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Thursday, 23 March 1972
Page: 866

The PRESIDENT - Is it agreed that the 2 Bills be debated together? There being no objection, that course will be followed.

Senator WHEELDON - There are 2 Bills now before the Senate. One Bill amends the States Grants (Independent Schools) Act of 1969 and the other is the States Grants (Capital Assistance) Bill 1972. Both Bills relate to grants from the Commonwealth to the States in connection with schools conducted within the States. The first Bill deals with independent schools and the second Bill deals primarily with government schools. I am aware of the desire of honourable senators on both sides of the chamber that the debate on these 2 Bills be not unduly prolonged and I certainly shall bear that in mind. I think I may do this with some impunity because although these Bills relate to very serious matters they are matters which have been canvassed frequently within the Senate. The amendment I propose to move is in the same terms, or very similar terms, as amendments which I have moved on behalf of the Opposition over recent months when similar Bills have been before the Senate.

I believe that most of the matters which need to be dealt with in considering this amendment already have been dealt with, that most of the views of honourable senators representing the different parties in this chamber already have been expressed. Indeed, there probably is not a great deal new that can be said at this stage because these Bills are in line with previous legislation which has come before the chamber. I think we all are well aware of our own attitudes and those of our fellow senators in regard to the general questions raised by the Bills.

I move:

Leave out all words after 'That', insert 'the Bill be withdrawn and redrafted to provide -

1.   That the Commonwealth establish an Australian Schools Commission to examine and determine the needs of students in Government and non-government primary, secondary and technical schools and recommend grants which the Commonwealth should make to the States to assist in meeting the requirements of all school-age children on the basis of needs and priorities, and in making recommendations for such grants to the States, the Commission shall have regard to -

(i)   the primary obligation of governments to provide and maintain government school systems of the highest standard open to all children;

(ii)   the numbers of students enrolled in the various schools;

(iii)   'the need to bring all schools up to acceptable standards; and

(iv)   the need to ensure optimum use of resources in the establishment, maintenance and extension of schools;

2.   That the Commonwearth review secondary and technical scholarships to ensure that every student who has successfully completed all but the last 2 years of his full course will receive financial assistance to enable and encourage him to proceed with his education. The value of such scholarship to be the same, regardless of the school attended by the student; and

3.   That the Commonwealth review and adjust annually all living allowances to students to accord with rises in the cost of living'.

As honourable senators would be aware, the amendment is taken directly from the federal policy of the Australian Labor Party on education as it relates to the Commonwealth's relationship to the financing of education by the States and by independent schools.

The policy is set out in the amendment in some detail because it is the opinion of the Australian Labor Party that it is impossible to reach a reasoned conclusion on the requirements of education without looking at all the aspects mentioned in this amendment even though some of the matters mentioned in the amendement, particularly those relating to technical scholarships mentioned in the second paragraph, are not directly dealt with by these Bills.

The States Grants (Independent Schools) Bill provides for the expenditure of $34.3m by the Commonwealth by way of grants to independent schools. It follows a statement made late last year by the Prime Minister (Mr McMahon) about an increase in grants to private primary and secondary schools. It provides for an increase from $35 to $50 for each pupil receiving primary education, of the annual per capita grant and an increase from $50 to $68 in the case of secondary school pupils. The States Grants (Capital Assistance) Bill provides for the payment of $6.66m by the Commonwealth by way of grants to the States to deal with capital expenditure on primary and secondary schools conducted by the States. The general purposes of the Bills were outlined in the Senate last night in the second reading speeches made by the Minister for Health (Senator Sir Kenneth Anderson).

The crux of the whole argument put by the Opposition and the fundamental division between the Australian Labor Party and other parties represented in this chamber on the question of education are set out on page 3 of the Minister's second reading speech on the Bill relating to independent schools. The Minister said:

Those who argue for a means test to be applied to assistance with recurrent expenditure in independent schools have not been able to establish principles or criteria which can clearly be applied with equity and justice to the range of independent schools and to their students and parents. Various possible methods have been suggested, such as basing payments on pupil/teacher ratios, on the level of fees charged, or on academic standards at particular schools; but these methods would be difficult to put into practice objectively, and without running the risk of encouraging schools to maintain standards at a lower level than would otherwise be the case to attract grants.

It seems rather strange that a Government which has argued for the retention of the means test for social services, despite the strong case put forward by the Australian Labor Party and other citizens over the years for its abolition, should in this case be saying that it is virtually impossible to apply a means test without inflicting injustices. One hopes that when next we are debating social services in this Parliament someone will pay great heed to the second reading speech of the Minister on this Bill and his reference to the inadequacy and difficulty of applying a means test. This is something which we have been telling the Government for decades but the Government has strenuously resisted the proposition. It has conveniently discovered this point when dealing with the Bills now before the Senate.

The term 'means test' does not adequately convey what is intended by the amendment I have moved. It does not convey what is proposed by the Australian Labor Party in its policy on education. We are not talking about a means test; we are talking about criteria being established whereby one may assess the needs of various schools.

