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Tuesday, 20 November 1973
Page: 1930

Senator McMANUS (Victoria) (5.36)- I am grateful to the Committee for its forbearance, and it probably will save time because otherwise honourable senators would be in the position of perhaps having to rise again to debate the particular points which I make. I intend to move on behalf of the Australian Democratic Labor Party the following amendment:

After clause 4, insert the following new clauses: 4a. The members of the Commission shall be appointed as follows-

(a)   the Chairman and three other members upon the recommendation of the Minister of whom one shall be a person involved in research in relation to education;

(b)   four other members upon the recommendation of the Australian Education Council of whom one shall be a person involved in special education of handicapped children or children with special learning difficulties;

(c)   three other members of whom one shall be appointed upon the recommendation of the Education Executive of the Episcopal Conference of Australia, one shall be upon the recommendation of the National Council of Independent Schools and one shall be upon the recommendation of the Australian Parents ' Council;

(d)   two other members who shall be appointed upon the recommendation of the Australia Teachers' Federation; and

(e)   two other members who shall be appointed upon the recommendation of the Australian Council of State School Organisations. '

Under this amendment every one of the members of the Schools Commission, with the exception of the Chairman and the 3 members whom the Minister shall recommend, shall be appointed upon the recommendations of the bodies concerned. Therefore, the difference between my amendment and that moved by Senator Rae is that he envisages that certain representatives shall be appointed from a panel whilst my amendment envisages that the representatives shall all be nominated direct by the organisations concerned. Under Senator Rae's amendment the representatives of the independent schools would be nominated direct and others, such as teacher representatives, would be nominated from the panel. My Party thinks that it would be undesirable to have a distinction between the methods of selection of the representatives of teachers and state school parents and the representatives of the independent schools. We propose that they all be nominated direct- other than the Chairman and the 3 other members who are to be appointed on the recommendation of the Minister.

I will move that amendment because I think that this Schools Commission- we supported the Commission and voted for the second reading of the Bill, as my Party has supported every progressive move that has been brought forward in respect of education in this Senate and in this Parliament- ought to have a reasonable degree of independence and for the life of me I cannot understand how the claim can be made that a commission, every member of which is appointed by the Government, will be an independent commission. If the people who are to be on this Commission are all to be appointed by the Government and to be reappointed by the Government there cannot be any independence about this Commission because, as everybody knows, governments tend to appoint people who will play ball. Therefore, if a large number of the members of this Commission represent organisations interested in education I believe that it will be a more independent Commission than one whose members' tenure of office depends entirely upon the will of the Minister. I believe that such a commission will be flexible as well as independent. It will be flexible because people will not be chosen for it on the basis that they will all play the same tune.

I point out that there has been totally unfair propaganda in regard to this Commission. It has appeared in some of the communications and even through some of the deputations that I have received. I do not know of any Bill in respect of which my Party has received more deputations and more representations. I personally have interviewed 32 deputations on this Bill. I have had a long discussion with the Minister for Education, Mr Beazley- I stop to say that I deeply regret his illness; we all have the utmost regard for him and hope that he will make a very speedy recovery- and with a large number of people associated with education in order to reach a right opinion in regard to this matter. Most of the representations were fair, but it was obvious to me that many of the people making representations had been misled in a most reprehensible way. They told me that they were under the impression that if we moved and carried our amendments in respect of representation the whole Bill would be dropped and millions of dollars which were to be made available for education would not be made available. I have been told by people who know- I have heard the Minister say this-that, obviously if the Government does not accept a Bill amended in the way we desire to amend this Bill, the Government has the power to reappoint a Karmel-type committee which will proceed to do all the work which the permanent or semi-permanent commission could do.

Therefore, all these stories to the effect that unless the Senate passes the Bill just as it is there will not be any commission or any money represent false and malicious propaganda of the worst possible type, because the Government was able without legislation to appoint the Karmel Committee and it can, if it wants to, without legislation appoint another committee of the Karmel type to do the job.

