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Thursday, 22 November 1973
Page: 2073

Senator Douglas McClelland (NEW SOUTH WALES) (Minister for the Media) - Firstly, I will deal with the matter on which Senator McManus asked me for further comment. I refer to the figures that I understand were provided to him by the former Minister for Education and Science, Mr Malcolm Fraser. I assume that the figures to which the honourable senator has referred relate to the last calendar year, 1972, at a time when the previous Government was in office.

Senator McManus - I will place the letter on the table. It was before the present Government came to office.

Senator DOUGLASMcCLELLANDCertainly, it was before the present Government came into office. I will agree that obviously the figures need to be considered. Obviously, the wastage rate is comparatively high in many of the institutions. It was significant to me, just listening to the honourable senator cite some of the figures, that the wastage rate on a percentage basis seems to be much higher in the larger tertiary institutions than in the ones with lower enrolments. It could well be that a number of factors, including accommodation, availability of courses, the availability of accommodation in certain faculties, the necessity for a student who could not enrol in medicine having to do dentistry or veterinary science and matters of that nature, would all have to be taken into consideration. Apart from the normal examination requirements and also the aptitude tests and psychological tests that are conducted for students at secondary school level and all these modern innovations I think that it is commonly recognised that the results of a secondary school examination are not a perfect prediction of the likelihood of a student's future success at tertiary level. But I do not know that any better method of prediction has yet been devised.

I think that it would be commonly agreed that in the generality students develop their potential or they fail to do so when they reach the tertiary stage. I do not think that what Senator McManus has put is really related only to the simple fact that a person wants to send his or her child to a university merely because Mrs Jones or Mrs Smith down the road is sending her children to a university. I think that there must be ingrained in all these things a large number of factors. I will certainly refer Senator McManus' comments to the Minister. I would also suggest that the Senate

Standing Committee on Education, Science and the Arts could well consider probing into a highly important subject of this nature. All I say is that in the generality, so far as this Government is concerned, we believe in the principle of equality of opportunity and we cannot deny to one who might seek the opportunity to go to a university the right to go to that university. On the point that Senator Wright has referred to -

Senator Byrne - It must be a right that a person intends to pursue adequately and with determination and dedication. He just cannot exercise the right blindly at public expense, can he?

Senator Douglas McClelland (NEW SOUTH WALES) - Surely when a person goes right through secondary school and qualifies to go to a university by way of secondary school examination, one automatically must assume, I think, that that person has the ability to go on to the tertiary level. I say that, having regard also to the psychological tests and the aptitude tests that are conducted at the secondary level, one must assume automatically that if a person seeks enrolment to which he or she is entitled in a faculty of medicine the university concerned, knowing the academic record of that person at the primary and secondary level, should accept that he or she has every likelihood of getting through the course. While I am no expert on this subject, and I do not profess to be, the suggestion is often made in the community that over a given period of time only a certain number of doctors, dentists, lawyers or veterarians or whatever the case may be will be needed in any given year. Therefore, there has to be a culling out during the course of the education curriculum.

Senator Little - Medical students who fail in their first year do not necessarily abandon university. Usually, the course is sufficient in the first year to take them into something else.

Senator Douglas McClelland (NEW SOUTH WALES) -That applies not only to medicine. It applies also to nearly every faculty. That is what I am saying. The figures that Senator McManus has cited do not necessarily mean that all of those people, as I understand it, have gone out of university life. They have failed in a certain faculty and may have transferred to another faculty.

Senator Willesee - Or repeated the first year during the next year.

Senator DOUGLASMcCLELLAND Or, as my colleague Senator Willesee says, they may have had another go at the first year of the course.

Let me next deal with the matter that was raised by Senator Wright in dealing with clause 6 (2) of the Bill. Clause 6 relates to the appointment of authorised persons by the Minister. Clause 6 (2) states that an authorised person is in the exercise of his powers and the performance of his functions under this Act subject to the directions of the Minister. The honourable senator asked whether legal advice was immediately available to me as to the legal definition of the terms 'subject to the directions of the Minister'.

