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Wednesday, 22 June 1994
Page: 1875


Senator KERNOT —My question is directed to the Leader of the Government in the Senate. The Prime Minister has announced the creation of an expert group to provide the government with a plan for a public education and information program on Australian government, citizenship and the constitution. Are schools the only focus of this campaign? Is the government, and especially the Prime Minister, aware of the excellent non-partisan material on these subjects already prepared by the Parliamentary Education Office? What is the point of more than one kit going into Australia's 10,000 schools and what is the estimated cost of this duplication? Why is the Prime Minister unwilling to act in a cross-party cooperative way to achieve what I think is an important national goal?


Senator GARETH EVANS —The Prime Minister indicated on 15 June that an expert group would be established and said that its composition and terms of reference would be announced soon. I think that it is rather premature to be making judgments either about the composition of the group, its partisan or non-partisan character and its program until we have that announcement which no doubt will come quite soon. I will find out whether there is any further information about the details and timing of the announcement and I will let Senator Kernot know.

  So far as the nature of the program contemplated is concerned, my understanding is that it is hoped and intended that it be wider ranging in focus than simply through schools and as such more than simply a school's education project. It may well be that the kind of material that has been prepared by the Parliamentary Education Office would be extremely useful and would save a lot of re-invention of the wheel in terms of the preparation of material. It is my understanding that it is no longer being produced at the moment for that particular purpose. It would be a matter of resourcing its further production and perhaps developing some new material.

  We will take into account what Senator Kernot has said in this respect. It is not the government's intention through this to do anything more than deal with the subject of civics, as it were, at large. It is intended, as I said in response to Senator Kemp, who was fulminating on this subject in the estimates hearing the other day, to strengthen our democracy by enlivening our appreciation of it. It is intended to be a non-partisan program. It is intended to be a program of public education information on government, citizenship and the constitution and not simply confined to the constitution itself.

  It is not a matter of supplying any funding to directly aid or abet the republican cause, however noble that might be. It is simply a program that will be designed and executed in a way that raises the level of comprehension and understanding of a whole range of issues about which, I am sure Senator Kernot particularly would agree, it is very important for the Australian public to be better informed than, realistically, it is at the moment.


Senator KERNOT —Mr Acting President, I ask a supplementary question. Why does Senator Evans think the Prime Minister has ruled out the possibility of this cross-party cooperation on the content of the material?


Senator GARETH EVANS —I am not sure that he has ruled it out. I have not seen the precise terms of his announcement.


Senator Kemp —You were asked about that last night.


Senator GARETH EVANS —I do not think he has ruled it out. The intention is to have a genuinely non-partisan program in this respect. I thought that, instead of whingeing about it, Senator Kernot would applaud our disposition to encourage people. I do not know whether more education or information will make people any more disposed to vote Democrat than might otherwise be the case. I think more education in that respect is probably counterproductive. We will do our best to encourage the committee to be genuinely non-partisan because it is only by being so that it will be uncontroversial and at the same time influential in the positive way we want it to be influential.