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Wednesday, 5 December 1973
Page: 2494

Senator DRAKE-BROCKMAN (Western Australia) (Leader of the Australian Country Party in the Senate) -The Senate is dealing with the States Grants (Schools) Bill which comes before the Senate as a result of recommendations made this year by the Interim Committee for the Australian Schools Commission and of the Australia-wide survey into the needs of education which was conducted by the Australian Education Council in 1969. Before I deal with the Bill, I wish to refer to some remarks which have been made by those honourable senators who have contributed to the debate. It seems quite obvious to me that Government senators have been at great lengths in this debate to endeavour to get the Prime Minister (Mr Whitlam) and the Minister for Education (Mr Beazley) off the hook. This has been so evident that Senator McManus began his contribution to the debate by saying that the issue now before the Senate had developed into an issue of the credibility of the Prime Minister and the Minister for Education to honour their pre-election promises in regard to education.

Both Senator Devitt and Senator James McClelland went to great lengths to try to show the people of Australia that the Government was carrying out its repeated pre-election promises that any form of education benefit already existing would be maintained and, therefore, any aid would be additional to that existing in the field of education. Both honourable senators referred to the debate which took place in the House of Representatives on 26 September 1972, when the Australian Labor Party was in Opposition. At that time the House was debating the States Grants (Schools) Bill. Mr Beazley, as the Labor Party spokesman on education, at that time moved an amendment to the motion for the second reading of the Bill. He moved:

That all words after 'That' be omitted with a view to inserting the following words in place thereof: the House, while not refusing a second reading to the Bill, is of the opinion that it should provide for the establishment of an Australian Schools Commission to examine and determine the needs of students in government and nongovernment primary, secondary and technical schools, and recommend grants which the Commonwealth should make to the States to assist in meeting the requirements of all school age children on the basis of needs and priorities and that the application of this policy could not allow the continued acceptance of the provisions of the Bill and that therefore grants should not be made on the basis provided in the Bill in respect of any year after 1 973 '.

Today Government senators have tried to hang their hats on that amendment, but they have taken no notice of the Prime Minister's statement of 2 May 1972 when he spoke to a crowd of nearly 4,000 people at the Festival Hall in Melbourne. Senator McManus said, during the course of his speech today, that Senator Hannan,

Senator Websterand he were there to hear the Prime Minister make this statement:

We want to remove the inequalities in Australian education, and these are the greatest in the non-government sector, and my Party believes that where the need is greatest, there, this assistance should be given. We will not repeal or reduce any educational benefit which is already being paid. We will confirm any which are there already.

The Prime Minister made that statement when he was Leader of the Opposition. In the House of Representatives Mr Beazley, as recently as 27 October 1972, produced a paper entitled 'Priorities in Education'. In that paper he stated- he has repeated it on many occasions:

Whispering campaigns to the contrary, no private school under Labor will in future get less that the per capita grant it gets now.

Senator Rae - When was that said?

Senator DRAKE-BROCKMAN -On 27 October 1972.

Senator Rae - That was long after the September statement.

Senator DRAKE-BROCKMAN -Long after 26 September. Mr Grassby, who is now a Minister in the Labor Government, went further. During his election campaign his campaign director, I take it, put in the newspapers Mr Grassby 's itinerary for 23 and 24 November last year. To make it really good and appealing to the electors, he said:

Independent schools will die in 10 years unless there is a new deal. Al Grassby and his colleagues -

I take it that all Government senators are his colleagues - are pledged to that new deal which will immediately give another 1 S per cent on top of existing grants and aids.

Senator Devittendeavoured to counter all this evidence that the Opposition parties are putting forward. He said that he was surprised that in August of this year the Opposition parties should have brought forward a matter of urgency in the Senate in which they raised the Karmel Committee report and the assistance which it recommended for certain schools. Surely the fact that the Opposition parties raised this matter should have shown the Government that there was some concern among members of the Opposition and among the people of Australia that something was wrong. The fact that the Interim Committee, having reviewed the situation, reduced the number of schools in category A from 104 to 52 proved that the Opposition had a case. I do not know why Senator Devitt would want to express surprise at the action taken by the Opposition parties. Today Senator Murphy said that he had looked at an amendment that had been moved by the Opposition had he could not find anything wrong with it. I suggest that he have a much better look at some of the amendments that the Opposition parties have moved in this place. If he did, he might come up with the same result.

I want to return to the Bill. The Bill incorporates most of the Interim Committee's recommendations, though in some cases with variations. I place on record my appreciation, and the appreciation of the Australian Country Party, of the great contribution made to education by the Interim Committee and in particular by Professor Karmel. The Committee was appointed by the Prime Minister on 12 December 1972 and was required to complete its work in time to allow a report to be submitted by the end of May this year- a working period of less than 6 months to undertake a survey of 9,500 schools and the systems under which they operate. This was a herculean task and the widespread overall commendation of the Committee's report reflects great credit on the Committee's dedication and ability to perform such an undertaking in very limited time.

