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Thursday, 11 October 1973
Page: 1990

Mr STALEY (Chisholm) - We would all join with the honourable member for Casey (Mr Mathews) in desiring new uplands for Australian education. I think there is great agreement in this House and in the Australian community that the provision of extra funds for education which we have seen this year is a good thing. Many of us on this side of the House have been worried by the tendency over recent years for the States to be starved of funds for the fulfilment of their essential purposes and, of course, among the most crucial purposes of the States is education. So, I can only say that we would agree with the honourable member for Casey on that point. But we fear that signs are appearing that the Government's conception of the uplands of education should scare the living daylights out of a very large percentage of the Australian community and should scare the living daylights out of those who have regard for the higher values and for the non-material values in education.

Without in any way detracting from amounts of money and from many of the purposes of the Australian Schools Commission, I say that it is distinctly odd that this new and permanent proposed Australian Schools Commission makes no provision for non-material values and has no aspirations above financial and material values. It provides no guarantees and no formal structures of freedom in the educational processes of our community. It seems to me to be one of the major ironies of present politics in this country that one of those rare and splendid public men who are most concerned with nonmaterial values in the Australian community - I refer to the Minister for Education (Mr Beazley) - should be forced to preside over some - not all - education policies which in my judgment and the judgment of my colleagues threaten crucial non-material values in our community.

This Bill is a Bill which we will support after our amendments have been accepted. If our amendments are accepted, we will not attempt in any way to delay the passage of this Bill. As the honourable member for Wannon (Mr Malcolm Fraser), has pointed out, we are asking no more than was asked of us last year in the consideration of an equally important Bill. Our amendments aim basically at 3 things. They do not seek to strike out provisions of the Bill. They aim at positive provisions. They seek guarantees of freedom, effectiveness and decentralisation.

Another irony of present day politics in our community is that a Party which has preached so much about open government - open government these days seems to mean that one tells all the secrets of the previous Government and keeps all one's own secrets - and which has talked about getting the people involved, in fact rarely stops to listen to the people.

It announces its policies. It speaks on high. It does not ask those who are most affected how they would have various things done. It is not surprising that group after group in the Australian community has been alienated and has squealed. The way in which so many hopes have been dashed is one of the saddest things that I have seen in Australian politics in many years. This could so easily have been avoided. A little consultation goes a long way when one is formulating new policies. A pause to discuss, to reflect and to talk together could have solved many of the problems that the Government has struck in this area of education as well as in other areas - such as arts policy notably, but across the whole range of Government policies. Of course the Government - the Australian Labor Party - has tied the hands of the Minister for Education in ways which he could only regret. I am convinced that personally he would have consulted and involved more people in the educational process than he has done.

Our amendments to the Bill seek to ensure and to guarantee the participation of those who are involved as parents and those who are involved in the organisations of nongovernment schools as well as government schools and to ensure and guarantee their permanent participation at the highest level of national education planning.

Nothing in this Bill can still our fears about excessive centralisation. Clause 13(1) (a) of the Bill sets out how the Commission is to establish acceptable standards for buildings, equipment, teaching and other staff. In other words, the Commission is charged with very detailed decision making. We saw, of course, in the report of the Interim Committee how mangled things can get when they come out of one central single body. It might be said, that we have learnt the lesson from the findings of the Interim Committee in regard to how much injustice can be done to particular schools as well as to hosts of parents in all schools. It might be said that we have learnt our lesson from that and we will consult with the States. But there is no guarantee that consultation will mean anything in terms of performance. Clause 1 6 (1) provides that the Parliament may in each State establish a schools commission advisory board. It may establish - there is nothing mandatory about this. This provision looks promising at first. But our point is this: Why by-pass those who are most deeply involved in education? You do not decentralise by setting up yet another centralised bureaucracy. That is precisely what the Government is attempting to do - to decentralise by setting up another centralised bureaucratic system. We want to push power in education right out to the periphery of the system. That needs to be further decentralised and we are all in agreement on that.

Mr Mathews - There is no trace of it in the amendment.

