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Thursday, 27 September 1973
Page: 1635

Mr BEAZLEY(Fremantle- Minister for

Education) (2.16) - I move:

That the Bill be now read a second time.

The purpose of this Bill is to provide for the establishment of a Schools Commission. The Government attaches very high priority to education and particularly to the quality of education and to equality of opportunity in education, and as an interim approach to these objectives, to ensuring a sound basic standard in all schools. One of the first major administrative acts of the Government in December last year was to establish an Interim Committee for the Australian Schools Commission to identify deficiencies in government and nongovernment schools and to make recommendations about ways in which those deficiencies should be remedied. The Interim Committee has lodged its report and the Government has announced its acceptance of the major financial recommendations included in that report. Legislative effect to them is to be given by the introduction of relevant States grants legislation during the present session of the Parliament.

The establishment of a Schools Commission is a logical extension of the principles adopted by former governments in regard to universities and colleges of advanced education. Our approach is to establish commissions of expert advisers rather than a vast centralised administrative machine. Diversity and innovation in education at the school level are desirable. We therefore seek in this legislation to set up an efficient, impartial body to examine, identify and determine needs of students in government and non-government schools at the primary and secondary levels in Australia. The Commission will advise the Government on the best means of meeting those needs and on the resources which will be required to achieve desired ends. 'Needs' include the need to provide scope and opportunities for the gifted as well as effective education for those who are in any way disadvantaged.

The States will retain responsibility for administering their own educational programs but will have available to them greatly increased funds for the purpose. Part of the Commission's task will be to see that there is a proper use of economic resources in the field of education. There will be advisory boards of the Schools Commission to ensure that there is a constant representation to the Commission of community views and vice versa.

The Bill itself, to which I now turn, is not a complicated measure. It seeks to establish the sort of body which we believe is required and which is essential if the Commission is to be able to discharge the functions which the legislation will enjoin on it. As the Commission's responsibilities will encompass primary and secondary education throughout the whole of Australia, a composition of twelve, of whom, other than the chairman, a maximum of three will be full-time appointees, appears necessary. The terms and conditions of the chairman, members and staff are in accord with those of such bodies as the Australian Commission on Advanced Education. Its staff will be appointed under the Public Service Act, as with the 2 tertiary Commissions, and it will be empowered to request the Minister to appoint such committees of the Commission as are necessary from time to time to enable it to perform its stated functions. It will be required to report on its activities to the Minister who in turn, under the provisions of the proposed States grants legislation, will be required to report fully to the Parliament.

I draw the attention of honourable members to a number of the functions with which the Commission is charged because they indicate matters which are important in the field of education. Honourable members will note that the Commission will be ascertaining the needs and recommending assistance not only for schools, both government and non-government in the States, but also in the Australian Capital Territory and the Northern Territory.

Clause 13 sets out the functions of the Commission. It is to advise the Minister on 'the establishing of acceptable standards for buildings, equipment, teaching and other staff, and other facilities at government and nongovernment primary and secondary schools in Australia, and the means of attaining and maintaining those standards'. It is, in its advice, to formulate 'priorities to be given to the satisfying of these various needs'. It is to advise on financial assistance, the amount and allocation and the conditions upon which financial assistance should be granted. The same clause, in sub-clause 3, formulates 7 considerations to be borne in mind by the Commission.

The House will be aware that the Government is in the process of making tertiary education free in universities, colleges of advan ced education, and 'technical colleges. It will be the function of the Universities Commission, the Commission on Advanced Education, and the Commission for Technical and Further Education to keep tertiary education free. There has been an alarming tendency for free education to be abandoned as a principle by governments in Australia and, in one way and another, to charge high fees in State schools. It is gratifying to note that, as a result of the recommendations of assistance to State education by the Interim Committee under Professor Karmel, some State governments propose to abolish these fees.

The Commission is directed to 'have regard to the primary obligation, in relation to education, for governments to provide and maintain government school systems that are of the highest standard- and are open, without fees or religious tests, to all children'. In advising on the needs of Government and non-government primary and secondary schools, the Commission is required to keep in mind the need to establish educational . opportunities for the handicapped, the disadvantaged and the gifted. The gifted may be gifted academically, but clause 13 (3) (f) is broader than that. The Commission shall have regard to 'the desirability of providing special educational opportunities for students who have demonstrated their ability in a particular field of studies, including scientific, literary, artistic or musical studies'. The Commission is also charged with the need to encourage diversity and innovation in education in schools, and in the curricula and teaching methods of schools'.

In a sense the Commission is invited to enter the field of public relations on behalf of government and non-government education, for in Clause 13 (3). (e), it is invited 'to stimulate and encourage public and private interest in, and support for, improvements in primary and secondary education and in schools and school systems'.

The Commission will advise on a vital range of educational' problems. Child migrant education has been floundering in Australia. Children disadvantaged for cultural and linguistic reasons are to be considered for special help. Aboriginal children are covered by the reference to ethnic disadvantage; isolated children are covered by the reference to geographic disadvantage, and the poor child by the reference to social and economic disadvantage.

I regard clause 13, sub-clause (3) (d) as vital. The Commission is to have regard to 'the needs of disadvantaged schools and of students at disadvantaged schools, and of other students suffering disadvantages in relation to education for social, economic, ethnic, geographic, cultural, lingual or similar reasons'. Here is a fruitful field of advice as to how the Australian Government may exercise its power to grant benefits to students. The Commission is likewise empowered to give similar advice in relation to the academically, scientifically, artistically or musically gifted students.

The role of the Australian Government in schools conducted by State governments or by non-government authorities is not a primary role but it is a vital role. The States establish state schools and register non-government schools. In both the government and nongovernment sectors of education there may develop special needs, deficiencies, or areas where special encouragement is needed. The Schools Commission is empowered to make recommendations for correcting deficiencies, encouraging diversity and innovation, improving standards of staffing, buildings and equipment, and stimulating the flow of educational ideas. I believe this can usher in an era of advance in education. The Commission is to be a constant searchlight on all education, government and non-government, in Australia. I hope the Bill has a speedy passage through the Parliament.

Debate (on motion by Mr Bonnett) adjourned.

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