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Thursday, 11 October 1973
Page: 1982

Mr SPEAKER - That is a matter for the Leader of the House. If the honourable gentleman wishes to do so he may move that the debate be adjourned to a later hour this day.


That this debate be now adjourned. I ask that the debate be adjourned until the Clerks, who are in no way to blame for the delay, have had time to have the Opposition's proposed amendments run off and circulated to both Government and Opposition members.

Mr SPEAKER - Order! The honourable gentleman has moved that the debate be adjourned. He may not debate that motion. The question is 'that this debate be adjourned and made an order of the day for a later hour this day.'

Question resolved in the negative.

Mr MALCOLM FRASER -The decision of the Minister for Education (Mr Beazley) in rejecting the motion is typical of the contemptuous attitude with which this Government holds this House.

Mr Beazley - I rise on a point of order, Mr Speaker. This is not a question of contempt. The proposed amendments will not be moved until the Committee stage. There is time for them to be circulated. I am not responsible for how late the Opposition spokesman on education circulated his amendments. We do not want to delay the discussion of this Bill. I have every respect for his right to move the proposed amendments, but I do not think that he has any right to make such an allegation because we want the proceedings of the House to go as they were planned.

Mr MALCOLM FRASER - Mr Speaker,is the debate now to proceed on the second reading of the Bill?


Mr MALCOLM FRASER - I repeat what I was saying: What has just happened indicates the contempt that this Opposition holds for this House and the procedures of this House.

Government supporters - Hear, hear!

Mr MALCOLM FRASER - I stand corrected. I mean the contempt that the Government holds for this House.

Mr SPEAKER -Order! Does the honourable gentleman want to make a withdrawal?

Mr MALCOLM FRASER - I think every honourable member on the Government side of the House knows full well what I mean and why I said it. The Government also knows quite well that it is trying to bring important legislation into this House after the Government has had months to consider it. There are a number of significant clauses in the Bill and the Government is quite deliberately adopting a procedure of making sure that the Opposition does not have an adequate opportunity to consider the Bill.

Mr Beazley - 'The debate has been adjourned for a week.

Mr MALCOLM FRASER - Yes, and what are the other matters that have been adjourned for consideration in the same week-the Industries Assistance Commission Bill, the Australian Industry Development Corporation Bill and the Schools Commission 'Bill. And on earlier occasions the Minister for 'Education would have been the first to press for adequate time to take the matter through the Party committees and sub-committees and through the Party room. The Government has quite deliberately sought to thwart the normal procedures and timetable that would enable the Opposition to give proper examination to important measures.

Mr Beazley - Your normal procedure was to give us a day's notice.

Mr MALCOLM FRASER -The Minister knows that is untrue. He knows that if he looks at the record he will find that that is untrue.

Mr Beazley - One would not 'find more than a week's notice being given of the previous Government's education legislation as the Opposition has been given of this legislation.

Mr MALCOLM FRASER - Mr Speaker,the Minister was listened to in silence when he introduced the Bill. He seems quite determined to see that the Opposition is not listened to in silence. Be that as it may. As a result of our considerations the Bill will become a much better Bill and be made into a much better Act than that which the Minister has proposed. I think it is significant that the Minister himself has moved an amendment to this Bill in relation to clause 13, which deals with government and non-government schools. That is about the only place in the Bill in which nongovernment schools are mentioned.

Mr Beazley - That is rot. They are mentioned earlier.

Mr MALCOLM FRASER -The Minister seems somewhat touchy this afternoon.

Mr Reynolds - He is just caning you for not doing your homework.

Mr MALCOLM FRASER - If it is not impertinent, Mr Speaker, I would say that it would be almost time for some of the remarks you addressed to the Opposition this morning to be addressed to the Government side this afternoon. There are 4 or 5 matters which the Opposition regards as important in this Bill. As a result of our deliberations and the proposed amendments which will be circulated as soon as they can be printed, the Bill will be better than might otherwise have been the case. I only hope that the Bill has not been rushed forward too quickly. Earlier this afternoon I asked for a copy of the proposed amendments to be given to the Minister before the other copies were run off so that he could consider whether he should accept any of them. I only hope that the Bill has not been brought forward in the same hasty way as the statement by the Minister for Immigration (Mr Grassby) a few minutes ago, who refused to read his statement. The Minister knew that the proposed amendments had not been circulated and was trying to force debate on this Bill before the amendments had been run off.

