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Thursday, 11 October 1973
Page: 2029

Mr REYNOLDS (Barton) - Surely it is obvious to the honourable member for Wannon (Mr Malcolm Fraser), who is the spokesman for the Opposition and a former Minister for Education, that the States will still have quite expansive expenditure in their own field. They will have resources of their own which they will be able to allocate at their own discretion. All that we are doing in this Bill is to supplement what the States have. In fact, the Commonwealth is taking over the full financial responsibility for tertiary education to make available to the States those extra funds which they will be using at their own discretion.

The second point - and the Minister has, I think, made it quite adequately - is that there are a number of provisions in this Bill for organs of co-operation and consultation, not only with the Education Ministers who are on the Australian Education Council but also for a wide variety of people in the community who might want to participate and forward advice to the Schools Commission. We propose to set up advisory boards. This Bill gives the Commission, with the sanction of the Minister, authority to set up specialist committees which might relate to deaf children or might deal with equipment of some kind. They might refer to the State curriculums and so on. There are so many opportunities available.

One of the main themes of this Bill is the chance to get out into the community, to consult with the States, to consult with the independent or non-government schools. This has been going on and the Minister has just testified to this fact. That has happened within 5 months - not years. Within 5 months that consultation has taken place. So I think that this Government has established its bona fides as a democratic government - because it has been consulting with the clients, consulting with the practitioners and seeking advice from wherever it could get it. We are going to establish and institutionalise much greater opportunities than ever existed before.

I heard the honourable member for Wannon say: 'Well, we have learnt a few things since we have been in opposition.' I hope so because I can recall the previous Government bringing the Universities Commission Bill into this chamber. That Bill was passed through the House. The previous Government committed every one of the State governments in respect of their universities, apparently without even having asked them. The previous Government decided that it was up to the States to match the Commonwealth financial offer and it was left to the States to accept or reject the offer. The previous Government said: 'If the States are prepared to put up this amount of money we will pass this legislation.' But that legislation was passed before the States had given any indication of their agreement to accept it on the terms the previous Government had offered. In many cases the only way the States could match the offer was by increasing substantially the fees of all students who entered tertiary institutions in successive years.

What happened in respect of the universities happened also in regard to Colleges of Advanced Education and apparently the same thing would happen to the teachers' colleges now that they have become autonomous bodies in various parts of the Commonwealth. One could allude to other examples. Look at the legislation on social welfare. Much of that legislation which passed through this place was dependent on the States and in some cases local governments providing a grant matching what the Commonwealth was providing, but without them ever having been consulted. As a result many of the welfare proposals which were put up in 1969 never got off the ground because the States said: 'You will not give us the money to enable us to provide the matching grants to go on with proposals and build senior citizen centres or to pay welfare officers and so on.'

The Opposition has given us a pretty bad example of consultation, if that is what it is preaching here tonight. I agree with the Minister every bit of the way. The activities of the Commission will require every bit of the work of 4 full-time commissioners. The Opposition has provided the Government with a good argument. The Opposition has told us what a sizeable commitment we have because there are 9,600 schools. We do not intend to do what members of the Opposition were prophesying or trying to portray before the last election as what we would be apt to do, such as appointing teachers to one school, shifting them around, telling them what they would teach or anything of that sort. All that sort of rubbish, that propaganda, has now gone. But this Opposition still wants to carry on some of it by the stupid notion of centralism.

If there is one feature about this Bill it is the lack of centralism, except that we are providing funds - after consultation - in very considerable amounts. The consultations will not be in respect of funds only. There will be consultation in respect of research and consultation relating to possible administrative procedures. As a matter of fact, the Bill provides for special allocations to enable people to carry out experiments. It might involve a single school or a group of schools. We are trying to get rid of the dull uniformity which has beridden the Australian educational scene and which has caught the eye of most educationists who have visited this country. The centralism of the various State bureaucracies of education is what we are aiming to get rid of. That is why we are offering money to these people and to all independent schools which want to carry out innovations or experiments. So all the nonsense about centralism and suggestions that we are not consulting others is the kind of idle propaganda - mischievous propaganda - that was put up at the last election. I am happy to be associated with the Minister who spoke so eloquently tonight and will go out to the polls any day honourable members opposite like in order to defend this Bill.

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