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Thursday, 21 March 1985
Page: 543

Senator Sir JOHN CARRICK(11.30) —The Senate is debating a ministerial statement. That statement is an adoption by the Government of a report on planning and funding policies for new non-government schools. The recommendations of that report, which are now policies of this Government, are and must be a seriously retrograde step, both for government schools and non-government schools. The Government's policies can be conceived only in ideology; they cannot be measured in terms of budgetary economics, and I propose to demonstrate that.

The policies come as no surprise, because for almost the whole of the lifetime of the Australian Labor Party that Party's platform and policies have been totally opposed to aid to independent schools. It was only in the past 12 to 13 years that the Labor Party acknowledged, however reluctantly-and then forced by this side of politics-some forms of direct aid. I make it abundantly clear that the Labor Party, over its history, has believed in a socialised system of education, with no direct aid to independent schools.

I found it extraordinary that Senator Macklin should claim that the Labor Party has done much for independent schools. Let me put the record totally straight. As with the rejection of ANZUS, the Democrats have moved to a surprising doctrinaire stand in terms of independent schools; and that must be understood. Let me put nine clear points of the history of the advancement of the independent system. I speak as one proudly educated in the state system of education, but as one who is profoundly interested in the development of the dual system of education-a first-class government school system, and a first-class and competitive independent school system.

The first step in the road to assistance to social justice for the independent system was the decision of the Menzies Government in the 1950s-a decision that I had some part in-to provide interest subsidies for capital for the building of independent schools in the Australian Capital Territory. That was the first milestone, recognised as such. The second step by the Menzies Government was the provision of capital for libraries to be built in the independent schools system. The third step was the provision of science blocks; indirect aid. The fourth step, of course, was the provision of direct per capita grants. The fifth step was the fundamental principle, which has been breached and now broken by Labor, that there should be direct per capita grants for all students in independent schools. The sixth step was the decision of the Fraser Government progressively to raise the basic per capita grant to 20 per cent of the cost of a government school and to persuade the states schools-and I was happy to assist in that persuasion-to match it with 20 per cent. It then applied a needs base on top of that; an absolutely imperative system of social justice. The seventh step was the percentage link between the basic per capita grant and the cost of educating a student in a government school; a link which, incidentally, the Labor Party was quick to break. The eighth step was the funding of non-government teacher training colleges. The ninth step was the provision of significant new capital for new non-government schools, recognising that if there were a demonstrable demand in an area, whether it was an area of growth of government schools or not, freedom of choice was there. That is not a bad list of nine.

Let us look at the score which the Democrats commended. The Labor Party over 70 years of this century has totally opposed any assistance to non-government schools. That is not a bad start at all. Then, of course, there was a time when the Labor Party said: 'We do not believe in basic grants for all'. Then the Whitlam Government fought to introduce a category one where there were no grants at all. Then, of course, there was a promise by the Labor Party, in order to get into office, that it would not disturb the situation. Having come into office, it breached the promise by breaking down the principle of direct per capita grants. It took a shotgun to some schools, and that was the first shot. Then, of course, it removed the percentage link.

The Government went further than that. This is the Government which appointed to the Schools Commission people with doctrinaire stances, totally opposed to any assistance to independent schools. What kind of ideology is it for a government which has a Schools Commission, which, under the Act, is pledged to look to all children, all scholars of both independent and government schools, deliberately, by its choice, selection and act, to put on to that Commission people who are setting out to destroy the dual stream of choices? What an extraordinary situation. Of course, it goes further than that now. It is now going to emasculate the actual administrative circumstances of the Schools Commission. Great parts of the Schools Commission are going to be transferred to the Department of Education itself. The Government says that that will not affect the Commission, but we will see, step by step by step, that the independence and capacity of the Schools Commission to do its job will be destroyed and it will become a puppet of the Government.