Mr Beazley - I rise on a point of order, Mr Speaker. Is the honourable member for Wannon in order, when I received his amendments half an hour ago, in imputing to me that I knew everything that he was doing? As far as I knew the amendments might have been circulated in cyclostyle form.

Mr SPEAKER -Order! There is no point of order involved. The Chair is not in a position to know what actually took place.

Mr MALCOLM FRASER -The Minister knew full well that the amendments had not been run off when he came into this House and that he had been given an advance copy.

Mr Beazley - I did not know, and I got an advance copy half an hour ago.

Mr MALCOLM FRASER - He should be better served by his staff. His staff served me better than they served him. This Bill does nothing to preserve the freedom of choice of Australian school children and it does a good deal to diminish that right, a right which is enshrined in the Charter of the United Nations and which we, through our amendments, will seek to have enshrined in this Bill, quoting the very words of Article 26 of the United Nations Charter. I know the view that the Minister has of the United Nations and of its Declaration of Human Rights, and I hope therefore that he will be able to persuade his Party to support our amendments in this regard that would preserve freedom of choice for parents and school children.

We are not opposing the Bill in whole. We realise that the Opposition, as it then was, argued for a schools commission throughout last year. It of course won the election and as a result of that it has now brought forward legislation for a permanent schools commission. But many of the predictions that we made last year concerning the shape and form of that schools commission have been revealed to be true in the legislation as it is presented to this Parliament by the Minister. It does not preserve, as I have indicated, freedom of choice. Last year we said that the legislation would involve undue centralisation, undue control in Canberra, dictation by Canberra to State Departments of Education, to State Ministers and to the independent schools. The proposal to establish regional boards represents a deliberate attempt to by-pass State Departments of Education, independent school authorities and the priorities committees which the independent school authorities have voluntarily established. It should be noted that in all these procedures-

Mr Mathews - Do you not-

Mr MALCOLM FRASER - Oh, there is another new-found supporter of the Government who cannot listen to a speech for a few moments without showing his own desire to interrupt orderly debate in this House.

Mr Mathews - The honourable member has no taste for misrepresentation.

Mr SPEAKER -Order! The honourable member for Casey, who I see has his name on the list to speak next, will cease interjecting.

Mr MALCOLM FRASER - Thank you, Mr Speaker. I do not mind if the honourable member for Casey (Mr Mathews) wants to interrupt. It is part of his normal processes in this Parliament. The determination of the Minister to appoint regional boards, as is evident from clause 16 of the Bill, shows that there is a determination within his Party, within the Government ranks, to by-pass State Departments of Education, the independent school authorities and the priorities committees that have been voluntarily established by those authorities in each State to determine priorities within the independent school systems. It needs to be noted that the Minister is reserving unto himself the power to appoint all members of the Commission, and as I understand it, all members of the regional boards. The Minister is somewhat vague about the nature of the Commission and the numbers to be on it, giving himself a very wide flexibility in the arrangements that he might seek to make, giving to himself, I believe, a discretion that this Parliament ought not allow him and which I am sure the Senate will not allow him.

There is no real evidence that in coming to frame this legislation the Minister had consultation with the States or with the independent school authorities in any meaningful sense, because the Bill is not a Bill that is designed to service all education; it is a Bill that is designed to service particular objectives which certain members of the Minister's Party enunciated throughout last year. We will move amendments that will achieve consultation, co-operation and deliberation with people involved in education in a sense which gives them a participation in the decision making of the Commission itself. Because of the short time that this legislation has been before us, the amendments that I shall move on behalf of the Opposition, if they can be printed before the Minister sees that the debate ends, may well be changed, modified or added to by the Opposition in the Senate when the Bill goes before the Senate.

