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Tuesday, 13 November 1973
Page: 1729

Senator Douglas McClelland (NEW SOUTH WALES) (Minister for the Media) - At the outset let me congratulate all those who have taken part in this debate for their moderation and for the temperate nature of the expression of their points of view. Always political differences are bound to develop and to exist in relation to matters of education when so much of the public purse is devoted to pursuit of these policies. In years gone by debates in this Parliament and I suppose in other parliaments on educational matters have taken place in a highly emotional way. I think it is fair to say, having listened to speakers from all sections of the political spectrum in this Senate, that in the 1 1 years that I have been in this chamber I have never listened to a more interesting and better presented discussion of a variety of views.

Having said that, I note that the Opposition is not opposing the second reading of the Bill but both Senator Rae, leading in this chamber on behalf of the Liberal Party, and Senator McManus, representing the Democratic Labor Party, indicated during the course of their remarks that they intend proposing certain amendments in the Bill at the Committee stage. However, as I have said, spokesmen for all 3 Opposition parties- the Liberal Party, the Country Party and the Australian Democratic Labor Party- have expressed newfound support for the principle of the establishment of a Schools Commission. There was no evidence of this support, of course, during the 1972 Federal election campaign.

Senator Rae - I remind you that we accept the mandate that was given, and you can proceed from there.

Senator Douglas McClelland (NEW SOUTH WALES) - I appreciate that. I have already said that there has been an expression of support for the principle of the establishment of a Schools Commission. Nonetheless, there was no evidence of that support during the course of the 1 972 election campaign when it was the foremost plank of the Labor Party that when we got into government we would establish a schools commission. Nine days after the election was held the Prime Minister (Mr Whitlam) established an interim committee to consider the establishment of a schools commission. Nevertheless, the amendments that all sections of the Opposition now propose would in the opinion of the Government seriously prejudice the ability of the Commission to do its job and could alter the thrust of assistance to both government and non-government schools. As Senator Rae has acknowledged, during the course of his remarks and by way of interjection a couple of minutes ago, both of these conceptsnamely, the establishment of a commission and the ability of the commission to do its job- were endorsed by the electorate generally when we put them to the people.

There has been much discussion in the debate on the composition of the Schools Commission. I refer particularly to the remarks made by Senator Carrick not so much today as last Wednesday. Someone listening to the debate might have got the impression that the Government was not prepared to appoint to the Commission persons associated with a range of major organisations and authorities interested in education. Let me say quite succinctly and specifically that that is not so, because we as a government have demonstrated in the appointments that were made to the Interim Committee for the Australian Schools Commission on 1 1 December and in the reconstitution of that Committee recently that we and particularly my colleague the Minister for Education (Mr Beazley), recognise the significant contribution which such people can make to the work of the Commission.

The point at issue is that the Commission is intended to be a continuing body of great significance in the improvement of education in Australian schools. If places on the Commission are earmarked specifically for persons nominated by a particular oganisation or organisations there could well be a lack of flexibility to meet changing demands for representation in the future. There could also well be involved a real risk that the members of the Commission will act as delegates from organisations and thus could convert the Commission into a forum of disputation rather than a collective body looking constructively at the overall objective. Our 1972 election proposal on education was to establish a schools commission along the lines of the commissions for universities and colleges of advanced education. The legislation governing the establishment of those commissions does not allocate places on them to organisations of particular interests. Senator Carrick suggests that the Government's proposals on the structure of the Commission are at variance with the recommendations of the Karmel Committee. The honourable senator referred to paragraph 13.2 which appears on page 132 of the printed document entitled 'Schools in Australia'. I direct the attention of Senator Carrick and the Senate to paragraph 13.6 of the Karmel Committee's report which appears on page 1 33. It reads:

In submissions to and discussions with the Committee, the Australian Teachers Federation and the Australian Council of State School Organisations argued strongly for the right to nominate representatives as members of the Commission. The Committee feels that the Commission should be able to conduct its proceedings on the merits of the business before it, with its members not bound to any particular point of view on specific questions. This does not mean that the Commission should be insensitive to widely held views in the community nor that its membership should not display a range of experience and attitudes, but it does mean that individual members should be free from the responsibilities of representing constituent bodies. Moreover, the number of organisations that might claim representation is large, so that a Commission based on the principle of direct representation would become unwieldy and inhibited in its capacity to make decisions. If teacher and parent organisations, as such, are to be involved in the work of the Commission, an appropriate place might be rather at the Regional Board level.

