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Tuesday, 13 November 1973
Page: 1727

Senator DAVIDSON (South Australia) - In discussing the Schools Commission Bill 1973, 1 recall, firstly, that the Leader of the Government in the Senate (Senator Murphy) referred earlier today to the fact that the Minister for Education (Mr Beazley) is still in hospital. We regret to learn this and we extend to him our best wishes for a speedy and complete recovery.

The measure before the Senate, simply stated, is designed to provide for a Schools Commission. When the Minister for Primary Industry (Senator Wriedt) put down the second reading speech he indicated that the Government attached a very high priority to education. He went on to elaborate this theme by placing emphasis on what he described as 'the quality of education' and 'the equality of opportunity in education'. We agree on this, of course. But the Minister is not the first to think of these things or to say them in a second reading speech. The previous Government, both by its words and by its actions, moved through the total field of education in recent years to improve greatly the quality of education by large financial measures and also great diversity of activity in the establishment of its own Department of Education. It also moved through the field of the establishment of science laboratories, libraries, colleges of advanced education and other measures which greatly improved the quality and diversity of education. Also, equality of opportunity in education was greatly enhanced under the previous Government's administration by a wide ranging selection of scholarships, bursaries and other opportunities which put into action this particular theme and phrase.

So, when the Government says that it places great value on education and attaches a high priority to these things, I say that the same line was followed by the previous Government. Indeed, providing education and the facilities related to it is one of the most important things a government can do. In recent years education has moved a great way from the earlier simple areas of operation. Today we have more than simple primary, secondary and tertiary spheres; there are the great areas of technical education, advanced education, further education, continuing education, adult education and a whole range of other styles of education. So, this Schools Commission which is the subject of the debate in the Senate today will have a relationship with many areas of education. Some of these relationships will be quite direct; others will be indirect and perhaps only by inference.

The Schools Commission and its administration will have not only this kind of relationship with all fields of education but also a relationship with the community and with community organisations which themselves are bound up with education. So, whilst we applaud the Minister's statement in which he talks about the quality of education and equality of opportunity, it is important to say that previous administrations opened the way for Commonwealth involvement in education on a very extensive basis. As the Senate looks at this development which the Government is proposing- the establishment of a Schools Commission- it needs to be observed that the Australian community for some years now has ploughed into the quality and quantity of education not only an enormous amount of money but also an increasing amount of effort and personal concern as well as a tremendous amount of student involvement, community involvement and parent and teachers involvement. Therefore, the establishment of the Commission is notable and important, and the Government is following up its undertaking to introduce this measure.

I think it is pertinent to contemplate the effects that this proposed Commission will have not only on education in Australia but also on our student community, our education community and indeed on our future citizens. If the Commission succeeds in providing a wide range of educational facilities, its influence will be good. If the Commission provides diversity, freedom of choice and absence of discrimination, its influence will certainly be good. But, if it develops uniformity, over-centralisation, the closure of independent institutions or the destructive processes of bureaucracy, its influence will be not good but bad. Any system that becomes hidebound and stifled by overadministration, hampered by departmental regulations or over-powered by a towering central structure will not serve the generation that it is designed to serve.

That is why, in any discussion of this Schools Commission Bill today, it is important to observe that freedom of movement in the total education sphere is essential. This is highlighted in a number of ways. I merely take the opportunity to refer to the independent schools systems or nongovernment schools systems. These schools systems have programs of education which have a complementary relationship to the government schools. Together, the government and nongovernment schools make a great contribution to what the Minister was pleased to call in his second reading speech 'the quality of education'. In making that reference he follows no less a person than the Prime Minister (Mr Whitlam) who, in his policy speech, made quite a strong reference to the matters which he had in mind for the examination of the needs of students in the government and non-government primary, secondary and technical schools. Even in that short reference one detects the recognition by the Prime Minister of the value of the nongovernment schools within the total sphere of education in this country.

As has been observed earlier this afternoon, we have had in recent times an extensive public debate on matters arising within this area of nongovernment schools and quite frequently quotation from the recommendations made in the Karmel report which is so closely allied to our discussion in the Senate today. The Government's actions upon the recommendations have created, as has been observed earlier, an extensive public debate. However, other events have now occurred and I should not be surprised if there is not a quite changed approach to this matter of categories and allocations flowing from the categories. I do not think that one can measure the needs and quality of a school by some form of economic index. A great number of intangibles are involved in making allocations and judgments on these matters; a great range of human values are involved. I hope that the Commission, when it is established, will have an opportunity in due course to examine these things and to take them into account.

