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Wednesday, 5 December 1973

Senator Douglas McClelland (NEW SOUTH WALES) (Minister for the Media) - I think that generally speaking what has been said today by Senator Rae, Senator Drake-Brockman and Senator McManus was said in the debate that ensued in this chamber some two or three weeks ago, with the exception that on this occasion some additional phrases and personalities, unfortunately, have been brought into the discussion. It has been suggested that this measure is a colossal bluff by the Government. We have heard that the Government is following a scheme that has been devised by the Eric Walsh-Mick Young axis and that the Government has decided to make a political football of the school kids of this country. Frankly, nothing can be further from the truth. The Government regards this as a very serious matter. The Opposition clearly is thwarting the will of the Australian people as expressed by them in the ballot box on 2 December 1972. Clearly the most major plank on which the Labor Party went to the people and for which it secured a mandate from the people was our education policy. Let me repeat what the Prime Minister (Mr Whitlam) had to say on education.

Senator Webster -Will this be the truth?

Senator Douglas McClelland (NEW SOUTH WALES) - I will ignore the honourable senator. If Senator Webster wants to know whether this is the truth he can check what I am saying, as it appears under the heading 'Education' at page 12 of the policy speech that the Prime Minister made before the last elections. The Prime Minister said:

It is our basic proposition that the people are entitled to know. It is our basic belief that the people will respond to national needs once they know those needs. It is in educationthe needs of our schools-that we will give prime expression to that proposition and that belief.

Clearly the Prime Minister was saying that this is one of the principal matters, if not the principal matter, in our election policy. He went on to say amongst other things:

The most rapidly growing sector of public spending under a Labor Government will be education.

We propose in our education plans for 1974 and 1975 to spend $694m. Under the proposals of the former Government $226m was to be spent in the same time. The Prime Minister went on to state:

Education should be the great instrument for the promotion of equality. Under the Liberals it has become a weapon for perpetuating inequality and promoting privilege. For example, the pupils of the State and Catholic schools have had less than half as good an opportunity as the pupils of non-Catholic independent schools to gain Commonwealth secondary scholarships, and very much less than half the opportunity of completing their secondary education.

The Labor Party is determined that every child who embarks on secondary education in 1973 shall, irrespective of school or location, have as good an opportunity as any other child of completing his secondary education and continuing his education further. The Labor party believes that the Commonwealth should give most assistance to those schools, primary and secondary, whose pupils need most assistance.

Again this is the doctrine of need as spelt out by the Prime Minister. Further on in his policy speech he said:

The Australian Labor Party believes that the Commonwealth should adopt the same methods-

I emphasise the words 'same methods '- to assist schools as it has adopted to assist universities and colleges of advanced education- through a commission.

The Gorton Government and, I think from recollection, the McMahon Government established a Universities Commission and an Advanced Education Commission and provided that the Minister would make the appointments to those commissions. In our policy speech we said that if we were elected to government we would establish a Schools Commission along the same lines that the previous Government laid down for a Universities Commission and an Advanced Education Commission. But the amendments which have been moved by the Opposition in the Senate will not enable us to do that. In our legislation we suggested that a Commission consisting of 12 members should be appointed by the Minister.

Senator Young - 'Up to'- that is not the minimum.

Senator Douglas McClelland (NEW SOUTH WALES) - Well, up to twelve.

Senator Young - That is at the discretion of the Minister. It is down to four. Let us be honest about it.

Senator Douglas McClelland (NEW SOUTH WALES) - Well, to be appointed.

Senator Young - Be fair.

Senator Douglas McClelland (NEW SOUTH WALES) -Who would appoint them?

Senator Young - Four to twelve- there is a lot of difference.

Senator Douglas McClelland (NEW SOUTH WALES) - Is there any difference between our proposal and your proposal about the way in which appointments are made to the Universities Commission and the Advanced Education Commission? Surely the answer to that must be no. The Opposition denies us the opportunity to appoint the number of members to the Schools Commission that we think desirable. Also, it does not want representatives from the State advisory boards on the Commission. The Opposition wants a commission made up of 15 members and of the 15 members I think the Minister would nominate only four. All of the others will be nominated for the Government; that is the difference.

Senator McManus - I question that the Minister can nominate only four. That is not what he told me.

Senator Douglas McClelland (NEW SOUTH WALES) -My impression of it is that the members of the Commission, on Senator McManus 's amendment -

Senator McManus - On my amendment but not on the Government's proposal.

Senator Douglas McClelland (NEW SOUTH WALES) - I am talking about Senator McManus 's amendment.

Senator McManus - That is different. I am sorry. We are in agreement.

Senator Douglas McClelland (NEW SOUTH WALES) - I take it that Senator McManus agrees with what I have said.

Senator McManus - That is right.

Senator Douglas McClelland (NEW SOUTH WALES) - In answer to Senator McManus 's statement that the Government's indignation is a sham, that it is all a colossal bluff because if the Government does not get such a Commission by way of statute it could set up another Karmel-type interim committee, let me refer to what the Prime Minister has said:

I propose to prepare for the statutory Schools Commission as Sir Robert Menzies prepared for the Universities Commission.

The Prime Minister went on to say that if Labor were elected to office he would write before Christmas to a group of leading educationists, including representatives of the State and Catholic systems. That was done. Here we are today with this proposition. Clearly on everything that has been said the Opposition is thwarting the will of the people. Before getting on to the amendments adopted by the Senate as a result of motions moved by the Opposition parties let me reply to what Senator Drake-Brockman had to say. He read from paragraph 13.6 of the report of the Karmel Committee on the structure of the Schools Commission, but he read only the first sentence. The first sentence 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.

I asked Senator Drake-Brockman to read the next sentence. He told me that he would make his own speech. I will now read the next sentence for him. It reads:

The Committee

That is, the Karmel Committee- the Interim Committee established by the Government- 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.

That clearly was the intention.

Senator Rae - Our amendment would do precisely that. It would free them from any responsibility.

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