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Wednesday, 30 May 1984
Page: 2144

Senator PETER BAUME —My question is addressed to the Minister for Education and Youth Affairs. I refer the Minister to criticisms of the Commonwealth Schools Commission made recently in an article by Luis Garcia in the Sydney Morning Herald, apparently repeating the views of the Minister. Does the Minister stand by the quite severe criticisms of the Commonwealth Schools Commission made in the article and, if so, considering the seriousness of the criticisms, what action has she taken or will she take to correct the problems discussed?

Senator RYAN —It is the case that in an article by Luis Garcia he repeated some of a very lengthy interview I gave him about matters concerning the Commonwealth Schools Commission report. I gave Mr Garcia quite a lot of comment on the exercise that the Schools Commission had involved itself in and he, or the Sydney Morning Herald, chose to repeat a very small part of it. I did say, and I am pleased to place it on the record, that it was not only my view but also the view of all education bodies with whom I had had consultation that the Schools Commission had done an outstanding job of consultation concerning the new schools funding formula. I think every national group with whom I met and with whom the Prime Minister met made a point of saying that the Schools Commission had carried out excellently its brief to consult widely on this matter. It was also acknowledged, I think by all parties, that the Schools Commission had an extraordinarily difficult task to undertake in that it had to try to find a consensus amongst what has become a very diverse range of views about the best and most equitable way to resolve the question of schools funding. It is the case, and it has been public knowledge for some time, that there were two dissents from that report. They were the dissents from Van Davy, who is the President of the Australian Teachers' Federation, and Joan Brown, who is a nominee of the Australian Council of State School Organisations.

It would come as no surprise to anyone in this place that a report without dissent is a stronger report than one with some dissent. The Government takes account of the fact that two members of the Commission did not find themselves in agreement with all parts of the Commission's report, although they are not in disagreement with the entire report. Nonetheless, two members of the Commission did find themselves finally in disagreement with some aspects of the report. On that account, it is the case that the report is not as strong and clear in its advice as it would have been had it had for each and every one of its recommendations the support of every member of the Commission. However, I remind honourable senators that dissenting reports from the Schools Commission are no new phenomenon. In fact, there have been dissents on four occasions in recent years. In April 1978 Mr Greg Dunne dissented on the report in relation to the 1979-81 triennium. In November 1980 Dr Mossenson indicated that he did not agree with the content of the report on schooling for 15 and 16-year-olds. In August 1981, Joan Brown and Allan Marriage signed a dissenting report in relation to the report for 1982. Of course, there are also the two dissents to which I have referred. It is clear to me at this stage that when a body is trying to represent the great diversity of views in this community about the needs in education and the appropriate forms of Commonwealth assistance it is not always possible to get complete agreement from all members. This was the case with this report. Nonetheless, the report is a very useful one. The Government is giving extremely serious consideration to all of its recommendations, in the budgetary context, of course.

Senator Chaney —Oh! That is a nice change.

Senator RYAN —Senator Chaney seems surprised and perhaps delighted that I have given him this additional piece of information. Quite clearly, the recommendations have to be considered within the budgetary context and the views of the Commission's majority report will be of fundamental importance to the Government in arriving at its decisions, but other matters will be taken into account. The views put in by the dissenting commissioners of course will be taken into account and the views put to me and to the Prime Minister in the extremely successful round of consultations we had with national organisations will also be taken into account. When we have considered all views and all the recommendations of the Commission we will resolve an approach to school funding in the budgetary context which will be revealed when I issue the guidelines for the Schools Commission for 1985.

Senator PETER BAUME —Mr President, I ask a supplementary question. My question to the Minister was not about the dissenting reports, nor about the content of the Schools Commission report. It was about criticisms which the Minister has made of the Commonwealth Schools Commission.

Senator Ryan —Which ones?

Senator PETER BAUME —The ones mentioned in Luis Garcia's article. I ask the Minister whether she stands by the criticisms of the Commonwealth Schools Commission made by her in that article? If so, what action will she take to correct the matters which she found it necessary to criticise? Finally, I ask the Minister what opportunity she will make available to the Commonwealth Schools Commission to answer the serious charges she has made?

The PRESIDENT —Order! That is not a supplementary question. I ask the Minister to confine herself to the supplementary question.

Senator RYAN —I do not think there is any substance to the supplementary question. The article drew attention to the fact that I had commented upon the existence of dissenting reports. There was also the fact that on the very important question of a funding formula for government schools there was no agreement within the Commission. Clearly that is a matter of concern which has to be taken into account. Whether these things amount to criticism or to a factual discussion of the format of the report, I will leave honourable senators to decide.