I referred earlier to the freedom of movement occasioned by the inclusion of the independent school sector within our education community. It is very important to stimulate this freedom of movement in educational thought by the involvement of educational and community interests in any proposed commission. Enough has been said for the Senate to know that a great many references, representations and submissions relating to this involvement have been made. I have been interested to select from the great range of matters which have been put to me, as they have been put to my colleagues, some references from Mr John Riddell, President of the Australian Council of State School Organisations. In one document he has drawn attention to the fact that it is extremely important that there should be involvement by representation of teachers and parents in any proposed Schools Commission. He has pointed out that more than 70 per cent of school age children in Australia attend state schools. The particular organisation of which Mr Riddell is the President represents the parents of these 70 per cent of the nation's children. He has emphasised that in the view of his association it is entirely appropriate that this enormous body directly interested in and affected by the education system should have some voice in the Australian Schools Commission. He takes up, as others opposite have taken up, the words of the Prime Minister (Mr Whitlam) who said in his policy speech prior to the Federal elections of 1 972:

Education is the prime example of a community service which should involve the entire community- not just the education departments and the Catholic School authorities and the Headmasters' Conference, not just the parents and the teachers, but the taxpayers as a whole.

Mr Riddelltakes from that quotation an emphasis on the involvement of the parents and teachers. He is at pains, as honourable senators will find out or will have read in other speeches in this debate, to show that the view of his organisation is that this involvement should not be a direct representation as such. The request that is made in this document, which is similar to requests which have been made in various other ways in other documents by some bodies, is that the organisation's area of education should have involvement in the Schools Commission so that it's various aspects of thought, of knowledge and of skill can be placed before the Commission in its deliberations.

As I said a few moments ago, an examination of the amendments which we in the Opposition propose to put before the Senate during the Committee stage of this Bill will reveal a strong recognition of the importance of the fact that any advisory body containing voices and opinions of community interests in education, parents and teachers, those interested and involved in the highly important area of research and also those involved in the rapidly changing and demanding area of special education should be heard, and should be involved, and their influence should be noted. Indeed, the recommendations and amendments that we have reflect the representations and opinions that have been brought forward by community interest but indeed have taken an ongoing reflection of what was contained in the Prime Minister's policy speech. Speakers on the Government side have acknowledged this kind of diversity of background to be already in existence in the community. This was spelt out a few days ago, as can be seen in Hansard, by Senator James McClelland. It was spelt out today by my colleague Senator Carrick. I think it is extremely important that provision for such a variety should be written into a legislative measure not only to place it in an ordered manner but also to provide for the ongoing nature of the Act and also of the Commission.

If we place any value at all on the Karmel report- it is a report of very great value to our education, research, history and indeed administrationwe can do no better when giving emphasis in support to the argument which I have just put before the Senate than to turn to the report. To underline this point I wish to quote the following remarks contained in the report:

In submissions to and discussions with the Committee the Australian Teachers Federation and the Australian Council of State School Organisations argued strongly for the right to nominate representatives as members of the Commission.

I wish to quote three or four more references which come under the heading 'Functions of Schools Commission '. They are:

(e)   enhance access to education and equality of opportunity within schools, having special regard to handicapped and disadvantaged children and youth; (0 to stimulate public and private concern about, interest in an support for education;

(g)   to encourage diversity and innovation in schools, curricula and teaching methods;

(h)   to undertake and commission research;

All of these matters will be found reflected in the amendments which the Opposition proposes to put down later in this debate. So I think we claim with some conviction to reflect the Government's wish to establish a Commission by not opposing the establishment of a Commission because we believe in the equality of education and the equality of opportunity. We believe the amendments which we will move will improve the Commission. They will make it more representative, more effective and more efficient and therefore more truly representative of what the Government had in mind. Education affects not only the widest possible section of the Australian community but also affects an enormous variety of groups within the Australian society. It affects the groups involved in administration and in teaching, groups of parents and supporters, groups of citizens and various committees that abound, religious and church organisations and authorities and so many others. I invite the Senate to see the wisdom and fair involvement of these people through some form of representation not directly but rather from a given area. There seem to me to be several basic areas from which we might take a background in giving consideration to this involvement. These areas all have responsibility in education. There is the Commonwealth, which I have referred to earlier, with its program of financial contributions; the various State departments of education with the day-to-day administration; and then the several establishments which manage and establish non-government schools. If one wishes to have an effective commission or national advisory organisation it needs to be related to all of these areas and all of the other areas to which I have referred during the course of my remarks. So we desire to amend the structure of the Commission and we believe that the amendments we have will make it a better Commission. I believe the amendments will give to the Act and to the Commission greater diversity, will provide wider participation and will provide a worthwhile educational establishment. Also they will reflect what the Government has in mind, what the Karmel Committee has set out and what so many sections of the Australian community so earnestly desire.

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