Having directed the Senate's attention to that section of the Karmel Committee's report, I suggest that the Committee in its report states quite clearly the view that organisations should not be entitled themselves to nominate representatives as members of the Commission and that the appropriate place for such representation is on what are proposed to be called the Schools Commission advisory boards. On the question of representation, most of the Opposition speakers in the debate have ignored clause 16 in the Bill which provides for the appointment of Schools Commission advisory boards in each State and in the 2 mainland Territories, namely, the Australian Capital Territory and the Northern Territory. These boards, as specifically recommended by the Karmel Committee, will facilitate consultation between the Commission, on the one hand, and a wide range of organisations and authorities directly concerned at the State level, on the other hand. Because this is part of the consultation machinery that is involved in the establishment of the Commission, the Government is prepared at this level- that is, the advisory board level- to accept nominations from the range of interests that are listed in paragraph 13.9 of the Interim Committee's report. Paragraph 13.9 is set out on page 134 and I shall read it into the record. It states:

The Committee suggests that Regional Boards might comprise the following:

(a)   a full-time commissioner as Chairman;

(b)   the State Director-General of Education or his nominee;

(c)   the Director of the State Catholic Education Office or his nominee;

(   d ) a nominee of the Association of Independent Schools;

(e)   a nominee of the government schools teachers organisation; (0 a nominee of the government schools parents organisations; and

(g)   four members appointed by the Commonwealth Minister for Education after consultation with the State Minister of Education.

There might be advantage in at least one of the members nominated by the Minister being a resident of another State. This, together with the background and experience of the Chairman, could help to prevent parochialism in the Board.

Senator Rae - Would the Minister be prepared to write that into the legislation? It is not in there at the moment. I am just inquiring.

SenatorDOUGLAS McCLELLANDNaturally, I would have to discuss that matter with my colleague, the Acting Minister for Education (Mr Lionel Bowen). But I say that at this stage the Government is prepared at this level to accept nominations from the range of interests that are listed in the paragraph that I read out. I give that undertaking at that level on behalf of the Government at this stage.

Senator Rae - Would the Minister make the further inquiry?

Senator Douglas McClelland (NEW SOUTH WALES) - I will certainly make the further inquiry.

Senator Rae - Thank you.

Senator Douglas McClelland (NEW SOUTH WALES) -But having given an undertaking, I cannot see the necessity for it. However, apparently some State ministers of education have indicated to my colleague that there is a case for some variation in detail from State to State in order to reflect the local situation. But I assume that this could well be taken into account in the appointment of 4 members appointed by the Commonwealth Minister for Education after consultation with the State minister. It has been alleged that the Government has not announced any policy in respect of the matters dealt with in chapter 13 of the report of the Interim Committee for the Australian Schools Commission, otherwise known as the Karmel Committee. This very Bill reflects Government policy on many of the issues dealt with in that section of the Committee's report. Some of the subheadings from chapter 13 of the report of the Committee entitled 'Administration and Accountability' might well be written into the record. The functions of the Australian Schools Commission is dealt with at page 132 of the report. The structure of the Schools Commission is dealt with at length at pages 133, 134 and 135 of the report. The staffing of the Schools Commission is dealt with at page 135. Also, the idea of consultation and accountability is dealt with in chapter 13. Perhaps accountability and the collection of data are more appropriate for consideration within the context of a states grants schools bill which I understand will be introduced shortly in another place authorising payments under the various programming headings that are recommended elsewhere in the Karmel Committee report.

Senator Rae,and also Senator Carrick, speaking on behalf of the Liberal Party, have acknowledged the need for diversification and decentralisation in education and for more direct community participation and involvement. I think it fair to say that both honourable senators have charged that the Government's intention in this legislation is to promote centralism rather than decentralisation. But certainly, it has been acknowledged by both Senator Rae and Senator Carrick, who read a passage from the report this afternoon, that the Karmel Committee report went out of its way to reject the centralist approach. I remind honourable senators that it is only through the action of this Government in giving immediate attention to the problems of schools that school authorities, both government and non-government, are now going to be in the position of having funds available to them to take the steps necessary to promote innovationa word that was used by Senator Carrick to bring about diversification and community participation and particularly to provide for comprehensive in-service training and the encouragement of initiatives from teachers. It will now be possible to do those very things on which Senator Carrick addressed at length the Senate this afternoon as a result of the action being taken by this Labor Government.

