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Wednesday, 5 December 1973
Page: 2500

Senator Douglas McClelland (NEW SOUTH WALES) (Minister for the Media) -in reply- This debate has been proceeding now for some 3 hours and although it is on my motion that the Bill be read a second time I understand, to my amazement that the Opposition is not opposing it. Nonetheless, this is probably the most important Bill that the Government has introduced since it was given a mandate to govern by the Australian people on 2 December last. It is the States Grants (Schools) Bill which, if and when enacted, will enable us as a Government to provide to the people of this country the funds that are required to carry out the principal election platform of the Labor Party which was to make education the prime responsibility of a Labor government.

Senator Rae,who led for the Opposition here this afternoon, commenced his remarks by saying that the legislation providing for these grants is not novel. But he went on to say that if there is any novelty it is in the fact that the amount of the increase is substantial and is that which is recommended by the Karmel Committee. I would have thought that in addition to that novelty there is a very important principle which probably was highlighted by Senator Davidson, the last Opposition speaker, who virtually criticised the Government for adopting a principle of education expenditure based on needs compared with the former Government's policies of per capita grants. I would have thought that in addition to the novelty, if I might use Senator Rae 's expression, of the Bill appropriating the largest amount ever expended by a government on education, which is what this Government is doing, there is wrapped up in the whole of this legislation the element of the principle of needs which was urged by the Labor Party not only at the last election but also at a time when we were in opposition. This principle was put to the people in the plainest of language last November and they determined it by popular vote on 2 December. Now we are endeavouring to implement the policy that we were elected upon.

Ignoring all that went on earlier about the establishment of the Schools Commission, if anyone is in any doubt about the basis of education expenditure being according to needs, let me reiterate what the Prime Minister (Mr Whitlam) had to say on this matter in his policy speech. He said:

Education is the prime example of a community service which should involve the entire community- not just the Education Departments and the Catholic school authorities and the Headmaster' Conference, not just parents and teachers, but the taxpayers as a whole. The quality of the community's response to the needs of the education system will determine the quality of the system. But the community must first know and understand the needs.

The Prime Minister went on to state:

We reject the proposition that administrative convenience should over-ride the real needs of the schools. We reject the argument that well-endowed schools should get as much help from the Commonwealth as the poorest state or parish schools, just because it is easier to count heads than to measure needs.

The whole basis of our election policy was wrapped up in those 2 paragraphs and is embodied in this legislation that we are now seeking to have passed through the Parliament. It is not a question, as Senator McManus said this afternoon when he spoke on behalf of the Australian Democratic Labor Party, of whether the credibility of the Prime Minister or the Minister for Education (Mr Beazley) is at stake. It is not so much a question of the amount of money that is involved, and the Opposition will admit that this is the greatest amount of money that any government has ever decided to spend on education. The whole principle wrapped up in this legislation is education expenditure based on priorities and needs and not according to the old Government's formula of per capita grants.

Senator Devitt - Equality of opportunity.

Senator Douglas McClelland (NEW SOUTH WALES) -And, as Senator Devitt says, equality of opportunity. Senator Rae said that this Bill is welcomed by the Opposition. But he then went on to suggest that there is an omission which the Opposition suggests should be corrected. The Opposition in one line, as it were, has set out to np up the whole principle, the whole political philosophy and ideology of the Labor movement- that is, eduational expenditure based on needs. The Opposition seek to amend that principle by joining with it the principle that was contained in its own legislation of 1972 which provided for recurrent per capita grants. That, surely, really outlines the difference in philosophy between us on the Government side- those of us who have been elected by popular vote to implement the policy that the Prime Minister espoused at the last electionand them, the collective Opposition.

As I have said, the difference between the Government and the Opposition does not lie in the amount of money that is involved. Basically it is a question of the principle of need and equality of opportunity. The Government has set out to spend, including $226m which was committed by the previous Government, a total of $694m on the educational system of this country in the next 2 years. The Opposition has come here today and said that it wants the Government to spend another $4m to $5m and $8m over 2 years. The Opposition set out this afternoon to refuse to give us the Schools Commission now it wants us to replace our basic ideology of needs with a combination of needs and recurrent grants. A lot has been said about what the Prime Minister had to say in the middle of last year- 6 months before the election campaign.

Senator Rae - Deal with what he said after the election.

Senator Douglas McClelland (NEW SOUTH WALES) - I will deal with the events in a chronological order. I remind Senator Rae, who led for the Opposition in this debate, that the Government was gracious enough to give him an additional 5 minutes in which to complete his speech. I hope I do not have to speak for the same length of time as he did. The Prime Minister has admitted that he made certain utterances when speaking at the Festival Hall in Melbourne in May or June of last year, but they were, of course, utterances on legislation which had been enacted by the Gorton and McMahon governments and which we of the Labor movement, when in Opposition, had not opposed at that time.