I also indicate that we are committed to greater and greater support for education, as the activities of the previous Government indicated last year and as has been reinforced by the enthusiasm with which the Minister has re-announced a number of our own decisions throughout this year. I am glad to see that he has accepted the recommendation of the committee on teacher training and committees of that kind which we established and which will do much for the quality of education and we all recognise that this is an area that will require greater funds and greater support from governments. As more children stay at school until they reach a higher level, more find places in technical colleges, universities, colleges of advanced education or teachers colleges. But we are not necessarily committed to achieving this co-operative process in the way in which the Minister would want to see it. We are not necessarily committed to a process which takes over the funding of all tertiary institutions and which takes an equivalent number of dollars off the States, meaning that it is just a transfer payment if the Commonwealth decides to pay directly to the tertiary institutions themselves money that was to go to the States through the financial reimbursement grants. That kind of counterfeit trick adds nothing to education. If the transfer payments were taken out of the present Budgets we would find that the real increase in education expenditure coming from governments, both State and Commonwealth, would be nothing like as great as has been claimed.

Be that as it may, the point I seek to make here is that while we are committed to a broad based education of high quality, improving the opportunities for all children, especially those who come from disadvantaged families and disadvantaged groups and especially those who require special treatment and specially trained teachers - matters which we put in train over a year ago - and while we are committed to better conditions in schools, to which we became committed over a year ago, we are not necessarily committed to the techniques and methods which the Minister is using to achieve the result that he thinks to be necessary, because we are not committed to centralisation of education in the Commonwealth's hands. We do not believe, as good as they are, that all Commonwealth departmental advisers on education are the only departmental advisers who should be properly consulted in relation to these matters. So we would reserve our right, on return to government, concerning the way we go about these matters and we will make our own decisions.

The BUI is to establish a schools commission, as we know. We want to see very substantial changes in the Bill, because we think it will lead to too much centralisation, inadequate consultation, and at the same time leading to too much power being in the hands of the Minister. It will not ensure adequate representation of appropriate people on the schools commission itself and it will not ensure that the purposes of the Bill, as set out in clause 13, will properly meet the education needs and requirements of all Australian school children. I will describe from a draft I have the amendments I will move. Mr Speaker, may I ask how the printing presses are rolling? Do you know how long it will be before the amendments are circulated? May I have a commitment from the Government that this debate will not be gagged before we have an opportunity to move our amendments in this House?

Mr Beazley - We have not set a time limit on the debate. We just assume that the second reading debate will go along and that by the time it is concluded the Opposition amendments, which will be moved in the Committee stage, will be printed.

Mr MALCOLM FRASER - That is not a commitment.

Mr SPEAKER - For the edification of the honourable member for Wannon, I have 10 speakers listed.

Mr MALCOLM FRASER - Mr Speaker,I suspect that the printing presses will take less time than the time taken by those 10 speakers, so I thank you for the assurance that the Minister was unwilling to give me. I am now advised that the amendments will be ready in 10 minutes time. Mr Speaker, I would like to apologise to you and to your officers for the inconvenience that has obviously been caused but I repeat that it has been caused by the way in which the Government has denied adequate time to the Opposition to examine this very important matter.

The Opposition proposes to add to the definitions of the Bill - if not in this House at least in another place - an additional definition of the Australian Education Council consisting of the Australian Minister and every State Minister. The Opposition is determined to give the Australian Education Council a role in the workings of the Schools Commission which the Government apparently has been unwilling to concede. That definition will be necessary to make sure that the rest of the Bill flows appropriately. Clause 4 will also be amended because the Opposition disagrees with the

Minister when he says that 'the Commission shall consist of a Chairman, and such number of other members, not being less than four nor more than eleven, as is from time to time prescribed'. That definition is far too wide. There is also wide discretion for the Minister concerning the people that he may appoint. There is no guarantee that those concerned with State departments of education or those concerned with independent schools will be given any support or representation. For all we know, the people appointed to the Commission under this Minister could well be people who are committed |o one form of education - government education - alone, whilst the Opposition is committed to a high standard of government education and, in addition, to the continued maintenance and freedom of independent schools.

