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Thursday, 25 February 1971

Senator WRIGHT (Tasmania) (Minister for Works) - I rise because the Leader of the Opposition (Senator Murphy) has stated his submission and I think that the Government's point of view should be now put. In the first place it is delightful to find Senator Murphy in such a low key at this stage of the proposition. Obviously he acknowledges the anomalies of the position. I hold the strong view that the statutes of the University do not come within the purview of the Regulations and Ordinances Committee. Ordinances, rules and regulations which are perpetually referred to that Committee are, iri my view, ordinances, rules and regulations of a totally different character.

Senator Byrne - They are rules of the public law.

Senator WRIGHT - Yes. I have not had an opportunity to confirm that view by study. I state that they would not come within the ambit of that Committee's authority because of some 10 or 12 years experience of the Committee. The statutes which are being discussed are statutes of the governing body of the University. As Senator Byrne reminded the Leader of the Opposition at the outset and has just taken the opportunity of restating, they establish law within the University's jurisdiction. That jurisdiction is prescribed by statute of

Parliament to which we agree. It is not a law which has the slightest effect when it is inconsistent with the general law of the land. It in no way overrides the law of the land. It simply gives expression and authority to rules for the internal management of the University. When we speak of the statutes of the University, we speak of provisions of the government of the University.

I find it extremely difficult to reconcile the submissions which have fallen from Senator Murphy with his statements to the Senate about whether the student representation should be 2 additional representatives or one additional representative. Because the ANU Council made a recommendation to the Government a complaint was made that the Government took the opportunity not to accept that recommendation in toto but in part. In other words a recommendation having proceeded from the Council on a matter of its own composition, the proposition was that the Government had no right to vary that recommendation. Now the very essence of the proposal which the Leader of the Opposition is putting before us is that any statute made by the Council should be capable of being varied or disallowed by either House of Parliament. To me that is an assault upon the traditional concept of academic autonomy which I should think would have been advanced only after the greatest consultation and consideration.

Senator Murphy - The Minister has forgotten

Senator WRIGHT - I listened to the honourable senator in silence and with great forbearance. I want to state my point of view. The Murray Committee, in its report, made an excellent observation, I think, on the role of the university in the 1950s. It stated:

No independent nation in the modern age can maintain a civilised way of life unless it is well served by its universities; and no university nowadays can succeed in its double aim of high education and the pursuit of knowledge without the good-will and support of the Government of the country. Governments are therefore bound to give to universities what assistance they need to perform their proper functions; but in their turn universities are bound to be vigilant to see that they give the services to the community that are required by the necessities of the a'ge.

One other brief passage states:

On their side the universities have the inescapable duty to carry out the education of the gifted young of the nation and to carry out certain kinds of research in the best spirit of western tradition; and to guard and secure their integrity in the free pursuit of knowledge and in the free education which they offer. We feel confident that no Australian government will seek to deny them their full and free independence in carrying out their proper functions as universities.

Here the proposition is that the statutes of the University should come under supervision, disallowance or variation imposed by either House of the Parliament. That proposition is put on the part of the Leader of the Opposition without saying whether or not he has submitted it, for comment even, to the Council or the ViceChancellor. I suggest he has not.

This proposition was put only last night for the first time in a different form. It was not advanced by his Party when the Bill was before the House of Representatives - last week I believe. It has not been advanced even for discussion over the period since this Bill was first promoted by the University Council, which we are led to believe has been an inordinate time. So far as the Vice-Chancellor, not having had an opportunity to consult his Council, can speak on behalf of the University he wishes it to be known that his opinion is that the proposition should be rejected. That submission by the Vice-Chancellor is adopted by the Government for the reason that Parliament has seen fit to set up the University as an independent, selfgoverning public institution.

Obviously the relationship between the University, the Parliament and the executive administration is both important and delicate. The distinction between the supervision of our statute making power and the supervision of the University statute making power by the Executive as at present, or by Parliament as proposed, is a difficult one to draw. But it is believed that the present Act has rightly preserved the balance between the public accountability and the autonomy essential to an effective university. Not least important in this balance is the presence of parliamentary members on the Council - that is to say, two members representing each House. This balance should not lightly be disturbed. Nor would the Parliament wish to be concerned in detail with such matters as the policy and administration of student discipline, the qualifications for enrolment, the prescription of courses, the award of degrees or other matters of university administration which are by this statute of Parliament laid upon the Council itself. The Council is composed of most experienced men from all fields of life, including the academic sphere, appointed by the Government for that very purpose. All these matters are vital to the autonomy and public stature of the University, and they are firmly on record in the University Calendar and in carefully detailed annual reports to the Parliament.

There is a complete misconception of the situation when the Leader of the Opposition invokes the long cherished attitude of this House to its ever vigilant supervision of subordinate legislation. There we take our right from our parliamentary system. Having delegated to the executive Government of the country the right to make rules of application to the general public - general laws - we have constituted a committee to supervise those rules to see they do not impinge on individual rights and do not usurp the right of Parliament to make substantial legislation, whereas we think regulations should conform to matters of detail and should be consistent with the statute. But even so the ambit of the Regulations and Ordinances Committee has always stopped short of entering upon a consideration of the policy of the subordinate legislation. We have taken supervision of four named categories which sternly exclude policy.

Therefore, I submit that our attitude to subordinate legislation has little to do with the argument that has been put forward here. I will not repeat what I said in my second reading speech, in the hope that those who are good enough to listen to me at this stage were present at that time. I just remind the Senate that I then referred to an enumeration of matters on which University statutes are made, including matriculation, promotion and extension of university teaching, degrees, diplomas, certificates and honours, the granting of fellowships, scholarships, exhibitions and bursaries and other such matters which are regulated by University statute. For these reasons I would urge the Committee not to agree to this amendment, which has been precipitately advanced for acceptance and has been given little consideration.

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