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Wednesday, 30 May 1973
Page: 2842

Mr MALCOLM FRASER (Wannon) - by leave - The House is indebted to Professor Karmel and his Committee for their report. It is quite true that the document recommends some notable advances in terms of Commonwealth involvement in education, but it has not been possible in the hour in which the report has been available to look to see the mechanisms which are proposed. In the last few words of his speech the Minister for Education (Mr Beazley) said that the Committee has recommended a decentralised system of education. That is something which the previous Government always supported. It is worth noting that in Victoria the State Education Department is being decentralised into regions. I would like to know whether this Government intends to impose its own but different regions or will accept what the State is doing as a proper State prerogative or an act appropriate to the States in decentralising their own systems. The need for decentralisation is understood increasingly by Stats departments of education and State Ministers for Education and it ought not to be something imposed by the Commonwealth.

Public accountability by non-government schools receiving assistance was also a principle firmly supported, accepted and put into effect by the previous Government. Under the research programs which it instituted an evaluation of assistance programs of one kind or another was certain to be undertaken. The Minister in making his speech claimed that some non-government schools had resources 4 times as great as some other non-government schools. He did not compare the best nongovernment schools, because I doubt whether any non-government schools - I think it would be worth the House being given clarification of this point - would have resources equal to the resources available to the higher secondary schools in Tasmania which cost about $4m to $5m for 900 pupils. That seems to me to be a resource level beyond the capacity of any independent schools. The Minister could assist future debate in this House if he made accurate comparisons of that kind as well as comparisons just between some non-government schools and some others. The real matter I wanted to raise concerns the report and something which may be suppressed from the report and may have been suppressed at the direction of the Government. It is adverted to in the report. I turn first to the letter that Professor Karmel wrote to the Minister, which stated:

We have also taken into account the policies of the Australian Government with respect to the various existing programs of assistance for government and non-government schools as expressed in communications from you and we have referred to them in paragraphs 1.14 and 1.19.

I turn now to the terms of reference of the Committee. The third term of reference was that the grants recommended by the interim committee will be for the period from 1 January 1974 to 31 December 1975 in addition to existing Commonwealth commitments. That is the point to which I want to advert in particular. It is my understanding that that term of reference has in secret been changed, and has been changed in a way which made it quite plain to the Committee that the Committee was to recommend the phasing out of certain Commonwealth Government programs. If that is so, it is in contradistinction to and stands against that term of reference which the public and everyone had a right to think was governing the activities of the Interim Committee. Turning to page 5 of the report, we are given a little further indication of this matter. The Committee states:

The terms of reference specify that the grants are recommended by the Committee were to be 'in addition to existing Commonwealth commitments'.

That was in the original term of reference. That was what all schools had a right to expect. The report goes on:

The Minister for Education has informed the Committee that all grants being made to schools under Commonwealth legislation which was operative when the present Australian Government came to office would be continued during 1973. However, beyond 1973 some of these programs are to be phased out.

That apparently came in a directive. It was not covered under the terms of reference* This House ought to have a copy of the letters that have come, as I understand it, not only from the Minister for Education but also from the Prime Minister to Professor Karmel, directing the manner in which certain recommendations of this Committee-

Mr Beazley - That is an absolute slander, a. vicious slander. The programs phased out that are referred to are your own - the library grants finishing at a certain point and tha science laboratories at a certain point. They are nothing additional.

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