So the Opposition will be moving that subclause (2) of clause 4 be omitted and that the Commission shall consist of a chairman and 2 other members to be appointed directly by the Commonwealth Minister, 7 members to be selected from a panel of ten to be nominated by the Australian Education Council - that council consists of State Ministers together with the Commonwealth Minister for Education - 4 members to be selected from a panel of seven to be nominated by the independent school authorities, and one member from a panel of three to be nominated by the Australian Committee on Research and Development in Education. The Opposition submits that this will provide a balanced membership for the Commission. It will be a more adequate membership. It will make sure that appropriate people are represented on the Commission, and it will make sure that the undue discretion that the Minister has sought is reasonably circumscribed. The Opposition is proposing in fact that there will be 10 people who might be regarded as coming from the government sector of education, three appointed by the Minister and seven to be selected from a panel of ten nominated by the Education Council on which, of course, the Commonwealth Minister is represented.

Mr Beazley - Does the Commonwealth Minister select from the panel?

Mr MALCOLM FRASER -The Commonwealth Minister would select from the panel. He would have that choice. The Opposition recognises that this is necessary because when 2 or more panels are represented it is appropriate that the Commonwealth Minister should have the capacity to balance the membership of the Commission. That is quite deliberately why the Commonwealth Minister is given that discretion. What I have just said is the intention of the Opposition. The amendments have been hurriedly drafted, without the authority of the Parliamentary Council to back up the fine detail of the words. If it were found that the amendments did not precisely achieve that situation, it would be possible in the Senate to look at what they would achieve precisely. The Opposition believes that the discretion given to the Commonwealth Minister is an adequate discretion to see that those who should be appropriately on the Schools Commission are on it and that the different people and groups are appropriately represented.

I was saying that 10 members basically would be coming from the government sector - three directly appointed by the Minister and seven nominated by the 'Education Council. There would be four from a panel of seven to be nominated by the independent school authorities and one from a panel of three to be nominated by the Australian Committee on Research and Development in Education. The Opposition believes also that the discretion I think the Minister has given himself in the Bill concerning full time members should not be there and that at the outset there should be one full time member - as was the case with the Universities Commission and the Australian Commission on Advanced Education - but that the others should all be part time members appointed for terms of not more than 5 years but subject to reappointment.

I can find no valid justification for giving the chairman and each other full time member an appointment of 7 years. That seems to be unduly long, especially as members are eligible for reappointment. I understand that in some other government operations the period of 7 years is used but in this area, especially because it is a new venture and because there is the safeguard of reappointment, the Opposition believes that a S-year term is adequate. It also believes that there should be no class distinction between the full time and part time members. They should all be eligible for an appointment of that period. The Opposition submits that representation on a commission of this kind will make it possible for the Commission to do the job which the Government would want much better than could be done under the Bill presented to this House by the Government.

The other important amendments that the Opposition will be moving concern clauses 13 and 16. I would like to deal with clause 16 first because that amendment is the shortest. The Opposition will be moving that clause 16 be deleted and replaced by another clause which would guarantee that in pursuit of its functions the Commission shall consult with the State education authorities, independent school authorities and parent and teacher organisations for both government and independent schools. That is the extent of clause 16 as the Opposition believes it should be. Clause 16 is the clause under which regional boards would be established. Of course, this is the axe which will be used to chop down the State departments of education - not in one blow but in several.

Clause 13 will be substantially amended because it is one which does not look adequately to the totality of education. It looks too much to only one sector of education. The Opposition wants to make quite sure that the Commission is pointed in the appropriate direction. The preamble to clause 13 of the Minister's Bill reads as fallows:

The functions of the Commission are to inquire into, and to furnish information and advice to the Minister with respect to, the following matters.