My Party is concerned, however, at some of the provisions of this Bill. It strongly supports the second reading of the Bill and it supports very strongly the amendments foreshadowed by Senator Rae. We are deeply concerned about the attitude the Government adopted towards the Committee's recommendations concerning grants for non-government schools. I am not critical of the Karmel Committee itself for recommending that per capita grants to what it classified as category 'A' schools should be phased out. After all, one of the Committee's terms of reference was to make recommendations as to the immediate financial needs of schools, priorities within those needs, and appropriate measures to assist in meeting those needs. In other words, the recommendations had to be made on the basis of relative needs and priorities without a predetermined level of support to all non-government schools.

Obviously the Government paid far less heed to the terms of reference than did the Committee. I point out that the terms of reference laid down that the grants recommended by the Committee would be for the period 1 January 1974 to 31 December 1975, would be in addition to existing Commonwealth commitments, and would be directed towards increased expenditure on schools and not in substitution for continuing efforts by the States and non-government school authorities.

The Minister for Education, in a letter to Professor Karmel dated 13 April 1973, changed the terms of reference. Senator Rae incorporated the letter in Hansard. In that letter the Minister said the Government wished the Committee to make recommendations for contributions towards recurrent expenditure in non-government schools for 1974 and 1975 on the basis of its assessment of needs and priorities. This was the first indication of a charge. The Minister said the government would not predetermine a basic level of support for all non-government schools after 1973. He said it would be for the Interim Committee to recommend the nature and level of support for recurrent expenditure in those schools during 1974 and 1975, having regard to the overall assessment of needs and priorities and to the pre-existing situation. I believe we can say that the Minister's letter changed the course of consideration of the needs of schools.

The Committee subsequently found that Government assistance to category A schools could not be justified, but it believed that sudden termination of the financial aid on 6 months notice could place some of those schools in temporary difficulties. The Committee therefore recommended a gradual phasing out of the assistance over 1974 and 1975. Why, I ask, has the Government decided that the per capita grants to the reduced list of category A schools will cease at the end of this year? Why take this decision in spite of the often repeated promises by the Prime Minister and the Minister for Education that the old forms of assistance would continue? Could there be a clearer promise than the one made by the Prime Minister on this question at the Festival Hall on the occasion to which I have already referred? Could there be a clearer promise than the one made by the Minister for Education, Mr Beazley, in his paper in which he referred to 'whispering campaigns to the contrary'? He said: 'No private school under Labor will in future get less than the per capita grant it gets now'.

What, I repeat, motivated the Government deliberately to dishonour promises made publicly on numerous occasions by its Prime Minister and the Minister responsible for the Bill? That is a question that should be asked by every person who is interested in following the progress of this Bill and in assessing the stand taken by the Opposition. I want to make it very clear that the Opposition supported, and continues to support, the Government's education program for 1974 and 1975, costing almost $700m. But we want the retention of the principle that every Australian child is entitled to assistance from the funds provided by Australian taxpayers, regardless of which school a parent selects for the child.

Let me quote a recent statement made by the Headmaster of a secondary school in Western Australia which has now been released from category A. He said:

I must continue to register my disapproval of the philosophy that allows a rich parent's child to receive maximum benefit by attending a particular school and a not-so-rich parent's child to receive less or none at another school. This is a perversion of justice in a system that is supposed to believe in equality of opportunity for all children.

The amendments to be moved by the Opposition merely insist that the justice referred to by that headmaster continue to be followed.

The issue is quite simple and cannot be clouded by the Government's misrepresentation of what is at stake. It is false to claim that only wealthy schools would be advantaged by the Opposition 's amendment. Under the Karmel Committee proposals which are included in this Bill 53 per cent of the secondary pupils in independent schools will receive less money than they would have received under the former Government's legislation. It is false to claim that the amendment involves additional expenditure of $114m. The sum involved is less than $5m a year.

The extra cost argument advanced by the Government should be dismissed. The cost is insignificant in the total education commitment. But the Government defeats its own cost argument by granting every one of the 33,000 children in category A schools the right to free education in the tertiary institutions. I can only assume that the Government's reluctance to continue to grant aid on the promised level reflects very deep prejudice against non-government schools. I say quite firmly that there is no room for that type of prejudice in this Parliament. I repeat that the Country Party will strongly support the foreshadowed amendment and it makes no apology for adopting a stand that the Prime Minister himself took last year when he asked the people to give his Party the reins of Government.

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