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Wednesday, 5 December 1973
Page: 2510

Senator McMANUS (Victoria) (Leader ofthe Australian Democratic Labor Party) - We are debating an amendment which has been moved by the combined Opposition, comprising the Liberal Party, the Country Party and the Democratic Labor Party. The purpose of the amendment is this: We say that we will vote for every cent of the money which the Commonwealth under the Karmel Committee report said it would give to all schools except those grouped in category A. By saying that we will vote for all that money we disprove the unscrupulous propaganda used by the Government in the Press and the media to the effect that what we wanted to do was take money from the poorer schools and give it to the wealthy independent schools. We never put up any such proposition. It was thought up in the propaganda circles of the Government. All we said- this is what we say tonight- is that we will vote for every cent that the Government wants to give to the state schools and the poorer schools. All we ask is that the Government carry out the promise made by the Prime Minister (Mr Whitlam) and the Minister for Education, Mr Beazley, before the election, namely, that if the Labor Party were elected to office it would at least maintain the basic per capita grants given to every school. If anyone wants to deny that that promise was made, these are the words or Mr Whitlam delivered on 20 June 1 972 at the Catholic Luncheon Club:

The ALP has never voted against any Bill proposing Commonwealth aid for education and it will support any forms of benefit already existing.

By what he is doing today the Prime Minister has broken his word. On 27 October 1972 the Minister for Education, Mr Beazley, said at Haberfield:

Whispering campaigns to the contrary, no private school under Labor will in future get less than the per capita grant it gets now.

That is the promise made by the Prime Minister and the Minister for Education. We are saying that we will vote for the sum of almost $500m that the Government proposes to give to the other schools, but as the Government promised to maintain the per capita grants, why does it not maintain them at that level by increasing them by approximately $8m, as the Government says, or $5m, as we say? But we have achieved something. The propaganda put out by the Government when we first advanced our proposition stated that it would cost $114m. Tonight the Minister for the Media (Senator Douglas McClelland) who is in charge ofthe Bill has told us that it will cost $8m.

Senator Douglas McClelland (NEW SOUTH WALES) - There are 2 different propositions.

Senator McMANUS - I know that it is a different proposition. Of course it is. But where did the $106m go? It was a figment of the imaginations of people who were opposed to the action that we suggested. They thought up the figure in the hope that their propaganda would deceive the members of the community. What are the schools that the Liberal Party, the Country Party and the Australian Democratic Labor Party are fighting for? Nearly every one of them is a Protestant or a Jewish school. Originally, 105 schools were to receive nothing. The list was cut down to between 40 and 50 schools. We are assured that they are almost all Protestant and Jewish schools. They are the ones that are to be left out. My Party, the Country Party and the Liberal Party are firm upon the point that those schools are entitled to payments under the terms of the promise of the Prime Minister and the promise of the Minister for Education. When the Government says to us that it will fight an election on the issue, I tell it that we will welcome an election on the issue of whether the promises that the Government made when it wanted votes to win an election can be believed. I also tell the Government that if it fights an election on this issue, Mr Whitlam will not be Prime Minister when the election is over. If there is one thing that the average Australian stands for, it is fair play. The gallup polls show that the average

Austraiian believes in what was called aid, but what I call justice, for independent schools. I do not believe that the Australian electorate will accept a situation in which, for the sake of $8m, this Government says that it is prepared if necessary to plunge the country into an election. It will fight that election on the question of whether in future the word of the Prime Minister can be accepted.

Senator Byrne -The Government is paying $ 1.5m for 'Blue Poles'.

Senator McMANUS - We are asking the Government to spend an extra $8m. It will spend $700m on education. To keep that promise will cost an extra $8m. It cannot do that. But it can spend $1.5m on the painting 'Blue Poles'. We are not talking about wealthy schools. We are dealing not with schools but with children. I have been given evidence by the heads of some of the schools that are to receive nothing under this scheme that they provide scholarships for hundreds of poor children to enable them to attend those schools without the payment of fees. I know of innumerable instances of mothers who go to work to try to give their children a better education. This decision of the Government to wipe out fees for a considerable number of schools means that fees in those schools will have to be increased. It will become impossible for the poorer parents to send their children to these schools. Instead of the enrolments at such schools being diluted as they are today between children whose parents are well off and children whose parents are not well off, this Government will force them to become schools exclusively for the elite, for the upper class. I believe that this legislation to that degree could be described as class legislation of a most unacceptable type.

