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Wednesday, 21 November 1973
Page: 2000

The TEMPORARY CHAIRMAN (Senator Wilkinson - If the Minister would prefer to follow this course, we may as well do so.

Senator RAE - I am quite happy to proceed on that basis. The next amendment suggested is the insertion of a proposed paragraph (aa) which would be additional to the paragraph that I have already sought to have included. It is sought to have this proposed paragraph inserted in place of the present paragraph (a) which reads: the primary obligation, in relation to education for governments to provide and maintain government school systems that are of the highest standard and are open, without fees or religious tests, to all children;

I acknowledge that this is basically a statement of Labor Party philosophy and policy in relation to education. It is a matter on which I think there has probably been a difference of opinion between the various groups interested both in education and politics in Australia. I am not necessarily saying that the two are entirely divisible, either. But we would suggest that it is an improvement to state it in the following way: the obligation for governments to provide or assist in the provision and maintenance of educational opportunities for all children which are of the highest standard and which recognise the prior right of parents to choose the kind of education that shall be given to their children and where provided and maintained by or on behalf of a government ensure that these opportunities are open without fees or religious tests to all children;

I recognise immediately and believe that I should point out to the Senate that the principal change there is the deletion of the word 'primary' in relation to the obligation. The Bill as drafted draws attention to the belief that there should be a primary obligation to provide government schools. It is our very firm belief as an Opposition that the obligation of governments which, amongst other things, require all children with a very limited number of special exceptions to undergo education, is an obligation of that government to ensure that educational facilities of the highest standards are available. It is not a matter of the government's ensuring that all children attend government schools. I do not think that anyone goes that far. But once you go beyond that point, the question is how best do you describe it. Do you say that government has a primary obligation to provide for government schools? Do you say that government has an obligation to ensure that its assistance is available to provide the best standard of education, be it within a government school, be it within a nongovernment school which is related to a particular religious belief of the people who conduct it, be it related to a non-government school conducted by people who have particular views in relation to progressive education or be it a nongovernment school where people simply find it convenient, because of the absence of a government school, to group together to form a school which is of acceptable standard to the education department of the State which licences schools, as the Minister said in his second reading speech.

We believe it is a fair and appropriate way to describe the obligation of government to say that it is directed towards the provision of educational facilities. This does not say anything about what is the obligation in relation to funding them. What it says is that the obligation is for governments to provide or assist in the provision ' and maintenance of educational opportunities. The maintaining may simply be seen to be maintaining without necessarily taking over all or part of the funding.

The third amendment which we would suggest is that regard should be had to the rights and powers pursuant to the Commonwealth of Australia Constitution Act of the State governments in relation to education. As I have pointed out the Minister himself repeatedly said in his second reading speech and the Karmel Committee said at page 132 of its report that the constitutional responsibility does lie primarily with the States as does the present commitment. The members of the Committee did say that they were against a centralist approach in educaiton. We are simply saying that what they have accepted should be written into the matters to which the Commission shall have regard. I again draw attention to the fact that the Minister at pages 1635 and 1636 of Hansard of 27 September 1973 is reported as having made particular reference to this aspect.

I pass now to the next question which concerns the need for research into education standards, quality, variety and opportunities in Australia. I was somewhat disappointed to find that research seemed to rate a fairly low level of appreciation by the draftsman of the Bill. This matter is dealt with in clause 13 (4) (b) which states, concerning the Commission:

.   . may undertake, and cause to be undertaken, such research as it thinks necessary that relates to the functions of the Commission.

But that is a different question. We believe the Commission should have regard, in the recommendations that it makes, to the importance of carrying out the functions which it has. It should have regard to the need for research into education standards, quality, variety and opportunities in Australia. This we believe is important in the overall development of the grand design which it may be possible to produce for the improvement of education in Australia. The Commission simply cannot have that limited function which is referred to in clause 13 (4) (b) which states that the Commission may undertake, or cause to be undertaken, such research as it thinks necessary. It has to design research so that it can play a part in the whole of the structuring of education in Australia so that the recommendations which the Commission makes can be carried out at particular schools within systems in the various ways in which it is desirable.

The next and final point in this sub-clause which we regard as important is the maintenance of the improvement of the quality of education available to all the students attending primary and secondary schools. It may be that it is unnecessary to emphasise that, but it does not appear in any of the lists in which the Government has set out seriatim the matters to which particular regard should be had. We would have thought that this would have probably been one of the important considerations. The Government's Bill does refer to the need to encourage diversity and innovation in education. It refers to the need to stimulate and encourage public and private interest. We totally support those proposals but for some strange reason the Government seems to have omitted the important item of the general improvement and quality of education. In relation to that, one can have regard to the importance of the standard of teaching, for instance.

The TEMPORARY CHAIRMAN (Senator Wilkinson - Order! The honourable senator's time has expired.

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