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Wednesday, 21 November 1973
Page: 1988

Senator CARRICK (New South Wales) - The clause that is being debated and which is sought to be amended contains substantially the same functions as are contained in the clause which the Opposition seeks to insert by its amendment, with the addition that the Opposition's amendment seeks to add a preface regarding consultation with the States and various authorities concerned with parent and teacher bodies. The Opposition regards this as important. If there is to be any repetition, overlapping or redundancy the Government will be faced with the interesting situation that Senator James McClelland has said that what we are proposing in the amendment to clause 13 ( 1 ) (a) is precisely in line with Government policy. He then must struggle, of course, to find the means by which he would therefore reject it.

Senator James McClelland (NEW SOUTH WALES) - Because it is unnecessary.

Senator CARRICK -Senator James McClelland grows more and more prickly. It is a good rule of debate that when you are weak on facts and law all you do is pound the blooming table. He has given a pretty good example of that today. The logic of this debate is not measured by the decibel count of voice levels that Senator James McClelland has used to try to out-shout consistent argument. The fact is that the Government that he supports says and has said many times that what it proposes to do in this Bill is to carry out the principles as spelt out by the Karmel Committee. Nothing could be more in line with the principles of the Karmel Committee than the preface that the Opposition proposes to add to this amendment. Nothing could be more in line with the constitutional situation of the Commonwealth Parliament and the States than the proposed preface. Nothing could be more in line with the realities of education in Australia today and the desires of the parent and teacher bodies and the people of Australia to keep a decentralised system. I believe that it is quite important that the Senate should look to the Karmel Committee report and particularly to 2 sections of it which spell out quite clearly the recognition of a constitutional situation that education is and should remain a primary function of the States and also that there is an overriding virtue in decentralisation and devolution. I refer to paragraphs 4 and 5 under chapter 2 of the Karmel Committee report which is headed

Devolution of Responsibility' and which reads as follows:

The Committee favours less- rather' than more centralised control over the operation of schools. Responsibility should be devolved as far as possible upon the people involved in the actual task of schooling, in consultation with the parents of the pupils whom they teach and, at senior levels, with the students themselves. Its belief in this grass-roots approach to the control of the schools reflects a conviction that responsibility will be most effectively discharged where the people entrusted with making decisions are also the people responsible for carrying them out, with an obligation to justify them, and in a position to profit from their experience.

Many consequences follow from this basic position. In the first place, a national bureaucracy, being further removed from the schools than are State ones, should not presume to interfere with the details of their operations. Secondly, the need for overall planning of the scale and distribution of resources becomes more necessary than ever if the devolution of authority is not to result in gross inequalities of provision between regions, whether they be States or smaller areas. The role of the Australian Government in this operation is supplementary to that of the States, but its national responsibility may become increasingly important in ensuring an adequate level of resources and their equitable spread.

In quite clear terms the Karmel Committee spells out precisely the principle that is proposed to be written into the functions. The Committee goes on further than that in chapter 13 under the heading 'Administration and Accountability'. This is the chapter which precedes the setting out of the functions of the Schools Commission and spells out some points that I want to read out. I should add that if they are taken in conjunction with the functions of the Schools Commission that the Karmel Committee spells out, we have in fact the spirit of our amendment. The Committee states:

The Constitutional responsibility for the provision of public education rests primarily with the States, as at present does the major financial commitment. The Committee believes that the Commission's influence should be of a general kind and that it should not intervene in or interfere with the management of schools or school systems. As has been emphasised in Chapter 2, the Committee places great value on the encouragement of grass-roots developments in education, as local knowledge and initiative are more likely to produce effective educational experiences than fiats imposed from remote sources. Moreover the Committee's attachment to diversity is an argument against a centralist approach to educational matters. On the other hand, the planning of the strategic development of education on a national scale, as distinct from its centralised administration, may yield many benefits in meeting the requirements of the twenty-first century. In the light of these considerations , the Committee has formed the opinion that the Commission should concern itself more with providing incentives for the schools to move in one direction or another, than with delineating a particular model of precise development.

If those quotations and many others from the Karmel Committee report are allied with the constitutional realities of the day we are describing precisely the amendment which the Opposition proposes.

Senator James McClelland (NEW SOUTH WALES) - And what is already there.

Senator CARRICK -If indeed the Government argues that the . amendment is already partly or wholly contained in another section of the Bill how much more important is it that the heading of the section which refers to the functions of the Commission as such should it be spelt out. If that is so the Government clearly can have no particular argument with this amendment. Senator James McClelland says, in fact, that this amendment expresses precisely the Government's intention. Therefore he can have no possible objection to the amendment and the logical place for it to be inserted is under the heading Functions of Schools Commission'. If he then thinks that there is a tautological error in this - that there is a redundancy- let him rise and move for deletion when the subsequent clause is being considered.

Senator James McClelland (NEW SOUTH WALES) - Why should I?

Senator CARRICK - Because this is primarily a function as admitted by the honourable senator and as seen by the Opposition, so the logical place for the words contained in Senator Rae's amendment is where he seeks to put them. I commend the amendment.

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