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Thursday, 21 March 1985
Page: 549

Senator WALTERS(12.12) —I had no knowledge of the report of the panel of Commonwealth Schools Commissioners, entitled 'Planning and Funding Policies for New Non-Government Schools', having been brought down, so I have not had time to read it. That applies to all back benchers, a fact of which we are well aware. Senate back benchers generally do not get copies of reports. However, Ministers, shadow Ministers and leaders of the minor parties usually do. I have never witnessed such an outcry from the back bench as that which has accompanied the tabling of the report. It really is a disgrace. The report states that the Government indicated to the Commonwealth Schools Commission that 'it wished to be able to budget for Commonwealth support for new non-government schools from 1986'. So the whole excuse for all this is that the Government wanted to budget for new non-government schools.

Senator Sir John Carrick has pointed out very clearly that if the Government were sincere in cutting the money being spent on education it would be encouraging the setting up of new non-government schools. It does not take any great whiz to understand that, if parents are paying the majority of fees, governments or the taxpayers are relieved of the need to do so. It does not take any mental giant to work that out. So the indication by the Government to the Commonwealth Schools Commission that it wants to be able to budget for the setting up of new non-government schools is all pie in the sky stuff. Why is it necessary? It is necessary because, as has already been stated by Senator John Carrick, the Prime Minister, Mr Hawke, is doing a deal with the Left. After all, he received a nice lot of money from the teachers. He is now doing a deal with the Left. Senator Aulich smiles, but he knows a lot better than I the factions within the Australian Labor Party. He understands very clearly that the deals being done in the Cabinet room between the Left, the Centre Left, the Right, the independents and the other factions of that Party are very complicated and have to be stuck to. The Prime Minister has already done a deal on the MX missile test, by backing off. He is now doing a deal with the factions on the schools. There is no doubt at all that prior to the election the Prime Minister took over the portfolio of the Minister for Education (Senator Ryan). He said to the private schools: 'Don't take any notice of her. I will make sure it does not happen'. He has now given back the portfolio to the Minister and it is happening.

Senator Macklin —I'll bet the Prime Minister has not even seen the document.

Senator WALTERS —Senator Macklin is back in the chamber, having left it straight after his speech. He did not have the courtesy to stay to hear the replies. He is now expounding his and his Party's Labor views. We do know that members of the Australian Democrats came here and were previous Labor Party members.

Senator Macklin —I was not and neither was any member here, as a matter of fact. You have no information on that at all.

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT (Senator Townley) —Senator Macklin, I warn you. If you have any objection you know the right time to make it-that is, at the end of the honourable senator's speech.

Senator WALTERS —Perhaps I had better calm Senator Macklin down a bit by referring him to Hansard tomorrow. I had never suggested that he had been a member of the Labor Party, so he had better calm down. Read Hansard tomorrow or listen more carefully.

Senator Messner —Perhaps he protests too much.

Senator WALTERS —As Senator Messner says, perhaps he does protest too much. Let us now consider what has occurred. The panel set out the Minister's guidelines very clearly. We are told that the commissioners have to abide by the guidelines and I have no complaint about that. One such guideline states:

to plan new non-government schools in ways consistent with the need to cater for growth and shift in the overall school population; and to avoid the tensions which can result from the unco-ordinated growth in new non-government school places in areas already well provided;

What tensions? What tensions are to be found in areas where private schools might set up and where public school numbers might go down? It is very clear what tensions might result. We have had those tensions in the Australian Capital Territory. The Minister has tried to stop the building of a private school in the Australian Capital Territory because she did not like the fact that that school may take numbers from the government sector. Another of the guidelines states:

to provide for the orderly development of non-government schools without seriously reducing standards of service in existing schools, government or non-government;

Again, it is very clear that we must not set up a new non-government school in an area in which that school may be able to take students away from a government school.

Senator Macklin —It does not say that.

Senator WALTERS —Senator Macklin ought to read the report.

Senator Macklin —I have read it. You said you had not read it. There is a difference.

Senator WALTERS —I am reading it now, and I think that Senator Macklin ought to read it. As he well would know, I am quoting from it now. The report also states:

In its consultations with groups and authorities, the Panel found wide acceptance of the need for co-operative planning between government and non-government sectors in the development of new non-government schools.

I wonder what is meant by 'wide acceptance'. How many groups or authorities constitute a wide acceptance? From whom is this wide acceptance to be obtained? The panel has not specified that. It makes no statement about the criteria to be used in judging what is a wide acceptance. The report continues:

However, a significant number-

What is the difference between a significant number and wide acceptance? We are not told. However, the panel does say where the significant number comes from. The report continues:

. . . a significant number of groups and individuals within the non-government sector-

The panel does not say where the wide acceptance came from-no doubt it was from the government sector-but it does speak of the concern expressed by the non-government sector about the disastrous curtailment of funding. The choice of parents, likewise, will be disastrously curtailed. Many honourable senators who have spoken today have quoted from page 7 of the panel's report. I also will quote from that page of the report. Paragraph 20 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.

One honourable senator said: 'What on earth does that mean?' We know all too well what that means. The ideology of the Government, nothing more and nothing less, might be affected. It has nothing to do with budgeting considerations; it is purely the ideology of the Government. The paragraph continues:

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.

Thus the ideology is spelt out quite clearly. The paragraph continues:

Such a development would be unwelcome-

Unwelcome by whom? By the parents or the Government? The panel certainly does not say that it would be unwelcome by the parents. It would be unwelcome by the Government and the Australian Democrats, but not by the parents of Australia. The paragraph continues:

Such a development would be unwelcome to most citizens and is inconsistent with the stated policies of governments . . .

It is inconsistent with the policies of most State governments because most State governments at the moment are Labor governments. So, of course, it is inconsistent with their policies. The paragraph also says that such a development would be inconsistent with the major school interest groups, government and non-government. It continues:

A clear public policy on the planned development of government and non-government schooling within a dual system is needed to avoid such a situation.

The Democrats have underlined to the full extent the amount of socialism that is well within their Party. They have now come out on two major issues since the last election. They have done a little count around and seen that they have lost votes on the defence issues, including the ANZUS Treaty. For the first time, they have said that they are altogether against ANZUS. They have expressed themselves in that manner because they can see their numbers being depleted with the arrival of Nuclear Disarmament Party senator. They can see that after the next election they will be put in their place. If they are lucky, two Australian Democrat senators will be elected. Thus, they have come out to pick up that radical group about which Senator Walsh talked the other day. It is the first time that I have agreed with Senator Walsh for a long time, but I certainly agree with him on that issue. The Democrats are now coming out in favour of doing away with any new private schools that may be set up in an area in which government schools may be interfered with. They have made that very clear. Senator Macklin made that very clear in his speech today. It is with great concern that I have quickly read this report. I welcome a further full-blooded debate on this report.