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Wednesday, 13 June 1984
Page: 2931


Senator COLSTON(3.54) — Most of us who have been members of the Senate for some time almost expect some of the outlandish claims which are made by Senator Baume in debates such as this. Therefore, some of the claims which he made came as no surprise. I am sure that when the Minister for Education and Youth Affairs (Senator Ryan) responds in this debate she will reply to many of the claims that Senator Baume has made. However, I wish to mention one matter before I move on to the topic I wish to discuss this afternoon; that is, it should be remembered that Senator Baume is a former Minister for Education. It is because of his and his Government's administration that this Government inherited many of the deficiencies in the education system of Australia with which it is now grappling.

I intend to use the debate on this legislation to outline to the Senate some matters in relation to the use of corporal punishment in schools. I consider that my comments will be in order because one of the Bills will authorise payments to the States for educational purposes. Most of the States have educational practices which permit school children to be corporally punished. This afternoon I shall be mentioning something about the Australian Capital Territory and its school system. As I move forward it will be seen that the comments that I make are germane to the whole topic which I will mention this afternoon. On a number of occasions in Senate Estimates committee hearings I have raised the matter of the use of corporal punishment. It is no secret that I have campaigned and will continue to campaign for the elimination of this archaic and brutal practice from our education system.

In a recent Senate Estimates committee hearing I was gratified to learn of some progress, however small, in this vexed area. I learned that the Australian Capital Territory Schools Authority had this year collected statistics on the incidence of corporal punishment in schools under its control. Some of the figures were alarming. One secondary school reported that physical punishment had been used on 79 occasions in 1983. Of 27 secondary schools in the Australian Capital Territory, 13 used corporal punishment last year. The incidence of infliction ranged from one to 79. Of 73 primary schools, 16 administered corporal punishment in 1983, ranging from one to 18 times. An added dimension to the disturbing nature of these statistics is that they came from within a system which urges the avoidance of the use of corporal punishment. The Australian Capital Territory Schools Authority's guidelines on the use of corporal punishment state, in part:

The Authority urges schools to work towards the abolition of corporal punishment. Many alternatives are available which are preferable and which are more likely to result in development of healthy social skills and the learning of adequate personal behaviour.

Despite this, on 372 occasions in 1983 students were physically punished in the Australian Capital Territory, with no right of appeal or redress. I trust that the Authority will continue to collect these statistics and make them available to the public. This will facilitate a more rational debate on the abolition of this practice. At this stage I seek leave to incorporate in Hansard data on the incidence of corporal punishment in Australian Capital Territory schools. I have shown this table to the Opposition Whip. I think that it will be acceptable.

Leave granted.

The table read as follows-

CORPORAL PUNISHMENT-GOVERNMENT SCHOOLS IN A.C.T. 1983

North Canberra-

North Belconnen-

Ainslie Primary 11 Kaleen Primary 5 Campbell Primary 1 Charnwood High School 79 Lyneham Primary 5 Kaleen High School 25 Campbell High School 10 Melba High School 7 Lyneham High School 43 Watson High School 16 South Belconnen-

Cook Primary 7 South Canberra-

Higgins Primary 7 Narrabundah Primary 2 Latham Primary 2 Hughes Primary 4 Scullin Primary 18 Deakin High School 2 Weetangera Primary 1 Telopea Park High School 1 Canberra High School 5

Ginninderra High School 64 Woden Valley-

Pearce Primary 1 Tuggeranong-

Torrens Primary 8 Mt Neighbour 2

Village Creek Primary 1 Weston Creek-

Kambah High School 3 Weston Primary 3 Wanniassa High School 14 Holder High School 25


Senator COLSTON —I thank the Senate. Against this background, I spoke on the issue of corporal punishment in Queensland last weekend. The principal matter which I stressed was that education departments should follow the lead of the Australian Capital Territory Schools Authority and publish statistics on the incidence of corporal punishment in schools under their control. I also outlined , almost as an aside, that in Queensland the regulations about corporal punishment are discriminatory. They permit boys to be caned but not girls. I quote from what I said last weekend:

In these days of equal rights, how do you explain to a boy who has just been caned why girls cannot be similarly assaulted?

