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Tuesday, 27 November 1973
Page: 3943

Mr MATHEWS (Casey) - Australians who have the interests of schools at heart will have been appalled to hear the honourable member for Gwydir (Mr Hunt) affirm before dinner that the Opposition majority in another place will be used to reinstate amendments in the Schools Commission Bill which the Opposition knows are unacceptable to the Government and must lead to the Bill being dropped. They will have noted with dismay that the Opposition is destroying the Schools Commission as surely in this way as if it had used its Senate majority to vote down the Bill at the second reading stage. The honourable member for Gwydir made it clear that despite lip service paid today to the work of the Interim Committee for the Australian Schools Commission the Opposition remains as hostile as ever to the policy of allocating Australian Government assistance to schools on the basis of needs and priorities in accordance with the mandate that this Government received only a year ago.

Honourable members opposite spent a great deal of today's debate praising the work of the Committee to which the Minister for Education (Mr Beazley) originally appointed 10 notable Australians expert in particular aspects of education and broadly representative of interest groups involved in the administration of Australian schools. Yet tonight they are determined to see that Committee, in the form of a statutory commission, reconstituted on an entirely different basis. They claim to be satisfied, to be in support of the report, yet they are determined to radically transform the base from which that report arose. When the Schools Commission was debated originally in this House honourable members opposite advocated a set of amendments which would have effectively excluded from participation in the Commission representatives of teachers and of parents. Yet tonight they insist that such representatives must be included in the Commission even against the wishes of the organisations concerned - and those wishes have been made very clear indeed.

We do not have to look very far for the purpose behind these amendments. On the one hand, ideally, the Opposition wants to see dropped the Schools Commission, to which it has always been opposed and to which it remains opposed. Then if at any time in the future members opposite should find themselves once again on this side of the House they will not have to go to the trouble of repealing the Act. Equally, failing that device, the Opposition is anxious to see the whole concept of the Schools Commission, and the needs approach that it represents, discredited. The real purpose of the amendments is to rob the Commission of its independent, expert and impartial character - those very qualities that gave the Karmel Committee the standing it has enjoyed in the community - and to reproduce within the structure of the Commission all the rivalries and hostilities which bedevil education as we know it. The real purpose is to turn the Commission into a cockpit for disputes between government and non-government schools, between teachers and the authorities which employ teachers, and between the Australian Government and the States.

The Opposition believes, and with good reason, that such a quarrelsome body could not hope to command the same public respect as the Karmel Committee and that its failure to implement the needs policy in an acceptable manner would clear the way for a restoration of the across-the-board per capita grants approach to which the Opposition always has been committed.

Members of this House need to remember that the States Grants (Schools) Bill to which we have given consideration today is current only for the years 1974 and 1975. A Schools Commission, constituted on the lines of the original Karmel Committee, is the only body which can command the support and consensus in the community for an assessment of further needs in 1976 and subsequent years. We need to be cognisant of what would happen to the Australian education if the amendments currently before this House and which are to be moved shortly in another place are pressed. It would be a national tragedy for our schools if the advice tendered by the Karmel Committee itself about the composition of the Schools Commission - I refer to its recommendations in section 13.6 - were to be disregarded. It would be a national tragedy for our schools and the children who attend them if the work, the assessment of needs and the supervision of the program of assistance to schools to which we have given attention today had to be carried on by an interim committee with all the limitations that that involves.

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