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Thursday, 17 May 1973
Page: 2352

Mr LAMB (La Trobe) - It is good to hear the contributions from members of the Australian Country Party this evening. I was wondering why they jump to their feet during the adjournment debate and I suddenly recalled, of course, that soon we will hear of the marriage - whether it is shotgun or unhappy, I do not know - of the Australian Country Party and the Democratic Labor

Party to form a united front across the nation. It would seem that the honourable members for Darling Downs (Mr McVeigh) and Maranoa (Mr Corbett) are intent to make a contribution that will mark them down as safe for re-endorsement by their king maker, Senator Gair, when they come up for reelection.

Having made that aside, I should like to refer to the matter on which I originally rose to speak tonight. I rise to express :ny concern about a matter that vitally affects my electorate of La Trobe - a matter that exemplifies the undermining influences that operate to the detriment of co-operative federalism. Honourable members may be aware that the electorate of La Trobe is an area largely composed of the outer eastern suburbs of the rural fringe of Melbourne. Rapid expansion of the population in areas like Boronia, Croydon, Montrose and Scoresby and the foothills of the Dandenong Ranges has meant that the demand for services such as those provided by local government, community services and drainage, as well as health services has greatly outstripped the supply. Nowhere is the demand greater than the supply than in the area of educational services. In an attempt at least to house the explosion of primary and secondary students at the schools the State Liberal Government has adopted a policy of providing portable classrooms. This »t has done rather than opt for a crash program to provide permanent buildings, ls it any wonder that amongst teachers the policy is described as 'portable madness'.

Under the systems and techniques used by the present Administration in Victoria, the present timing of construction for a school in my area or any area is 3 to 5 years. We would halve this if we were to allow the regional directorates to be set up and regional directorates to undertake a crash program utilising local knowledge and resources. With a little more activity at local level and a little more knowledge of the surrounding area in the eastern suburbs, 1 believe that, rather than portable madness, we could have a planned program of permanent buildings.

Many schools are operating with short staffs, with the consequence that school curricula are severely curtailed and a full option of subjects is not offered to children in some schools. In other schools, subjects are ter minated or delayed in mid-term because teacher replacements cannot be obtained and teacher timetables become a nightmare to the principals. The position is worsened when we realise that the State Government has spent only about 5500,000 of the Commonwealth grant of S3m for libraries in the last period of allocation. Many schools are still without a library which is essential and central to the schools' studies and activities. Suddenly, the money now is available for strategic spending. But what of the education or lack of it over these years while the money was being salted away?

With such disregard exhibited by the State Libera] Government towards education, the morale of the teaching staff is low and I receive countless letters from parents complaining of the interruptions to their children's education. They are anxious about the future of their children and the lack of education that they receive, despite the determined and dedicated teaching staff. This is not a recent picture. It is a story that has been repeated for years, particularly in the expanding outer areas of Melbourne. As part of the answer to this concern and as the new member for La Trobe, elected as part of the new Labor Government, I issued a questionnaire in February of this year to principals of all schools in the electorate, private and government, primary and secondary, that cover the area south of Lilydale. This questionnaire was a needs survey that sought details which I could incorporate into a submission to the Schools Commission in order to improve the state of education in this area. Each questionnaire was accompanied by a letter that explained the purpose of the survey. And here is the rub. On 30th March the State Liberal member for Scoresby, Mr Geoff Hayes, MLA, wrote to the principals discouraging replies to the survey and charging me with committing a breach of parliamentary privilege in that I used House of Representatives note paper to correspond with the principals. It should be noted that the State member for Scoresby wrote his letter of discouragement on State parliamentary note paper.

The role of the Commonwealth in financing education in Australia is becoming more important every day. This Parliament and this Government are becoming more involved in providing education for young children at a standard higher than ever before. In honouring the promises which were rewarded so overwhelmingly by a mandate from the people - one was for the establishment of a Schools Commission to apportion Federal funds on the basis of need1 - it was obligatory on me to do what I could for the electorate, working within the scope of the Schools Commission and on the principle of open government. The needs survey I conducted in the electorate met these demands. Who would spend money without knowing the needs and priorities for spending that money? I venture to suggest that noone but a businessman bent on self-destruction would do so.

Far from there being a breach of parliamentary privilege on my part, for nothing could be further from the truth, my action was a fulfilment at the local level of my parliamentary duty. But, I submit that the State Liberal member for Scoresby, in writing to the principals of the schools involved with the intention of discouraging replies to the needs survey has deliberately interfered with the work of a Federal parliamentarian in carrying out his duties. I draw the attention of honourable members to this matter so that they may be prepared for any similar interference in their work. This is not an example of a State member exerting or protecting his State's rights. It is an example of an attempt to frustrate the co-operative spirit that must exist between the 3 levels of government - tocal, State and Federal - if the problems of education and other community services are to be overcome.

I also submit that, in using parliamentary note paper to interfere with and frustrate the duties of a Federal member, the State Liberal member for Scoresby has laid himself open to a charge of breach of parliamentary privilege. The State member's charge against me cannot be sustained but is exposed for what it is - a political action designed to discredit me as the Labor Federal representative for La Trobe and to enhance his own electoral prospects at the Victorian State election to be held this Saturday. I do not believe that the people will be fooled. The question at issue is the future of co-operative federalism. I would like to place on public record that whoever wins the State electorates covered by my electorate will receive my full co-operation in all. those activities and policies that are in the public interest. Parliamentarians, State and Federal, cannot jeopardise the public welfare by undermining each other's efforts and duties for cheap political gain. They must co-operate, especially in those areas where the people have given such an overwhelming mandate to the Federal Government as was given to this Government in the field of education. I believe that it is not too much to expect a reciprocal offer from the State members, whoever they might be after Saturday, to the offer I have reiterated tonight.

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