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Wednesday, 13 September 1972
Page: 788

Senator DURACK (Western Australia) - It is with considerable enthusiasm that I rise to support the motion which seeks to refer to the Standing Committee on Education, Science and the Arts a matter as important as aid to isolated children and the parents of isolated children throughout Australia. As a Western Australian I am deeply conscious of the problem not only in the northern or north-, western part of the State but in a great many other parts of the State where the problem may not be readily apparent. I refer to the eastern goldfield regions, the Murchison area, the Pilbara area and the Kimberley area. The problem is a very grave one. I and, I am sure, the many people in Western Australia who are concerned about it will have been most interested to hear in the course of the debate that the problem is one that is shared by so many other people throughout Australia. Because it is such an obvious national problem it is appropriate that the matter be referred to a committee of the national parliament for consideration at the national level.

As all honourable senators know, the actual responsibility for education has been traditionally the responsibility of State governments. I am pleased to say - I think it must be said - that the State Government in Western Australia has attempted to deal with the problem in the past. Apparently State governments in South Australia and other States have attempted to deal with it, too. Living away from home allowances have been provided, certainly by the Western Australian Government, for many years to parents of children who are in the situation about which we are speaking tonight. Certainly in recent times these allowances have proved to be quite inadequate. By way of example I quote the situation in the more remote part of Western Australia - the zone which attracts the highest Jiving away from home allowance for the parents of children who have to be sent away from home to obtain certainly portion, if not the whole of their education. The allowance in this zone - that would be the area of the north-west of Western Australia - is $300 a year, yet the charge at the hostels to which children are being sent is $600 a year. This is the cheapest possible accommodation that can be provided for these children. A family which has several school age children has to pay prohibitive costs just to send the children to a hostel for a period - perhaps it is only for a period of their secondary education. If the parents wish to give their children a boarding school education the costs are far greater than that.

I stress that the problem is not simply one which faces a few people living on pastoral properties. I know that the people who are most active in the Isolated Children's Parents Association are from pastoral areas. Particularly as a result of droughts and of the recession in the wool industry they have found themselves in a position which very few of them have had to face previously. In most cases they had been able to send their children to private boarding schools. But the problem is by no means confined to these people. I think it would be quite wrong for us to consider this problem as one that is of declining importance in Australia. I believe it is growing importance because of the development that fortunately we now see occurring throughout the remoter parts of Australia. I am particularly conscious of this and as I am sure other honourable senators are.

In the remote areas of Western Australia and Queensland mining development is occurring. In places where we have a number of small towns developing as part of mining development throughout Australia it will be impossible to provide in each town the full range of education, both primary and secondary, which the parents of children who are going to these areas would be entitled to demand for them. Although it may be possible to pro vide primary schools in these towns, it is certainly impossible to provide secondary schooling of a high standard in each of them. Therefore one must look to the development of regional schools, certainly for secondary education and the necessity to establish hostels for children sent into these regional areas to complete their education. Other points have been made in this debate tonight in relation to the school of the air, education by correspondence, television education and other fields. The school of the air and education by correspondence have been traditional ways of overcoming the problem to some extent. But nobody has ever suggested that these ways or even the development of educational television - we see the possibility of that - provide a real and full solution to the problems.

All of these matters clearly point to the need for a consideration of this problem at a national level. As I said before, I believe that the States have endeavoured to tackle the problem to some extent. I think that providing the total solution to this problem has now got beyond the State governments. The time has come when the Commonwealth Government will have to play a part in the solution of it. So I think that it is highly appropriate that this matter be considered by the Senate Standing Committee on Education, Science and the Arts, I fully support the motion.

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