There should be a ''hands off'' rule for all-not just for girls.

Imagine my surprise and the surprise of many Queensland parents when the Courier -Mail ran an article on its front page on Monday headed 'Cane plan for ''rude'' schoolgirls'. Part of this article read:

Girls in Queensland state schools who grossly misbehave or persist with rudeness and insolence soon could be caned.

The Education Minister, Mr Powell, is having a close look at the use of corporal punishment, and sees considerable benefit in extending its use to girls in cases where their behaviour warrants such action.

Following this comment Mr Powell was strongly condemned for his statement, and rightly so. As an indication of some of the comments that have been made I will quote from part of a letter which was written to the editor of the Courier-Mail about Mr Powell's statement:

Corporal punishment degrades both pupil and teacher. It is a form of violence even outlawed in our penal system, but which can still be inflicted on our children with no form of appeal.

Mr Powell would do well to read the recently prepared discussion paper on corporal punishment in schools issued by the Human Rights Commission.

If, after reading the arguments for both sides, he can support an extension of corporal punishment in schools, he should be relieved of his portfolio.

If Mr Powell does nothing else at least he will have highlighted an undesirable aspect of education in Australia. I must admit that I thought a Minister for Education would not be so conservative or so lacking in ideas that he would consider that shortcomings in the education system that he administered could be overcome by assaulting children. Yet not only did he suggest the continuation of corporal punishment; he advocated its extension. The more he talks like this the more the public will be aware of the deep shortcomings in his Department. I also trust that the more he talks the more the public will regard corporal punishment as unacceptable. Mr Powell and his fellow apologists for the continued use of corporal punishment should realise that Australia is one of the few countries that clings to the idea that school-children can be caned. Nowhere in mainland Europe is it permissible to use physical punishment on school-children. In Ireland it is banned and many education authorities in England have prohibited its use. Corporal punishment is no longer used in Victorian state schools. The practice was discontinued there 18 months ago.

Perhaps education systems need more counsellors to assist children with behaviour problems. Perhaps educational administrators and teachers should look at the nature of schools to see whether behaviour problems are a function of the setting which students must compulsorily attend. Perhaps those who cane do so out of a bad habit picked up years ago. If teachers fail to question why the students have behaviour problems and if they fail to remove the cause of those problems, they have no right to treat the symptoms by assaulting their students. What professional group, other than teachers, has the right to inflict physical pain by way of punishment on children? What would happen to a doctor, a psychologist or a nurse who acted in this way? They would be deregistered, and rightly so. I have just referred to teachers as a professional group. However, no teacher who clings to the idea that corporal punishment has a place in the school system can regard himself or herself as a professional.

I could advance many reasons why corporal punishment should not be used in schools, however, I mention just a few this afternoon. Firstly, the use of physical punishment lends official endorsement to the view that problems between people may be resolved by force. Surely this is not an attitude that we should be developing. It is an irony that some education systems allow the teaching of peace studies but also allow corporal punishment to be used on school children. This must be the ultimate contradiction. Secondly, physical punishment conflicts with modern educational principles which place emphasis on the development of self-discipline, self-motivation and an enthusiasm for learning. Thirdly, the deliberate threat or infliction of pain can harm children, the more nervous child in particular. In the same way it harms the deprived and maladjusted child who is already living under stress and who is in need of greater understanding and guidance, not violent rejection. Fourthly, physical punishment, intended ostensibly to promote an orderly atmosphere in schools, is in fact a common method of camouflaging inadequate and irrelevant curricula and incompetent teaching. Finally, in what is a short list of reasons why corporal punishment should not be used, there is the point that physical punishment will occasionally be carried out to brutal excess as long as it is permitted at all.

I will not stop in my efforts to see the abolition of this practice, but in the meantime I call upon all education authorities to publish on a regular basis statistics on this archaic practice. When it can be clearly seen by all that our children have less protection against physical punishment than dangerous criminals or domestic animals, perhaps society will demand a change.