrading of buildings, but it is also intended that up to SO per cent of the total for these schools may be applied to new pupil places.

The legislation introduced by the previous Government, as I remember it, provided that up to 70 per cent of the total grants could be applied for new pupil places. I wonder what is the reasoning behind the Government's reduction of that figure from 70 per cent to 50 per cent.

In relation to the provision of school libraries I agree almost completely with the stress and emphasis placed on the need for libraries as contained in the Karmel Committee report and also in the second reading speech of the Acting Minister. I believe that both primary and secondary school libraries should be upgraded as quickly and as effectively as possible. I am pleased to see that an allocation was made in this area. I turn again to the second reading speech of the Minister in which he stated: the individual non-government school to receive a grant will be expected, in the light of its financial circumstances, to make a realistic contribution to the total cost of the new facilities.

I should like the Acting Minister for Education to elucidate who will assess the financial circumstances of the individual non-government schools and determine what is a realistic contribution.

Other honourable members who have spoken before me in this debate referred to teacher development and the need for the maximum effort possible to be expended to upgrade the standard of teaching. Certainly it is the teacher, probably more than any other factor who determines the outcome of the pupil's work in any educational institution. It is the teacher who can inspire the pupil. It is the teacher who can depress the pupil. We should be aiming at the appointment of most highly trained teachers. We also should be aiming at attracting the proper kind of people to the teaching profession. It is fairly difficult to define who are the proper kind of people, but I am sure that anyone who has been associated with the field of education knows the born teacher type. We must aim at providing conditions within the schools and within the school systems which will attract those people who have a distinct flair for teaching. There are individuals in the community who do have a flair for teaching. It is not simply a question of remuneration. It is not simply a question of conditions. It is a question of the whole approach to the teaching profession. I would like to see developed within all school systems an attitude to and appreciation of the teaching profession as one of the most highly commendable professions to which anybody can aspire.

I join with those honourable members who have praised the allocation of moneys for special projects of an innovatory nature. That is extremely good. Again it accentuates the Opposition's desire to maintain an effective and viable independent school system. Whilst we must and do have special projects of an innovatory nature being carried out within the government school system. I think most people will agree with me when I say that the independent school system provides an atmosphere and an opportunity for experimental educational innovations and the involvement in them to a much greater extent of individual parents. I think that is yet another reason why we should resist as strongly as we can any move which seeks to destroy the independent school system. If the independent school system is destroyed not only will schools of great history and tradition go out of business but also very necessary innovation and experimentation will be severely curtailed. I join with the honourable member for Chisholm (Mr Staley) in his query about disadvantaged schools and special schools. Why are there no independent disadvantaged schools? I am quite certain that if one sought diligently to do so one could find examples of independent disadvantaged schools. I should like an assurance from the Acting Minister for Education, who is at the table, that if examples of independent disadvantaged schools are brought up their situations will be treated with the utmost sympathy.

The next section of the Bill deals with special education. The honourable member for Chisholm has dealt with this matter at some length. Again I point to the fact that there is no provision for capital grants to non-government special schools. I think that is a deficiency within the Bill. I hope that the Acting Minister and his advisers will look closely at what I regard to be a deficiency in this respect. I am sure that we have all been impressed with the activities of the SPELD organisation. I certainly have been. I have assisted as much as I can the development and promulgation of SPELD activities. We all know of children who come within the definition of disadvantaged children, if one can use that phrase, because they have learning difficulties although those learning difficulties are not perhaps serious enough to warrant their being classed as disadvantaged children. I cannot see within the Bill - at least it has not been made plain within the Bill - how SPELD type children, if I can use that phrase, are to be assisted by the provisions of the Bill. Of particular worry to me in this area are the teachers. I regard them as being of the utmost importance. I am very concerned about ensuring that teachers at schools not classified as special schools or disadvantaged schools have an opportunity for in-service training so that they are equipped to detect and assist children who need remedial treatment just as soon as those children appear within the school system.

I move on to that section of the Acting Minister's second reading speech which deals with recurrent grants. There has been a great deal of controversy surrounding the recurrent grants. In this respect I cannot agree at all with the thesis of the honourable member for La Trobe (Mr Lamb) that per capita grants can never lead to equality of opportunity. I draw the attention of the House to the table on projected expenditure that was included in the second reading speech of the Acting Minister. In his second reading speech the Acting Minister said:

For the purpose of comparison let us assume that the cost of operating the government schools, on which the 20 per cent calculation is based, would rise by 10 per cent in each year, with the projected student numbers spread between systemic and nonsystemic schools as in 1972.

I believe that that is totally misleading to the Australian public. Let us have a look at just one example of an increase in State expenditure. Let us take New South Wales as an example. I understand that the expenditure on primary schools in New South Wales in 1972- 73 was $152.3 8m and that it has budgeted to spend $li&1.69m in 1973-74. I also understand that the expenditure on secondary schools in New South Wales in 1972-73 was some $149m and that it has budgeted for an expenditure of $181. lm in 1973-74. Both are as near as anything to an increase of 20 per cent. So on those figures alone the basis of this table is completely erroneous and the table would give a very false impression to anybody reading the figures. I notice also that the amount quoted for non-systemic schools in the previous Government's allocation is $3 1.8m for 1974 and $35.3m for 1975. That is different from the Karmel Committee's estimates for non-systemic schools under the previous Gov.ernment'c program. It quoted the amounts of $34m and $3 8m respectively.

Why are those figures different from the figures in the Karmel Committee's report? What is the basis for them. Do they presuppose a big drop in non-systemic school enrolments? That may be the answer. If it is, I wish the Acting Minister would make the basis for the calculations specifically available to us because on the figures before us it is very hard to understand how the conclusions are arrived at. That is one of the reasons why the whole argument surrounding the allocation of recurrent grants to independent schools has been so traumatic. Not only have previous statements by both the Prime Minister (Mr Whitlam) and the Minister for Education (Mr Beazley) appeared to have been dishonoured but also the figures put forward are confusing, misleading and capable of many interpretations. So I hope the Minister will make clear the basis of the figures as outlined in his second reading speech. 1 am disturbed about that section of the Acting Minister's second reading speech in which he said:

Clearly the Catholic systemic schools will benefit greatly under our approach.

That seems to me to be an extremely devisive statement. I hope that the Acting Minister will reconsider it. I would not like to think that the present Government is trying to set one Catholic school system against another and to turn friend against friend - in other words, to divide and conquer. I think it is a divisive statement that is not worthy of the Government.

I would like to conclude my speech by quoting from the editorial from which the honourable member for Chisholm also quoted and which appeared in the 'Australian' of 8 August 1973. It reads:

If there is to be any intelligent reallocation of resources it ought to be done on the basis of a much deeper, more realistic appraisal of respective needs.

Even then the equity and wisdom of a scheme which reduces government aid to a certain type of school while increasing it to others could be questioned. The argument for supporting Catholic schools rests on the fact that Catholic parents are taxpayers and are entitled to share in the benefits of the education spending their taxes support.

Other parents with children at private schools are equally taxpayers. If it is fair to subsidise a parent who is giving his child a private education for religious reasons it is hardly reasonable to discriminate against those doing the same thing for other reasons, which may be no less admirable.


Order! The honourable member's time has expired.

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