Senator Wright - Whether or not there were some provisions in the previous scholarship legislation or in other cognate legislation.

Senator Douglas McClelland (NEW SOUTH WALES) - I am not immediately aware of it but I will ask the officers from the Department of Education to advise me. Senator Wright in referring to the words 'subject to the directions of the Minister' went on to set out what is dealt with in clauses 7, 10 and 14.I am advised that clause 6 reflects the wish of the legislation committee that the authority to approve a grant of assistance should be vested not in the Secretary of the Department or the Secretary's delegate but in the Minister. It is expected that the persons so authorised by the Minister will be senior officers of the Department in Canberra or senior officers of the Department's State offices.

My attention also has been drawn to clause 3 1 under Part VI of the legislation which states that an authorised person may authorise the payment of an advance on account of any benefit that may become payable under student assistance to which this Act applies. In this regard I am told that most of the schemes of assistance need some provision for payment in advance of the completion of requirements for entitlement. The tertiary education assistance living allowance will be paid by the month in the middle of the month. If the student abandons his course towards the end of the month in question, an over-payment has been made in respect of part of the monthly allowance and has to be recovered. Secondly, under the postgraduate course awards the living allowance is paid fortnightly in advance and a similar position obtains. In the case of the second senior secondary scholarship award, the living allowance is paid by the term at the beginning of the term. To retain the full amount the student must attend school until the end of the term. The rates paid for the means tested allowances under both secondary and tertiary schemes have to be struck on the basis of information provided in the application and adjusted later in the light of tax information. Therefore an authorised person may authorise the payment of an advance on account of any benefit that may become payable under student assistance to which this Act applies. It is therefore felt that not only should authorised persons be appointed by the Minister but also that they should be in this regard subject to the direction of the Minister.

In reply to the query that I temporarily deferred as to whether this type of definition existed in any other Acts of a similar nature, I am told that it exists in the Education Act 1945-1959. 1 have been referred to section 8(1) relating to the Scholarships Boards. Section 8 ( 1 ), of the Education Act states concerning the Commonwealth Scholarships Board:

For the purposes of this Act there shall be a Board to be known as the Commonwealth Scholarships Board which shall, subject to any direction of the Minister, be charged with the general administration of this Parliament.

Senator Wright - What is the year of that Act?

Senator Douglas McClelland (NEW SOUTH WALES) - It is the Education Act 1945-1959. 1 am referring to section 8 ( 1 ) of that Act. I am also advised that there is a similar provision of delegation in the Scholarships Act 1969, section 19(1) relating to powers of delegation, which states:

The Minister may, by instrument in writing, delegate to a person, either generally or otherwise as provided in the instrument of delegation, all or any of his powers or functions under this Act, except this power of delegation.

Sub-section (2) states:

A power or function so delegated may be exercised or performed by the delegate in accordance with the instrument of delegation, and, when so exercised or performed, shall, for the purposes of this Act, be deemed to have been exercised or performed by the Minister.

Sub-section (3) states:

A delegation under this section is revocable at will and does not present the exercise of a power or the performance of a function by the Minister.

Senator Devitt - That Act of 1969 never came into force.

Senator Douglas McClelland (NEW SOUTH WALES) -The Scholarships Act 1969 has not as yet been proclaimed but regulations will be available by the end of the year or very early in 1 974. I refer now to the query that Senator Little raised about my statement that roughly 80 per cent of students attending universities come from upper and middle income families. I am not sure of the specific figures and I was speaking only in the generality when I made the remark. If I recollect correctly, I think it was considered that the middle income bracket covered people who earned of the order of $6,000 or more a year and the upper income bracket covered people who earned of the order of $ 12,000 or more year.

Senator Little - There would not be 20 per cent of our earning community in the lower income bracket.

Senator Douglas McClelland (NEW SOUTH WALES) - I am sure the honourable senator will agree with me that there are many working class people who have quite clever sons and daughters who go to their sixth year level of secondary education and who, unfortunately, because of the financial circumstances of the family, often are barred from going on to higher tertiary level examinations.

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