Senator Devitt - Who put that story about?

Senator McMANUS - I would like to know.

Senator Douglas McClelland (NEW SOUTH WALES) - I think you will agree that the Minister has never said that there would not be any money.

Senator McMANUS -If the Minister has not said it I will withdraw that comment; but it has been said in many circles, let me put it that wayand in many authoritative circles. I ask the Government senators here: Is it a fact that if this Bill goes through as we want to amend it the Government can refuse to implement the Bill and can appoint a Karmel-type committee which can do practically all the things which the Commission could do? There is silence. That indicates that it is untrue that this is a question of a commission or no commission. This is a question of a commission wholely appointed by the Government or a commission containing representatives of bodies interested in education.

I found that many of the people on the deputations which I received were surprised when I told them that if we carried this Bill as we desired to amend it, it would not mean the end of the Commission or of the money which was to be made available for education. They told me that they had definitely been led to believe that not lc of the $400m or $500m would be made available. When I pointed out that the Government could, if it wished, appoint another Karmel-type committee to do a similar job, they were pleasantly surprised. I received a very large deputation on the day that the motion for the second reading of the Bill was being debated. It represented, I was told, the teachers organisation from each State and also the parents of state school children. I said: 'For 19.5 years I was a teacher, and I was an active unionist. The great battle in those 19.5 years was a battle by the teachers to get the right to appoint their representatives to government education bodies. I helped to win that battle. I am amazed that the wheel has now turned full circle. After I battled, as a unionist, for 19.5 years to get the right for teachers to be represented by their own people on government education bodies, I now find teachers coming to me and saying that they do not want to appoint their representatives; they would like the Government to appoint people for them'. They said: 'We would like to nominate our representatives'. The representatives of the parents of state school children said: 'It would do us if we could nominate our representatives'. I said: 'That is strange. If you are happy to be represented by your people rather than by people appointed by the Government, why do I have all these representations asking me to pass the Bill?' Afterwards one of them said to me: 'The reason, Senator, is that we were told that we had to accept the Bill, the whole Bill and nothing but the Bill and that we might lose everything if we did not accept the Government's point of view'. I was informed by the teachers' representative and by a prominent representative of parents of state school children that they would like to appoint their representatives but that they had been told from some source that if they did so they would not get the Bill. Is that not an attack on their independence?

Senator Mulvihill - Do you not think Mr Beazley is competent to do this?

Senator McMANUS - I will not bring him into this discussion. I have the highest respect for him, and he is not well. I do not allege any misleading by Mr Beazley. When these people left me they told me that they would be very happy to appoint their own representatives. A few hours after they left I heard a Press statement from one who was connected with them to the effect that some of them had changed their minds or had had their minds changed for them because, they said, on thinking it over they intended to return to the old principle that the Minister should appoint all the members.

We all know what happens in such cases. I have been a senator for 14 years. I often hear Ministers, when they want to get their way on matters involving credit unions, old peoples homes and the like, say to the people concerned: If you attempt to interfere with the Bill at all you will lose the lot'. Ministers from each of the major political parties have done it. That tactic has been used on this occasion, and an attempt has been made to high pressure the Opposition. As a result of my experiences in the trade union movement and in the Labor movement I became a connoisseur of high pressure tactics. In this case neither I nor my Party will be pressured. We believe in the principle of people selecting their representatives. If the Government does not accept that principle, it has the remedy in its hands. It can appoint another Karmel-type committee, but it cannot expect members on this side of the chamber to sacrifice a principle in which they believe just to suit the convenience of the Government.

One group wishes to select its representatives because it was not given any voice and was not even allowed to put up a panel on the last occasion. A statement was made that the representative of that group had approved the whole of the Karmel Committee's report so far as the per capita grants were concerned, but he certainly did not represent the views of that group when he made that statement.

The CHAIRMAN (Senator Prowse -Order! The honourable senator's time has expired.

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