Senator WHEELDON - Prior o the suspension of the sitting I was discussing the amendment which has been proposed by the Opposition to the mo ion that the States Grants (Independent Schools) Bill be read a second time. I think I have already dealt with most of the substance of what the Opposition would wish to put forward with regard to its amendment, that is, 'hat it is the Opposition's belief as expressed in the amendment tha" an Austraiian schools commission should be established to assess the needs of all schools and that there should not be a spasmodic day-to-day series of handouts by 'he Commonwealth, based on no recognisable method of determination. The Minister for Health, in his second reading speech on the States Grants (Independent Schools) Bill, rejected the proposition that there should be any means of assessment of the needs of schools. He said that that would be very difficult to do. He described - erroneously I believe - as a means test the proposition which the Australian Labor Party supports. It is rather ironical, to note that in his second reading speech on the second Bill the Senate is considering - the Sta es Grants (Capital Assistance) Bill - the Minister said:

The Prime Minister explained in his statement that the Government had decided to make the grants to the States for capital expenditure on Government schools in recognition of the needs expressed by the States for additional expenditure in this area.

Apparently the Government does in fact claim that there was some assessment of the need. If what is claimed by the Minister for Health in his second reading speech on the independent schools Bill is true, that is, that it is impossible to assess the needs, one can only wonder how on earth an assessment was made to arrive at the amount of $6.66m which is to be allocated under the capital assis'ance Bill because the Minister for Health claimed in that respect that there was an assessment of needs. I repeat that the proposition of the Australian Labor Party is that a schools commission should be established to inquire into the needs of all schools.

We are once again dealing with Bills which are a part of a series of spasms which occur periodically throughout 'he year and in which the Government gives bits and pieces by way of grants to the State and the independent schools. An amount of $34.3m is to be made available to the independent schools and an amount of $6.66m is to be made available to the States toy way of assistance to finance capital expenditure on State schools. One can search the Bills and one can search the second reading speeches of the Minister for Health on the Bills to determine how these amounts were arrived at, but I challenge anyone to say how they were arrived at. As I have said, there is some reference to needs in the Minister's second reading speech on the capital assistance Bill, but how these amounts were calculated is not revealed.

What criteria are used by the Government in assessing the needs of either the State or independent schools has never been put to the Parliament or the people of Australia by the Government. Only recently, as Senator Wriedt has reminded me, a committee of inquiry recommended that the sum of $ 1,400m be allocated to education and the needs of schools throughout Australia. No recognition is given to that or to the claims of bodies of teachers and of parents and citizens of the State schools throughout Australia in either of these Bills or in either of the second reading speeches of the Minister. The sum of almost $41m which is to be provided under this legislation bears no relation to the $ 1,400m which was recommended by a responsible group of people with which we are all familiar nor, indeed, is there any indication as to what proportion this amount of almost $41m is of the whole amount which the Commonwealth Government eventually intends to give to education.

The Australian Labor Party has repeatedly told this Parliament that it believes that there are gross inequalities in the education system in Australia. It is no use the Minister saying that it is impossible to assess the needs of schools and that all private schools, whatever the situation of the parents and whatever the standards of those schools may be, should be receiving exactly the same per capita annual contribution for the pupils who are attending those schools. There are clear and blatant inequalities not only between the private system and the State system but also within the various systems - within the independent systems and between the various schools within the state systems as well as between the States. I do not think that any useful purpose would be served by my labouring these points. They have been dealt with repeatedly in the Parliament. In fact, only a few months have elapsed since I myself spoke on a similar proposition put forward by the Australian Labor Party in which it drew attention to its own policy on this matter. I feel that all that can be done at this stage is to say that the Australian Labor Party is committed to removing these inequalities and that when, in the near future, a Labor government is in office in Australia it will be taking the appropriate action to remove them.

Senator CARRICK(New South Wales) {2.21)- 'The 2 Bills that are being discussed in this cognate debate cover the whole spectrum of education. They cover the dual streams. One Bill seeks to add, by an additional $20m of capital appropriation to June 1973, to the amount which is provided by the Commonwealth to the States for capital building at State schools. The other Bill seeks to increase the rates of the direct per capita grants to primary schools from $35 to $50 and to secondary schools from $50 to $68. The Bills do so against the background that the Commonwealth and the States have, over the past decade, increased enormously their expenditure throughout the whole range of the field of education. In the last 9 years the Commonwealth has increased its expenditure sixfold from $59m in 1962-63 to $357m at present. The States jointly have increased their spending in that period by threefold from $430m to $ 1,284m. There is now a total expenditure throughout the Commonwealth of almost $ 1,700m a year. That amount represents by far, and rightly so, the largest single item of expenditure by .the Commonwealth or the States.

In my view it is enormously appropriate that we should debate these 2 Bills together because if there is one principle which should shine out it is that governments, States and Federal, are responsible equally in terms of the independent schools and the State schools for every school student in this country. In other words - I wish to make this clear - government must provide education for all and not for one section of the community. Therefore, I think it is enormously appropriate that the Senate should be debating these 2 Bills together. I agree that these Bills should be debated also in the atmosphere that there are many things still to be, done. Indeed, I accept that there are some inequalities to be ironed out and many reforms to be made. I would like to see improvements made in our approach to pre-school education, to deprived schools, to education of the Aborigine and, in particular, to education of the handicapped. I believe that the principle to be applied to all those things is that there should be for all Australians, irrespective of income, an equality of opportunity. I point out that that is the Government's policy. But that equality of opportunity must be, of course, consistent with the ability of the individual student at a particular level of education to discharge his or her role.

