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Tuesday, 20 November 1973
Page: 1912

Senator RAE (Tasmania) - Clause 4 of the Bill provides: 4. (1) There shall be a Commission by the name of the Schools Commission.

(2   ) The Commission shall consist of-

(a)   a Chairman; and

(b)   such number of other members, not being less than four nor more than eleven, as is from time to time prescribed.

(3   ) A member shall be appointed by the Governor-General.

I pause there to draw attention to the fact that that means that a member of the Commission as proposed by this Bill is a person who is, in effect, appointed by the Minister at the total discretion of the Minister. Clause 4 continues:

(4)   The Chairman and each other full-time member shall be appointed for a term not exceeding seven years, and each parttime member shall be appointed for a term not exceeding three years.

(5)   A member is eligible for re-appointment.

(6)   The performance of the functions of the Commission is not affected by reason only of there being a vacancy in the office of a member.

In summary the clause with which we are concerned is one of the fundamental clauses of the Bill before the Committee. The clause provides for the creation of a schools commission consisting of a chairman and between 4 and 1 1 other members appointed totally at the discretion of the Commonwealth Minister for Education. As we understand it, the Commonwealth Minister has already indicated to the members of the reconstituted Interim Schools Committee that they will in fact be appointed as members of the Schools Commission. The Minister has indicated to them that when this legislation has been passed by the Parliament they will be appointed as members of the Schools Commission.

I remind everybody that the second reading of the Bill was supported unanimously in this chamber. So in regard to all this rubbish which has been coming from people with particular barrows to push, personal interests to secure, perhaps a little malice to give expression to when talking about the Opposition in this chamber opposing the legislation and saying that the Senate is killing the Bill and other like comments, the fact is that the Bill has now achieved its second reading. The only question remaining relates to some of the amendments which are to be moved in relation to it. I remind the Committee that the original speech made by me on behalf of the Opposition when the Bill first came on for debate indicated that the Opposition would certainly support the creation of a schools commission. I indicated further that we accepted that although there had been debate last year as to whether it was appropriate in Australia, with the division of power that existed with the desirability of decentralisation in education and with all of the other arguments which were put forward at that time, to have a centralised schools commission, that debate is now over.

We accept that the Government has a mandate to carry out the general policy which was put forward at the time of the last election. I think it would help the consideration of the Committee if I were to remind honourable senators of the contents of the promise. I think it is particularly relevant in relation to the amendments which I shall be moving. The now Prime Minister (Mr Whitlam), then Leader of the Opposition, said in his policy speech:

The Australian Labor Party believes that the Commonwealth should adopt the same methods to assist schools as it has adopted to assist universities and colleges of advanced education- through a Commission. We will establish an Australian Schools Commission to examine and determine the needs of students in Government and non-government primary, secondary and technical schools. I propose to prepare for the statutory Schools Commission as Sir Robert Menzies prepared for the Universities Commission.

He went on to say what Sir Robert Menzies did. The Prime Minister continued:

I shall write before Christmas to a small group of leading educationists, including representatives of the State and Catholic systems. I shall write in precisely the same terms as Sir Robert, requesting for the schools, as he did for universities, recommendations upon 'their financial needs and appropriate means of providing for these needs '.

He went on to say that it would not be necessary to delay the appointment of the commission and that the report would be promptly published and that this would help in the making of his Party's plans. The Prime Minister continued:

A Federal Labor Government will:

1.   Continue all grants under Commonwealth legislation throughout 1973;

2.   Remove the ceiling imposed by Commonwealth legislation on grants in 1 974 and subsequent years;

Paragraph 3, the important part, apropos the amendment which I propose to move in relation to this clause, states:

3.   Allocate the increased grants for 1974 and subsequent years on the basis of recommendations prepared and published by the expert Schools Commission which will include persons familiar with and representative of the State departments, the Catholic system and the teaching profession.

I simply re-emphasise those words used by the Prime Minister in his policy speech- that the schools commission to be created by a Labor government would include persons familiar with and representative of- I wish to underline the words 'representative of- the State departments, the Catholic system and the teaching profession. That was the promise made. That is the mandate, if one accepts the mandate theory. For the purposes of this matter we accept that there is a clear mandate to create a schools commission. We now wish to see it work. We will do what we can to make suggestions to the Government which, no doubt, if they are passed by the Government, will be taken back to the Minister for Education, or if he is still unwell to the Acting Minister for Education, and back to those in the Government who will consider them.