Then came the September 1972 legislation of the McMahon Government which embodied the principle of per capita grants. That legislation was debated in the House of Representatives in September and in this chamber in October. In fact it was debated in this chamber a mere 12 days before this House rose for the election campaign. On 19 October, in a debate in this chamber on the motion that the legislation be given a second reading, Senator Wheeldon, who was leading for the then Opposition, moved the following amendment:

At end of motion add: 'but the Senate, while not refusing a second reading to the Bill, is of the opinion that it should provide for the establishment of an Australian schools commission to examine and determine the needs of students in government and non-government primary, secondary and technical schools, and recommend grants which the Commonwealth should make to the States to assist in meeting the requirements of all school age children on the basis of needs and priorities and that the application of this policy could not allow the continued acceptance of the provisions of the Bill and that therefore-

I emphasise these words- grants should not be made on the basis provided in the Bill in respect of any year after 1 973 '.

Senator Webster - What date was that?

Senator Douglas McClelland (NEW SOUTH WALES) -That was on 19 October 1972-12 days before this Parliament rose for the election campaign. The Labor Party's policy speech was delivered by the Prime Minister on about 10 November- a mere fortnight or 3 weeks after this House rose. In the policy speech, in addition to the paragraphs I have already quoted, the Prime Minister said that a Federal Labor Government will continue all grants under Commonwealth legislation throughout 1973. That is exactly what we have done. It being the end of 1973 we want to implement the policy on which we were elected. We set up the Interim Committee for the Aus.tralian Schools Commission. The Interim Committee has laid down the foundation and set out the plans as to how the principle can be implemented. We have adopted them in our legislation. The Schools Commission Bill was emasculated a couple of weeks ago. The Government refused to accept the Opposition's amendments to it. Now the Opposition seeks to amend the political ideology upon which the Labor Party was elected to government. It is against that background that the Interim Committee was set about its task as one of the first acts of the new Government.

Senator Drake-Brockmanhas admitted that within 10 days of the Australian Labor Party being elected to office the Prime Minister established the Interim Committee for the Australian Schools Commission. The Interim Committee, which is now commonly referred to as the Karmel Committee, found a wide disparity in the use of resources among government and nongovernment schools. Insofar as non-systemic non-government schools are concerned- that is, the non-government schools which are not Catholic parish schools- the Interim Committee found that the typical school used about 40 per cent more teaching resources per pupil than an average secondary school and that some of these schools were using well over twice the volume of resources. Taken as a whole their use of resources ranged over a scale of from 40 to 270 against an average of 100 for the combined 6 State government systems in 1972 and a target of 135 to 140 for 1979. It is a fact that, notwithstanding its assessment of the provision, the Interim Committee recommended grants for category A schools- that is, those with the highest resource use- in 1974 and a lower level of grants for those schools in 1975. However, the Government was not prepared to adopt that proposal. It was impressed by the statement appearing at the beginning of paragraph 6.50 of the Interim Committee's report, which reads:

Category A schools already use a volume of resources that well exceeds the 1979 targets; and the Committee believes that government assistance to these schools cannot be justified.

At the same time the Government did not accept the subsequent comment in that paragraph, which in all fairness I think I should also read. It states:

The Committee feels that the sudden termination of financial aid on six months' notice could place some schools within Category A in temporary difficulties. Hence the gradual phasing out of assistance over 1 974 and 1975 is recommended; this implies that in 1976 schools whose resource use falls in Category A should receive no general recurrent assistance.

Having regard to its policy of making grants on the basis of priorities and needs, the Government, in adopting all the other recommendations for a 2-year program costing in all some $694m, decided that category A schools should receive no grants for recurrent expenditure.

Subsequent to the Government's decision the Interim Committe published a schedule of nonsystemic non-government schools which included 105 schools with enrolment of approximately 58,000 pupils in category A. The Government agreed to receive appeals against classifications. As a result of the consideration of those appeals by a reconstituted Interim Committee the number of schools in category A was reduced to 50 with enrolments of approximately 33,000 pupils. I pause to reply briefly to something that Senator McManus had to say about the Rabinovitch Yeshivah College at Bondi. He said that it is a small school which has been placed in category A. I do not know all the circumstances involved. I understood Senator McManus to say that it has appealed against the categorisation and that the appeal has been rejected. But one of the bases, one of the criteria used is the basis of needs. According to figures given to me the teacher/pupil ratio for primary school pupils at that school is 1:17 whereas in government schools the ratio is 1:27.

Senator Jessop - Is that your only measuring stick?

Senator Douglas McClelland (NEW SOUTH WALES) - It is one of the measuring sticks.

Senator Jessop - It is obviously the main one.

Senator Douglas McClelland (NEW SOUTH WALES) -On the basis of needs it must be a measuring stick and it must be one of the major measuring sticks. I agree- and I admit- that other matters must be taken into account. But on the basis of needs comparing the primary school ratio of 1 teacher to 17 students with the government school ratio of 1 to 27 students and on a secondary school basis 3 students to 1 teacher at that school within a government school-

Senator Poyser - Three?

