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Wednesday, 5 December 1973
Page: 2465

Senator RAE (Tasmania) - As has been stated by the Minister for the Media (Senator Douglas McClelland) this matter was fully debated in this chamber very recently. It was debated upon a basis which, I think, made clear to most people who have available to them copies of the Hansard record of the debate or who heard the debate that the matter has been misrepresented by a number of people through the columns of the Press and through advertisements in the Press. This is unfortunate. A typical example of the type of misrepresentation appears in a letter which I have before me right now. It is a letter dated 5 November and is from a District Council of State Schools Mothers Club in Victoria. It reads:

The parents of children attending Government Schools in the north-east of Victoria are deeply concerned at the Liberal Party's proposed amendments to the Australian Schools Commission Bill. We feel that these amendments will discriminate against representation by government school parents and teachers, who represent the majority of Australian school children.

We therefore urge careful consideration of the implications of these amendments.

As government school parents we ask your support for the Bill in its original form.

That a letter such as that could be written by a responsible organisation is in fact an indictment of the Press of this country, because it is only with the most gross misrepresentation of the facts related to this matter that any council of mothers clubs could believe that the amendments moved by the Opposition would discriminate against representation by the parents and teachers of school children. The fact is, as is well known to every member of this chamber, that one of the major aspects of the amendments which were moved by the Opposition and carried by this chamber was to provide a guarantee which does not exist in the Bill proposed by the Government that teachers and parents of children attending government schools would be guaranteed a voice on the membership of the Schools Commission. It is against that which the Government is now seeking to have this chamber review the attitude to which it came by a clear majority when this matter was before the chamber last. The Government does not want there to be any guarantee that parents and teachers be represented or have people on the Schools Commission who can express the views of their organisations.

The Government says: 'We are not prepared to give any such guarantee. We wish to retain the appointment of the membership of the Schools Commission solely at the discretion of the Commonwealth Minister for Education', totally disregarding the fact that within the schools of Australia there are 3 clear and separate administrative areas. One is related to the schools conducted by the Commonwealth; one is related to the schools conducted by the States, and they are the vast majority of the schools of Australia. Some 22 per cent of the school children attend schools in what may be regarded as the third general administrative area, which is the nongovernment school area. It is the view of the Opposition that if a Schools Commission is to work recognition must be given to the fact that there are 3 administrative areas and not just one. If the Commonwealth Government says: 'We are so almighty; we have all the wisdom; we have all the knowledge; we must have all the power', then it will insist upon a Bill which gives it absolute right, absolute control, over the Schools Commission.

If ever I have heard a fatuous argument being put forward it is the argument which has been put up by some sections of interested groups in trying to maintain their position on the Interim Committee for the Australian Schools Commission. The argument which is put forward for their individual interests, I might add, the interests of persons. It is that the Commission, as proposed by the Opposition, would not be workable because it would be representative of conflicting interests. Funnily enough, there is a clear suggestion in the Karmel Committee report, and there has been a clear case put throughout the whole of the debate that has taken place within the community in relation to the creation of a Schools Commission, that it is important that the members be drawn from a wide variety of areas, including government school parents and teachers. Yet this argument is put up that it would be conflicting.

It is strange how, apparently when some of those associated with the Government wish to pull a few strings, organisations are prepared to change their views. Many organisations said plainly that they wanted representation but now apparently they have changed their minds and put their views in different terms. I simply remind the Government and the Senate that Mr Beazley, the Minister for Education, in a letter of which I have a copy and which I am quite happy to produce or table for anybody who wishes to inspect it- the letter is signed on the Minister's behalf by his Secretary and is in answer to the question: Would there be representatives of the independent schools on the Schools Commission- said: Yes, there would be'. But apparently he has changed his mind also. The Opposition does not see that it should change the view which was clearly expressed in this chamber some weeks ago. We find it regrettable that the Government is intransigent. We find it regrettable that the Government is not prepared to consider that there may be some other view than its own. We find it regrettable that the Government is not prepared to have regard to the interests of education but rather wishes to see its own view upheld at all costs and is prepared to toy with the interests of education.

Senator Poke - You are trying to be the government in exile.

Senator Milliner - What are you doing? Are you opposing the motion?

Senator RAE -When Senator Pokeand others have finished I will continue.

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