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Wednesday, 12 April 1972
Page: 1044

Senator WRIGHT (Tasmania) (Minister for Works) - In rising to reply to the debate on the Commonwealth Teaching Service Bill I wish to acknowledge the support that the measure has had from all sides of the Senate, particularly from speakers on the Government side, supported as they have been by quite an attentive audience. This is appropriate because the Bill, although from one point of view it has been described as technical and administrative, nevertheless is a step in the advance that is being made in nationhood by the assumption by this Parliament of its responsibilities in the educational field. That recognition of responsibility has now extended over some 20 to 30 years.

But perhaps in no Bill hitherto has the direct responsibility of the Parliament been acknowledged more poignantly than in this Bill which provides the statutory and machinery authority to enable a commissioner to make available the teaching personnel that are required to discharge Commonwealth educational responsibilities in the primary and secondary field. It is the diversity of those responsibilities that makes the machinery of this Bill appropriate. In the Australian Capital Territory we have a system which operates on an orthodox basis of primary and secondary schools - on the one hand government and on the other hand independent. In the Northern Territory, the other mainland Territory of the Commonwealth, we have community schools. These are government primary and secondary schools. The Northern Territory also has special Aboriginal schools. In addition we have in the Bill recognition of our responsibilities, both present and anticipated to continue even after self-government and independence have been attained by Papua New Guinea. Further, we look to the extension - it is happening at the present time and is expected to expand in the future - of educational aid to those who seek our assistance in countries within the African, Asian and other areas where we have some influence. Finally, to indicate the range of our conception of perhaps not responsibility but availability, we advert to the possibility that we may be invited to make arrangements, perhaps reciprocal in some respects, at the instance of the States. My friend Senator Rae this afternoon asked a question that gave point to a specialty in which an invitation might be expected; that is to say with regard to the development of Asian languages and Asian teaching in the schools conducted by the States.

Having enumerated the diversity of the school systems that are embraced within the Commonwealth conception of its responsibility, the thing then confronting those who developed the policy to which this Bill gives expression was to devise the appropriate administrative mechanism to ensure that the personnel staffing of those school systems would be adequate. Realising the fact that for different and other purposes we had constituted the Department of Education and Science it was recognised that there was a need to establish a special authority whose exclusive responsibility should be to make available qualified personnel in the form of teachers, adequate in numbers, to fulfil the needs of the school systems I have mentioned.

I want to give the Senate some basic figures to indicate the growing need to make provision for the personnel staff to which I refer. In 1968 there were 20,586 pupils in the Australian Capital Territory and this year there are 28,850. In 1968 there were 846 teachers and this year there are 1,178. The corresponding figures for the Northern Territory are as follows: In 1968 there were 8,795 pupils and this year there are 13,370. In 1968 there were 342 teachers in the Northern Territory and this year there are 524. Those figures relate to the community schools in the Northern Territory. Referring now to special schools in the Northern Territory, the number of pupils has grown from 4,761 to 6,479 and the teachers in those schools have increased from 206 to 313. The projected rate of increase in both pupils and teachers in the next 5 years is similar to the rate indicated by those figures for the period from 1968. Therefore I am pleased that the Senate recognises the appropriateness of the provisions of this Bill to provide the machinery and administrative mechanism to supply this personnel staff for those needs.

It was said in the course of one speech during the debate that this Bill regrettably is only a skeleton and that we must look to the regulations to provide the flesh to make it a living organism. That betokens a very improverished perception of the Bill. The Bill certainly relies upon the regulations to spell out in detail certain administrative matters in particular areas but the fundamental principles upon which this employment commissionership is structured are all set out in satisfying detail in the Bill. In the first place the authority to administer the scheme is the Commissioner. We have heard debate about whether the proposal in the Bill for a one man commission is appropriate or whether there should be a 3-man commission. My colleagues, Senators Davidson, Carrick and Jessop, to whom I listened with great interest, demonstrated the soundness of the one-man commissionership to a degree that makes it unnecessary for me to add anything in that respect.