Against the 2 intentions of these Bills the Australian Labor Party seeks to intervene an amendment which is of massive significance and massive intention by way of alteration of the whole concept of education as it exists today in the Commonwealth and in the States. The amendment as it is spelt out in the words circulated, in the printed words of the Australian Labor Party platform and in the spoken words of the Labor Party's leaders aims, in my view - and I hope to demonstrate it - at the nationalisation and unification of education, first in the, centralising of the control of State education in Canberra and the destruction of the 6 individual systems of State education as they exist today and, secondly, by limitation, restriction and control of the commission and the destruction of the independent system and its nationalisation. Therefore, I think it important that we should look at the philosophy of what is now being done against the philosophy of what is intended.

The fundamentals of our approach to education are contained, I think, and are best spelt out in the Declaration of Human Rights in the United Nations Charter. I think it is important to note Article 18 of the Charter which provides:

Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; this right includes freedom to change his religion or belief, and freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship and observance.

Article 26 (2) provides:

Education shall be directed to the full development of the human personality and to the strengthening of respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms. It shall promote understanding, tolerance and friendship among all nations, racial or religious groups, and shall further the activities of the United Nations for the maintenance of peace.

I draw specific attention to Article 26 (3) because it is most relevant. It provides:

Parents have a prior right to choose the kind of education that shall be given to their children.

I and my Government would accept the inherent principles as stated in the Declaration of Human Rights. It is from these principles and philosophies that our own policies have evolved. The right to choose in education as in any other fundamental action in life is of vital importance. This is where we, differ from the Opposition. But if we are to have freedom of choice, that freedom must be real and not restricted to a minority of the affluent or the rich. Freedom of choice must be freedom for all. All parents, rich or poor, must have the, opportunity to decide whether they shall send their child to a State school or an independent school.

It is important that I should spell out what happened under the education Acts of the States following the introduction of compulsory education because those who have opposed consistently the idea of the independent system of education and any government support for it have in fact mixed goals and methods. I remind the Senate that until the end of the 19th century education in Australia was voluntary and was conducted by independent and religious schools. Independent and religious schools were the norm. The governments of the day very rightly decided that every child, irrespective of means, was entitled to a minimum standard of education. The governments of the day decided that the minimum should be measured in 2 ways, that is, by a range of age with an entry age and a minimum leaving age for each child, and by a minimum standard of curricula. Nothing in the intention of those Acts set as goals that children should be forced to use government buildings, government teachers or secular education. What was compelled was a range of ages and a range of curricula. The government schools emerged as alternatives to the independent schools. Any attempt to destroy the freedom of choice must inevitably under these conditions be a socialisation or a nationalisation of education. This I claim is inherent in Labor Party policy and I hope to demonstrate it.

There has been over the years fairly strong argument by the opponents of State aid as though the principles of State aid were some unique principles which cut across the general attitude of governments and the community to religion. But I remind you, Mr President, that quite the reverse of that proposition is true. Throughout the whole of our community, governments and the community have recognised that many people express the desire throughout their day in various occupations to absorb and to associate with religious doctrines as well as with secular action. It is the bounden duty of all governments to respect those rights of people. So that we may understand that there is nothing unusual in this, I remind the Senate that governments for decades have subsidised hospitals, including independent hospitals and religious hospitals. They have subsidised them equally with public hospitals. There was no discrimination between the subsidisation of a religious hospital or an independent hospital on the one hand and a secular government hospital on the other. The community was entitled to believe, if it wanted to, that the hand that held the scalpel might indeed be better in both its spiritual and its medical philosophy if it had within the 24 hours of the day a concept of religion as well. Might I quote Byron who understood these things and who said:

Man's love is of man's life a thing apart, Tis woman's whole existence.

Many people choose to take their religion on Sundays or in private; others regard religion as their whole existence. This community is bound to observe these rights whether they be in relation to hospitals or whether money is provided for homes for the aged, for child welfare or for social welfare. We understand that we give money to an institution so that that institution shall discharge a principle according to our standards. We recognise the right of the institution to add to it non-secular ingredients if it so desires. So, I say to you, Mr President, that education stands with health, help for the aged, and welfare in a similar principle; it is a principle that I completely uphold.

The independent system of education should not be used in a divisive way by its critics. It is and must be complementary to the State system. I am a product of the State system of education and an immense advocate of its qualities and achievements and an immense advocate of methods to improve it as well as the independent system. So, I stand here not as a partisan at all except as a partisan for education itself and indeed as a partisan who opposes monopoly in education or in anything else. We are dealing with a whole community. We are dealing with an independent system which educates 22 per cent of the community and, in doing so, saves to assistance by the Government to independent schools. The normal has been opposition.

Senator Gair - It has changed since 1957.

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