Senator Douglas McClelland (NEW SOUTH WALES) -Three students to 1 teacher. In a government school it is 17 students to 1 teacher. Surely on the basis of needs there is some justification for placing such a school in category A. The Opposition is now proposing that all schools, and in particular the category A schools, be guaranteed during 1974 and 1975 recurrent grants at per capita rates of $62 for primary schools and $104 for secondary schools; that is, the rates that have applied this year- 1973- in accordance with our policy as enunicated at the last election that 'a Federal Labor Government will continue all grants under Commonwealth legislation throughout 1973'. The Government's commitments are those that I mentioned earlier, namely, the statements made during the debate on the 1972 legislation and in the election policy speech.

The PRESIDENT - Order! There is something curious going on down at one end of the chamber. It seems to be valley speaking- speaking from one side of a valley to the other.

Senator Douglas McClelland (NEW SOUTH WALES) -We have said that after 1973 assistance would be on the basis of relative needs. Even the arguments advanced by the Opposition about the alleged promises of the Government could not be interpreted in any reasonable sense as going beyond the rates of per capita assistance which were in force during 1972; that is, $50 for primary school children and $68 for secondary school children. It is of great national importance that the comprehensive and forward-looking programs of assistance to both government and non-government schools, estimated to cost $694m during 1974 and 1975, be put into effect without delay. Notwithstanding this, the Government is not prepared to accept an amendment which would give a relatively small number of the better-off non-government schools grants significantly in excess of their needs as assessed by the Interim Committee in comparison with other schools. The basic rates proposed are also significantly greater than the rates which were applicable to all nongovernment schools during 1972.

There is one final matter. In his remarks the Leader of the Country Party in the Senate, Senator Drake-Brockman, referred to a letter which, I think, was tabled by Senator Rae and which was written by the Minister for Education, Mr Beazley, to Professor Karmel, the Chairman of the Interim Schools Committee for the Australian Schools Commission, on 13 April 1973. From that letter was read- I think by Senator Rae and certainly by Senator DrakeBrockman a portion of the last paragraph, which stated:

The Commonwealth per capita grants to non-government schools in the States in respect of recurrent expenditure are being paid during 1973 at the rates already approved-$62 per primary pupil and $104 per secondary pupil. In the two territories the per capita rates are twice those in the States. We wish the Interim Committee to make recommendations for contributions towards recurrent expenditure in non-government schools for 1974 and 197S on the basis of its assessment of needs and priorities.

They are the sentences in the paragraph which Senator Drake-Brockman read out. But let me read out the first paragraph of that letter to indicate the intention of the Minister for Education. I cannot make it more self-explanatory than the terms of the first paragraph of the letter. On 13 April this year, about 4 months after this Government had been elected to office, my colleague the Minister for Education, Mr Beazley, wrote to Professor Karmel. The first paragraph of the letter stated:

The terms of reference of your committee specify that the grants you will recommend will be in addition to existing Commonwealth commitments.

That is, the commitments of the previous Government. He went on to say:

It is also relevant that the Government has undertaken to continue during 1973 all grants to schools made under Commonwealth legislation which was operative when we came into office.

He added:

I want to set down the Government's decisions about the phasing out of pre-existing programs after 1 973.

I cannot be more explanatory than the terms used by my colleague the Minister for Education. We say that we have a mandate from the people to put through the Bill in accordance with the terms of the Bill now presented. I know that the Opposition has indicated that it proposes to give the Bill a second reading passage but I sincerely hope that at the Committee stage commonsense will prevail and the Opposition in this chamber will not set out to emasculate this legislation as it did with the Government's measure to set up a Schools Commission. I commend the legislation to the Senate.

Question resolved in the affirmative.

Bill read a second time.

In Committee

Clauses 1 to 14- by leave- taken together, and agreed to.

Clause 15.

(S)   There is payable to a State under this section, in respect of each year to which this Act applies, by way of financial assistance to the State in respect of recurrent expenditure of each non-systemic school in the State, not being a school included in Category A-

(a)   in the case ofthe year commencing on 1 January 1974-

(i)   if the school is a non-government primary school-an amount equal to the product of the amount specified in column 2 of Table 3 in Schedule 2 opposite to the category specified in column 1 in which the school is included and the number of pupils receiving primary education at the school on the date in that year that is the schools census date for that State for that year, and

(ii)   if the school is a non-government secondary school-an amount equal to the product of the amount specified in column 3 of Table 3 in Schedule 2 opposite to the category specified in column 1 in which the school is included and the number of pupils receiving secondary education at the school on the date in that year that is the schools census date for that State for that year; and

(b)   in the case ofthe year commencing on 1 January 1975-

(i)   if the school is a non-government primary school-an amount equal to the product of the amount specified in column 4 of Table 3 in Schedule 2 opposite to the category specified in column 1 in which the school is included and the number of pupils receiving primary education at the school on the date in that year that is the schools census date for that State for that year, and

(ii)   if the school is a non-government secondary school- an amount equal to the product of the amount specified in column 5 of Table 3 in Schedule 2 opposite to the category specified in column 1 in which the school is included and the number of pupils receiving secondary education at the school on the date in that year that is the schools census date for that State for that year.

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