While the points to which 1 have alluded cover a great number of particular matters, as we see it the significance of the proposed Opposition amendments to the functions of the Commission and to the matters to be taken into account in the exercise of those functions as set out in clause 13 of the Bill is to vary the intention of the Government as endorsed by the electorate at the last general election. Our policy proposal which was put to the people was to appoint an expert advisory committee at the national level which would determine standards, the needs of students in both government and non-government schools and which would recommend grants on the basis of priority of need bearing in mind particularly the primary obligation of governments to provide and maintain the government schools system at the highest standard to all Australian children. Of course, if the Opposition parties collectively use their numbers in the Senate to amend the Bill in a way which will seriously prejudice in the opinion of the Government the actions of the Schools Commission, the Government could continue, as I think was stated by my colleague the Minister for Education, Mr Beazley, shortly prior to his taking ill, for the time being with an interim schools committee. That course of action naturally would present some difficulty. Certainly, it would be much less than the ideal. But we believe as a government that it would not present as much difficulty as if the Schools Commission were constituted and subjected to the functional direction which Opposition members have contemplated in the various speeches in the second reading debate last Wednesday and again this afternoon.

The proof of the Government's concern for the education of Australian children in all schools, both government and non-government, is demonstrated by its actions. Its policy as enunciated by the Prime Minister (Mr Whitlam) during the course of the last Federal election has shown this concern as have the actions since taken by this Government from its very first establishment and its legislative program. The appointment of the Interim Schools Committee was one of the first actions of the new Labor Government. As a result of that Committee's deliberations, the Government shortly will invite the Parliament to approve grants for schools which during the 2 years 1974 and 1975 will increase grants for education to government schools to approximately $500m and for nongovernment schools to approximately $200m, making a total amount all told of some $700m.

I was interested to hear Senator Carrick's remarks this afternoon when he gave the amount that was spent on education by the State Government of New South Wales. He said that only 2 per cent of the 42 per cent of that State's budget devoted to education was spent as a result of the Karmel Committee's recommendations. But, of course, we have only started implementing the Karmel Committee's recommendations. One would naturally understand that at this stage there is only 2 per cent involved. But by the implementation of the Committee's report the New South Wales Government and all other State governments will over the years be able to expend a substantially greater sum on education than they have been able to do.

Senator Wood - Does it not seem a high proportion for independent schools as against government schools grants?

Senator Douglas McClelland (NEW SOUTH WALES) -That is the honourable senator's opinion, I assume. So far as we are concerned, we are implementing the recommendations of the Karmel Committee. An amount of $700m is to be made available in 2 years- 1974 and 1975- of which $500m is to go to government schools and $200m is to go to non government schools. This surely has to be compared with direct grants to schools which were made by the previous Government during the 2 years of 1 97 1 and 1 972 of approximately -

Senator Rae - Why does it have to be compared with those years? Why not be fair and say what it would have been in 1974-75. Be fair for the first time.

Senator Douglas McClelland (NEW SOUTH WALES) - Well, what is it then? Tell me what it would have been. Would it have been anywhere near the amount recommended by Karmel? We do not know what it would have been.

Senator Rae - Yes you do.

Senator Douglas McClelland (NEW SOUTH WALES) - Well, tell me what it was.

Senator Rae - It would have been in excess in relation to the total grants.

Senator Douglas McClelland (NEW SOUTH WALES) - If the honourable senator cannot tell me what his Party says it would have been, how are we expected to know? We can only go on the record of what it was in 1971 and 1972 of approximately $ 1 10m of which $40m was for government schools and $70m for non government schools.

Senator Rae - That is a completely false calculation.

Senator Douglas McClelland (NEW SOUTH WALES) -The honourable senator says that it is a completely false calculation. I invite him during the Committee stage to show me where it is in fact wrong. I think someone said earlier in the debate that the additional amount being made available was not in fact an increase of 92 per cent this year because of certain things that were done last year. Certainly on the argument that was proposed by,

I think, Senator Carrick there is at least an increase of 60 per cent.

Senator Milliner - Admitted by them.

Senator DOUGLASMcCLELLANDAdmitted by them. If they do not accept that this Government has increased expenditure on education in this financial year by 92 per cent then on their own argument they must accept that there has been a 62 per cent increase.

Senator Rae- Senator Drake-Brockmansaid that the maximum possible was 69 per cent.

Senator DOUGLASMcCLELLANDSenator Rae was given the opportunity to present his case without interjections being made. I seek the same consideration.

Having made those comments and realising that all sections of the Senate are not opposed to the establishment of the Australian Schools Commission and therefore do not oppose the second reading stage of this Bill, I urge the Senate now to put that section of this debate to the test. I seek the Senate's endorsement of the second reading stage.

Question resolved in the affirmative.

Bill read a second time.

Motion (by Senator Douglas McClelland) proposed:

That the consideration of the Bill in the Committee of the Whole be an order of the day for the next day of sitting.

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