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Monday, 16 September 1985
Page: 546

Senator CROWLEY —I direct a question to the Minister for Education. I note that the Minister has announced measures to improve education on the electoral system through projects by-the Department of the Senate, the Department of the House of Representatives, the Attorney-General's Department and the Department of Education. In view of the importance of this matter to all Australians, and as this is International Youth Year, will the Minister say what stage these proposals have reached? Will she elaborate on the role of the Curriculum Development Centre? In particular, will there be any increased requirements for staff and what, if any, arrangements have been proposed or introduced?

Senator RYAN —A number of initiatives are underway sponsored by the Government-some by the Curriculum Development Centre and others by the Parliament-to assist in the political education of Australian school children. All honourable senators would be aware that there is a very uneven knowledge in the community of our parliamentary system. This is partly due to the fact that the details of our rather complex electoral system have not been taught systematically or particularly well throughout our schools system. I recently announced a number of initiatives to address these deficiencies. Under one of these initiatives the Department of the Senate and the Department of the House of Representatives have begun a joint project to develop a teaching kit which will increase knowledge and awareness among students and the public of the role and functions of the Australian Parliament. The kit is due to be published in readiness for the 1987 school year and will also be used as a preparation for school groups visiting Parliament House.

The Australian Electoral Commission proposes to establish an electoral education centre to cater for the 60,000 school children who will visit Canberra this year. Teachers bringing school groups to Canberra will be able to write to the centre in advance to ask for special programs for their students. For example, they could ask for a session on how the Senate works or how the Senate vote is counted. The Electoral Commission also has plans to develop a number of publications and educational videos on topics relating to the operation of the Parliament.

The Curriculum Development Centre, which Senator Crowley mentioned specifically in her question, recently published a resource book entitled The High Court and the Constitution for upper secondary students. The book assembles a range of commentaries, statements and case studies which introduce the High Court of Australia and the Australian court system and discuss their ideas and functions, summarise the Constitution and its effects on Australian society and discuss various contemporary issues related to law and justice in Australia. The Curriculum Development Centre will also be assisting other departments and agencies in their projects, a number of which I have mentioned today. I think all of these efforts will assist in having a better educated and better informed citizenry in our democracy. I should also like to add that as well as these government initiated projects, it is possible for members and senators to engage in the education of young people about our parliamentary system.

In conclusion, I compliment my colleague Senator Crowley, who raised this matter today, and her State parliamentary colleague Barbara Wiese, for the efforts they have made in establishing systematic education forums where young people in their State are able to meet with members of the upper Houses of both the Commonwealth and State parliaments and be very thoroughly exposed to the workings of both Houses. Such efforts, taken by individual senators and members, will certainly reinforce the efforts being taken in this important educational area by the Commonwealth.

The PRESIDENT —Order! I would like to elaborate on the answer that has been provided by Senator Ryan so far as the Commonwealth Parliament is concerned. The work that has been done by officers of the Senate and the House of Representatives on this matter was instituted initially as a result of a recommendation of a Senate House committee. That work is being done in conjunction with officers of the Curriculum Development Centre, to which Senator Ryan has referred. I should also say that recently the Speaker of the House of Representatives, and the Special Minister of State and I had discussions on the program to be instituted by the Australian Electoral Commission. As a result of those discussions, the Clerk of our Senate and the Chief Electoral Commissioner have been in discussion on the matter. It has been agreed that there should be complementary assistance in regard to the development of the work being done by the Parliament and the Electoral Commission. The Commission proposes to help us and we propose to help it.