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Thursday, 29 November 1973
Page: 4094

Mr HUNT (Gwydir) - I wish to address my remarks to the question that has been the subject of some debate this morning. I refer principally to what I regard as blackmail by the Prime Minister (Mr Whitlam) of the students of this country and his effort to blackmail the Opposition for supporting a position that he supported himself last year when going to the people. This week the Parliament voted unanimously for the States Grants (Schools) Bill. It voted an expenditure of $690m towards education in Australia for the years 1974 and 1975. The Opposition wishes not only to ensure that this money goes to education but also to see retained the principle that every Australian child is entitled to go and his parents have a freedom of choice to send him to whatever school is selected. This principle was reaffirmed unanimously by the Catholic bishops in August this year. The Prime Minister and the Minister for Education, Mr Beazley, claimed repeatedly prior to the last election, and I quote the Prime Minister:

The ALP will support any forms of benefit already existing to education and therefore any policies would be additional to those existing in the field of education. Mr Beazley went to great lengths to try to overcome what he claimed was a whispering campaign. He said that no private school under Labor will in future have less than it will receive under the per capita grant system at that time.

So, here is a complete repudiation of Labor's promise; a breach of faith with the parents of school children in Australia.

Let us look at what happened with respect to the Karmel Committee. The Interim Schools Commission was given terms of reference that did not match the spirit of the undertakings given by spokesmen for the then Opposition, prior to the last election. Those terms of reference said that the Committee should make its recommendations on the basis of relative needs and priorities without a predetermined basic level of support to all non-government schools. It was on that basis that the Karmel Committee made its recommendations for assistance to education, was forced into categorising schools from A to H and was forced to deny the per capita grants system flowing to the independent schools of this country.

Not even the Caucus, the Cabinet or the Government accepted the recommendations of the Karmel Committee. Even the Karmel Committee recommended that grants to category A schools should not be phased out immediately or should be immediately deprived of state aid. The Karmel Committee recommended that aid to those schools should be phased out over a 2 year period. The Government did not accept that recommendation. The reason for that recommendation is a callous and a bitter prejudice against certain schools in this country. It is a bitterness which eats into its soul as maggots eat into a carcass. It is a most unfortunate and sad state of affairs. This aspect of the Government's policy has marred what has otherwise been a very sound and good approach to education generally. It is quite wrong for the Prime Minister or his Ministers to claim that the Opposition has opposed the Bill to extend aid to independent and other schools.

Mr Mathews - Of course it has.

Mr HUNT - It has not done that. That is quite untrue. What the Opposition has done is to try to force the Prime Minister and the Government to honour their pre-election undertakings to the Australian people. The Government has failed to live up to those undertakings in these discussions. This is a breach of faith and a broken promise. It is just another one of the promises broken by this Government. The promise to the Australian people on this issue has been broken and the Government is not prepared to go to the people on it. The Government is not prepared to go to the Australian people on any of the issues on which it claimed it would. The Government knows in its own heart that it has broken an undertaking that it gave to Australian parents who were sending their children to independent schools.

Mr Lamb - Read our policy.

Mr HUNT - I will read it for you.

Mr Mathews - Read the policy speech!

Mr HUNT - They do not want to hear me.

Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr Berinson - Order! I ask the honourable member for Casey to cease interjecting.

Mr HUNT - The Prime Minister, in speaking of recurrent grants to schools, said:

The ALP will support any forms of benefit already existing-

Mr Mathews - That is what it has done.

Mr HUNT - That is what it has done', says the honourable member for Casey. Yet, as a result of the proposals of the Karmel Committee which were included in the States Grants (Schools) Bill, independent schools will receive less money in respect of 53 per cent of their secondary school pupils than they would have received under the legislation of the former Government. Do not try to deny that. It is the truth. The Australian people should know the truth. Let the media state the truth. There has been a certain degree of misrepresentation in the media of this fact to date.

The Government has failed to honour undertakings that the Prime Minister himself gave, whilst Leader of the Opposition, to parents with children at independent schools. I want to repeat one fact. Let us leave aside the category A schools about which there is so much prejudice and bitterness. Under this scheme that the Government is implementing, 53 per cent of all secondary school pupils attending independent schools will receive less money than they would have received under the legislation of the former Government. If Government members can prove that statement to be incorrect, I will apologise. But that is the situation.

By the action taken by the Opposition in the House of Representatives, the security of a basic grant to every child attending a non-government school is preserved. There is no valid reason why the funds for education totalling $690m should be held up by the Government as the Government is now threatening to do. This is a bluff and a threat. It is not directed so much against the Opposition, although I must say that one could claim as support for a belief that it was an article in the 'Australian' of today's date attributed to a Paul Kelly. That article states:

The Prime Minister, Mr Whitlam, told a Labor Party Caucus meeting yesterday the Government would win an election fought on the Opposition's amendments to the $690m schools grants program.

Mr Whitlamsaid the Government had a clear mandate. . .

The Opposition parties in the Senate are threatening Australian schools with great hardship and, in many cases, with disaster'-

So it goes on. Look, the Prime Minister is quite wrong and he is quite deliberately forgetting the undertakings which he gave to the Australian people prior to the last election. He thinks that memories are short. He thinks that he can bluff the Australian people and the Opposition on this issue, believing that it might be the thing on which he can win an election.

Country Party supporters - Might!

Mr HUNT - That is so. But I believe that members of the Labor Party will see the sense in restoring to those schools what has been denied to them, that is, the sum of $2m in the first 6 months of this year and Sim for next year. Do not tell me that this is a matter of funds. The Government has instituted a program for university and tertiary education to be free of fees. I do not argue against that. But that program will cost $30m. For the sake of $3m, Government members have allowed prejudice and bitterness to become the overriding factor. They have placed themselves in a serious situation. I hope that they will negotiate with common sense for the sake of justice and for what is otherwise a good education program.

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