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Thursday, 2 December 1965

Mr REYNOLDS (Barton) .- Mr. Speaker,tonight I want to refer to a matter which I believe raises a most important question of principle in the administration of democracy in Australia. Replying to a question in the House this morning, the Prime Minister (Sir Robert Menzies) disclosed that the Government intended to distribute a booklet entitled " Vietnam - Recent Statements of Australian Policy " among all secondary schools in the nation. What is this booklet? It is a booklet containing extracts of speeches made by the Prime Minister, by the Minister for External Affairs (Mr. Hasluck), by the Minister for Works (Senator Gorton) and by one or two other Government spokesmen. It indicates Government policy in respect of Vietnam.

The point I want to make is that the booklet has been produced at public expense, out of revenue raised from the taxpayers. The Prime Minister went on to say that it would be at the discretion of headmasters, or perhaps of the schools, as to what they did about the booklet when it was issued to them. First of all, this puts all headmasters or principals in a very invidious position. What is going to be their position? If they distribute the booklet to the students in their schools they are likely to be attacked for favouring Government policy. If they do not distribute it, they may be said to be guilty of taking another political attitude. This is going to put headmasters and principals in a most embarrassing position.

I have no objection at all to political parties distributing their propaganda to schools if they want to do so - if the schools are prepared to accept it. But I take serious objection to the use of public funds to distribute booklets on Government policy amongst school children or any other group of people in the community. I think this has gone much too far already. The Government is already taking undue advantage of its position to use public funds in the interests of partisan politics. It is using them to propagate its own view to the exclusion of any other view.

I think this is very serious as an educational principle for a start. I think it is very serious that the Government should lend itself to this sort of thing in the name even of education. If education means anything to young people, it means giving them all sides of the question, especially in respect of controversial matters such as this. I ask Government members who are inclined to be critical of what I am saying to put themselves in the position of the Australian Labour Party. If there were a Labour Government in power, doing this very thing - putting out its views on Communism, industrial legislation, the defence of the country or any other controversial issues, using public funds or taxpayers' funds to do so, and only putting one side of the question - I imagine there would be uproar in this place tonight. This is all the worse from an educational point of view because most media of public communication today lean over backwards to put the Government's view, to the neglect of the Opposition's view. Not content with that, the Government is prostituting public funds in the interests of partisan politics. I think this is disgraceful. This is not the first instance of this kind of thing.

I cannot see the reason why the Government should include in its publication on social services pages on the history of social services. I think that is irrelevant to the whole business. If the Government is going to produce a booklet of this kind at public expense, that booklet should take one of two forms. First, it should deal with the facts of legislation passed by the Parliament. It should not deal just with the prerogative of the Government but with the legislation passed by the Parliament. It should contain details of the provisions of the legislation. If the Government is going to use the second form I would mention - that of putting forward political opinions - it has the ethical responsibility in our democratic society to put forward all points of view as expressed in the Parliament. That is something that the Government has not done. As a matter of fact, not only does the Government not communicate the views of the Opposition in this booklet but it goes so far as to quote extracts from speeches made by Ministers of the Government outside Parliament. These speeches could be made in addressing a Liberal Party conference, I suppose. I think this is a dangerous practice in a democracy. I think it is a practice which ought to be seriously called into question. What is the Government's anxiety in this matter? On this particular issue the Government is trying to tell us every day that it has the overwhelming support of the people. Why does the Government have to go to this extent? Why does the Government have to go into schools, trying to engage the attention and the minds of youngsters who are too immature to make judgments on these matters?

Mr Freeth - What has the honorable member for Yarra been doing in the schools?

Mr REYNOLDS - In answer to the Minister for Shipping and Transport (Mr. Freeth) I say that I have no objection to schools, if they so desire, accepting publications from anybody but I hope that those schools would accept publications from everybody who had a point of view to put. It is also my hope that the Government would not use its prestige to put its views forward and use the taxpayers' money to do so to the exclusion of other points of view represented in this Parliament.

Mr Jones - The honorable member for Yarra used his own money.

Mr REYNOLDS - Of course he did. This action ties in with the Government's extreme sensitivity on the matter of our involvement in Vietnam. The Government tells us that it has the overwhelming support of the community yet it brings itself to do a thing like this. No teacher worth his salt or conscious of his professional ethics would allow himself to peddle a political line made available at taxpayers' expense to immature students.

Mr Whitlam - This ls indoctrination, not education.

Mr REYNOLDS - Of course it is. I think the Government ought to be ashamed of the action it has taken. If this material is admitted to schools, and especially if it is used, I suggest the teacher has an ethical obligation to make his students aware of other points of view. But even that does not get over my main objection which is that the Government is using the money of the taxpayers to put out this kind of propaganda.

Where does this end? The Prime Minister (Sir Robert Menzies) said this morning that the justification was that the public at large was criticising the Government for not making its view known on this controversial issue. The Government could use this excuse with regard to any number of issues. It could conduct all its electioneering by using the money of the taxpayers to put out Liberal-Country Party propaganda in the interests of enlightening the unenlightened public on these matters. Where does it all end? I hope I have drawn out the principle. I hope those who are genuinely liberalminded in this community can see the objections I am making in this matter. I have asked the question as to just how far this can go. Imagine if the Government had done the same thing about Communism, the Crimes Act, or the controversial aspects of education policy, and used the taxpayers' money to put out propaganda - the line of the Liberal-Country Party Government - under the cloak of being the Government of the day. The Prime Minister says that we have only one government. The way he is going, it will not be long before we will have a one party state in this country. That is the attitude that has been taken in this matter. My view is that public statements issued at the expense of the taxpayer should contain the legislative provisions enacted in the Parliament. They should give the details of the laws for the benefit of the community. If the Government goes beyond that and makes policy statements or presents opinions on certain matters, it has a responsibility in a democracy to put all sides of the question.

We have heard a lot in the last few weeks, in this session particularly, not the least from Government members, about the dangers to democracy in this country. Reference has been made to the dangers of bureaucracy and the dangers of the executive arm of government in this country. Reference has been made to Ministers with all the paraphernalia and machinery behind them to engage public opinion and to make statements in all sorts of places. We should compare their position with that of the ordinary backbencher in this Parliament and the research facilities that are available to him to enable him to make statements to the community. All of this machinery is available to Ministers. Yet there comes this threat to democracy in this country by using the taxpayers' money to publish partisan political statements and, above all, to issue them in schools in an effort to influence the immature minds of youngsters who, because of their immaturity, are not able to make judgments on the material that is put before them. I have serious and grave objections to this departure from democracy in our country.

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