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Tuesday, 10 December 1974
Page: 3294

Senator STEELE HALL (South AustraliaLeader of the Liberal Movement) - There are two major aspects to this Bill. One of them is clearly stated in the provisions before us, which provide assistance for technical education. This has long been desired by those in Australia who are interested in that subject. The second aspect deals with a decline in the power of the States in Australia. This is clearly indicated in the provisions of this Bill which so tie the States hand and foot as to make them subservient and completely unnecessary except for the administrative aspects of this particular assistance to education. It is the latter- the unseen factor of the decline in the power of the States- which, of course, should be noticed as the debate on this Bill passes rather swifty through the second reading stage because it is typical of recent legislation that the Commonwealth, in providing special assistance to the States, shall become the dictator as to how that resource shall be expended in every way down to the most minor type of decision. This Bill incorporates what I believe is a totally objectionable provision. In specific areas it seeks to give the Minister for Education the power to revoke already approved decisions. That, to me, is the final insult to the States, which are already rapidly becoming constitutional skeletons within the so-called Australian federation.

The one great factor which dominates the passage of this Bill mechanically through this House is that the House of Representatives is not sitting and those of us who believe in the system of federation are being held to ransom by those who so ardently want this assistance to be given to education and by the Government of the day, which has said: 'If you touch this Bill- if you amend it- there will be no action forthcoming from it until the House of Representatives meets in the middle of February. Therefore it will be March before there can be any effective resolution of the disagreement between the 2 Houses'.

This is one of the worst features of the passage of legislation that I have ever witnessed. We in this House may as well pass all the Bills before us in the next 20 minutes and go home because we have been told that if we amend the Bills they will not be passed.

There are tens of thousands of people in the community who value the passage of" this Bill and the financial assistance its passage will provide far more highly than they do the maintenance of federation in Australia. That choice was put to me quite clearly on the weekend and this morning. Quite a number of people have been to see me personally and have telephoned me and said: 'We believe that you are right in wanting to move amendments which will give some protection in a minor way to the States, but we will sacrifice that protection to the States to get our assistance money'. That is the attitude of the members of the Australian public who are concerned with this education procedure. The very sobering thought is that the public will sacrifice federation and the rights and powers of the States to get what it wants from the Federal Government. I predict that if this sort of legislation continues to pass through this House in numerous forms on various subjects but with a similarity of control the States will rapidly, as I have said, become constitutional skeletons. The Senate ought not to keep up the pretence that it believes in federation if the Senate allows the revocation power in this Bill to go through. If the Senate allows this Bill to go through in this fashion with these revocation clauses in it the Senate is indicating by attitude, whatever it may say in so many words, that it has given the States up as a lost cause. That will be the effect if the revocation clauses remain intact.

The intention of the Bill is to assist in very many and various ways the establishment of technical education on a level footing with other forms of education in Australia which have received assistance prior to this recognition. The causes are noble and we would expect a very great upgrading in technical education to result in Australia. But the price, as I have said, is that it will be done by Australian Government control to the ultimate in detail. The States will become the administering authorities- in fact, the servants of the Australian Government. I therefore give notice that I propose to move some amendments to this Bill. One of those amendments is to the clause to which Senator Guilfoyle referred earlier relating to the request by the Federal Minister for Education to obtain information. Senator Guilfoyle has indicated that the Opposition will not support that clause or some amendment to it. Therefore there is little purpose in my proceeding with that amendment. But I will proceed to put and call for a seconder to my amendments which request the Senate to remove the revocation power of the Minister for Education. I warn the Senate that if it turns down these amendments and approves the inclusion of revocation clauses simply because the Senate is under pressure and has been told that the education system will not get this money because the Government will not recall the House of Representatives, the States are dead and they no longer exist in the thoughts of Australians nor in the thoughts of the Senate.

I again say how disgusted I am to find that at the end of the session there are important amendments, supposedly well supported out in the community, which cannot be carried apparently by the Senate because they cannot be put to the House of Representatives which has gone home on holiday.

Senator Missen - It is a form of Government blackmail.

Senator STEELE HALL - It is a form of Government blackmail. The House of Representatives is on holiday and for some unknown reason cannot deal with the most important factors in this community. There is little more I need to say. I draw up the points again. The Bill's essential determinations to help technical education are a necessity. I regret the domination and dictatorial attitude of the Federal Government in insisting that control be exerted in the fashion set out in the Bill. I understand that those who make up the technical education profession want this Bill badly and the assistance that it will give to their profession. I also understand that they value it greater than they value the system of Australian federation. I will regret very much if the Senate allows the revocation clauses to proceed. I will still, as I have indicated, move my amendments at the required time.

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