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Tuesday, 27 November 1973
Page: 3941

Mr STALEY (Chisholm) - One of the main reasons why the Opposition is so insistent on these amendments is that the general undertaking which the Prime Minister (Mr Whitlam) had given to those involved in education was that people representative of Catholic education and of the teachers would have representation on the Schools Commission. We simply seek to guarantee this. It is true that many of the commissions which have been implemented prior to this one have not included such a broadly based involvement of community groups, but that is no reason why we should not, if you like, learn from the mistakes of the past or try it a new way when the cry is for increased community participation and a sense of participatory democracy. I find it very odd that the Acting Minister for Education, the Postmaster-General (Mr Lionel Bowen), says that our amendments would destroy the whole of Government thinking as to what the Commission should be when in fact one of his ministerial colleagues in this House only a few weeks ago said that the Government had quite seriously considered having a nominated Schools Commission in the way which the Liberal and Country Parties now are suggesting. The Minister for the Capital Territory (Mr Bryant) said that the Government had chosen not to appoint the Commission in the way we are suggesting because, fundamentally, the Government found it too difficult to involve all the representative groups in the Commission.

We are not perturbed by the fact that it is difficult to involve in the Schools Commission all interested communities in the education area. We are quite determined to find a way of doing this. I confess that it is a novel approach, but I would have thought that a new government might have been interested in novel approaches, particularly when there is such a widespread demand in the community for an involvement in the decision making process. I stress that this is not even, if you like, the ultimate decision making process. What we are talking about is a commission which advises the Government. We are not for a moment suggesting that this Commission should usurp the function of government. It is a commission which is appointed under an Act to advise the Government on all the important matters of education which are in its charge. The Government can pile up its experts shoulder high in its Department of Education or other relevant departments. We seek merely the adherence to this new principle of community involvement or participatory democracy, whatever one likes to call it. We believe quite sincerely that it is in accordance with the preferences and the general direction of the thinking of the Prime Minister as expressed before the election. As I say, we are not perturbed by the fact that it is difficult to find a way of doing this. We confess that some of the particularities of our proposal may have some awkward elements.

The point was made by the honourable member for Barton (Mr Reynolds) who preceded me in this debate that the majority of the Australian Educational Council was not in full agreement with what we seek to do. However, the point remains that right across all those who are interested in education there have been calls for representation on this body and those calls have been echoed recently. In the 21 November issue of the New South Wales Teachers Federation journal called 'Education' there appears an article which relates the experiences of members of the teaching profession and parents who came to Canberra to discuss this matter. They point out in their article that one member of the Australian Labor Party said that he did not think there would be any insuperable opposition to the appointment to the Schools Commission of representatives of the Australian Teachers Federation and the Australian Council of State School Organisations. That is to say, a member of the Labor Party told those who were visiting Canberra, some of whom were looking for representation on the Schools Commission, that he did not think there would be any insuperable objection to such a proposal. We have had the Minister for the Capital Territory saying that the matter had been seriously considered. Why will these 'honourable gentlemen not stand in this place and support the proposition which we have put in all good faith?

We find it quite extraordinary that honourable members opposite would seek to destroy the whole of the Schools Commission Bill for the sake of something which they tried but found too difficult. That is what it amounts to, for we are not for a moment - we have been grossly misrepresented on this point - suggesting that we do not want to see established a schools commission. We want to see a schools commission set up in such a way that the communities involved in education have their participation guaranteed by this Bill. The Ministry can ultimately make the decisions. The Caucus insists on making decisions in many cases for the Cabinet, so why can we not see a bit of sense on this matter from honourable members opposite? But what came through clearly in this article which was expressing the feelings of one person who had come with the delegation of teachers and parents was that these teachers would think it monstrous that the Schools Commission Bill would be sacrificed because members of the Labor Party wanted to cut off their noses to spite their faces. We would remind honourable members that all our suggestions are in accordance with the thinking which the Prime Minister advanced when he was Leader of the Opposition in relation to what his Government would seek to do. Admittedly, we have added the element of the parents. He did not talk about seeking to include parents' representatives on the Schools Commission. We considered this seriously, conscious again of the difficulty of ensuring proper representation of parents' groups. We nevertheless decided that we should seek to ensure that parents as well as teachers, as well as the Catholic system, and as well as the Education Departments, should have guaranteed representation upon this body. Not for a moment are we suggesting that they would be mere delegates. They would have to exercise a full and proper role as members of a Commission advising the Government.

We of the Opposition think it is very odd to hear members of the new Labor Government talking and harping about the role of experts when the community in this country, as are comparable communities all around the world, is crying out for a say in the decisions affecting the very lives of the people. There seems to be some sort of strange sneering approach implicit in some of the remarks of members of the Government - that there is something unworthy or improper about those who come here to represent their very broad and deep constituencies of interest, that there seems to be something improper about accommodating those who represent thousands of teachers, thousands and thousands of students, and thousands and thousands of parents.

We seek a Schools Commission which guarantees these absolutely basic features. We are not suggesting that this approach would apply in every field. It is hard to compare a Commission, involved with every school child in this country, with thousands and thousands of teachers all over the country, and with thousands and thousands of schools - a body like that which could so easily get away from the groups for which it seeks to speak, to make policy for and to represent - with many other commissions which governments would set up. We are not suggesting that this would be a precedent for all areas. We do think that in this particular area, where the cry is for community participation, only a government which has some set of strange ulterior type motives would desire to see our amendments defeated.

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