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Tuesday, 21 May 1985
Page: 2256

Senator RYAN (Minister for Education)(6.02) —I must defend the Commonwealth Schools Commission against this trivial and hypocritical attack by Senator Baume.

Senator Peter Baume —Neither trivial nor hypocritical.

The PRESIDENT —Order! The words 'hypocrisy' and 'hypocritical' have been used a number of times in this chamber and they are out of order.

Senator RYAN —I will not persist with them. The fact is that Senator Peter Baume is choosing to waste the time of this Committee by going over ground that was very thoroughly explored during the meeting of the Estimates Committee.

Senator Grimes —And in Question Time.

Senator RYAN —And in Question Time and, I think, probably in a debate, as I recollect. There is so much repetition of these matters it is a bit difficult to recall when they are being wheeled out again. I have made two things clear. One is that the Commission is instituting new procedures, after the discussion at the Estimates Committee, whereby all honourable members and honourable senators will be informed of all relevant grants going to their electorates. I also retain the right to make government announcements about these matters. Senator Baume is drawing an enormous distinction between a government department and a statutory body. There are some distinctions but there is one matter in which there is no distinction, and that is that the Commission has no independent source of funds. It is not a self-funding outfit. The Commission does not have funds of its own which it allocates to schools. The Commission, like any Commonwealth department, gets its funds from the Government and allocates those funds according to policies laid down by the Government. There has been a bit of confusion about this matter in recent times and the confusion has emerged in all kinds of discussions concerning the Commission and its most appropriate structure and the most appropriate procedures it should follow.

I would like to place on the record that my view about the statutory independence of the Commission is that which is set out in the Commonwealth Schools Commission Act. The Commission is required to report in an objective fashion on a number of matters, such as needs in education, educational standards and so on and so forth. It is my intention to strengthen the capacity of the Commission to do just that and to invite, as I have invited ever since I have been Minister, the most independent views from it concerning needs in education, educational issues and appropriate programs for implementing policies. Let me make it quite clear that the Government has education policies, the Government decides that resources of a certain level shall be devoted to those policies. The Government agrees with the Commission about guidelines for the application of those funds. To suggest, as Senator Baume did by implication, that the Commission has its own funds and that it should announce decisions or enable announcements of them to be made quite independently of the source of those funds, is something I do not agree with.

We could have this debate and it could go on for ever. Certainly Senator Baume seems to be very keen on repeating it, but let me try to draw it to a conclusion. The concern expressed by Opposition senators has been taken note of by the Commission. An officer from the Commission has advised me that new systems are being developed whereby all honourable senators and honourable members will have the appropriate information. I simply add that it is my intention, as Minister responsible for this Commission, that initial announcements be made by the Government. Perhaps they will be made by me because it is perfectly proper, under the Act, for me to be advised of all decisions before anyone else is. So I can either have the decisions made known to me and then announce them or I can ask colleagues to announce them. I repeat the principle so articulately spelt out by my colleague Senator Grimes, that if the Government wants to make announcements about grants concerning government funds it is perfectly proper for it to do so and does not intrude upon the statutory, proper independence of the Commission in any way.