Mr STALEY - I do not intend to have a mean quarrel about that. But the parents are not aided in any material way by the provisions of this Bill. Another point I want to make concerns the vital matter about which the honourable member for Wannon (Mr Malcolm Fraser) spoke - the preservation of freedom of choice for parents and school children. This is referred to in article 26 of the charter of the United Nations Charter. We look to this Bill in vain for any guarantee about the future of independent schools. Clause 13 (3) (a) speaks of a primary obligation of governments in relation to education, for governments to provide and maintain government school systems that are of the highest standard and are open, without fees or religious tests, to all children. That is splendid. We look for the sort of guarantees that the Government would make in regard to the independent school system.

Mr Beazley - This is in 13 (1) (a).

Mr STALEY - It is suggested that there is a guarantee of independence in clause 13 (1) (a). But I am pointing to the factors which the Commission is charged to take into account. There is no guarantee of the future of independent schools in clause 13 (1) (a) which the Minister has just mentioned. They are referred to in clause 13 (1) (a), but my point is made precisely by the Minister's interjection because what we have in clause 13 (l)(a) is a general reference to schools, both government and non-government. Paragraph (a) of clause 13 (3) gives quite specific guarantees about the future of government schools, but we have no guarantees about the future of independent schools. I can only come to the conclusion that as there are no guarantees of the future of independent schools - there are no secondary or tertiary guarantees at all - the Bill deliberately has failed to guarantee the future of nongovernment independent schools.

The Bill does encourage much that is positively good and we have no complaint about that. I mention provisions such as are contained in clause 13-

Mr Beazley - May I ask the honourable gentleman a question if he is talking in terms of guarantees?

Mr STALEY - Yes.

Mr Beazley - What legislation of the Commonwealth has ever guaranteed the existence of schools in any State in the past?

Mr STALEY - My point is that this legislation is guaranteeing the maintenance of government school systems. I do not care about the past; we are looking to the future. The Government is guaranteeing the future of government schools in a Bill which will become an Act. There are no guarantees- in regard to independent schools in the same Bill which guarantees the future of government schools. That is absolutely plain, lt may be unintentional, and I hope that it is. But this is absolutely plain from the wording of the Bill. No matter how many other refrences are made in the Bill to non-government schools, they do not get the specific guarantee that is given to government schools. I hope the Minister can clear this up.

Mr Cooke - It is very sinister.

Mr STALEY - I hope it is not sinister, but I fear it may be. Again it may be that the hands of the Minister are so tied by the faded, old-fashioned reactionaries in his own Party that he has little to do with it. Much that is good is encouraged, such as education for the handicapped, special education problems, migrant education problems and all these things which in later years we in the Liberal governments began to do something about and which have been carried on splendidly by this Government. That is positively good. But the point is that in spite of all of the guarantees the Government made before the last election in regard to the future of independent schools it has now guaranteed only the future of one sector. Therefore all their promises and all of their guarantees about the future of the independent schools have been given their second body blow in this Bill. The first body blow was, of course, contained in the first report of the Interim Committee and the recommendations of that report show how much injustice can be perpetrated in the name of equalising opportunity.

Mr Beazley - Could I ask the honourable member another question? How is it a body blow to get their grants trebled?

Mr STALEY - It is a body blow to countless parents and to the schools which have been improperly classified, and the Minister wanted to see aid continued even at Geelong Grammar. We know that he had to give in to his colleagues on that. We are not going to continue that fight now because it is well known to the community.

What has happened, sadly, is that now that the Labor Government's education plans have become concrete their promises have melted away. This, as I have said, should scare the living daylights out of so many people in the Australian community who are discovering that as much injustice can be done in the name of equalising opportunity as can be done in the name of anything else. The other point that I want to make is this: In our attempts in the amendments to ensure freedom and effectiveness and decentralisation we are aiming at the guaranteed participation of those deeply involved in education. It is quite extraordinary that in days when people are crying out for participatory democracy that guarantees are not given to the affected community that it shall participate. That is all that we ask. I have high hopes that the Minister will be able to come to the party on that. I am sure that as a man of good will, he will seriously consider this. I conclude by saying that much has been done by the Minister and much is being done by the Government. We fear much because of the provisions of this Bill. We do not want to detract from anything, but we do want to see this lovely talk about the uplands of education developed in the finest way possible by this Government, as it would be by any government, so that those non-material values which can make all the difference to an individual's education are preserved for all time in the Australian community.

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