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Wednesday, 12 December 1973
Page: 2713

Senator McMANUS (Victoria) (Leader of the Australian Democratic Labor Party) - This is a proposal for an armistice. It is nothing more. For some weeks there has been a continuing struggle between the Government and Opposition, the background or the basis of which has been the attitude of the Government that education grants should be determined almost solely on a needs basis, and the attitude of the Opposition which could be summed up in the words that there should be equal treatment for every Australian child. As I said, the present proposal is for an armistice. We are close to the new year. The schools have to make their arrangements. If we do not do something now we will have killed Father Christmas, and nobody wants to kill Father Christmas. In those circumstances the Democratic Labor Party will go along with the wishes of the Government except in one respect. There is a provision in clause 13 which refers to the primary obligation of the Government to maintain government school systems. If an amendment is moved to provide that it merely be an obligation rather than a primary obligation, we will support such an amendment. I understand that we will not be successful in this regard because the Country Party will vote with the Government on this matter.

On all the other issues we will go along with what we regard as an armistice because the DLP will continue to campaign at all times for equality of treatment for every child in Australian schools. We do not recognise any system of apartheid under which some children will have prior treatment over other children according to the schools that they attend. Therefore, the attitude of our Party will be consistent. We will continue to fight for that ideal. In the present case we are all aware of the circumstances. There was a deadlock between the 2 Houses of Parliament. Last week the Country Party determined to take action to resolve the deadlock. As a matter of courtesy, the Leader of the Australian Country Party informed me on Monday- I appreciate his action- that the members of his

Party had undertaken this initiative. He did not inform me of the terms. He simply informed me of certain principles which they bore in mind and in particular that they thought that something better should be done than implementing the Karmel Committee report. They have succeeded in obtaining something better than the terms of the Karmel Committee report. My Party was not engaged in the negotiations, but yesterday afternoon I met Mr Anthony, Mr Nixon and Senator Drake-Brockman and they explained to me the terms of a possible compromise agreement which had been decided upon. I took it to the members of my Party and they determined that they will go along with the amendments proposed by the Government, although, as I have said, they stood firm by their principles and they will fight for those principles in the future.

In regard to the composition of the Commission, we have made a strong plea for different organisations to be represented by their own chosen nominees. I have always believed in that principle. I was a teacher for 19.5 years. At that time I and my fellow unionists fought for the right to appoint our own nominees to Government bodies. The Government used to say: 'Let us appoint them. They will be all right'. We teachers always fought for the right to have our own nominees, just as trade unions fight for the right to have their own nominees. In my day as a unionist the teachers succeeded to a large extent in having the right to appoint their own nominees. I thought that would still be the policy of teacher organisations, but apparently the wheel has turned a full circle. I have had representations from teacher organisations that they do not want to be represented by their own people but that they are prepared to be represented by Government nominees. They have said that that would make for an independent Commission. T have asked before and I ask again: How can a Commission be independent when every member of it is appointed by the Government and is dependent upon the Government for a job? I should have thought that that would have ensured that a Commission would not be independent. However, when it comes to this agreement between the 2 sides one has to have regard to the fact that if the Government does not get its own way and appoint the Commission it has the power and it has always had the power, as it did in the case of the Karmel Committee, to appoint a committee of its own to do a Karmel type job. So, strictly speaking, the Opposition will sacrifice nothing by agreeing on this point because the Government had the power to appoint such a committee without legislation if it wanted to do so.

There are certain things in the proposed amendments which I think are very valuable. As I have said before, the only thing on which I disagree with the Government- I understand that the Country Party will join with the Government on it so that the Government will win on it- is the inclusion of the provision that the primary obligation upon the Commission is to be in regard to education in government schools. I think there should be an obligation on it to look after every child and not just those in government schools. But I realise, as far as the Government is concerned, that there are provisions in the Bill which look in the direction of equality. I have noticed that clause 13(3) states that in the exercise of its functions, the Commission shall have regard to such matters as are relevant, including the need for improving primary and secondary education in Australia and of providing increased and equal opportunities for education in government and non-government schools. That is very valuable. I appreciate the point that it could be argued that any statement by the Government that it has a primary obligation to government schools is qualified by the fact that it has said that its aim is equal treatment and equal improvements in education for all schools.

Senator Douglas McClelland (NEW SOUTH WALES) - I think those words have been there ever since the Bill first came before the chamber.

Senator McMANUS - That is true. There is, furthermore, a very valuable statement by the Government in the revised amendments, which refer to the need for ensuring that the facilities provided in all schools in Australia, whether government or non-government, are of the highest standard. There is also the very valuable statement by the Government that it seeks to add to the matters which the Commission is to take into account the prior right of parents- I understand that originally the provision read 'the right of parents'- to choose whether their children are educated at a government school or at a nongovernment school. Those are all qualifications in the direction of what my Party stands for, that is, the equality of Australian children in education. But I still feel that the situation would be improved if the word 'primary' were removed from the expression 'primary obligation in regard to providing for government schools '.

The position adopted by my Party is that under protest and only as an armistice- not because it is what we believe; we are going to make a continuing fight for educational justice- we will accept what has been proposed and will not oppose any of the amendments, but if an amendment is moved which is based on the use of the word 'primary' we will support it. The only other comment I want to make is that I have received some correspondence from people who say that this will mean that the category A independent schools will receive assistance for only 2 years. It does not mean anything of the sort. There will be an election within the next 2 years. I believe that there will be a change of government. I also believe that under the new Government the propositions and principles which the Opposition has fought for will be put into effect.

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