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Thursday, 11 November 1976

Mr VINER (Minister for Aboriginal Affairs) -The first amendment moved by the honourable member for Kingsford-Smith (Mr Lionel Bowen) which relates to clause 7 is not acceptable to the Government. The provision referred to in the amendment relates to transfers of funds between recurrent and capital expenditure for government schools within a State. There are similar provisions elsewhere in the Bill, together with provisions for the Minister to transfer funds from one State to another. The Bill does not refer in any of its substantive clauses to the Schools Commission since the Bill is concerned with the approval of grants which must be the responsibility of the Minister. In giving such approvals he has adopted the practice, as a matter of course, of seeking information and advice from the Schools Commission, in accordance with the Commission's charter, as set out in the Schools Commissions Act 1973. The State Minister has to provide reasons for any transfer of funds that is proposed and the Commonwealth Minister needs to be satisfied about the transfer before agreeing to it.

Again, the second amendment proposed by the honourable member is not acceptable to the Government. This amendment is directed towards the encouragement of community involvement, a principle with which the Government is very much in sympathy. In drafting the Bill the Government gave careful consideration to the question of whether the Commonwealth should have the power to impose a legislative requirement that part of the general recurrent grants for government or non-government systemic schools should be made available to school community bodies. It reached the conclusion that it would not be appropriate to introduce a provision whereby the Commonwealth could direct a State or non-government system to make funds available in such a way. That is the key factor.

It is our intention to encourage as much decentralisation of decision making as possible to permit maximum responsiveness and local involvement in education. We will continue cooperative discussions with the States and nongovernment school systems on ways of increasing local decision making for schools. I refer honourable members again to a statement made by the Minister for Education (Senator Carrick) in the Senate on 4 November, particularly to the passage in which he refers expressly to the attitude of the Government to encourage a more active role for parents, teachers and local communities in school management and decision making. In this respect we note that the Schools Commission, in paragraph 19 (3) of its June 1975 report took the view that devolution of decision making 'should not be coerced through legislation'.

For these reasons the Government had the Bill drafted so that it would be quite open to a State or a non-government school system to use its own discretion in allowing funds to be allocated direct to school community bodies, but it would not be incumbent on them to do. Because the amendment is worded in such a way as to make it permissive rather than directive that certain funds be spent at the direction of the 'school board', it would not add in any way to the capacity for community involvement that is already provided for in the Bill. Moreover, in the case of government schools, by not involving the State minister in the arrangements, the proposal would be offensive to State governments. As a concrete indication of our interest in community involvement, the Bill provides in clause 30, under the definition of 'approved development and service activity' for the participation of parents and other members of the community in developmental programs.

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