This represents another MX turnabout by the Prime Minister (Mr Hawke). The Prime Minister was blackmailed by the Left on his statement on Willesee. The reason he turned around on the MX-he being a man of integrity and knowing that to support it was right-was that, if he did not, his Party might upset the American installations and the ports. He is a man who is willing to be blackmailed, a man who gave assurances before the election that this kind of situation could not occur. Now we have it.

Why do I say it is an ideology and not a budgetary matter? Running through all this is the implicit argument that we must not have waste; we must not have two schools where one would do. But just hold everything. Is not the principle that it is much cheaper for governments if children go to independent schools than if they go to government schools? I am a little bit puzzled by this whole situation. Here is an attempt to rationalise. If, indeed, Senator Peter Walsh, who in fact demonstrates the Peter principle-because nobody could be promoted beyond his abilities more than he-wants to save money, he ought to be bringing in an argument that more and more students should go to the independent system because it will save two-thirds of the normal revenue maintenance over the years. So it has nothing at all to do with the saving of money. What is it? It is a socialist rationalisation.

The Government has perverted this as it has perverted most arguments. The fact of the matter is that, until the late nineteenth century, education was a voluntary matter in this country. In the late nineteenth century it was made compulsory, but it was not made compulsory to go to government schools. The school is simply a mechanism. What was made compulsory was that a student should absorb so many years of education and a particular kind of syllabus. There was no compulsion as to the mechanism at all. A provision was made for government schools so that those who could not afford independent schools could have an education. There was never an attempt to provide a single socialist monopoly at all and freedom of choice was inherent.

How ugly is a document which has now been adopted when it contains a classic case of social engineering? Senator Peter Baume, in a first class speech, made a point of this. Paragraph 20 on page 7 of the report states:

A continuing significant decline in the government school sector's share of overall enrolment is likely to change substantially the social composition of the student population in government schools, with potentially significant negative consequences for the general comprehensiveness of public school systems. The cumulative effect of these financial, educational and social consequences could, in the long term, threaten the role and standing of the public school as a central institution in Australian society.

I can only say I have never heard a more monstrous piece of nonsense. It is the right of people to change their minds and say: 'I do not want my child to go to a government school; I want him to go to a Catholic systemic school'. Why would that alter the structure of things? There is inherent in this some idea that there is an exclusive privilege to a child going to an independent school. Let that nonsense go out the window. Ninety per cent of the children who go to independent schools come from the low to middle income families. Many of them are in the Catholic systemic system, a magnificent system which looks to poor and underprivileged children to give them a chance in life. I commend the Catholic system as I do the non-Catholic system. Do we say that it is wrong for a mother to go to work to pay that extra fee to send her child to a school? The Australian Labor Party has always built up this ugly idea that somehow or other the independent system is a system of privilege. I cannot think of anything more ugly than that. Incidentally, one of the strangest things about it is that members of the Labor party inveigh about it here and they send their children to independent schools, as do trade union leaders and others.

If we look at it, this is a most corrupt system. Members of the Labor Party are compelled to speak for their numbers. Just as Mr Hayden in Hanoi had to act to make sure he had the Left behind him, just as Mr Hawke had to change the MX situation to have the Left behind him, so indeed the adoption of this proposal is a move so that in fact the left wing and the Centre Left will rally around. It is an astonishing situation that we should be led by these kinds of factions and that we should have the perversion and corruption of what is an essential right. The essential right of the Australian people is freedom of choice, whether it changes the intended social engineering of the Labor Party or not. What nonsense it is that we must not have a continuous decline.

Let me give another example, if we are looking for a doctrinaire document. How can we define growing, declining and stagnant areas by one measurement? Pardon my saying it, but the Government's slip is showing. How does one define a growing area? It is an area in which government schools are growing. It would be wrong for it to be an area in which independent schools are growing. See what I mean? If this were right and all nice and rational, no doubt members of the Labor Party would tell the Federal President of the Labor Party, who has some difficulties at the moment in New South Wales, that he should have adopted this principle and so should his Director-General in relation to the Dover Heights High School. When that school became empty and could not be used a very fine independent school asked whether it could use it. We must rationalise these situations. Members of the Labor Party turn somersaults to prevent it from working that way. It is all right to drive independent school children back into the state education system, but when there is an empty government school and a demand from an independent school it does not allow that situation.

