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Thursday, 30 August 1973
Page: 634

Mr MALCOLM FRASER (WANNON, VICTORIA) - I want to spend a few moments trying to probe the reasons behind the Government's betrayal of promises given before the last election to a number of people about education and assistance to schools. In a debate in another place the other day it was pointed out that, while additional funds for education were welcome, the way in which some of those funds were being spent was discriminatory and that the index relating to the division of funds between schools was secret. That debate generally probed the weakness of the Government's policy. It also revealed that both the Prime Minister (Mr Whitlam), when he was Leader of the Opposition, and the present Minister for Education (Mr Beazley) gave firm, categoric and absolute assurances, not once but several times, concerning the financing of schools. Those assurances have been broken. I shall deal with each of the 2 honourable gentlemen in turn. At the Festival Hall on 2 May 1972 the Prime Minister said:


That is the Labor Party - will not repeal or reduce any educational benefit which is already being paid. We will confirm any which are there already.

That has not been done because many educational expenses have been abolished for a large number of schools. If the honourable gentleman wanted to say that the then Government introduced measures after that date and therefore he had an excuse for breaking that pledge, I would accept that statement if that were the only evidence. But it is not the only evidence because the previous Government's affirmative and definite policies, which were going to give certainty and security to independent schools, were introduced on 11 May, and on 20 June, only a few weeks afterwards, the present Prime Minister again pledged his Party - and as it appears falsely pledged his Party - when he said at a Catholic luncheon in Melbourne:

.   . Commonwealth aid for education and it will support any forms of benefit already existing.

Everyone knew quite well that when he said that he was talking about per capita grants.

After the election, the Prime Minister wrote to Mr Dixon, Chairman of the National Council of Independent Schools, and said:

Commencing in 1974 additional Commonwealth contributions towards the running costs of nongovernment schools will be determined on the basis of relative need . . .

The use of the word 'additional' led independent schools to believe quite clearly that the present grants would be continuing but that there would be additional funds for special areas of need - and no one would quarrel with that. As a result of that letter the independent schools thought that the Governments policies would be responsible. But then there was a speech by the Prime Minister at St Patrick's College, Prospect Vale, in which he used very much the same words but significantly left out the word 'additional'. As we know, the word 'additional' had no meaning at all. As we know, the pledges that the Prime Minister gave at Festival Hall, in front of 3,000 or 4,000 people, and at the Catholic luncheon were utterly worthless.

The present Minister for Education has said in this House that he would like the Commonwealth to be identified with the education of every child, including the children going to Geelong Grammar. That is not the only occasion on which he has expressed that view. On 28 October last year, when he was a hopeful or prospective Minister for Education, he was quoted as saying this:

No private school would get less under a Labor Government than the per capita grant it received now, Mr K. £. Beazley said last night.

That was reported in the 'Daily Telegraph' on the date I mentioned. He also was quoted as saying:

This will end the squalor of whispering campaigns. . .

He went on to say something about that but the whispering campaigns were accurate. In case the Minister thought that he was misrepresented, on 20 November of last year the Australian' reported him as having said:

.   . all children, whether at State or private schools, would be equally the concern of a 'Labor government.

Of course the Government has demonstrated that that is not so. The Minister answered a number of questions asked by Dr Holmes, Principal of Oakburn College. His first question was:

Is it the intention of the Federal Labor Party to continue per capita aid to independent schools for 1974 and following years?

The answer to that question was a very simple one word answer, yes. We know that that was not true. These documents show that both the Minister and the Prime Minister have not kept the pledges they gave before the election, and it is well known why they have not done so.

But the matter is not quite so simple as that. I refer the House to the terms of reference of the Interim Committee for the Australian Schools Commission, the Karmel Committee. Originally those terms of reference were quite clear. They said that the Committee should recommend, under term of reference 3 (b), that the grants will be in addition to existing Commonwealth commitments. Again people from independent schools felt therefore that there was no need to be concerned. But in the letter signed by all members of the Committee and sent to the Minister in delivering the report in May they say:

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

That clearly means, as Professor Karmel pointed out, that the Committee was given certain directions. It was given directions because on 13 April the Minister for Education wrote a letter to Professor Karmel in which he said:

In subsequent years this will be a matter for consideration by the Schools Commission. The effect of this decision is that the Government will not predetermine a basic level of support for all nongovernment schools after 1973.

That was a complete and absolute renunciation of the pledges that were given. When I mentioned this once before in this Parliament the Minister for Education became somewhat indignant and said that his informal opinion was the opposite of that which the Committee recommended. I suggest that the words in this letter, which was tabled in the Parliament, are similar to the recommendations of the Committee. If the Minister expressed another informal opinion it was at variance with the letter which he himself signed. I think that that is a tragic and unnecessary situation, because Professor Karmel makes it quite plain in his report that the Government has told him that certain programs would be phased out. The Committee was bound by that. The terms of reference specified that the grants recommended by the Committee were to be 'in addition to existing Commonwealth commitments'. The report refers to that in paragraph 1.14. It continues:

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-

This is still something of which the Minister informed the Committee - beyond 1973 some of these programmes are to be phased out.

What has happened is quite plain. The Committee has not been its own master in these particular matters. I can understand the Minister's position and I sympathise with. him. 1 know quite well what his views on this matter are, but they were not the views of his Party.

I would like to put one other matter to him. I asked him before whether he and the Prime Minister had put certain things to the Committee and he was good enough to table a letter that he wrote to the Committee. I now ask him, quite directly, whether the Prime Minister wrote to Professor Karmel, formally or informally, as a typewritten letter or a handwritten note, or whether the Prime Minister had any communications with Professor Karmel concerning the composition of this report before the report was finalised.

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