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Wednesday, 5 December 1973
Page: 2514

Senator GREENWOOD (Victoria) - This debate tonight may be said to be significant for 2 main reasons. The first is the attitude which the - Government senators have adopted of virtually absenting themselves from this chamber and certainly not indicating by their voice any desire to defend the Government's attitude. It is a remarkably silent performance. The second aspect which is significant is the constant reiteration by members of the Opposition of the twin bases upon which the Opposition's amendment rests. The first basis, of course, is that the amendment gives expression to a basic principle that where aid is provided to non-government school children that aid should be on a per capita basis and be available as a matter of principle to every child in this country. The second basis upon which the Opposition's amendment rests is-that the Government is running away from-a promise which it made prior to the election and upon which many people would have believed that the Labor Party's conduct in Government would be different from what it has turned out to be.

There are hosts of examples of promises broken by this Government. The Senate early this year had to keep the Government honest when it insisted that its promise of 4 weeks leave to all public servants was given to all public servants and not simply to those who were members of a union. Unfortunately we cannot keep the Government honest in respect of the matter which the Labor- Premier of South Australia has gone into the Press about and about which he said he has been so ashamed- a promise. given by him, as he believed honourably after having spoken to Mr .Whitlam, that the wine producers of South Australia would not have an impost placed upon them. But that is a promise broken. Now we have another promise which is probably the promise most often stated publicly and which has plainly been dishonoured. Countless speakers from the Opposition side have indicated what Mr Whitlam said at public rallies in June of last year, at the Catholic luncheon on 20 June 1972, as well as statements by Mr Beazley in numerous places. But what has not been said is the Press impact .which- was given to those statements. We have had stated often tonight- I repeat it again' Because it is short- the following statement by Mr Beazley:

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

But what was the Press publicity about that? If one looks at the 'Daily Telegraph' which appeared on a subsequent day- and this would go through to most people in New South Wales I think- one will find the headline: 'No private school would get less under a Labor Government than the per capita grant it receives now'. The Labor Party made that sort of assertion constantly. It took the benefit from it and now it seeks to disown it.

Senator Wrightreferred to the policy speech of the Prime Minister, a policy speech which clearly indicated that there would be additional grants. That indicated to everybody a consistency with what he earlier stated. There were statements made by Mr Beazley and letters written to numerous people before and after the election indicating his attitude. Indeed, as late as 30 May of this year Mr Beazley had indicated what his attitude was when he said in the course of a debate in the House of Representatives:

My view was that every school in this country, including Geelong Grammar School, should receive a basic grant from the Commonwealth, and that the Commonwealth should have an identity with the education of every child.

Why Senator Douglas McClelland wants to get up now and suggest that that sort of promise was not made I can only divine as a guilty conscience because he recognises the enormity of what the Labor Party is now doing.

Mr Whitlamhimself after the election wrote to the Chairman of the National Council of Independent Schools on 13 December 1972, the day on which he appointed the Karmel Committee, and his words are instructive. This letter has been incorporated in the Hansard record of the House of Representatives and I will quote from that source. He said:

It is the Government's intention that existing Commonwealth programs for specific purpose grants for the benefit of schools will run their course. Sir Ivan Dougherty's Committee will be able to proceed with its task in respect of grants available for 1973-74, but we will need to review the arrangements for allocating the capital grants which are available under that program for the following 4 years.

The Prime Minister went on to say:

Per capita grants to non-government schools for the year 1973 will be paid at the rates already approved for 1973 under the provisions of that Act, i.e. $62 per primary pupil and $104 per secondary pupil. Commencing in 1974 additional Commonwealth contributions towards the running costs of nongovernment schools will be determined on the basis of relative need . . .

The constant attitude of the Australian Labor Party in the period leading up to the election of last year and in the months immediately after it cannot be challenged. The Opposition has, by its vote tonight and by the words spoken by all its spokesmen, shown that there is basically no disagreement with the basis of the Karmel Committee's approach and with the amounts of money which have been recommended should be expended and for which provision is contained in this Bill. The Opposition supports the Bill. But surely it is important, as far as the future is concerned, to the schools which are dependent upon the certainty of revenue to be able to plan ahead, to appoint teachers, to propose the curricula and to undertake all the things which their boards feel are desirable for the future to know what their income is likely to be. The inroad has been made by the categorisation principle and the assessment on a quite arbitrary and changing principle of what should be the amount paid to these schools.