I am proud to say that when I was Minister for Education I was able to make provision in the Australian Capital Territory for independent schools temporarily, by paying rent, to use empty government schools. Why should there not be a two-way system in this matter? If we are going to have this nonsense that the Government, against the public will, is going artificially to arrest a trend and create rigid social engineering by not allowing a drift, we have socialism which has gone absolutely mad. The fundamental situation about education in this country is that there ought to be the right for every individual to decide whether his child goes to a government school or an independent school. Indeed, the bulk of people who make that choice in favour of independent schools are the poor. This is contrary to what the Labor Party says because the Labor Party always conjures up and talks of the independent system as though it were level 1. The fact of the matter is that the great bulk of people who send their children to independent schools have low economic standards and sacrifice an enormous amount to do so. Indeed, those who send their children to level 1 and level 2 schools that this Government is now attacking are, in many cases, people of straitened circumstances who believe that it is worth virtually sacrificing their living standards to give their children an education of their choice.

It is right and proper that if a person has to go to a hospital he can choose, if he so wishes, a hospital where the surgeon with the scalpel in his hand has a prayer in his heart and receive the same amount of government subsidy. Why can this not occur in the school situation? The Labor Party is making the only exception to the rule of freedom of choice in the system of schools. Admittedly in New South Wales there is a pursuit of restraint of the private hospital system because it would be a dreadful thing to have competition with the public system. Nevertheless, there is the same kind of public subsidy. Nobody asks about people's means. They are not means tested if they choose-as the Federal President of the Labor Party and many others choose, and I commend them-a private religious hospital for their treatment. Why should not people believe that education is not entirely a secular matter, that religion is not just a matter for the sabbath and that education should have a prayer in its heart and chalk in its hand?

But apparently they must not believe that. This report and this Government have said that it would be wrong to have a decline in government schools and an increase in non-government schools. Why would that be sociologically wrong? How can it be structurally wrong when today the great bulk of people in independent schools are poor? The argument ought to be reversed.

Senator Peter Baume —It would be wrong because it would be putting power in the hands of parents.

Senator Sir JOHN CARRICK —Let me deal with that interjection. Senator Baume said that the Government would think it wrong because it would be putting power in the hands of parents. The fundamental situation of members of the Liberal Party of Australia and the National Party of Australia is that decisions in education should be in the hands of the parents. The Australian Labor Party, and we now find that the Australian Democrats are strongly supporting it in this regard, is looking to the socialist concept of organising everyone. I cannot think of a worse piece of doctrinaire nonsense than paragraph 20 in this report, nor can I think of a worse piece of nonsense than the classification of 'growing areas' as areas where government schools grow. What an astonishing thing!

There is also some suggestion that we ought not to have these small schools that are cropping up around the place at the moment and that some people do not like. As Minister for Education, I toiled on this problem. I believed two old-fashioned things: First, I believed that if a State government said that it would register a school in terms of its basic education standards, I had cause to consider very much indeed that it deserved funding. Secondly, I recognised that in a society that is struggling to seek spirituality and struggling to find a philosophy and a cause such a right to be different and such a choice must be inherent and must be preserved. Fundamentally, Senator Macklin's arguments are wrong. If a State has the constitutional power to decide what should be registered and what should not and it states that a school satisfies educational standards, its other choices ought not to be a matter for argument even if all of us here said that we oppose what that school is teaching.

I have been thinking very hard on this. This report was conceived in 1984 and I can see that it is really Orwellian in its structure. It contains Orwellian double talk in terms of socialist double standards.

