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Thursday, 8 November 1973
Page: 1672

Senator Douglas McClelland (NEW SOUTH WALES) (Minister for the Media) - I move:

That the Bill be now read a second time.

The purpose of this Bill is to provide a legislative basis for the senior secondary scholarships scheme, postgraduate awards scheme and the tertiary education assistance scheme. The tertiary education assistance scheme, to be introduced for the first time at the beginning of 1 974, is a major step taken by the Government in its program to produce a revolution of access to education. It complements this Government's decision to abolish fees in tertiary and postsecondary technical institutions and the effect of both these actions will be to ensure that hardship or poverty do not prevent a student from taking advantage of the opportunity for further study. Full time students at post-secondary technical colleges, colleges of advanced education, and universities will be eligible for means tested living allowances.

The Bill also provides for the payment of fees for students whose fees are not provided for in the general arrangements, such as those studying certain special courses for which fees are charged, for example, the medical records librarianship course and courses conducted by such authorities as barristers' and solicitors' admission boards. The medical records librarianship course is a full time course and students could qualify for a living allowance subject to means test. The same applies to the Australian Ballet School and other tertiary courses which may be approved.

The tertiary education assistance scheme replaces the Commonwealth university scholarships scheme, the Commonwealth advanced education scholarships scheme and the Commonwealth technical scholarships scheme. Arrangements have been made to ensure that those who now hold the scholarships will not lose financially. The legislation provides for the first time a legal basis for the senior secondary scholarships scheme. Regulations are being drafted and are expected to be ready in time for the new year. About 48,000 senior secondary scholarship holders will be involved.

The Bill repeals the Education Act 1945-1966, thereby abolishing the Commonwealth Office of Education and the Commonwealth Scholarships Board. Similar provisions are made under the Scholarships Act 1969, but this Act has never been proclaimed and changes and innovations introduced in the field of students assistance by the Government require new legislation. The Commonwealth Scholarships Board has continued to function since it was originally established under the Education Act 1945-1966. The community and the Government are indebted to it for the valuable contribution the Board has made over the years to the student assistance program.

Parts II, III, and IV of the Bill refer to the schemes of assistance at 3 levels of educationsecondary, tertiary and postgraduate. They allow for the drafting of regulations for the granting of assistance, for the determination of benefits, and they provide for transitional arrangements in favour of students already holding awards. It will still be necessary to assess the eligibility of students applying for assistance under each of the 3 schemes. This will involve consideration of such matters as the student's academic progress and his previous studies, as well as the assessment of the level of assistance for living and other allowances. Provision is made for the Minister to appoint authorised officers to consider this eligibility subject to review. Part V of the Bill covers the establishment and operation of student assistance review tribunals.

There is a clear need for flexibility in the administration of student assistance schemes and I know that honourable senators will be aware of the many and varied problems which students must face, and the difficulties and indeed injustices which may occur because of too rigid an application of rules and conditions. We have therefore included in this Bill provisions for machinery whereby administrative decisions may be reviewed and reconsidered by a tribunal, so that an appropriate balance is struck between the requirements of formal legislation and the need for flexibility within the framework of that legislation.

The schemes covered by this legislation will provide assistance for probably more than 125,000 students in 1974. The Bill does not cover all the Government's schemes of student assistance. We intend to introduce further legislation for isolated children, Aboriginal students and students receiving benefits under the Government's new secondary allowances schemes. Students should be going through a period of life when they have the leisure to think, as well as the need to study. An age of speed does not easily lend itself to the creation of great new productive ideas. The function of education in a world in crisis is to develop people who can fashion a new and inspiring civilisation- people who have the moral and intellectual qualities, and the sensitivity to produce a renaissance. It is hoped that this Bill is a step towards these goals. I believe that the Senate should support this legislation.

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