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Thursday, 11 October 1973
Page: 1999

Dr JENKINS (Scullin) - I must express a certain degree of surprise at the attitudes of the Opposition to this Bill. The Minister for Education (Mr Beazley) made his second reading speech on 27 September and yet, on the resumption of the debate today, we had a rather disturbing display of pique and temper because amendments proposed by the Opposition were not available in time to be circulated when the second reading debate was resumed. It seems to me that with a structural Bill like this one, with the amount of material that the Minister has supplied to honourable members relevant to the Schools Commission including the report by the Interim Committee on the structure, honourable members opposite should not have complained after such an adjournment that they were unable to have their amendments ready. Obviously they are slow learners and slow thinkers. If the Bill dealt with greater detail than simply the structure and the functions of the Commission, one could have excused honourable members opposite. But the fact is that it did not. The Schools Commission Bill is relatively simple.

I am also disturbed at the complete disregard shown by honourable members opposite for the recommendations of the Interim Schools Committee in the Karmel Report, which is well known to them and which surely they must have examined, lt outlines the structure and functions of the Schools Commission, which is the very reverse of centralisation of the educational process, lt is couched in terms that allow examination of a wide variety of problems in the educational field of a structural nature and an educational nature and also the exciting prospects of future change. Yet the Opposition has completely ignored so much of this. Honourable members opposite spoke about the structure of the Commission and suggested that the only full time member should be the chairman. Despite the excellent work already done by the Interim Committee, the Commission will be confronted with a great task because of the many defects in our educational system, because so many demands will be made on it and because of the inequality that has occurred in so many areas in so many years under conservative governments, whether they were Federal or State 'governments.

It is incredible that the Opposition should think, that one full time commissioner would be sufficient. The Karmel Committee said that any less substantial structure would be unlikely to provide the leadership and stimulus that are so badly needed in Australian education. That Committee recommended 3 or 4 full time commissioners because, as it properly pointed out, with the significant need for committees for research and regional boards, there will need to be full time members to chair these various organisations. The Opposition mentioned the width of responsibilities and interests of the Commission. How can one full time commissioner expect to be able to carry out these duties?

If there is not to be more than one commissioner on a full time basis how can we hope to ensure the appointment of senior and experienced persons who would otherwise be interested in taking on this task in the full knowledge that they had the support of others interested in the area, that they had the supporting services and that they would be able to perform a worthwhile task? We know that one man cannot be all things to all men. If, as advised by the Committee, there were more than one full time commissioner, commissioners could be used in different areas of expertise. With the interlocking of their expertise we would have a much more satisfactory full time component of the Schools Commission. I look next at the proposals for the part time membership structure of the Schools coommission. I can only assume that the Opposition sticks to its stodgy, old school tie, Party factionalism type of attitude that has become so evident in its political manoeuvrings in recent times. We should avoid, in such a Schools Commission, the appointment of persons representing particular interests who would bring in factional interests or factional fights contrary to the functioning of the Commission. The Minister has tried to avoid this in this Bill. Certainly there will be part-time commissioners who have had experience as parents and as teachers and of all the other aspects that affect schools.

The proposition put by the Opposition is that the part-time commissioners shall operate not as individuals looking at the comprehensive field of education and able to look at all matters, whether they represent nongovernment schools or government schools or have experience with those not representing such groups, to see how the recommendations of the Commission can be used for the good of the whole educational system in Australia. The Interim Committee commented on this aspect. It referred to representations made by the Australian Teachers Federation and the Australian Council of State School Organisations which argued strongly for the right to nominate representatives to the Commission. The Interim Committee of the Schools Commission saw some virtue but not total virtue in this argument for the very reasons I have mentioned, namely, that such persons would be representing a narrow group and voting on behalf of a narrow group when many of the people in those organisations have the breadth of vision which would enable them to look at the whole field of education and make recommendations that would benefit all and not just the interests they represent. This factionalism, this whole sense of trying to get different groups fighting for their rights, fighting to see whether they can get a bigger slice of the cake than another particular group, is implicit in the matters raised by the Opposition. I hope that the Parliament will not allow these sorts of inhibitions to be built into the Schools Commission. There are great dangers in their being built in.