If in the normal development of the processes of constitutional democracy and the processes of parliamentary democracy the wishes of one chamber are not acceded to by the other chamber then the other chamber has its options as to what it does. I remind the Committee that there has been a certain amount of publicity and statements by the Minister for Education and statements even by the Prime Minister as to what will happen if the Senate dares to exercise its parliamentary right of reviewing legislation put forward by the executive government. This chamber has a right to amend, if it sees fit to do so; it has a right to review. These are not rights to be taken away by those who would petulantly threaten to take their bat and ball home if they are not elected captain. To put it in other terms, unless this chamber is prepared to rubber stamp entirely that which the Minister requires, the Minister will not go on with what is regarded by the Australian people and apparently by the lower House- and this would be the majority view of this chamber- as something which is desirable in the interests of education of Australia, that is, the creation of a schools commission.

I wish to emphasise again that the stories, the misapprehensions and the concerns which have been deliberately developed among various sections of the community in regard to the Opposition's intentions on this legislation have been mischievous, deceptive and totally wrong. One finds repetition after repetition of these deceptive statements which have created considerable confusion in the minds of the Australian people. For that reason I repeat that the Opposition does not wish to destroy the Schools Commission and the Opposition does not wish to argue that the Schools Commission should not be created. The Opposition, however, does have constructive suggestions and proposals to put before this chamber for its consideration.

I would like to support some of the comments that were made by the Minister in his second reading speech in regard to the importance of the job which the Schools Commission can do for the future of education in Australia. The Opposition has taken this matter very seriously. In my experience as a member of this Parliament I cannot recall another matter which has involved a greater amount of discussion. I recall that Senator McManus referred in his speech on the second reading to the amount of time which the Australian Democratic Labor Party had spent in considering this Bill and the questions and proposals relating to the amendments. I simply restate that I cannot recall a matter which has received more consideration and discussion with community groups and in the Party committees and Party rooms.

There has been very widespread discussion and communication between the Liberal and Country Party Education Committee and community groups on this matter. This discussion has not been limited to any sector of the community. In fact it has included both government and nongovernment schools sectors. In addition, university people have been able to discuss their ideas on education as have various other experts from a wide cross section of educational fields in relation to primary and secondary school children. The Committee has met on a number of occasions to discuss the proposed amendments to the legislation. It considered a number of drafts. The amendments which have been circulated to honourable senators in this chamber are the product of those discussions, that consideration, that research and the development of a policy attitude over a considerable period of time. The Opposition has also taken into account, and put forward as a relevant consideration to this chamber when considering the amendmentsthe remarks made by the Prime Minster in his policy speech which gives the Government the mandate- if one accepts the mandate theory- to create the Schools Commission. The Prime Minister said that the Commission would include representatives of State education departments, the Catholic system and teachers. The Opposition would add, of course, that the area of representation is a little limited. But the Prime Minister accepted the principle that the Schools Commission should be comprised of people who were familiar with and representative of particular areas of education.

As I pointed out earlier, the Bill does not give any such guarantee. There is no provision in the Bill which would guarantee the right of representation to parents, teachers or any of the other groups referred to, including State education departments. As the Bill is drafted at this stage representation will be made at the whim of the Minister for Education. What the Opposition sees as being desirable is an amendment which will increase the number on the Schools Commission from a total of 12, which is the number set out in the Bill, to a total of 15 which would be 14 members plus a Chairman. I would like to draw attention to what the report of the Interim Committee for the Australian Schools Commission, which has become known as the Karmel Committee report, had to say on this matter. In chapter 13 (4) the Committee stated:

The Committee suggests that a Commission comprising a Chairman and three or four full-time commissioners with, say, six part-rime commissioners, would be an appropriate structure.

But the Committee did not say that the Schools Commission must in its scheme of things comprise only that number. The Committee was referring to an approximate number, and its approximate number would be a number comprising a Chairman, three or four full time commissionerssay 4 full time commissioners- making a total of 5 full time members, and 6 part time commissioners which makes a total of 1 1 members on the Commission. The Minister in his wisdom has thought it fit to make provision for 12 members. As a result of consideration and discussion the Opposition believes that it would be desirable to have 15 members.

We believe that this amendment should be considered in the light of other amendments which will be moved later but which, because we are dealing with the Bill clause by clause, I shall not debate at length at this stage. But what we propose is that -

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