In recent months we have had tears wept over the poor Catholic schools, in some cases by people who to my knowledge for 20 years were violently opposed to one penny of State aid for any independent school. They have suddenly discovered poverty stricken Catholic schools. Such people say that they are benefactors and that they are the people who really want to help such schools. I would think that the Australian Catholic bishops would have some regard for the poor Catholic schools. Do they agree with the Government 's policy? They disagree.

Senator Mulvihill -What did Bishop Carroll say? Chew that one over.

Senator McMANUS -The honourable senator should go and get Mick Young. He can tell the honourable senator about that.

Senator Mulvihill - I got you on the run then.

Senator McMANUS - I have never been on the run; I have always been able to walk. Let me point out what the Catholic bishops think of this program. Commenting on this legislation they said:

We most urgently ask the Australian Government to achieve this reconciliation by including in its program effective assistance to every child in the form of a basic recurrent grant. Meanwhile as a first practical measure, we ask the Australian Government to revert to the recommendation of the Interim Committee to continue aid to the schools in the highest categories in 1974.

Should some children be completely excluded from any share in Federal financial assistance, we Bishops, as a pledge of our sincerity would strongly encourage Catholic parents, schools and educational authorities to join with us in giving all possible support to these excluded children even to the extent of renouncing in their favour some of the aid allocated.

So the bishops are entirely opposed to this Government's action and they do not wish Catholic schools to receive an advantage at the expense of the Protestant and Jewish schools which will be completely excluded from the scheme. I think that that is a sufficient indication of what is thought of this program by the people who, according to the Government, it is trying to help.

I have been a teacher and I know the problems that face particularly an independent school. We are coming to Christmas. What is the Christmas present from the Australian Labor Party to the independent schools that have been placed in class A by the Karmel Committee report? It is a complete cut-off of aid. Even the Karmel Committee commented on the damage that would be done to such schools by cutting off the aid at this time. This Government which can spend $1.5m on the 'Blue Poles' painting; which has wasted God knows how much in Torres Strait on a turtle farm; which is at present pouring money through the Australian Council for the Arts into enterprises which will do nothing to benefit the arts, to a degree which I believe will soon become a bigger scandal in regard to the Council for the Arts than was the case in regard to the turtle farms; this Government which has money to burn is not prepared to keep its promise to give $8m- so it says- or $5m, as we say to 45 or 46 independent schools that will receive a Christmas present of a complete cut-off of any assistance. This could practically bankrupt them and could cause a number of them to close. All this is done in the sacred cause of education. I believe that the Australian people have been hoodwinked by the Government's propaganda that has stated that we are attempting to take $1 14m from the State schools and from other schools. The Government now says that this can be done for $8m. I believe the Government stands condemned as a Government that cannot be relied on to keep its promise. If the Government wants to do the honourable thing, when this amendment goes to the House of Representatives the Government will say that it will continue the present system, at least until there is an election and the people can decide. If the Government does that, at least it will be taking the honourable and democratic course. If it does not do that and decides to go to the country on this issue, I will have no compunction in fighting for the 45 or 46 schools concerned. My Party is not deterred by the suggestion that we may lose in our numbers as a result of an election.

Senator McLaren - You are going to lose anyway.

Senator McMANUS - We have always been prepared to put our heads on the block. We have challenged the Government for nearly 2 months to go to the country on a double dissolution, but Government members do not have the intestinal fortitude to take up the challenge.

Senator McLaren - You have heard about the boy who cried: 'Wolf.

Senator McMANUS -I think that Senator McLaren has chickened. I believe it is an honour to support this recommendation that the Prime Minister should keep the promise that he and the Minister for Education made. The Minister has said that the Government is worried not about the sum involved but the principle. What principle could there be in saying -

Senator Mulvihill - Economic needs.

Senator McMANUS - That is not a principle. The Minister said that economic need is not involved. He said that the Government was not really concerned about the money. What principle can there be in making a promise of aid and not keeping it? I appeal to the Government at this late stage to do the honourable thing and accept this amendment in the House of Representatives.

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