We have heard some fiddling with words by Opposition members with regard to the functions of the Commission. I would have thought that the functions of the Commission, as expressed in the Bill, were straightforward. In its report the Karmel Committee acknowledged that there were serious deficiencies in 3 broad areas in Australian schools. In its summary of recommendations the Karmel Committee stated:

First, most schools lack sufficient resources, both human and material, to provide educational experiences appropriate to the young in a modern democratic industrial society.

I believe that the setting up of the Schools Commission, such as is proposed by the Minister, will allow us to provide sufficient resources of both a human and material nature to give the educational experience appropriate to the society of today. In education appropriate to today's society Australia has lagged because past Australian governments have not been sufficiently interested to recognise the crisis and do something about it. The Karmel Committee also pointed out:

Secondly, among schools there are gross inequalities, not only in the provision of resources but also in the opportunities that they, offer to boys and girls from varied backgrounds.

I comment now on the socio-economic background of many of these children. If one comes from one of the large cities one can see this particularly in the inner suburban areas where there are grave socio-economic factors to be dealt with. The honourable member for Casey (Mr Mathews) referred to the problems of children who are underprivileged because of language difficulties - those children of migrant origin. I do not suggest that this is confined totally to city areas. I have no doubt that many honourable members who represent country electorates could indicate areas of socio-economic disadvantage.

The final and most cutting comment of the Karmel Committee was that the quality of Australian education leaves much to be desired. In a country where averages are taken to show the quality of our standard of living, and the quality of our way of life, what an indictment it is that a group of persons looking at our educational system is able to say that in Australia the quality of education leaves much to be desired. The blame for this situation can reside only with governmental apathy and lack of action over a period of years. In the functioning of the Schools Commission when it is set up - I have no intention of going through all the items that list its functions - lies great hope for the future in seeing that this essential quality of education is raised to an appropriate standard. Already the suggestion that this will be done has caused international comment. Other countries look to the Australian experience in education and are looking to the fact that no longer is Australia just talking about education as a political catchery but is doing something about it by establishing :i Schools Commission which will be able to do the job, it will determine the requirements and, as is provided in the Bill, will have consultation with the States, with the authorities in the Territories, with persons, bodies and authorities conducting non-government schools in Australia - not only government schools but the whole range of schools - and all persons with an interest in education. We are told by members of the Opposition that it is a small group of schools which has been unfairly categorised but, as the Minister has pointed out, this situation is to be reviewed. There has been some misunderstanding on the part of the schools.

Forgetting the interests of the great majority of schools^ - both government and nongovernment - the Opposition has tried to turn this Commission into one which will be inadequately staffed by full-time commissioners and because of this restriction on the full time commissioner it will be unable to give to issues the breadth of examination that is necessary. The Opposition wants further to stultify the Commission by producing its own type of factionalism - by providing for representatives of certain factions on the Commission. I do not suppose this is really surprising.

I cannot see how the Government could accept these sorts of amendments to this Bill. The Government was threatened that in another place the Opposition would use its numbers to ensure that this Commission would be so hacked around as to render it impotent. If the Opposition does that it will answer to the people of Australia. The people have shown by community involvement, community interest and community activities that they demand of governments proper action in the educational field. They will no longer be fobbed off with indecision and all sorts of alibis as to why the educational program cannot be carried out across the field. I congratulate the Minister for Education on the nature of the Bill that he has brought forward to form the Australian Schools Commission. I believe that if the proper structure and functions are used the Commission will follow the very worthy report that was given in such a short time by the Interim Committee of the Australian Schools Commission. I believe that to fiddle with the Bill in the way the Opposition has proposed - after its obviously superficial appraisal - would be a grave mistake for the young people of this country.

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