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Thursday, 21 March 1985
Page: 552

Senator GRIMES (Minister for Community Services)(12.29) —I do not think that I can say much about the last contribution to this debate, except that it demonstrated that Senator Archer has not read the report and has no idea of what is in it. The best way to dismiss Senator Walters contribution is to point out that she said that the debate is really about Senator Ryan, the Prime Minister (Mr Hawke) and the rest of this Government paying the Teachers Federation back for the great support it gave us in the last election. I have no idea where Senator Walters was during the election. The Teachers Federation not only did not give us a cent; it also opposed us, and spent $40,000 in the Australian Capital Territory trying to have Senator Ryan defeated. That was an extraordinary statement by the good senator.

Senator Walters —What about 1983?

Senator GRIMES —We have heard what Senator Walters has said. Those were the words she used. She should read the Hansard. Her words demonstrate that she does not know what she is talking about. The rest of her speech followed in the same way.

The gist of the contributions-I exclude from my remarks the thoughtful contributions of Senator Macklin and Senator Harradine-from Senator Baume, from Senator Teague and, especially, from that great knight of the realm Senator Sir John Carrick, was that here the Government is accepting a socialist document supported and promoted by the socialist Left, a document which is about social planning and which is doctrinaire and demonstrates what a terrible, socialist Government this is. I remind the Senate that we are debating the Government's acceptance of the recommendations of a report called the 'Planning and Funding Policies for New Non-Government Schools' which is a report of the panel of the Commonwealth Schools Commission.

Who was on the panel? Certainly, the Chairman of the panel was Ms Lindsay Connors, the Acting Chairman of the Schools Commission. We have heard the personal attacks on Ms Connors from Senator Baume and others on that side.

Senator Peter Baume —I did not even mention it.

Senator GRIMES —The honourable senator has mentioned it in the past. I do not need to defend Ms Connors. The second member of the Commission is Sister Denise Desmarchelier. She is the principal of a Catholic high school in Western Australia. She is a nun and the principal of a non-government Catholic school. The third member is Mr Vin Faulkner, the planning officer of the Catholic Education Office of Victoria; and the fourth member is Professor Ron Sackville, the chairman of the Australian Law Reform Commission and a member of the board or the committee which looks after the Jewish day schools in New South Wales. The final member is Mr Doug Swan, the Director-General of the New South Wales Education Department. Are we seriously saying, as did Senator Teague, that Sister Desmarchelier, Vin Faulkner, Ron Sackville-anyone who knows Professor Ron Sackville would not put him anywhere near the socialist Left of the Australian Labor Party or any other such radical group-the majority group on that committee, produced a socialist doctrinaire document for social planning? Senator Teague is doing what he has always done in this place. When he has no basis of argument he proceeds on certain principles: The first is what he and Senator Baume were doing-attack the Minister. In an extraordinary statement Senator Baume attacked the Minister because she had not attended a government school. He said that she had never been inside a government school.

Senator Peter Baume —As a student.

Senator GRIMES —Senator Baume did not say 'as a student' and I defy him to find that in Hansard. Apart from the fact that Senator Ryan has two children educated in government schools, and this nonsense of attacking the Minister when one has nothing else to do, on three occasions Senator Teague talked about us ringing the death 'knoll' of the private education system. I think he had better get back to his private education system and try to explain to me what knolls have to do with it. I think he had another word in mind and had some difficulty. He was also full of stuff about putting up barbed wire fences, sticking in the steel-ribbed boots-whatever they are-and laying down the gauntlet and all the conspiratorial theories that he usually goes on with when reports such as this come down. He went on for half an hour about some great socialist conspiracy which arises out of a report, the majority of those who wrote it being associated with non-government schools. One of the members of the panel is a principal of a non-government school and, as Senator Jack Evans said, a fine woman. The Opposition has mounted an attack on the people who have produced this report and that is absolutely typical of the sort of nonsense that Opposition senators go on with in this place. We have had all the old shibboleths today, all this nonsense which has gone on for two and a half hours on a report that has been brought down. At least Senator Walters had the decency to admit that she had not read it. Senator Archer demonstrated clearly that he had not read it and I doubt whether the other Opposition senators had either.

In answer to an interjection from Senator Harradine, Senator Peter Baume said that he was not about some free enterprise principle in private schools. He said that the Opposition did not have a market theory about private schools. However, when Senator Macklin expressed concern about the very real difficulty and the very real worries facing the Catholic parochial school system over the untrammelled increase in the development of small private schools in areas that were already well supplied, and suggested that some private schools in existence would become non-viable and therefore their students might be affected, Senator Baume's interjection was 'Tough'. I ask him to look at that in Hansard. That is what this debate is about. It is about 'Tough'. This debate is not about the standard of children's education when Senator Baume says: 'Tough, too bad if the school becomes non-viable, too bad if the kids do not get a decent education'. The Opposition has the same nonsensical view about education as it has about health-that the best way to deliver services like this is to throw them open to some free market system in which only the wealthy do well and only the rich survive. We have this nonsense frequently debated in this place. This is the kind of argument that is put forward frequently by senators on the Opposition benches.

