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Wednesday, 7 November 1973

Senator WHEELDON (Western Australia) - I think that on the whole Senator Rae addressed himself to this subject in somewhat moderate terms apart perhaps from his peroration when he became a little agitated, and during one earlier stage in the debate when I detected a catch in his voice when he referred to the nefarious activities of the Karmel Committee in stealing some of the contents of that mysterious document- the brochure which the Liberal Party has published but which so far has not been seen by many of us. I think it is appropriate that there should be a rather academic discussion on the amendments which have been proposed.

Senator McManus - Ecumenical.

Senator WHEELDON - I was thinking of academic rather than ecumenical although I thank Senator McManus for his conciliatory suggestion. It is appropriate that there should be an academic discussion on this matter because the debate itself is largely academic since the question before the Senate, as Senator Rae is aware and to which he referred in his closing remarks, is whether the Bill will be passed or rejected. If the amendments- certainly the substantive amendments proposed by Senator Rae on behalf of the Opposition- are carried they will so alter the nature of the proposed Schools Commission, not to amend it or to improve it or make it work a little more easily, but to change totally its nature, and although it will have the same name it will bear no resemblance to the organisation proposed in this Bill. The Minister for Education (Mr Beazley) on behalf of the Government- the Government is united on this -will not accept the amendments. He will not take his bat and ball and go home but will continue on the same basis as we have proceeded throughout the months since Labor was elected in December last year, carrying out our policy which we undertook to carry out in our policy speech through the means of the Interim Committee for the Australian Schools Commission. Unsatisfactory though this may be- it is much more satisfactory to have a Schools Commission constituted by statute- it certainly would be much better to have a continuation of the existing Interim Committee than the distortion of the Schools Commission which is proposed in the amendments moved by Senator Rae.

I think I should perhaps deal with a couple of matters raised by Senator Rae before I go to the substance of the amendments, although even here I would think that detailed scrutiny of the amendments should be left to the Committee stage: However, I should like to refer to 2 matters. Senator Rae has complained that the previous Government was somehow caught short; that a number of things were in the pipeline. They had been put into the pipeline apparently about 23 years ago and were still proceeding along it. I can assure him that if and when our National Pipeline Authority is established, it will work with a great deal more efficiency than did the Liberal Party education pipeline because the things which the Liberal Party had in the pipeline seemed to have become clogged somewhere between where they were put in and where they are supposed to come out as they had not come out even though the Liberal Party had been in office for 23 years. I do not want to enter into any verbal gymnastics on this matter but I want to refer to some figures. I think they speak for themselves. If one has any doubt about the relative dedication to education by the Federal

Government of the Australian Labor Party and its conservative opponents, one has only to look at the sums which have been expended by the two Federal Governments during the past 2 years. In its last year, the previous conservative Federal Government allocated $404m for education. In the first year of our Government in office we have allocated $843m for education, an increase of 92 per cent.

Senator Rae - Your first figure is wrong.

Senator WHEELDON - I heard Senator Rae in silence apart from assisting him on a geographical matter. I suggest to Senator Rae that he will be greeted in stony silence if he goes to those people throughout Australia who are concerned about education and talks to them about the length of the Liberal Party pipeline and how much was inside it when those people can refer to the fact that we have almost doubled the amount spent on education by the Commonwealth Government from 1972 to 1973.

The other matter raised by Senator Rae was the fact that an opportunity had not been given to the Senate to debate the Karmel Committee's report. I do not want to labour this subject, but in case anybody feels that the Karmel report has not been ventilated before the Senate, they should be reminded that the Opposition parties which have effective control of this chamber, per medium of Senator Rae himself on 22 August last moved an urgency motion relating to education which contained some rather severe strictures against the Government's education policy in general and the Karmel report in particular. There was an extensive debate in this Senate on 22 August last on the Karmel report and other problems of education.

I turn to the amendments which Senator Rae has proposed. The first thing that I believe has to be said- this has to be repeated- is that the policy which has been put forward in the Schools Commission Bill 1973 is Australian Labor Party policy which was well known and clearly presented to the Australian people before they voted in the election on 2 December 1972. There was no ambiguity; there was no doubt. It was contained in our policy speech given by our leader; it was in the printed policy speech; it was in all the material on education which was prepared by this Party; it was the advice given by this Party which now forms the Government to all those persons throughout Australia concerned with education. The policy provided for a specific type of Schools Commission. This type of Schools Commission was debated very extensively within the councils of the Labor Party. I would not say that there is no dispute, no discussion or no scope for a wide variety of opinions on how a schools commission should be constituted. (Opposition senators interjecting)

The DEPUTY PRESIDENT (Senator Prowse)- Order! I suggest to honourable senators who are interjecting that they remember that the Senate proceedings are being broadcast and that the subject being discussed is of national importance. I trust they will remember that.