Having established that authority we say in the Bill that the terms and conditions of appointment - I think I am right in using that expression - to the Commonwealth Teaching Service are to be as determined by the Commissioner with approval of the Public Service Board. The Public Service Board, being a Commonwealth agency, must be brought into the situation so that there is co-ordination between the terms and conditions of the staffs of the Public Service and of the Commonwealth's authorities, otherwise there would be discrimination and chaos. Co-ordination is necessary. But the terms and conditions of appointment are to be such as are determined by the Commissioner. Of course there are certain fields in which the Commissioner will wish to take advise. I indicated in my second reading speech - it is indicated also in the particular provisions of the Bill to which my colleagues referred - that the Bill anticipates that advisory committees may be consulted in those respects and others. The important thing is that the question whether there is a single Commissioner or a 3-man commission dissolves into insignificance when we are reminded that the Teaching Service is to be given access to the Commonwealth Conciliation and Arbitration Commission in the event of any dispute or difference between the employer and the staff of the schools about any terms and conditions of employment.

In that respect I remind the Senate that 31) or 40 years ago the High Court of Australia decided that under our Constitution the State teaching services were not of the nature of industrial services and therefore their disputes were nol. cognisable in the Conciliation and Arbitration Commission. The Commonwealth, having authority by virtue of its power to deal with Territories, is not restricted to interstate industrial commission disputes in connection with this Teaching Service and therefore constitutionally is enabled to give it unqualified access to the Conciliation and Arbitration Commission. That provision was recommended to the Government by the Australian Teaching Federation. The staff employed by the Teaching Service will have an ultimate tribunal to which to go in the event of any difference or disagreement over terms and conditions of employment. The next main structure of the Bill to which I wish to refer in reply relates to promotions within the service and the subject of discipline involving punishment or demotion or disciplinary orders. In those cases if there is any difference between the individual teacher and the Commissioner a 3-man board - a promotions appeal board in the one case or a disciplinary appeal board in the other - is set up. In the case of each, that is the promotions and disciplinary boards, the teaching staff is entitled to elect a representative to the 3-man board. I think that thereby we develop a picture of a pretty fair system whereby the Commissioner will be enabled to create a just and equitable system which will, as I said in the second reading speech, constitute a service which will attract purposeful teachers proud of their profession to employment within the Service with the knowledge that their conditions arc secure because of the provisions to which I have referred.

To enable recruitment to this Service to be on a basis of some encouragement and assistance I remind honourable senators that the Bill makes provision for the full time students or part time students to receive scholarships in the form of payment of fees, living allowances or the payment of fares. Those provisions will be prescribed by regulations over which this Senate will have an opportunity to exercise scrutiny. 1 hope that scholarships will aid those people who wish to join this Service to prepare themselves for the qualifications which are considered to be of an appropriate standard to enable them to be appointed to the Service. I hope that the best expectations of this Bill under the provisions to which I have referred will be achieved. I am pleased that it has been indicated as the debate has proceeded that that view is held by the majority of honourable senators. That leaves me under the obligation - in the circumstances I feel a small obligation - to say a word of recognition and dismissal of the proposals which have been set out in the amendment moved by the Australian Labor Party. To the motion that the Bill be now read a second time it wishes to add an expression of opinion that the Bill should provide:

(a)   for the provision of a commission of 3 members. . . .

I have already dealt with thai matter. The Bill provides for a commission of one man. He is expected to have both administrative and technical qualifications. In relation to promotions and discipline he is subject to boards upon which the teachers are to have representation. In respect of terms and conditions of employment he is subject to the decision of the Commonwealth Conciliation and Arbitration Commission, lt is an egregious attempt on the part of those who penned this amendment - a political ploy which is transparently futile - to suggest that this is an occasion for the appointment of a 3-man commission. The second paragraph of the amendment slates that the Bill should provide:

(b)   for the heightening of professional standards of teachers in the Commonwealth Teaching Service by empowering the Commission to negotiate for the establishment of Faculties of Education in universities where necessary, including the Australian National University.