I am not concerned about the rich; my concern in the non-government sector would be the same as that of Senator Ryan and the same as that this Government has always had. We want to support, for example, the Catholic parochial school system which takes all the kids it thinks it should care for. It tries to give them all an education whether they can pay their fees or not. We do not want to see the system which arises now and which was commented on in a television program yesterday morning in which some private schools-I do not think Senator Teague will deny this-reject pupils because their academic standards are not up to the academic standards that those schools would like to see. They reject pupils out of hand so that they can keep up their academic standards for publicity purposes. Senator Teague remains silent because he knows that that happens.

Senator Teague made two unfortunate remarks which I must reply to briefly. First, he criticised the Minister for Education for not being here. He said that she should have been here. I am the Manager of Government Business in this place and Senator Ryan has been at me for the last few days to make sure that this report came down as soon as possible and that the Government gave its response as soon as possible. The fact that she is not here is not of her doing. She desperately wanted to be here because this is an important report. For Senator Teague to get up in this place without any knowledge-and I notified the Opposition spokesman on education of the facts-and criticise Senator Ryan because she could not be here is typical of the sorts of tactics the Opposition members use. If we had delayed the bringing down of this report because Senator Ryan could not be here today, Senator Teague would have criticised us for not bringing it down. He is a disgrace because he uses those tactics and personally criticises the Minister in this regard. He should be ashamed of himself, but then that is typical of the sorts of tactics he introduces in this place.

In the few minutes that I have left to discuss this matter I should like to point out certain simple facts. The panel's recommendations came to the Government in February after they had been asked for by the Minister in a letter last August. The panel members received an extension of time at their request so that they could further consult with the various non-government bodies and others concerned. This was not done at the request of the Prime Minister, as Senator Teague has suggested. That is also typical of the tactics that Senator Teague uses in this place. These recommendations were based on the need for a planned development of government and non-government schools in this country. The recommendations were aimed at the provision of a balance-as panel members say, and they make no bones about it-between reasonable choice and the right of children to receive high standards of education, and I really do not think that anyone in this place should complain about that balance, and the provision of co-ordination between the Commonwealth and State governments in the planning of new schools.

Senator Harradine raised this matter. The State governments already have planning mechanisms for the development of new government schools. In general, they put the schools where they are needed and where the population increases warrant them. There always has been a planning process in the development of government schools, as there has to be with budgetary and other considerations that Commonwealth governments must introduce. What the Minister has suggested is that concern has been expressed in both government and non-government school sectors-and, as Senator Macklin pointed out, particularly in the Catholic system-at the proliferation of a large number of schools in recent times and some question asked about the standards that those schools provide. One only has to read the newspapers or follow the media in this country to know that that happens. The Minister asked the panel members to bring forward a report on how we could better look at the planning and funding policies for new non-government schools in this country. That is what they have done and they have done it on the basis of the facts, the evidence and the consultations that they had.

Senator Sir John Carrick seemed to think that it was offensive that we should take budgetary considerations into account when we are dealing with the funding of non-government schools. If we took that attitude to the funding of nursing homes or hostels, for example, or to the funding of child care or the provision of anything else that the Federal Government funds in this country, if we said that the Budget did not count and that we must fund all those people who want it and all those people who can get licensing by State authorities, there would be a riot on the other side of the House and a much more lively debate than we have had here today. We would be castigated for being irresponsible, as indeed we would be irresponsible. Of course budgetary matters come into consideration and to suggest that they should not or would not is nonsense.

We need to develop a planning method so that the funds can be used sensibly and so that they can be distributed in an equitable manner throughout this country for the benefit of parents and the education system as a whole, and in particular for the benefit of the kids who will be educated in the future. For this Government to ignore the disquiet and the uncertainty that have existed in the community for some years now about the proliferation and the type of some of the schools that have proliferated would be absolutely irresponsible. We have done this and we have received this report. In general, the Government has accepted the report. The Senate will get the opportunity to debate the legislative changes which come in. When that debate occurs, I hope that those members of the Opposition who have spoken here today will actually read the report and will consider the principles which are important to us all. I hope that we will not have another exercise in slanging across this chamber, as we have had today, and that we will not have people such as Senator Harradine and others feeling they have to declare in this place where they stand, where they were educated and where their kids are educated and everything else. I hope that we have a debate on the important principles of education which are concerned. Opposition senators have all got it off their chests this morning and they all feel much better and they all think that they have helped themselves out in the electorate in those small groups who listen to the sort of nonsense they have gone on with today. But I hope that when the legislation comes in we have a sane debate. We shall see then whether Senator Teague's warnings and threats, which he has been repeating since we were first elected in 1983-that this will bring the Government down; that this will bring the wrath of the people down-are as empty now as they have been all the times he has made them.

Question resolved in the affirmative.