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Wednesday, 21 November 1973
Page: 2001

Senator McMANUS (Victoria) (Leader of the Australian Democratic Labor Party) - I support the remarks of Senator Rae. I think that this particular amendment is one that is crucial to the whole Bill. We have been told by the Government that its outlook is one of seeking to improve the general quality of education throughout the community but in the Government's Bill we find that the children of this country are to be divided into 2 classes. The Government says that the primary obligation in relation to education is to provide and maintain government school systems that are of the highest standard and are open without fees or religious test to all children. I was educated in independent schools but I taught for 19.5 years in State government schools. I have never been able to recognise any distinction between the children of this country on the basis of what school they attend. I disagree with the Government's statement that there is a primary obligation to one section of our children. My attitude is that there is an obligation to all of the children of this country.

The Government is under an obligation, in my view, to see that every child in this country receives a fair go. For that reason I prefer what Senator Rae supports which is, in effect, that we regard all the children of this country as having equal rights and we give each of them justice. I am a bit surprised. I understood that the Australian Labor Party had decided to adopt that principle at its Federal Conference some years ago. Some members of the Labor Party have assured me that they believe in equal justice for all our children and that the only difference is, perhaps, in the ways in which the justice shall be dispensed. I think that the Labor Party is going back to 1957- in the days when it did not agree with justice for independent schools- when it states in this clause, in effect, that it will divide the children of the country. Those who go to one school will have prior rights and the Government will have a primary obligation to look after them while those who go to other schools will come second and receive what is left over. I do not think that that is what the Prime Minister (Mr Whitlam) campaigned for at the last general election. I attended a lot of meetings and I heard him say that he was for justice for all the children of this country. I think therefore that Senator Rae has done the right thing in moving this amendment and I think it shows the spirit that animates the people of this country today. The gallup polls show that the people believe that all the children should be given an equal chance. The results of elections show that people who have campaigned on the basis of this kind of division have received a contemptuous vote.

They are the people who have tried to divide the children of this country into those who go to one type of school and those who attend another.

My final point is that the United Nations Charter of Human Rights states, as Senator Rae has pointed out, that the parent has the right to decide the school his child will attend. Senator Murphy introduced a Bill this afternoon which provides that that Charter will be incorporated in the legislation of this country. How can a charter of that nature be incorporated in the legislation of this country when the Government has a provision in its education legislation which contradicts the Charter on Human Rights? My feeling is that the overwhelming majority of the Labor Party approves the decision of a few years ago that the Labor Party will stand for justice in education. I believe that the Labor Party has made a grave mistake in once again putting forward this proposition that some children in the community have prior rights to others. Let us give them all equal treatment.

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