My colleagues have already amply demonstrated that there is adequate provision in the Bill to achieve thai objective. The third plank of the Labor Party amendment slates the Bill should provide:

(c)   for the active encouragement of recruitment and training of leaching staff, not only for Papua New Guinea should il desire this assistance, but fur other islands of the Pacific . . .

Apparently the author of that proposition did not allow himself the opportunity to peruse the plain terms of the Bill. The fourth paragraph of the Labor Party amendment states:

(d)   for the provision of an advisory council to assist thi commission, this council to be representative of the community and of educational research and administrative bodies.

That proposition has been penned under a clear misconception of the nature of the Bill. An advisory committee of thai sort recruited from the community and the other bodies referred to would be quite appropriate to those authorities which actually conduct the schools, prescribe their curricula and subjects, set out the standards and conditions of entry and such like. But we are not dealing with the educational authorities which will conduct the schools: we are dealing with a teaching service commission which will arrange for the availability of staff to the educational authorities. Lastly, and in labour, the Labor Party puts forward the proposition that the Bill should provide:

(e)   for leave for pregnancy in conformity with the International Labor Organisation recommendation and also to provide generous leave in event of difficult pregnancies or in event of a disability of the infant which requires the mother's attention for a period after the birth.

Just fancy, however much one may be attracted to the need for assistance in the event of a difficult birth or assistance for the child after the birth, thinking that this is the appropriate Bill in which to provide adequate benefit to the mother who needs assistance! I suggest that the proposition is wholly inappropriate. But while I am on the subject - in view of reference to it in the debate - I wish to say a word about that provision in the hope that what I say will serve to clarify in the briefest form the situation under this Bill with regard to the entitlement of female teachers who require leave because, of pregnancy. The position is that this Bill adopts the provisions of the Public Service Act which we introduced in 1966 and which enabled married female, officers to be appointed as permanent officers. The provision was then made which permitted a female married officer who became pregnant to take leave without pay. The leave might be for a period not exceeding 26 weeks, lt was required to commence not earlier than 20 weeks before expected birth and nol later than 20 weeks afterwards. That was the optional period. It was made obligatory that the expectant mother take leave not later than 6 weeks before the expected birth and return to duty not later than 6 weeks after. In that respect the provisions of the Bill exceed the leave period entitlement provided by the ILO Convention.

Our provision allows leave without pay and notices that any sick leave accruing to the mother or any recreational leave or furlough entitlements that are to her credit may be availed of by her to provide pay on the sick leave, recreational leave or furlough benefit during absence on leave. In that respect we differ from the ILO Convention which provides for leave and requires cash benefits on a welfare basis subject to a means test required for social assistance. The provision is for adequate benefits out of social assistance funds.

Where cash benefits provided under a compulsory system of social insurance, are based on previous earnings, they are to be at a rate of not less than two-thirds of the woman's previous earnings taken into account for the purpose of computing benefits. That is where the cash benefits are provided under compulsory social insurance based upon previous earnings. It is to be understood that that provision in the ILO Convention has relation to European systems of social welfare benefit - an entirely different basis from the Australian social welfare benefit system as at present provided. The ILO Convention is not interpreted properly if it is said to require leave with pay. In that respect we claim to afford to the personnel employed in the teaching service accouchment leave which is equal tothat provided by the ILO Convention to which I have referred.

Having dealt in somewhat more detail with the other 4 paragraphs, I have now concluded what I wish to say about the fifth paragraph of the Australian Labor Party's amendment. AH paragraphs taken individually or collectively betoken of completely inadequate and immature understanding of the provisions of the Bill or of the objectives that the author had in mind. I conclude by acknowldging the assistance that the Senate debate has been to our understanding of the Bill and to the expounding of its merits. I ask the Senate to accept the Bill.

Question put:

That the words proposed to be added (Senator Wheeldon's amendment) be added.

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