Ministerial Statement
Database Senate Hansard
Date 29-04-1965
Parl No. 25
Electorate Tasmania
Speaker O'BYRNE, Justin
Stage Ministerial Statement
System Id hansard80/hansards80/1965-04-29/0082


Senator O'BYRNE (Tasmania) .- The report of the Martin Committee on tertiary education in Australia has created great interest throughout the Commonwealth. The committee's report was made to the Australian Universities Commission and through it to the Commonwealth Government. It is a comprehensive report. In my opinion its only weakness is that it is not comprehensive enough to meet the requirements of this stage of Australia's educational development. It would appear that the Martin Committee has submitted a report along the lines it thought the Australian Universities Commission and the Government would like it to take. On the other hand, notwithstanding its complete mandate. the Committee failed to give a blueprint for the new look that is so necessary in all branches and phases of education in Australia.

In addition to these shortcomings in the report itself, we find that the Commonwealth Government in turn has reduced the potency of the report and, indirectly, its effectiveness because of the Government's attitude to the recommendations on such important matters as scholarships, teacher training, scientific and social research. Senator Morris spoke of the priority of education. AH of us would agree that the nation that can grapple with its scientific and technological problems has the greatest opportunity, not only to hold its position in the world but also to improve the way of life of its people.

There is a political content in a report such as this for the simple reason that education impinges on every field of human endeavour. The more people apply their talents, the more training and access to knowledge they have and the greater the interchange of developments in science and knowledge generally, the richer a country will be. Yet a degree of conservatism is maintained in the Report, and the reader can hear the undertones of the effect of economic conditions on the proposals.

The great crisis of the 1939-45 war with its threat to our existence, and the improvisations and compromises which had to be made throughout our society, caused us to realise the many shortcomings we were suffering in our early development as a nation. It was driven home to us very forcibly that, when the new era came - that is, when the war was over - we would have to set about putting our house in order. During that period of war, we saw a most exciting advance in technology and science. Unfortunately, much of' that advance was for military and destructive purposes. Nevertheless, we broke through the barrier constituted by lack of knowledge into a field where the advances could be applied for peaceful purposes and the betterment of mankind. With this impetus that was given to our nation, our scientists and our technologists during that period, there came the urgent problem of giving effect to the basic belief of Australian people that opportunities must be available for education at the very highest standard in this country. Not only should this education be at the highest level, but also from the very beginning there should be new methods to replace some of the older methods used in the kindergarten and in the approach adopted to the stage between kindergarten education and late primary education into the secondary stages of education.

Attention has been given to the matter of the school leaving age. Previously, a boy who reached the age of 14, on the threshhold of puberty and rapid mental development, found that because of the economic circumstances he was eligible and able to leave school. He went into dead end jobs in which he did not gain any experience, and the discipline that would be administered by having education of an advanced form was not available to him. Improvements have been made in that direction. By compulsion, the school leaving age has been increased. In turn, young Australian men and women have been exposed to the discipline administered by the longer period of education. This has had its effect on them.

The setting up by the Commonwealth Government of the Australian National University is an historic achievement which, in the world of education, really confirms that we have arrived as a nation. Until a nation achieves a higher level of university training - a national university - where post graduate courses can be carried out and where its scientists- can be given a field in which their talents can be developed in their own country, it could never claim recognition as a country of any merit. Therefore, we must reflect on this move, which is very desirable.

There is an increasing awareness among our young people, who are able to see either side of the subject, that unless they equip themselves for the scientific and technological age in which they live they will be left behind. Unfortunately, the immediate incentive, of a cash nexus, which has become a god to so many people in the mercenary society in which we live, has encouraged the unskilled man, in the short term and without proper guidance, to leave school at an early age and to take the quick money that is available. In a society which enjoys relatively full employment, that incentive is quite a strong one. Many of our young men are failing to submit themselves to the discipline of further education, or, for that matter, apprenticeship, which is another form of education. They are seeking the quick rewards. Other young men weigh up very quickly in their own minds the immediate advantages of a wage pf £8 or £9 a week as an apprentice or as pocket money as a student as against £16, £18 or £20 a week as a tractor driver. Because of the easy and unplanned approach of our community towards education this sort of thing is going on daily. It will continue to go on until the gaps are closed.

