Australian Access Federation

You are here: Home Corpora Corpus of Oz Early English 3-280 (Original)

3-280 (Original)

Item metadata
author,male,Fellows,un addressee
Word Count :
Plaint Text :
Speech Based
Clark, 1975
Document metadata

3-280.txt — 6 KB

File contents

What right has the State to interfere on the subject of education? That appears to me to lie on the threshold of every proposition of this nature, because, until we have ascertained what that right is, it is utterly impossible to deal with the question. Abstractedly, I contend that the State has no right at all to interfere with education, any more than with a man's religion, or his food, or his clothing. Practically, I will admit the right, but only, I wish it to be understood, when the matter is regarded as one of police, pure and simple. That ignorance is a prolific source of crime is an axiom nobody can be more fully inclined to accept than I am, and it appears to me that only to that extent has the State a right to interfere with the question of education. That point established, the next that arises is how and to what extent that interference is justifiable, consistently with the maintenance of the proposition, already placed on our statute-book, involving the existence here of perfect civil and religious liberty and equality. If any system of education involving religious teaching is insisted upon by the State, there is, of course, at once a palpable violation of the civil and religious liberty of the subject; and if, on the other hand, it is made compulsory to abstain utterly from all religious teaching, the liberty of those who think that religious teaching ought to form part of all instruction is at once infringed. This appears to me to be the great difficulty in considering the Bill before us. I do not wish, at the present stage, to go at any length into the question; but I venture to say that the illustration made use of, in regard to the endowed schools of the mother country, affords no analogy to us. In the first place, they are the endowments of private benefactors, who had a perfect right to dispose of their benefaction in any manner or for any purpose they thought fit; but the principle fails at once when we apply it to a Legislature who have no right to apply the revenues of their country to the purposes of education in the same light. The question also arises - How shall education be enforced? because, if it is not to be compulsory, a different question will at once arise. If it is made compulsory, we have to inquire to what extent the State is entitled to compel it. [717] I perfectly agree with the Government, that the State has a right to compel education to a certain extent - an extent which it and all other bodies can recognise, namely, that of the elementary and primary education hinted at - but for persons to be compelled to educate their children in the manner which the State may deem requisite, is quite another thing. If education is enforced up to a certain standard, the difficulty which at once strikes me is, the mode in which that standard is to be attained? I understand the Legislature declaring that all children shall be educated up to a certain standard, but not the justice of establishing the mode in which it is to be done. When the State interferes to compel parents to educate their children in a certain manner, it appears to me that the civil liberty of the subject is infringed. I was somewhat surprised when the Attorney-General stated that he considered this a party question, because it struck me he was imperceptibly allowing himself to be dragged into the common herd of those who are too apt to make onslaughts on the personal liberty of the people of this country.
When we find a man like the Attorney-General allowing himself imperceptibly to be dragged in with those who are inclined to tyrannize over others, it is high time to beware of persons who do not occupy the position which he does. That is the light in which I view this Bill. If the education of all children up to a certain point is to be paid for by the State, I can understand the proposition; but I want to know why it should not be admitted, also, that a person who brings into the market an article in the shape of education equal to that procurable in any Government school, but which has not been derived from sources provided by the State, ought to be paid for it? I want to know why, in point of fact, we should establish government schools at all, except in outlying districts, where the population is sparse and small? Why in thickly populated districts there should be Government schools at all I cannot understand. If the State pays for schools, it gives a certain amount of money to be divided among those who are to be educated, according to their number. That amount is, in effect, divisible by the number to be taught. Why, then, if a certain sum is appropriated to each child for the purpose of his education, should the Government not let the quota of money be spent wherever the person or persons concerned please? If some such principle were engrafted on this Bill, it would remove many of the objections entertained to it [...] In fact, we have very few details before us at present; but I merely wish honorable members to keep this broad principle in view before they come to consider the Bill at its second reading - to ask themselves whether they are willing to enforce throughout the country a system of education in which all people cannot equally and conscientiously participate. [718]
An honorable Member: Why?
Mr. Fellows: I don't want to know why. I don't care why. It is an infraction of personal liberty to ask why. it is their will, and they choose it to be so - that is why. As to education being free, that is a new view into which I do not wish to go now. I agree to education being compulsory, provided the mode does not involve an infraction of personal liberty.
An Honorable Member. Is not compulsory education itself an infraction of personal liberty?
Mr. Fellows: I have already said that education must be regarded to a certain extent as a matter of police, otherwise the State would have no right to interfere at all. To that extent I am quite prepared to vote for compulsory education, provided the mode is left to the choice of those who are compelled to be taught. As to the secular division of the question, it is just as tyrannical to compel secular education as to compel religious education. When a child is compelled to submit to religious education it is tyranny.