The Opposition's amendment deletes that and requires the Commission to work in cooperation with the State departments of education and independent school authorities, and to furnish information and advice to the Minister and to State Ministers. It must be a commission that reports to State Ministers as well as to the Commonwealth Minister, as does the Universities Commission, for example. Good precedents have been set for that.

I doubt whether the Minister was responsible for paragraph (c) of sub-clause (1) of clause 13 because the wording is convoluted and very difficult to follow. The Opposition will move to delete that paragraph and in its stead to place the words 'any terms and conditions that the Commission believes should be attached to grants to meet the requirements of paragraphs (a) and (b)'. That is all in relation to the functions of the Commission. The Opposition's paragraph is simple 'and easily understood. I think the Minister's paragraph is most difficult to understand. Then we come to sub-clause (3) of clause 13. Here the Opposition proposes to omit the whole of sub-clause (3). The Opposition proposes to take appropriate parts out of it and to replace it with a wider and broader sub-clause which I will read to the House because I think it describes very adequately what the Opposition is seeking. It states:

In the exercise of its functions the Commission shall have regard to the provision of education of high and equal quality to all children in government or independent schools.

We are establishing for the Commission an obligation to look at the needs of all children, not just of some children. Sub-clause (3) continues:

Further, the Commission shall have regard to Article 26 of the United Nations charter on human rights . . .

Article 26 calls upon member governments to preserve freedom of choice in education and reads:

1.   Everyone has the right to education. Education shall be free, at least in the elementary and fundamental stages. Elementary education shall be compulsory. Technical and professional education shall be made generally available and higher education shall be equally accessible to all on the basis of merit.

2.   Education shall be directed to the full development of the human personality and to the strengthening of respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms. It shall promote understanding, tolerance and friendship among all nations, racial or religious groups, and shall further the activities of the United Nations for the maintenance of peace.

3.   Parents have a prior right to choose the kind of education that shall be given to their children.

That, of course, is what the Opposition wishes to enshrine and what the Government, I believe, wishes to bury. I most certainly hope that this amendment will be supported. The Opposition's amendment to clause 13 provides for a new sub-clause (3a) as follows:

Furthermore, in the exercise of its functions the Commission shall have regard to the need to provide increased and equal opportunities for education in all Australian schools. In pursuit of these objectives the Commission shall have regard to -

(a)   the obligation for governments to provide and maintain schools systems of the highest standard that are open to all children without fees;

(b)   the pre-eminent position of State Departments of Education in relation to their own schools;

(c)   the pre-eminent position of independent authorities in relation to their own schools;

Paragraphs (d) to (g) which follow are the renumbered paragraphs (b) to (g) of the Minister's own proposal. The Opposition regards its amendment to clause 13 as a most fundamental amendment. In addition to that, the Opposition's proposed amendment to clause 16 to remove from the Minister the right to establish statutory regional boards on his own appointment is regarded as of great signifi cance. The Opposition's amendment provides that the Commission shall be appointed with a fixed membership and an appropriate quorum of eight. This will ensure that matters coming before the Schools Commission are examined objectively, fully and fairly with the interests of all Australian schoolchildren in the minds of the members of the Commission. Of course, the other amendment to clause 13 directs the attention of all members of the Commission in that direction. We will be pressing these amendments in this chamber. Obviously the Government has the numbers in this place but the Opposition will, I believe, have the numbers twice round in the Senate, if the Minister wishes to take it that far, because we are serious about these matters and will press the amendments.

I ask the Minister to look at the Opposition's amendments coolly - not the way that this debate began - and without passion and heat because it is the Opposition's belief that its amendments will lead to a much better Schools Commission and a much better balanced Commission whose nose is pointed in the appropriate direction to advance education for all Australian schoolchildren. If the Minister is prepared to accept as many amendments as I accepted from him when the Commonwealth teaching service legislation was debated last year, the Opposition will have no quarrel with the result because that probably will cover the number of amendments that it wants accepted in this debate.

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