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Tuesday, 27 November 1973
Page: 3937

Mr HUNT (Gwydir) - The Opposition has taken the position that the structure of the schools commission as outlined by the Bill does not meet the expressed intention and a professed principle of the Prime Minister (Mr Whitlam) and the Minister for Education (Mr Beazley). What the amendments serve to do is to enlarge the membership of the Commission from a maximum of 12 to 15 and to provide wider representation of the community which is affected by the Bill. Indeed, this amendment is in line with the written policy of the Australian Labor Party. In his policy speech last year, on the section dealing with 'Schools', the Prime Minister said:

A Federal Labor Government will: . . .

(3)   Allocate the increased grants for 1974 and sub sequent years on the basis of recommendations prepared and published by the expert schools commission which will include persons familiar with and representative of-

The words 'representative of are the key to our position in regard to this amendment - the State departments, the Catholic system and the teaching profession.

But where in the Bill does the Government give legislative endorsement to this position? The extraordinary reaction of the Acting Minister for Education, the PostmasterGeneral (Mr Lionel Bowen) and the Government which indicate that it cannot live with these amendments leads one to the conclusion that the Government does not want an independent commission representative of the State departments, the Catholic system and the teaching profession.

We have reason to believe that the Minister has already promised certain people that they will get a guernsey on the Commission. Undoubtedly this is true. But members of the Commission should be selected according to the criteria which are contained in the Opposition's amendments. But unless these requirements are mandatory on future Ministers of Education, indeed on future governments, can we be sure that a schools commission will have the crosssectional community representation that is described in the Opposition's amendments? At the moment the Minister or the government of the day appoints all commissions. How then can such a commission be called or deemed to be an independent body of the people? If people who are appointed depend entirely on the Minister for re-appointment and if they do not behave themselves and do not do what the Minister says, will they be independent in a real sense? In any event, governments tend to appoint to such positions people who are prepared 'to play ball'.

The Opposition, in suggesting these Senate amendments, is seeking to ensure that the spirit of the Prime Minister's statement is actually carried into effect. They will ensure that all future Ministers will be under mandatory obligation to appoint a chairman and 3 other members, one of whom will be involved in research into education. Four members will be appointed on the recommendation of the Australian Education Council - of which the Australian Minister for Education is in fact Chairman - one of whom will be involved with the education of handicapped children or children with specific learning difficulties. Three other members will be appointed as recommended by the Episcopal Conference of Australia, the National Council of Independent Schools and the Australian Parents' Council. Two appointees will be those recommended by the Australian Teachers' Federation. The Opposition writes this requirement into the Bill. The idea is to have it inscribed so that the Teachers' Federation will have the mandatory right to ensure that it will have representation on the Schools Commission. Two representatives will be from the Australian Council of School Organisations. Such a commission would be independent, flexible and responsive to the community requirements.

I think it is completely irresponsible not to accept the sense contained in the Opposition's amendment or even to threaten to drop this Bill. The amendments were moved in good faith to ensure that there is community representation on that Commission. These amendments write into the legislation that requirement to ensure that those organisations and those people involved in education have a mandatory right to be represented on the Commission. It has been said in another place that it would be sheer petulance and arrogance to drop this Bill because of these amendments. It would be a complete disregard for the students who would be served well by it. It has been said also that since the Government will not agree with these amendments it will not be able to spend hundreds of millions of dollars on education. What arrant nonsense. It can spend that money regardless. It can reappoint the Interim Commission. Is this true or false? There is no answer from the Acting Minister, so we assume that that is right. The question of legislation-

Mr Lionel Bowen (KINGSFORD-SMITH, NEW SOUTH WALES) - What was that?

Mr HUNT - What I am saying is that it has been said that if the Opposition takes this position the Government will not go along with the establishment of a schools commission and this will deny-

Mr Lionel Bowen (KINGSFORD-SMITH, NEW SOUTH WALES) - You have destroyed it.

Mr HUNT - No. That is arrant nonsense because you could still operate through the Interim Schools Commission.

The CHAIRMAN (Mr Scholes - Order! I suggest that the honourable member address the Chair and that honourable members should talk in turn and not together.

Mr HUNT - The Opposition sticks very rigidly to the position that it is far better, in the long term interests of education, to require that the members of the schools commission - the principle of which the Opposition accepts - be appointed as a result of mandatory guidelines written into the legislation to ensure that the Commission includes representatives of the States school systems, education research, the independent school system and the Teachers Federation - indeed all of those interested groups that are in fact involved in education. I think it is rubbish to try to lead people to believe that the amendments would deny to education something like $400m or $500m. For years teachers have sought representation on education bodies and commissions. Here is their chance to appoint their own representatives. We seek to impose a mandatory obligation upon not necessarily the Government of today but governments of the future to have 2 teacher representatives upon the Schools Commission.

I am also of the opinion that there has been an attempt to blackmail the teaching profession and the people into believing that because the Opposition has decided to move for the structuring of the Schools Commission in this way education will fail to receive the funds that have been promised to it in the Budget. The Opposition will pursue these 3 amendments because it believes that it is in the best long term interests of education to ensure that the Schools Commission be structured in this way. I quote again from the speech of the Prime Minister (Mr Whitlam) on 20 June 1972 in an address to the Catholic Luncheon Club, Melbourne. Referring to the Commission, he said:

The Commission will include representatives of State departments, non-government school authorities, parents' organisations and the teaching profession.

That is precisely what the Opposition is endeavouring to do. It is endeavouring to make it mandatory upon governments of today and the future to ensure that that represenation is in fact applied to the Schools Commission. The other amendments, of course, relate to the way in which the Schools Commission itself shall-

The CHAIRMAN (Mr Scholes - Order! The honourable gentleman's time has expired.

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