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Tuesday, 26 November 1985
Page: 2261

Senator BUTTON (Minister for Industry, Technology and Commerce)(4.52) —Two or three matters have been raised by honourable senators. The first matter emerged from Senator Colston's comments, as Chairman of Estimates Committee D, and it involves the question of the dilatoriness of the Australian Capital Territory Schools Authority in answering questions put to it by the Committee. I will draw those matters to the attention of the Minister for Education (Senator Ryan). The attention of the Schools Authority should also be drawn to the Hansard which contains the remarks made by Senator Colston and Senator Peter Baume. The second matter related to the question of affirmative action taken-I think that is the expression Senator Baume used-by the Australian Capital Territory Schools Authority. I am advised in respect of that Authority that all staffing decisions will continue to be made on the basis of merit, as required by both the Public Service Act and the Commonwealth Teaching Service Act.

Senator Walters —That is because women are 100 per cent better than men.

Senator BUTTON —I was trying to answer the question but I was side-tracked on a matter of profound philosophical importance. Senator Walters, of course, distracted me. The point I was simply making is that the Authority employs a majority of women teachers but currently there is a higher proportion of men in senior positions. The fact that the Authority employs a majority of women teachers is consistent with school systems, both government and non-government, generally. The Authority has taken responsible measures to redress the situation in circumstances where women may have been disadvataged, because of past administrative procedures, by removing barriers and encouraging women to become more competitive in the selection process. As I said earlier, my advice is that the staffing decisions will continue to be made on merit.

The third issue Senator Baume raised was the spending of special funds by the New South Wales Department of Education. I recall that this is a matter in respect of which he has asked questions of the Minister in the Senate. In his remarks he referred to the letter from the Director-General in New South Wales which I think was dated 11 October.

Senator Peter Baume —I haven't got a date. It may be 11 October.

Senator BUTTON —I guess that the date is not material. I am advised that, since that correspondence was entered into, the Commonwealth Department has been advised that no Commonwealth funds have been applied in respect of the training of the teachers concerned, that is, the ones to which the honourable senator referred. Some $575,000 has been applied for early intervention, that is, for early special education purposes, and it is not being used to reduce expenditure by the State Government in the general area of special education. I am also reminded that the New South Wales Department, as I understand it under some requirement whether legislative or otherwise, has to furnish a certificate by 30 June 1986. That is the time by which it is required to do that-by an authorised person to the effect that that person is satisfied that the conditions have been fulfilled, together with a statement summarising the manner in which the amount has been applied. But the advice I gave earlier was advice given by the New South Wales Department to the Commonwealth Department subsequent to the correspondence from the Director-General. I mentioned those matters only to indicate that Senator Baume's concerns have not been ignored. Action has been taken in respect of them. That is the present position.