There cannot be a school in this country which is not apprehensive as to what policy might be adopted after 1975. Will all the non-government schools miss out? Will only some of them miss out? What will be the position? That is why the Opposition believes that this matter should be put on a fixed basis of principle. We of the Opposition accepted the principle in 1972 that we should work out the estimated average cost of educating a child at a government school and determine the proportion of that estimated average cost which would be provided for every student at a non-government school. It was agreed with the States that that proportion should be 40 per cent- 20 per cent paid by the Commonwealth and 20 per cent paid by the States. That is a principle to which we adhere. It is a principle on which we are prepared to challenge the Government to have an election, if the Government wants to have an election. We will not shirk the issue.

It has been suggested that the Opposition is doing something which it should not be doing. It should not be forgotten that every honourable senator in this chamber is as entitled to his place under our representative democratic system as is every member of the House of Representatives. We were elected by the people, just as the members of the House of Representatives were elected by the people. They have their obligations under the Constitution; so do we. But we run the risk that if we take a particular course of action it may involve the whole Senate in being put before the people at an election. Therefore the course of action we take must be responsible and must be one we are prepared to take to the country. We are prepared to take this issue to the country. Let there be no mistake on the part of the Government about the Opposition's intentions in this respect.

There is one final matter to which I wish to refer. We have heard about the Labor Party's attitude towards the maintaining of grants to all non-government schools in 1973 and about its deciding when in power that only some nongovernment schools will get grants. Why has there been a change in attitude? It is an issue upon which the Labor Party has been singularly silent. Relying upon the scribes who write in the newspapers one divines that it was because of some decision by either Cabinet or Caucus that the Labor Party changed its policy. Why? I think we all know why. For many years, as was evidenced earlier by Senator Wright, the Labor Party set its face, on some ancient, parochial, sectarian basis, against any state aid. It was only by, I think, one vote that Mr Calwell secured the numbers for Mr Whitlam at the Labor Party's conference in 1967. But we know that there has always been within the Labor Party a group of people who are opposed to state aid. The Opposition has found expression from time to time in the decisions of the Victorian State Council of the Australian Labor Party. It has found expression from time to time in the motions which have come up to the Federal Council. It has also found expression in the Caucus of the Australian Labor Party. Today we heard Senator McClellandstrangely for him- justifying the Government's assistance to Catholic parochial schools, to nongovernment schools. Yet the same Senator McClelland -

Senator Douglas McClelland (NEW SOUTH WALES) - Which one?

Senator GREENWOOD -Senator James McClelland. In the report which was presented in February 1972 by the Senate Standing Committee on Education, Science and the Arts there was a dissenting report by Senator James McClelland in which he quite clearly indicated a basic viewpoint. He said:

The provision of continuing religious indoctrination which is undoubtedly prized by Catholics and which is their main justification for the perpetuation of their separate school system, is a matter to be entrusted to their own religious orders, and should not, in fact, probably cannot under the Constitution be a matter with which the Commonwealth Government can concern itself. I

Shortly thereafter he said:

The Commonwealth's constitutional power to support education is probably limited to helping finance the inculcation of knowledge which is, in a religious sense, neutral. It can concern itself with training men and women to be teachers, but hardly to be purveyors of a 'Catholic theory of education'. That is the task for Catholics themselves.

Within the Labor Party there is a hidden voice which is opposed to all aid to independent schools. It is a voice which was submerged and subdued in the period leading up to the election because Mr Whitlam wanted to have his way and to present his case and Mr Beazley wanted to have his way and to present his case. But after the election the forces demonstrated their power and, of course, Mr Beazley was overridden. That is the real risk which lies in the future if there is not a basis of principle upon which these grants are made. That is the principle underlying the Opposition 's case. But equally with that principle is the ability which a majority of this Senate has and which it ought to assert to keep the Government to the promise it made. If it is prepared to dishonour that promise in this Parliament let it also be prepared to justify to the public at large the dishonouring of that promise.

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