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Wednesday, 21 November 1973
Page: 2009


Senator RAE (Tasmania) - It might be appropriate if I very briefly point out that in clause 1 3 there is a provision that for the purpose of the performance of its functions the Commission may undertake and cause to be undertaken such research as it thinks necessary into matters that relate to the functions of the Commission'. The Commission could create a whole research body administering huge amounts of funds. There is no doubt at all that the cost of this Commission will run into many hundreds of thousands of dollars. There is no doubt at all that the amount of money with which it will be dealing in direct expenditure will be substantial. Also, there is no doubt that its total operations will be of great importance and that the way in which it is conducted should be known to the Parliament.

It is totally irrelevant to try to compare the Commission directly with the Australian Universities Commission or the Australian Commission on Advanced Education. In this chamber earlier in this debate the Minister himself said that those bodies were different from this Commission in that they were smaller and there was a recognition in the Government of the much wider task which the Schools Commission will have in carrying out the functions given to it. I can only suggest that there is a difference between 10 to 20 universities in Australia- as there have been in the past few years- and 10,000 schools in Australia. The task is very different. The amounts of money involved in administration will be very different. In any event, whatever may have been the mistakes in the past in failing to have commissions report to this Parliament, I have heard the view expressed strongly many times by many honourable senators that reports should be made by such statutory bodies. I certainly put that view strongly. It was a view held by Senate Estimates committees in the past and subscribed to by the whole of the Senate when it endorsed a report of one of the Estimate committees of which I was chairman. Statutory corporations such as this are directly answerable to the Parliament. I take the matter a stage further and say that they should report accordingly.

Amendment agreed to.

Clause, as amended, agreed to.

Clause 15 agreed to.

Clause 16. 16. (1 ) For the purpose of assisting the Commission in the performance of its functions by providing, in each State and in the Australian Capital Territory and in the Northern Territory, means by which suggestions, proposals and information relating to those functions can be communicated to the Commission by, and the Commission can consult with, persons, authorities and associations responsible for, or connected with, primary or secondary education in the State or Territory, including teachers, students and parents of students, the Minister may, in relation to each State and each Territory, establish a Board or Boards to be known as the Schools Commission Advisory Board, or the Schools Commission Advisory Boards, for the State or Territory.

(2)   A Board shall consist of such persons, whether members of the Commission or not, as the Minister appoints.

(3)   A member of a Board shall be paid such fees and allowances as are prescribed, and shall hold office on such other terms and conditions as the Minister determines.

(4)   A Board shall have such functions as are from time to time determined by the Minister.

(5)   In this section, " Board " means a Schools Commission Advisory Board established under this section.

Senator RAE(Tasmania) (l011The amendment to be moved by the Opposition in respect to clause 16 is the simplest of all the 15 amendments which we have moved and shall be moving; that is, to leave out the clause. We regard the clause as unnecessary and burdensome. In fact, we regard the provisions of the clause as more likely than anything else to be destructive of the operation of the Schools Commission because what they provide for is the creation of a hierarchy which will duplicate the existing systems within the States and which will mean that it will be unlikely that there can be the feed-in direct to the Commission, and that it will be unlikely there will be the speed of operation which can otherwise exist because of the blockages which will be created. We would go further and say that the provisions for the State Advisory Boards may have been put in with some sinister view of having an even greater task than just assisting the Commission in the performance of its functions of advising the Government. But I leave that aside. The structure planned by the Government provides for State Advisory Boards, made up of an unspecified number of persons drawn from an unspecified number of areas, which shall have 'such functions as are from time to time determined by the Minister'.

What an incredible proposition! I can remember the occasion when members of the Government when in Opposition would have almost torn down the roof of this chamber on seeing such incredibly wide discretions given to a Minister. If there was no other amendment which I wished to make to this clause I would certainly want to make that one. That is a matter which has caused great concern to some State Ministers for Education, a matter as to which I have had considerable representations made to me. But the general thing is that most would agree that it is undesirable that there should be such advisory boards acting as a block between the Commission itself and the people with whom it is concerned. We suggest that there should be an avoiding of this duplication of a hierarchal structure. What we should have is the enlarged Commission which we have proposed- a commission of 1 5 members, large enough to inform itself, as it is empowered to do, into subcommittees, to visit and to make first hand contact with the people with whom it is concerned to consult; and to obtain for itself first hand information so that it may through its own members- not through some feed-in system of a filter such as an advisory board- know what is going on in education in Australia and what are the needs.

We believe that a most important aspect of the Commission is to have direct consultation. There are in the States already a number of bodies such as the States Priorities Committees which can do an excellent job and the preservation of which is provided for in the States Grants Bill which has been introduced into the House of Representatives and which will be dealt with in this chamber in due course. There are already existing within the States a very considerable number of bodies which can act as appropriate feed-in bodies to the Schools Commission. But if we are to have an hierarchal structure in which there is at State level State Advisory Boards, then coming to God himself- the Commission- and then to the perhaps almightier God- the Minister- we are going to slow down the process of development of education in Australia and the accuracy of input of information and make more likely an increase in the bureaucracy which most people would wish to avoid. Without elaborating further what I think are the clear views of the Opposition as to the undesirability of this, and with the proviso that should it prove necessary at a later date and should the Government be able to come to us and say, 'It has been shown that the Commission cannot work without some other structure', we would be interested to hear how and why. Perhaps one of the reports that we require the Commission to give could contain such information if is found that it cannot work.

After a lot of discussion with State Ministers, State Directors of Education or their representatives and the representatives of various other people interested in education, it is our belief that this will be a definite and clear improvement in the workings of the Schools Commission, bearing in mind that the Commission is now increased in size to 15 members, thereby being large enough to have sub-committees to do the work which might otherwise have been done by the State Advisory Boards. I move.

Leave out the clause.







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