Senator WHEELDON - If I may say so, Mr Deputy President, I am delighted that the proceedings are being broadcast so that those people who are listening to the broadcast can learn the quality of the Opposition and its contribution to these debates. The question of the constitution of the Schools Commission was freely debated. There were people within the Labor Party who believed that the Commission should be constituted on a representative basis and that various organisations and interest groups concerned about education should have representatives or delegates serving on the Schools Commission. These views were debated at the Labor Party conference. They were not debated in secret; they were debated in public. Everyone heard them. This was on television and on radio. We debated the matter most extensively. The Party decided what sort of schools commission it should be. It decided that it should not be a schools commission consisting of representatives of various organisations and interest groups but that it should be a body similar to the Universities Commission, for example, which does not consist of representatives of interest groups.

The Universities Commission, which performs a similar function to that which will be performed by the Schools Commission proposed by this Government and the Pre-schools Commission proposed by this Government, was constituted by the previous Government. The Universities Commission acts precisely on the same basis as is proposed in our Bill in regard to the Schools Commission. The Universities Commission established by the previous Government does not have delegate members. It has members nominated in general because of their knowledge of university education or the applicability of university education to the various fields of the national life. In taking this into account naturally one has to consider various interest groups. Clearly this is a factor which is taken into account, as we took it into account in regard to the appointment of members to the Interim Schools Committee. We have taken it into account in our proposals for the establishment of the Schools Commission. But that is not the same thing as saying that these people are to serve on the Commission as delegates.

The argument advanced against the proposition that the Schools Commission should be a type of delegate or representative body- I was one of those who sucessfully argued for the policy which was adopted at the Labor Party conferencewas that in having a schools commission which consisted of a certain number of delegates from private schools, a certain number from state schools and all the other possible permutations and combinations that one could think of, we would not have a quasi-judicial body looking over all the needs of education without somebody being responsible to someone else and being responsible for election or nomination to some organisation or interest group. The difficulty would be that, if we did have people representing interest groups in this way, we would have a son of multi-party miniature parliament with the leader of the State school group and the deputy leader of the private school group, and possibly a whip or two thrown in to count the numbers and work out who had instructed whom and who had made deals- all things which are not wrong in themselves but which I believe are a natural concomitant of having any organisation constituted in this manner.

The amendment which is proposed by Senator Rae would do precisely this. It would do precisely what we rejected when we were considering this matter. I do not believe that the position is in any way improved when he provides in his proposed clause 4b:

A member shall not be responsible to the body or organisation which recommended the member or submitted the member's name in a panel of names.

I feel that for the record I should refer to the fact that Senator Rae has included what he presumably thinks is this safeguard amongst his proposed amendments. But I would suggest to you, Mr Deputy President, that this is clearly not satisfactory because for one thing I do not know- and I think it would be very difficult to explain precisely- what is meant by that part of the amendment which states that a member is not responsible to the organisation which has appointed him. It would seem to me to be fairly clear that, if a person has been appointed by an organisation, even though legally he is not responsible to that organisation if he does not carry out the sort of policy that the organisation wants he will not be nominated again.

One of the other problems which I believe is quite a serious problem- I do not want to labour it because I think it is a difficult legal problemconcerns a section of the Constitution which has not been tested to any extent before the High Court. This matter is contained in Senator Rae 's proposed clause 4(4). The amendment proposes that one member of the Schools Commission shall be appointed on the recommendation of the Education Executive of the Episcopal Conference of Australia. It may well be, and I think that many people would argue that it is, unconstitutional for such a proposition to be put forward. It is certainly not people who would have some sectarian bias against the Episcopal Conference or the Catholic Church who would make such a suggestion. In fact Archbishop Cahill, who is the secretary of the Episcopal Conference, has said that in his opinion it would be unconstitutional for the Education Executive of the Episcopal Conference to appoint a . delegate or representative to the Schools Commission. Why this is so, and I would suggest that even the most captious critic would say it possibly is so- is because of section 116 of the Constitution. This is the section which deals with the nonestablishment of religion in Australia. In particular it provides that no religious test shall be required as a qualification for any office or public trust under the Commonwealth. In order to be a member of the Education Executive of the Episcopal Conference one has to be a member of the Catholic Church. Clearly this imposes, as I think many other people including Archbishop Cahill would submit this, a religious test on the appointment of a member of the Schools Commission.

Other matters were raised by Senator Rae. I think that one of them is one of fundamental importance. I refer to the amendment which he proposes to move to clause 13 ( 1 ) of the Bill. The clause as it stands states:

The needs of such schools in respect of buildings, equipment, staff and other facilities, and the respective priorities to be given to the satisfying of those various needs;

Senator Rae'samendment seeks to delete those words and to replace them with the following words: "(b) The needs of primary and secondary school students in respect of buildings, equipment, teaching and other staff and other facilities and teaching aids and the respective priorities to be given to the satisfying of those various needs and to the improvement of the quality of education available for primary and secondary school students in Australia; ".

