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Tuesday, 20 November 1973
Page: 1916

Senator CARRICK (New South Wales) - Clause 4 which we are debating in Committee relates to the structure of the Schools Commission. I reiterate what Senator Rae has said. The Opposition throughout the second reading debate and by voting to support the second reading of the Bill supports the establishment of an Australian Schools Commission and recognises that the Australian Government on 2 December last received a mandate for establishing that Commission. In my speech during the second reading stage I drew attention to the fact that not only did the Government in its policy speech indicate that it would set up a commission that was so structured as to have representation of various bodies but also throughout the election campaign it received representations from parent and teacher associations seeking their direct representation on such a body. Furthermore, I made the point that I had heard on many platforms Australian Labor Party spokesmen, including the Prime Minister (Mr Whitlam), indicate that such representation would be given. I therefore made the point that the Government not only had a mandate but also had indicated, as shown in the passage from its policy speech that Senator Rae drew attention to, that it would put on the Schools Commission 'people familiar with and representative of State education departments, the catholic system and the teaching profession'.

Subsequently a great number of parent and teacher organisations made representations to the Government and to Opposition members urging such representation. I remind the Senate that by letter of 27 March this year to the Prime Minister the Australian Council of State School Organisations said:

The purpose of this letter is to request you to agree to the representation of parents and of teachers organisations on the Schools Commission.

I remind the Senate that in the Karmel Committee report under the heading 'Structure of Schools Commission' the following appeared:

In submissions to and discussions with the Committee, the Australian Teachers Federation and the Australian Council of State School Organisations argued strongly for the right to nominate representatives as members of the Commission.

I emphasise 'argued strongly for the right to nominate representatives as members of the Commission'.

Senator Douglas McClelland (NEW SOUTH WALES) - How about the next sentence?

Senator CARRICK - I am perfectly happy to read it but it is quite irrelevant to the point. The next sentence is:

The Committee feels that the Commission should be able to conduct its proceedings on the merits of the business before it, with its members not bound to any particular point of view on specific questions.

If the Minister for the Media (Senator Douglas McClelland) is seeking to say that the Karmel Committee received this request for direct nomination of organisations but decided against it, I acknowledge that. I also acknowledge that nevertheless at every level on the advisory committees, the Karmel Committee specified that there ought to be direct nomination of specific categories. I think the Minister may well acknowledge that point if he peruses the report a little further. I acknowledge his help on this matter. The points which I wish to make are, firstly, that there was a mandate; secondly, that there was a specific undertaking by the Government to make representative categories; and, thirdly, that the various parent and school organisations made representations to the Karmel Committee, to the Prime Minister and to ourselves.

In my contribution to the second reading debate I read out a part of a letter written by Mrs Susan Ryan, Executive Officer of the Australian Council of State School Organisations. The letter was dated 13 November. Because of a subsequent telegram which I have received from Mrs Ryan I propose, with the indulgence of the Committee, to read out the whole of the letter. It reads:

On behalf of the Australian Council of State School Organisations, I would like to clarify for you our position in regard to nominees for the Australian Schools Commission.

As you will see from the (2) enclosed copies of past correspondence, our Council has never argued for direct representation. It is our view that the proposed commission must be a completely independent body, capable of making recommendations on the basis of need alone. We consider that a Commission composed of direct nominees of groups with report back obligations to those groups would not be able to function in this way.

Like the Australian Teachers Federation, ACSSO submitted to the Minister a panel of nominees from which one was chosen as a pan-time commissioner. It is our view that if every group represented on the Commission were required to do the same, the result would be a Commission properly representative of the education community, but free enough from sectional pressures to be able to function was an expert objective body.

I trust you will take ACSSO 's views into account when the Schools Commission debate is resumed in the Senate.

Previously I quoted only the third paragraph which states specifically that the 2 bodies nominated to the Minister for Education (Mr Beazley) a panel of nominees from which one person was chosen as a part-time commissioner. The Council's letter also said that if every group did the same- that is, if every group represented on the Commission were required to nominate a panel from which the Government would choose one person- the result would be a properly constituted and properly representative Schools Commission. That is plain language. The following day I received this telegram, which was signed Ryan Executive Officer ACSSO ':

Distressed by your interpretation of ACSSO letter 13 November. ACSSO supports Government's Schools Commission Bill. ACSSO rejects Opposition amendments to Bill. ACSSO rejects direct nomination by groups.

Senator Millinerfinds something humorous in this. The Committee will agree that in my speech I read out the factual content of Mrs Ryan's letter. It was capable of only one interpretation, and that interpretation was that her organisationperhaps Senator Milliner will cease chuckling and note what she said- thought that the right idea would be achieved if each organisation, including hers, were asked to submit a panel from which the Minister would choose one person. That is exactly what the Opposition's amendment to clause 4 seeks- a panel from which the Minister can choose not one person but two. So the Opposition is putting forward an amendment that is directly in line with the third paragraph of her letter. If there is a lack of interpretation, it cannot be in terms of the plain language of that letter. However, I read it out to acknowledge the fact that she had presented a different viewpoint.

I must say that repeatedly in recent weeks members of her organisation have come to this

Parliament and have approached members of the Opposition. All of them have said- this is a precis of their viewpoint- that they want the right of direct nomination; they do not want the Opposition's amendment because it does not go far enough, it seeks a panel of five from which two can be nominated by the Minister; they want the right of direct nomination and if there are two they want to nominate the two. That was the view of members of the organisation for which Mrs Ryan speaks. The people who came here in recent weeks spoke for direct nomination. Mrs Ryan's letter spoke for panel nomination. I think the Australian Democratic Labor Party's foreshadowed amendment reflects the more direct nomination.

I have pointed out that the Government is confronted with an amendment which is in line with its specific election promise- no matter what kind of wording it may seek to use nowwhich is in line with its specific promise based on a policy platform at election time and which is in line with the various parent and teacher organisations' representations. I believe that the amendment is a sensible one because it does not alter fundamentally the concept of the Commission. The Bill envisages that the Commission will comprise the Chairman and not more than 1 1 members. That is 12 as a possibility. The Opposition's amendment envisages fifteen. So, the Opposition's concept of the Commission is scarcely much larger than the Government's concept, but it gives a much wider area of representation. Incidentally, it gives to the Minister a greater freedom of movement; only a minority of the people are specified according to nominated categories. It discharges the promise made at election time. It gives to the state school and parent organisations a substantial majority of viewpoint. It gives to the non-government sector a viewpoint which is in no way exaggerated as a viewpoint. Therefore, it gives the exact representations which have been asked for by the community. As such, it makes good sense. Therefore, the Opposition supports the amendment and commends it to the Committee.

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