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Wednesday, 12 December 1973
Page: 2714

Senator WOOD (Queensland) -The debate by the Committee on the Schools Commission Bill has been so wide-ranging that it has really incorporated the subject of aid to schools. I want to make my position clear. I cannot understand the attitude of the Opposition to this matter. Certain stands have been taken in this regard and then, like a warm summer, the snow has melted and there has been a change in attitude. I want it to be known that I have been honest enough in the past to say that I have never been in favour of state aid, but now that it has been instituted I believe that it should be for everyone and not for particular sections of the community. Insofar as that is concerned, the argument that was originally raised was that people who had children in independent schools had to contribute to the taxation which established the state school system and which is directed towards the state school system and also had to pay the fees of their own children in independent schools. We have now arrived at another situation in which people who have children attending certain schools that are designated to be wealthy schools -in a number of cases they are not- are worse off than ever before. They not only subscribe, through the taxation they pay, to the government schools and to the aid provided to other independent schools but also have to pay for the education of their own children at schools which receive no assistance. As one who, as I have said, is not in favour of state aid, I believe that if we are going to provide it -

Senator Gair - The Australian Labor Party is opposed to state aid and has been since 1957.

Senator WOOD -That is right. The point about it is this: Why make a distinction between Australian school children? Why is assistance given to those whose parents are said to be in a particular income group and not to others?

Senator McAuliffe - You make a distinction between the States.

Senator WOOD -Senator McAuliffe kindly interjected and said that I make a distinction between the States. Let me say that it is rather unusual for the Australian Labor Party to make a distinction. It speaks of a one-class community and so on. The Budget provides for the wiping out of the means test eligibility for the age pension so that everybody over 75, irrespective of income, qualifies for the pension. Lately we have had the spectacle of Sir Robert Menzies going onto the old age pension. Do honourable senators opposite reckon he is on the rocks? Now Dame Mabel Brookes says that she will go on the pension. Would you say that she is on the rocks? This is an example of the Labor Party's determination that there must be no distinction or discrimination between people. Yet it makes a distinction between the children of the nation. That shows the inconsistency of the Labor Party. To say that one school is wealthy and the other is not and so on is just a lot of nonsense. I say to Government senators: If you are to cater for the school children of the nation in this way, cater for all of them and do not discriminate between them. It is a disgraceful attitude. As has been mentioned, many of these schools belong to certain denominations, and the point is that the Labor Government is discriminating against the people of those denominations. It is to the credit of the Roman Catholic people that they have had meetings on the subject and have said that they do not want discrimination that is occuring. Their bishops have said this. Protestant and Jewish schools are being discriminated against. Is this the right attitude to adopt? Either the Government is in favour of aid or it is not. Surely in this case the Labor Government should have been consistent and treated all Australian children as Australians. I think that the Labor Government should be strongly criticised for the attitude that it has adopted in this legislation which indicates that it discriminates in areas where it wants to discriminate but not in others where it thinks it can play up to the votes of certain people.

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