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Tuesday, 26 November 1985
Page: 2259

Senator PETER BAUME(4.39) —The Chairman of Estimates Committee D has presented a report containing some of the concerns of that Committee. I endorse what he said about the matters that concern us. I refer especially to the grave discourtesy that was shown to Senator Colston in regard to questions which he asked quite properly, reasonably and courteously. They were questions which he asks every time the Estimates Committee meets, and which the Australian Capital Territory Schools Authority knows will be asked, about corporal punishment. It is quite unsatisfactory that the Committee was given not only discourteous but really also quite contemptuous responses, which led to the Committee reporting as it did. Senator Colston and the Committee are quite right to say to the Australian Capital Territory Schools Authority: `We will not accept that kind of answer'. The Estimates Committees will continue to meet, the Australian Capital Territory Schools Authority will continue to appear before the Committee, and it is entirely up to the Authority how it wishes to answer these questions in the future. But it would be most unwise to give to Senator Colston in the future the answer that it gave on this occasion. I think that is a fair statement, Senator Button, because whether or not other senators have Senator Colston's knowledge of that particular matter or his commitment to that line of questioning, we are not going to have those kinds of answers given to any colleague in the Senate, whatever his or her political persuasion, and we shall respond accordingly.

I do not intend to rehash all the matters raised in the Estimates Committee examination, but there is one matter in relation to the Australian Capital Territory Schools Authority which I might mention now-I have raised it in the Senate briefly in the last couple of weeks-and that is the equal employment opportunity guidelines which have been put down by the Australian Capital Territory Schools Authority, and whether or not they are guidelines that will give equal employment opportunity a bad name; whether they in fact represent some kind of quota setting based on gender-which I would call affirmative action-which does not seem to be consistent with the principle of selection and promotion on merit which the Government asserts underlies its approach to equal employment opportunity.

There is in existence a document-of yellow or buff-coloured paper-put out by the Australian Capital Territory Schools Authority which is its equal employment opportunity policy. In that document, it lays down its objectives for the employment of women in certain defined employment categories and certain positions which may fall vacant within the Authority. I draw attention to only one of them, that is, that in relation to higher duty allowance positions-positions in which people may act in higher positions and claim higher duties allowances-it will be the objective of the Australian Capital Territory Schools Authority that as near as possible to 100 per cent of those positions will be occupied by women. I cannot understand how any decision to lay down as an objective that as near as possible to 100 per cent of certain positions will be occupied by one gender can in any way be consistent with selection and promotion on merit. I do not understand how it can be consistent with equal employment opportunity as it has been presented by the Minister for Education, Senator Ryan, in this place.

There are many other objectives laid down by the Australian Capital Territory Schools Authority-in some cases, as near as possible to 75 per cent of all the positions will be filled by women. But to say that as close as possible to 100 per cent will be filled by women will not advance the cause of equal employment opportunity. That is what I am concerned about. I want to be sure that any teacher in the Australian Capital Territory school system, male or female, can feel that she or he is getting a fair go from the system. I cannot understand from that document or from the answer given by the Minister how as close as possible to 100 per cent to one gender can in any way represent a fair go.

I leave that matter and return to a matter which Senator Colston mentioned in presenting and discussing the report from Estimates Committee D. That is the refusal of the State of New South Wales to tell the Parliament whether or not it is using money for the purpose for which it has received the money. This is a matter which goes to the proper discharge of our duty as an Estimates committee. We are aware that certain money has been appropriated for the support of special education in New South Wales. At the Estimates Committee hearing in April 1985 some reasonable and simple questions were asked of the State of New South Wales. The questions were:

Has the $575,000 applied to the New South Wales Government sector under the program in 1985--

that is the early special education program-

been used to employ 16 early intervention teachers trained the previous year by the New South Wales Government at a cost of about half a million dollars?

The answer to that, simply, would be yes or no.

Has the money not been used to employ these 16 teachers in early special education programs?

Yes or no would be the answer.

Is it a fact that none of these teachers are being used--

I should have said `is' being used, of course-

on early intervention programs?

Again, a perfectly simple question of fact from New South Wales. Either they are or they are not.

Has the $575,000 not been used for early intervention purposes?

Has the money been lumped into general special education funding of the State Government of New South Wales?

Has this been done to save the New South Wales Government funds in the special education area?

We asked the Commonwealth Schools Commission to assure the Estimates Committee that the $575,000 allocated by this Parliament for early special education would be used by the New South Wales Government for early intervention programs only and, if not, would the Commission advise as to the procedures which then follow to recover the money or its equivalent from New South Wales. The answers that we got in April were unsatisfactory, but they were reasonable. They said:

Answers to questions i-vii are being sought from the New South Wales education authorities and will be forwarded as soon as responses are made available.

I should have thought that a commission doing its job with efficiency would have had some idea as to whether money being appropriated for certain purposes was being used for those purposes by a State. Question viii was a question of fact, which was answered as to the basis of the program.

When we assembled again as an Estimates committee, a month or so ago, no substantive answers had been obtained to these questions. This was the basis for the complaint by Estimates Committee D-that in response to reasonable questions about how Commonwealth money appropriated by this Parliament was being used and whether it was being used for the purposes for which it was being appropriated, the Commonwealth Schools Commission or the Commonwealth Department of Education, whichever has the responsibility now, had failed to get us that assurance, and the State of New South Wales apparently had refused to give the information.

When the matter was raised again, it was taken up with New South Wales once again. At the time the Estimates Committee met to give its report, we still had no satisfactory answer. But we had received a response from the Commonwealth Schools Commission to Estimates Committee D in which it had enclosed a letter from the Director-General of Education in New South Wales to the Chairman of the Commonwealth Schools Commission, in which he more or less told the Commonwealth to get lost. That is the kind of response that we got. He said:

I refer to your letter conveying a series of questions from Senator Baume about early special education in New South Wales. In regard to questions (i) to (iv) I advise that the 16 teachers were given special training in 1984 at the expense of the State. Commonwealth funds were not involved. Should Senator Baume wish to know about the decisions and achievements of the New South Wales Government in this area, he should write to the State Minister for Education, the Hon. R. M. Cavalier.

The answer to questions (v) and (vi) is no.

The answer to the first question in the paragraph numbered (vii) is no.

But what was clearly not answered was how this Commonwealth money is being used. The Commonwealth Schools Commission, following that answer, drew our attention to it in the following terms:

It will be noted that the information supplied does not address certain matters raised in the questions-viz: Confirmation of the cost of $500,000 to the New South Wales Government for training of teachers; whether the teachers are employed in early special education programs.

The Schools Commission went on to say:

. . . and that the second paragraph of Mr Winder's reply would appear to indicate that he considers this information, being a State responsibility, should be sought directly from the New South Wales Minister.

The Schools Commission goes on to explain further how we might interpret what New South Wales has said. The point I wish to make is that we do have a problem. Our duty to the Parliament is to investigate and to understand what we are appropriating moneys for and whether moneys which we are appropriating are being used for the purposes for which they are intended. I would not have asked those detailed questions had I not had expressions of concern from within my State that some of these moneys were not being used for the purposes for which they were appropriated. That is why I asked the questions in the first place. When a State such as New South Wales refuses to give a clear answer it does not help the situation.

I therefore wish to commend the report of Estimates Committee D and the terms in which Senator Colston put down that report as they relate to this question and to the quite inadequate answers which the Commonwealth Schools Commission has obtained to questions which properly should have been supplied to this Committee and to the Parliament. Again, that matter will not be allowed to rest.