The age group that I have mentioned will be supplying, in the long run, the numbers, personnel and talent which will be the recipients of anything that is done about tertiary education now. Another important matter is that, unless we are able to spread and develop the good that flows from the exchange of students from other parts of the world with our own students, we as a white and basically European people in the South East Asian region could become isolated mentally. It is emphasised often that international trade or trade between countries is the lifeblood of a nation; the exchange of teachers, students and ideas is of the greatest importance to a nation wilh regard to its attitude towards freedom, democracy and culture. But unless we set our sights on a high level of education and unless we are prepared to give priority to education countries which want to foster this exchange of views will have no incentive to send their students here. Universities in other countries, where governments arc more generous in helping to solve this tremendous problem, will attract these people, and we will be the losers. Therefore, when we read a report such as this, which has not aimed high enough to spur the Government to try to achieve other, than the immediately attainable economic goal, we feel that it is rightly a subject for criticism'. The government has continued its indirect interest in education and, by grants and in other ways, has made a contribution to education in Australia, but the States and individuals have to carry the main burden.

The carefully sponsored and. successfully executed immigration policy has created tremendous problems in the field of education, particularly for the States. We in the Federal Parliament boast of our achievements in immigration, but we can see one effect of the programme reflected in the incapacity of our universities and other places of education to cope with a problem which has been foisted upon them. They are seeking ways and means of dealing with a situation which has not been tackled in the forthright way that one would expect the Federal Government to tackle it. Overcrowding in universities, causing discomfort and lack of concentration, is accepted as a factor contributing to the high failure rate among university students. Overcrowding in secondary schools prevents teachers from dealing personally with their students and acquainting them with what they will meet in tertiary education. These are factors which are causing a waste of talent which we can ill afford.

Another matter that I feel should be mentioned is that of specialised training. On all sides we see evidence of great advances in science. Some of the achievements of our scientists leave us spellbound - the probes into space, the conquering of distance and the examination of matter - yet in all these fields research is only in its infancy. Men and men's minds have been responsible for dramatic conquests in various fields, but as a nation we have no cause for complacency. Many brilliant and distinguished Australians, despite the haphazard methods which have prevailed here in education, have excelled at international conferences and in famous laboratories. They have had honours heaped on them and they have achieved much, but reinforcements must be available. Unless the best possible facilities are provided, the reinforcements will not be available. This brings us back to the availability of finance and to whether we can afford not to provide the best possible facilities for training the men who will become the great scientists and technologists of the future.

I have listened to the debate with great interest. I believe that the more the layman probes into this matter the more he realises how little he knows of the magnitude of the problems to be faced. I am extremely grateful that this Committee has been set up. I know that if I were to study the contents of this report for the next ten years I would still not be able fully to absorb them. A report such as this makes us conscious of our responsibilities. It lays the responsibility for education fairly and squarely on the Parliament of this nation, the only body that can do anything about it. The report is now before us. When this debate has concluded, its repercussions will spread out like ripples on a millpond. I sincerely hope that the recommendations contained in the report will be put into effect.I hope that every member of the Parliament will be inspired anew to look for the wider horizon for which we must strive if we are to progress and prosper as a democratic nation.

The amendment prepared by the Opposition was moved to emphasise the views that I have expressed in a general way. Although great credit must be given to the members of the Martin Committee for the tremendous amount of work they put into their report, I feel that in the preparation and presentation of the report they were suffering under an inhibition. They were prepared only to recommend what they thought could be immediately accomplished, economically. That is the basis of my criticism of the report. But I hope that out of it will come further reports and continuous research. Let us hope that by this process we will be kept aware of our responsibility to maintain Australia in the vanguard of the nations of the world and made to realise that the part of man which is God-like and distinguishes him from the animal is his mind. That is the divine instrument that has distinguished him from the animal. The man who applies himself and the nation that applies itself to the advancement and widening and the fullest appreciation of this godlike gift will not only be fulfilling their destinies but will be bringing great good to all men.

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