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Wednesday, 21 November 1973
Page: 2004

Senator Douglas McClelland (NEW SOUTH WALES) (Minister for the Media) - The Government does not accept the amendment that has been moved by Senator Rae. When you put the question, Mr Temporary Chairman, you will be proposing that the words proposed to be left out be left out. If the Government were to adopt that proposition it would plainly be denying the policy and platform of the Labor movement, this portion of which was first written into the Australian Labor Party's policy in 1967, confirmed by the Party in 1969, confirmed again in 1971 and confirmed again in 1973. The 'Platform, Constitution and Rules' of the Australian Labor Party under the heading Australian Schools Commission' states:

The Australian Government will establish 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 Australian Government should make to the States to assist in meeting the requirements of all school-age children on the basis of needs and priorities.

In making recommendations for such grants to the States, the Commission shall have regard to-

(a)   The primary obligation of governments to provide and maintain government school systems of the highest standard open to all children;

To ask me or any other member of the Labor Party to leave out of legislation that we introduce what is written into the platform of our Party frankly is asking too much.

Let me now refer to the statement by the Prime Minister (Mr Whitlam) before the last Federal election in relation to schools. This section of the Bill is in complete conformity with that policy statement made by the Prime Minister. Under the heading 'Schools' the following appears:

The most rapidly growing sector of public spending under a Labor Government will be education. Education should be the great instrument for the promotion of equality. Under the Liberals it has become a weapon for perpetuating inequality and promoting privilege. For example, the pupils of State and Catholic schools have had less than half as good an opportunity as the pupils of non-Catholic independent schools to gain Commonwealth secondary scholarships, and very much less than half the opportunity of completing their secondary education.

The Labor Party is determined that every child who embarks on secondary education in 1973 shall, irrespective of school or location, have as good an opportunity as any other child of completing his secondary education and continuing his education further. The Labor Party believes that the Commonwealth should give most assistance to those schools, primary and secondary, whose pupils need most assistance.

I am hoping- and I say this in all earnestnessthat Senator McManus in his remark was not attempting to whip up the old fires of secretarianism. This debate has been conducted on a very high plane and I am sure that Senator McManus will agree that in the Bill which the Government has presented to the Parliament for endorsement the Government has set out deliberately by proposing the establishment of a Schools Commission to provide for equality of opportunity in education for all children irrespective of school or religious denomination.

Clause 13. (3) states, and I repeat it for the benefit of Senator McManus in particular

In the exercise of its functions, the commission shall have regard to such matters as are relevant, including the need for improving primary and secondary educational facilities in Australia and of providing increased and equal opportunities for education in government and non-government schools in Australia . . .

Then we set out with particularity all the matters, seven or eight of them, that the Commission should take into account in ensuring that there is an improvement in primary and secondary educational facilities in Australia with a view to providing increases and equal opportunities in government and non-government schools. The Government believes that the purpose of these amendments is to water down the needs concept which is basic to the Government's approach that was enunciated by the Prime Minister before the last Federal election and which was endorsed by the electorate. Specifically the Opposition sets out to deny the primary obligation of governments to provide government schools of high standard which are open without fees or religious tests to all children. It is, of course, a plank of the Labor Party policy that there is a primary obligation on governments to provide and maintain government school systems of the highest standards open to all children. We do not deny that there should be an opportunity, as there is, for parents to nominate the school to which their child will go but surely no one can object to the basic cardinal principle that there is an obligation to ensure that an educational system is maintained at the highest level in schools of the highest standard, open without fee and without religious test to all children.

The various elements referred to in clause 13. (3) of the Bill which the Commission should take into consideration in the exercise of its functions carry a heavy emphasis on innovation, investigation and research. Senator Rae referred to the fact that research appears under clause 13. (4) (b) of the Bill and suggested that that provision could be widened. In the recommendations of the Karmel Committee under the heading 'Functions of Schools Commission' on page 133 the Committee suggests that the Schools Commission should have the following functions:

(   h ) to undertake and commission research;

The Government has said in clause 13. (4) (b) that for the purpose of the performance of those functions the Commission, amongst other things: may undertake, and cause to be undertaken, such research as it thinks necessary into matters that relate to the functions of the Commission.

We cannot agree that the words proposed to be left out should be left out. They certainly are in conformity with the platform and policy of the Labor movement and this amendment is another watering down, another emasculation, of our genuine attempt to establish an Australian Schools Commission. We object to the amendment moved by Senator Rae. Despite knowing the attitude of the Australian Democratic Labor Party, the Australian Country Party and the Liberal Party of Australia and recognising that the Government does not have the numbers in this place, we cannot accept the amendment. Because there has already been a test by way of a division on an earlier amendment to this clause which relates to the functions of the Commission I will not ask the Committee to divide on this amendment.

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