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Wednesday, 13 September 1972
Page: 781

Senator LAWRIE (QUEENSLAND) - I support this motion. Senator Byrne seeks to refer this matter to the Senate Standing Committee on Education, Science and the Arts for investigation and report. The Committee will take evidence. It will go into the matter thoroughly to find out what is the best proposal to help children living in isolated areas in respect of their education. It will see what can be done to give to those children educational opportunities equal to those of children living in more favoured areas. It will seek to find the manner in which these children can be provided with an education suitable to their talents and interests, which will equip them for employment in the occupational field which they select. The Committee will inquire also into the way in which it can help to prevent these children from becoming second class citizens. I draw to the attention of the Senate that, in the current financial year, the appropriation for the Department of Education and Science is $426m. I do not think that this comparatively small number of children would require a big vote out of that appropriation to enable them to enjoy chances equal to those of children in other parts of the community.

Senator Cavanagh - If the allocation was made, where would the money be spent?

Senator LAWRIE (QUEENSLAND) - Ways of doing this would be found. In the early 1920s, Australia produced a great man. I refer to the Reverend John Flynn, known as Flynn of the Inland, who realised that one of the greatest hazards facing people living in isolated areas was the lack of medical attention in case of accident or sickness.

Flynn, together with another South Australian, developed the pedal radio system. The use of this system increased and, partly by accident and partly by the development of its use, it became part of the School of the Air to which Senator Cavanagh has referred.

Several such School of the Air undertakings operate in Australia. I think that there are 3 in Queensland. The others are scattered in the various States. These Schools of the Air do have limitations to my way of thinking. They provide a very good service. But, whatever is done, supervision of the child student in the home is required. The organisation to which Senator Byrne has referred has said that a governess to supervise even one child in School of the Air work would cost $1,200 a year. A child cannot be left to answer the teacher on the School of the Air broadcast and to communicate with the teacher. Supervision is needed. A family may not be able to afford a governess. So, more work is put on the already overworked mother. I think that this is one of the weaknesses of this system.. The Correspondence School and the School of the Air systems are wonderful. But they have these weaknesses: Either the work must be performed by the mother or money must be found to employ a governess.

These systems have one or two other weaknesses that I have seen. These children do not mix with other children when they are educated at home. When they do mix with other children, they suffer a terrible shock and they are under a considerable handicap. I remember being in Broken Hill one day and seeing the annual sports day of the School of the Air in that district. Children came from 300 miles and 400 miles away for that one day of the year. They saw their fellow School of the Air pupils. They met with other children. But this was not quite enough to give them the confidence that is required to take one's place in life today. Queensland has a remote area allowance.

Senator Cavanagh - Have you a solution to this problem? You have mentioned the School of the Air.

Senator LAWRIE (QUEENSLAND) - Yes, I have a solution. We must get these children away from their homes as much as possible and enable them to attend schools by paying allowances to stay at hostels and subsidies to attend boarding schools. This is being done today with respect to Australia's Aboriginal children. I do not think that a great deal of money would be required to ensure that this comparatively small number of children had some chance to attend at boarding school.

Senator Cavanagh - Would that not conflict with what Senator Byrne has proposed?

Senator LAWRIE (QUEENSLAND) - 1 do not think so. I mentioned the remote area allowance in Queensland. It goes a little way towards helping in sending these children to hostels or to schools. An allowance is paid in Queensland also - I think it applies in some of the other States as well - for the person, perhaps the mother, who drives children to state schools if they are within a reasonable distance of those schools. Again, this imposes a hardship on the mother. Probably she must make 2 trips a day each of 20 miles. While she does receive some allowance - probably it is only enough to meet the cost of the petrol used on the journey - the time taken for the trip eats a big hole in her day and extra work is imposed on her.

We have the other case, as has been pointed out, of the families which have split homes, as they are called. This means that the mother and several children go into a town nearby to their home - it may be 50 miles, 60 miles or 100 miles away - to rent and use accommodation for 4 nights of the week so that the children may attend school in that town. This part of the family returns to the family home for the weekend and is there for the remaining 3 nights of the week. Extra work is created. Additional expense is involved in maintaining 2 homes. This problem must be considered. No doubt the Senate Committee will look at it. Hostels are difficult to maintain. I know that problems exist in this area. Senator Byrne pointed out that this matter does not apply only to the children of station managers or property owners. It applies to the children of people living in scattered areas and to the children of bush workers and itinerant workers. It concerns those people who want their children to have a fair chance of getting some education in life.

Senator Cavanagh - Senator, your whole solution is a financial one. Senator Byrne's solution was not.

Senator LAWRIE (QUEENSLAND) - The Committee will determine that. It will go into the matter. We are debating now a motion for the reference of this matter to the Committee. We are not providing the solution. The Isolated Children's Parents Association is very strong, lt has its headquarters in Bourke in New South Wales. We commend it for what it has done and hope that its scheme will get off the ground and will achieve something. We must see that all Australian children, wherever they live and whatever the occupation of their parents, are given the same educational opportunities to fit them for their chosen occupations in life as children in more favoured areas receive. 1 support the motion.

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