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Wednesday, 20 March 1985
Page: 487

Senator GILES —My question is directed to the Minister for Education. How many reports did the Commonwealth Schools Commission produce during the period of the Fraser Government? In how many cases did the Fraser Government accept or act on those reports? What is the attitude of the current Government towards the advice provided by the Commonwealth Schools Commission?

Senator RYAN —It is very interesting to have a look at the record of the Fraser Government in relation to accepting or rejecting advice given by the Schools Commission. It is interesting to me because Senator Baume, the current spokesperson on education for the Opposition, has taken it upon himself to accuse me, in advance of any decision having been made, of wishing to reduce the policy advice capacity of the Schools Commission and to turn the Schools Commission into a powerless or toothless advisory body. As Senator Baume yesterday made such melodramatic claims in the Press, it is interesting first of all to look at what the Fraser Government did with regard to advice from the Schools Commission.

During the period of the Fraser Government the Schools Commission produced two major needs reports for the triennia 1979-81 and 1982-84. It produced a needs report for 1983 and seven annual reports in response to that Government's guidelines. The Fraser Government did not accept either of the major triennial reports of the Schools Commission. Most of the Commission's annual reports responded to specific restrictive financial guidelines and therefore were accepted by the Fraser Government. Even so, three annual reports, developed in response to that Government's own guidelines, were not fully accepted. That is hardly an outstanding record of acceptance of advice of the Schools Commission. In contrast, I point out that major reports from the Schools Commission since I have been Minister have received much more positive consideration by the Government. For example, the major report on standards for Australian schools was substantially accepted by us and formed the bases of the new community standards formula. The major report on a new recurrent funding scheme for government and non-government schools was also substantially accepted by the Government and has formed the basis for the most equitable, best accepted and most stable form of recurrent funding to government and non-government schools that we have seen at the Commonwealth level in this country. Without pre-empting a decision I will be making later this week, another major report from the Schools Commission has been accepted by the Government. So the record of acceptance of advice from the Schools Commission has been much more constructive during the period of the Hawke Government than that of the Fraser Government.

In conclusion, I add that the decision by a government to accept Schools Commission advice is not dependent on any particular administrative functions the Commission may have to perform or even dependent on any particular structure. It is dependent on two things-on the calibre of that advice and on the economic capacity of a government to fund that high quality advice which it is able to accept. Our record has shown that where we have high quality advice and resources, we have a most fruitful and constructive relationship with the Commission. It is my intention, regardless of any administrative reorganisations I may make, to continue to recommend to the Government that advice should be assessed in terms of its quality and appropriateness in dealing with educational problems and not in relation to any particular administrative arrangements.