Why should the recommendations in this report not proceed? We have had the massive financial influence of the militant teacher unions. They have placed massive political pressure on the Labor Party. In reflecting upon the militancy and the pressure of those unions, I do not want to reflect upon individual teachers. My experience of individual teachers in Australia is that the great majority of them are doing a first class job. But what we have in Australia is a militant organisation of teacher unions with tunnel vision. These unions have an industrial self-interest. They do not look at the educational needs of children but at the industrial interests of union members. They see the need to create an educational monopoly to garner all the money and direct it towards their industrial interests. That in itself is corrupting education in Australia. It is doing great harm. Their goal ought to be to meet the educational needs of children.

The reason why there is a growth in the independent school system and a decline in the government school system is that parents, who are the only proper judges, believe that their children will get a better total education, including pastoral care, in the independent system. It is not for governments to decide whether parents are wrong. That is the arrogance of socialism and communism. When a government decides it knows better than parents, this country is no longer functioning as a democracy. Essentially the parent must have the first choice.

Again, I make it abundantly clear that if one were to read the report and the ministerial statement, one would think they were a very sensible piece of rationalisation. In effect, the report and the Government are saying: 'If we have a couple of schools in an area and there is really no need for them, we must do something about this. If there is a decline in the school system in another area we must do something about that'. What an extraordinary situation. It means that we do not measure freedom of choice. We simply use the socialist philosophy of levelling down rather than freedom of choice. What is the situation if there is a growing demand for an independent school in an area of decline? According to this report we rule it out. The test to be applied is that there must be a growth in government schools. We can see the thinking that is inherent in this. This Government will force a polarised view of the government school being the dominant and overriding school.

But even if we accept that, we are not arguing about money. I know that at this moment the Government has painted itself into a corner. All the things it said we were doing wrongly in putting on restraints in the period from 1975 to 1983 it is now saying are right. It argued that big deficits were all right and it said that we could spend as much as we liked. Now it suddenly finds that what we said was right. Step by step it is now trying to pretend that what it is doing is a device for good order and good economy. But I put it frankly to the people of Australia that the great bulk of public expenditure on education, per capita, goes far more heavily to government school students than to independent school students. If we are wanting a cheaper system for the taxpayer we should encourage people to transfer to independent schools. In other words, we should do the very reverse of the Government's policy. We should encourage this movement and encourage freedom of choice and then we would save money.

That brings me back to this report which has been constructed by socialist engineering with doctrinaire socialism as its goal. Its aim is to ensure that the government school system shall dominate and that there shall not be freedom of competition. It states that we must tidy things up. That argument ought to be extended to a suburb in which there are too many chemist shops. After all, many suburbs today are oversupplied with pharmacies. Why not tidy them up? They are costing too much in terms of the scrips for which the Government pays. Why do we not also tidy up all the service stations to be found at every corner? Let us tidy up anything at all where demonstrably some socialist mind can say: 'In my view there is an oversupply'. Of course, if this is so, we must cut down that supply.

What we have is a very simple situation. We have a Labor Party which, for 70 of the 80-odd years of this century, has been implacably opposed to state aid to non-government schools and which, for the remainder of the century, has been reluctantly doing something about it. But in the latter years it has been trying to retreat. We have a Labor Party caught up in the doctrinaire bids of both its parliamentary left wing and the trade union movement and it is being forced inexorably to turn about, to change its mind as it did in the case of the MX missile testing.

We have a Prime Minister and a Cabinet who know what is right but who do what is wrong. It is no wonder that the leaders of the nations of the world are now turning to criticise this Government and this country. It is no wonder that Wall Street Journals state that the basic reason for the fall in the Australian dollar is the mess of this Government's leadership, its indecision and the effect of the left wing on this country. Here again we see a classic example of the Labor Party knowing what is right. It knows that it ought to have continued with the success stories and first class policies of the Fraser and Menzies Liberal governments, but it does what is wrong because it is being forced to do so by its left wing, both inside and outside the Parliament. I reject the recommendations.