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Tuesday, 24 March 1987
Page: 1364

Dr KLUGMAN —I note the Prime Minister's proud report yesterday regarding the greatly increased retention rate of students, but has the Prime Minister noted the relatively high number of Australians who are apparently impressed by the ability of such diverse persons as the Premier of Queensland, the honourable member for Kooyong and the lead singer of Midnight Oil to deal with Australia's many problems? Is this not a sign of the failure of the Australian education system to teach students to think rationally and critically? Does he share my feeling of depression about this and will he ask schools and tertiary institutions to encourage the spirit of critical inquiry?

Mr HAWKE —I thank the honourable member for Prospect for his question without notice. I would simply say that what is happening in Australian politics with the sorts of people to whom the honourable member referred getting some prominence is not, I believe, a reflection on the Australian education system so much as a reflection upon the total failure of the official and formal Opposition to discharge its function of providing a credible and constructive Opposition. In life, whether it is in politics or in any other sphere, if a vacuum emerges something will come through to fill it. If the Opposition in this country-whether it was under the honourable member for Kooyong as leader, or, after he was spilled out, the honourable member for Bennelong-in the last four years had performed its task of addressing itself contructively to the issues confronting this country one would not have heard of Sir Joh Bjelke-Petersen or the New Right. But because the Opposition has lamentably failed in the discharge of its duty, because it has not made its contribution to the functioning of parliamentary democracy, it is in that context that one has the Sir Joh Bjelke-Petersens, the New Right and others emerging. It will not be until this Opposition, under this Leader or whoever replaces him, whenever that may be, starts doing its job that this parliamentary democracy will function as it should.

It may be seen by some that we revel in the lamentable chaos of the other side. I believe that I speak for all members on this side of the House in saying that we would like to see a better and more constructive Opposition. However, that will not occur while this Leader of the Opposition stays there. He has nothing to offer this country. All he seems to be able to do is to elevate the exercise of jumping at shadows into a fine art form.