Insofar as this proposed amendment means anything- I am not trying to be insulting but insofar as I can understand it- it says that you should not look at the needs of schools; you should look at the needs of students. It seems to me it says that you should not inspect and ascertain the relative levels of poverty from one school to another but at the respective levels of need of one student and another. It seems to me that if you are to do that you should not be calling it a Schools Commission; you ought to be calling it a students commission. It may well be that there is a role for a students commission. It seems to me to be quite an appropriate sort of welfare body which could well fit in with an overall education theory. In itself 1 would not be opposed to this because I think that, in a society in which there is not equality- and there is not equality in this society- even though 2 students may be attending the same school and may use the same facilities inside the school they are still not equal because one may come from a home where there are no books, where it is difficult to study, and where there are diet deficiencies and all sorts of things like this and the other student may be in a better position. These are some of the things that ought to be examined. But they would seem to be much more appropriately part of a social welfare or social services program.

If the amendment to clause 1 3 ( 1 ) (b) which is to be proposed by Senator Rae is successful, it would mean that this Commission would no longer be examining the needs of schools at all. If one came from a reasonably well-off family and went to a poor school apparently on this basis one would be all right; but if one came from reasonably poor family and for some reason went to a better school one would need additional facilities. All these things may well be true. But they are not a way of assessing the needs of education. They are a way of assessing the needs of a number of citizens or residents who happen to be going to school, but they are not a problem of a school itself. For those reasons I believe this is quite an inappropriate amendment to this sub-clause. The consequence will be that it will no longer be a schools commission at all. This is not an amendment or an improvement as Senator Rae has said, however desirable it may be. It is certainly introducing something totally different from what has been proposed in the Bill which is something on which the Australian Labor Party was elected at the last election. In clause 13 (3) (a)-

Senator Rae - Mr Deputy President-

The DEPUTY PRESIDENT (Senator Prowse)- Order! Senator Rae, are you raising a point of order?

Senator Rae - Yes, I am. I tried to catch my colleague's eye. I point out that the amendments have not been moved. As a matter of courtesy they have been circulated. I have not spoken to them other than in general terms. The point is that Senator Wheeldon is going on to deal with them in detail without my having been able to give any explanation of what is intended.

The DEPUTY PRESIDENT- Order! It is customary in debate on the second reading to deal with the matter in general and not in detail. Senator Wheeldon has proceeded to anticipate the debate which will occur later at the Committee stage. Therefore to that extent I uphold the point which has been raised.

Senator WHEELDON -Thank you, Mr Deputy President. Perhaps I could put it this way: The policy of the Australian Labor Party which was clearly expressed and which is brought to at least partial fulfilment in the Bill which is before us is to be found in clause 13 (3) (a) of the Bill which states:

(a)   the primary obligation, in relation to education, for governments to provide and maintain government school systems that are of the highest standard and are open, without fees or religious tests, to all children.

Again this is a policy on which we were elected. The Australian Labor Party after a lot of debate and not without some disagreement, which is well known and which was conducted in public, decided that certain assistance ought to be given to non-government schools. But at the same time the Party resolved and told the electors- it did not mislead anybody on this matter- that although such aid would be given to nongovernment schools, nonetheless the principle remained that the first responsibility and commitment of the Government was to government schools. Any proposition which was put forward by way of amendment or any other way which suggested that this responsibility did not exist and that there was just a general responsibility to students would be contrary to the policy on which we were elected, contrary to the trust which the Australian people reposed in us and contrary to the interests of the Australian people who voted for this policy when they elected the Labor Government on 2 December 1972. 1 do not want to take up much more of the time of the Senate because there will be opportunity for debating some proposed amendments which, no doubt, will come before the Senate when the Bill goes into the Committee stage. But, Mr Deputy President, I repeat this to you: The matters which are contained within our Schools Commission Bill which is now before you are matters which are fundamental to the education policy of the Government.

We have already taken steps by announcing the proposed members of the Schools Commission, if this Bill is passed, to show to the Australian people and the Parliament- so that nobody is being misled- who are the people who will be serving on this Commission. I do not think anybody can deny that they represent a wide variety of interests, of schools, of backgrounds and of organisations concerned with education. I do not think anybody could criticise the proposed composition of the Commission. It may be that someone can criticise one member or another member but I believe the general tenor of the Commission is beyond criticism. We have said, and we mean it, that we do not propose to accept any of the substantial amendments of which notice has been given and which the Opposition attempted to have passed through the House of Representatives. We believe that this policy is something which the Australian people supported and which they are entitled to receive. If this Bill is not carried at least in substantially the same form in which it is now we shall not accept the amendments. We shall continue with an Interim Schools Committee and wait until such time in the near future that we also have a majority in this chamber in order to carry the Bill which is before the Senate tonight.

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