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Wednesday, 21 November 1973
Page: 1985


Senator RAE (Tasmania) -The first amendment which I propose to move to this clause will take a little longer to explain. The clause with which we are now concerned deals with the functions of the Commission. It is of some interest to note that the Minister for Education (Mr Beazley) said, as reported at page 1636 of the House of Representatives Hansard:

I draw the attention of honourable members to a number of the functions with which the Commission is charged because they indicate matters which are important in the field of education.

I emphasise the words 'because they indicate matters which are important in the field of education '. That is a statement with which the Opposition certainly agrees. The functions of the Commission do indicate matters of considerable importance- very great importance- in the field of education. Accordingly, we wish to pay some attention to the exact drafting of the functions of the Commission. Clause 13 provides:

(   1 ) The functions of the Commission are to inquire into, and to furnish information and advice to the Minister with respect to, the following matters:

I pause there to remind honourable senators that the function of the Commission is not administrative. It has been stated by the Minister for Education in his second reading speech and by the Karmel Committee that the function of the Schools Commission is to be not administrative but advisory, of necessity involving what might be regarded as an investigatory aspect and apparently also involving the gathering of statistics. But, other than in those respects, its function is stated, and has been stated repeatedly, to be not administrative. The first function set out in the Bill reads as follows:

(a)   The establishing of acceptable standards for buildings, equipment, teaching and other staff and other facilities at government and non-government primary and secondary schools in Australia, and means of attaining and maintaining those standards;

In the Karmel Committee report, at pages 135 and 136, the question of consultation was dealt with. I quote the following from the Karmel Committee report because I think it sets out some pertinent comments:

The Committee believes that widespread consultation will be vital to the successful work of the Commission, especially with education authorities and parent and teacher organisations. In addition to those persons and organisations with whom the Commission's field officers, Committees and Regional Boards will consult, the Commission itself will need to develop a close liaison with the other educational, social and cultural Commissions and agencies of the Commonwealth and State Governments and with those authorities concerned with community and individual welfare, including the appropriate Commonwealth and State bodies.

One finds it hard to think of that in any restricted sense. It is quite obvious that in making its recommendations to the Government the Karmel Committee saw the need for consultation as being a very wide need indeed. We believe, therefore, as the Minister himself said- and recognising that the functions as set out in the Bill indicate matters which are important in the field of education and recognising the stress which was placed by the Karmel Committee on the importance of consultation- that the consultation should in fact be spelt out in much more detail than is the case in the draft Bill. Accordingly I move:

Leave out paragraph (a) of sub-clause ( 1 ), insert the following paragraph:

(a)   The definition, in consultation and co-operation with the State Departments of Education, the authorities in the Australian Capital Territory and the Northern Territory responsible for primary education or secondary education in either or both of those Territories and with authorities responsible for or connected with nongovernment schools in Australia, parent and teacher organisations and such other organisations and persons as it may deem appropriate, of desirable standards for buildings, equipment, teaching and other staff and other facilities at government and non-government primary and secondary schools in Australia, and the means and provision necessary for attaining and maintaining those standards; '.

We believe that that as a wording of the first function of the Commission is more desirable, more comprehensive and more in accord with both the recommendations of the Karmel Committee and the desires of the Australian people and of the State governments- which are, as we have mentioned already, directly concerned with the administration of so much of the education in Australia- than is the provision drafted by the Government. I draw attention to several small aspects of change. The first is this: .The Government's Bill provides for the establishing of acceptable standards. One immediately asks: 'Acceptable to whom? Acceptable to the people in relation to whose administrative area the recommendation is being made?' Is it to be acceptable to the government schools, the State Education Departments, the non-government schools, and those who have done research in relation to it? Because of the use of the word 'acceptable' one does run across the problem of definition. So we would see it as being desirable to change that definition to 'desirable standards'. In other words, it is something which is wholly for the advisory body- the Schools Commission- to decide after consultation, lt will be able to say: 'We believe these are the desirable standards which should be achieved'.

The second point to which I draw attention is the inclusion of the reference to the various education authorities, that is, the State Education Departments, the Commonwealth education authorities in the Territories, the responsible authorities in relation to non-government schools. Parent and teacher organisations are mentioned specifically in the amendment. The amendment provides for the widest possible consultation with these various authorities. The Commission will have consultation with such other organisations and persons as the Commission may deem appropriate. The Government's Bill has omitted reference to some things which most people concerned with education would feel were desirable to mention. The Government's Bill, as drafted, simply says:

.   . standards for buildings, equipment, teaching and other staff and other facilities ....

We would see it as desirable to word it as follows: . . standards for buildings, equipment, teaching and other staff and other facilities at government and nongovernment primary and secondary schools in Australia, and the means and provision necessary for attaining and maintaining those standards;

In its Bill the Government simply says: . and means of attaining and maintaining those standards;

That makes no reference to what provision would be made by the Government to maintain those standards. So this is not an amendment which is in any way trying to cut across or to restrict I could use any of the other terms which have been suggested- anything which the Government may have in.- mind. Rather it is to make more comprehensive what is clearly an important- perhaps the most important- single function of the Commission. I would just note that the Australian Education Council, that is, the meeting of the State Education Ministers with the Commonwealth Education Minister, issued a Press release' on 14 June 1973 which stated:

We note and support the Federal Government's decision to consider further Chapter 13 of the report of the Committee. In this regard, the Council requests the Federal Government to afford the States the maximum flexibility in application of the funds to be made available within the programs there outlined, consistent with overall balance in these programs.

So the Council made quite clear at that time how important it regarded that the Commonwealth should give the maximum of flexibility in the application of funds. We simply take that up to say that it is important that there should be the maximum of consultation and co-operation, because if the Commonwealth is to do a successful job in relation to the improvement of the standards of education in Australia obviously it will need consultation and co-operation with those who actually do the work, that is, the State or the non-government schools, in relation to all school children other than those in the Territories.







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