Note: Where available, the PDF/Word icon below is provided to view the complete and fully formatted document
 Download Current HansardDownload Current Hansard    View Or Save XMLView/Save XML

Previous Fragment    Next Fragment
Monday, 6 December 2004
Page: 112

Senator NETTLE (9:02 PM) —I want to make a contribution on the issue of flagpoles. Chair, I do not know if you were in the chair when I came in but, because the Australian Greens and Democrat amendments were circulated later, we do not seem to be slotting them into the running sheet as we are going.

The TEMPORARY CHAIRMAN (Senator Cherry)—They are on the running sheet I have in front of me.

Senator NETTLE —We must have different running sheets, because they are not on mine. If you assure me that they are coming up later, I will deal with the matter later rather than talk about it now.

The TEMPORARY CHAIRMAN —Yes, they are.

Senator NETTLE —I will just deal generally with what these clauses relate to, which is the issue of flagpoles. In my speech in the second reading debate I mentioned this myopic view of patriotism which the Howard government has, which is about bringing in flagpoles and forcing people to display their patriotism in that particular way. This catch-all clause enables the minister to insist on flagpoles, amongst other things. Flagpoles are the example we know and hear talked about, but the clause does allow the minister to insist on a range of other things as well. It is really nothing more than a carte blanche for the minister to attach whatever political, cultural or economic barrow the government wants to push to a bill which is essentially about the funding of schools. If the government wants schools to have flagpoles or sing the national anthem then it should seek to have these proposals debated and taken up by, and with the cooperation of, the states. The point with all of these strings-attached clauses is that this government is in denial about the constitutional limitations regarding the regulation of schools. The simple fact is that schools are administered by the states and, whilst there may be compelling arguments for greater harmony between the various state school systems, imposing such regulations via funding bills is simply an authoritarian and arrogant approach to public policy.

I do not have it with me at the moment, but I received from a constituent a copy of a letter that had been sent to their school in northern New South Wales from their local coalition member about this particular clause in the bill and about the flagpoles being erected. It dealt specifically with the ceremonies that were required to take place at the opening event for the flagpoles, where there would be appropriate acknowledgment to the government about the flagpole having been put in place. The letter outlined that the local government member was to be invited to the school for the opening ceremony for the flagpole and if the local member could not be present then a coalition senator was to be invited along to the opening ceremony. This letter has been on my mind for the last couple of days, particularly last week, when we were talking about the grants to regional programs whereby there were requirements for certain people to attend or not attend the function or the opening of the event.

I recalled this letter that I was sent by a constituent in which the school was told that the local coalition member needed to be there for the ceremony when the flagpole was acknowledged by the school and if they could not be there then a coalition senator would be sent along. I only know of the one example because I have only been sent the one example from a constituent. I would be interested to hear from the minister about whether coalition members have been directed or have taken it upon themselves to send out information to local schools to say: `Not only will we not give you funding if you don't have a flagpole but, when you have an appropriate ceremony to acknowledge the flagpole the federal government has given you, you need to invite a government member along. If, for example, you do not have a coalition member as your local member then you need to invite a coalition senator along.' I would be interested to hear from the minister about whether that is the way in which the government intends to implement this particular bit of the legislation. All I can assume is that, yes, that is the case, because that was the letter that was sent to this school in northern New South Wales. It could be an anomaly, I do not know, but I would be interested to hear from the minister.