PM Transcripts

Transcripts from the Prime Ministers of Australia

Transcript 975


Photo of Menzies, Robert

Menzies, Robert

Period of Service: 19/12/1949 to 26/01/1966

More information about Menzies, Robert on The National Archive website.

Release Date: 14/08/1964

Release Type: Speech

Transcript ID: 975

Y. V. C. A. S YDNY 14-th AUGUST. 1964
Speech_ bL_ the Prime inistetEe. n-et enzies
Mr. President, Mr. Minister, the Director and Ladies and
Gentlemen If I haven't on a former occasion appeared before
you, or those vho work with you, I can assure you that it isn't
the fault of your former President, because Sid Liebert and I
were at school together; he was known as " Skinny", and I Has
skinny; so you can tell it was a long, long time ago. Welve
remained great friends, and I know rather more about the
Parents and Citizens than I would have known perhEaps but for
him. Now I want to say at once that I think that the
work that you do is of tremendous importance I've a few
reasons for saying that. nne is that we live, don't we, in
a period, in an age in which there is a dispositicn to think
that governments ought to do everything, and that all we need
to do is pay our taxes, and complain at the way the government
spends them. vihen one encounters the supplementing of public duty
by private voluntary effort, one is greatly encouraged about
the future of the country, and you, ladies and gentlemen here
today, represent in the most striking fashion that spirit of
self-help and of help to others which must never be allowed to
die out; we must never become so regimented that we regard
our duties as confined to our obligations. Now, that's one
reason why m very glad to be here.
Now what is it that you do? I was a schoolboy
once, believe it or not, and a State schoolboy in the State of
Victoria we call them State schools there a little country
school first of all, and then a larger State school in the City
of Ballarat, and then a private secondary school, and then what
we call a Public School in Victoria, and the University. I've
had a fairly versatile experience and perhaps because of that,
I've maintained all through my life the most passionate interest
in the educational development of the country. But in those
days, in those State school days, using the Victorian term,
I don't remember any Parents arid Citizens bodies. You went to
school, you gazed with profound awe at your teachers who gazed
at us correspondingly with profound contempt, and then we went
back home, and iient along to school nexIt day. No-r, what you've
done, and what you are doing on the most extraordinary scale
and in an expanding way, is not only to add to the facilities
that the government provides other things, other human things
that will help to round out, to fill out the life of the
school boy and school girl, and in the course of doing that,
you come into contact with regularity, I venture to believe,
with the schoolteachers. Now, Ilve a very great respect for schoolteachers,
and we all have, but you know, we must never allow them to
become a race apart. We must never allow them to become a race
apart. 4e must never allow them to get into that state of
detachment in which they tell children what they must do, or
ought to do; and not come into adequate contact with the
parts of Australia al:: eady very higbiy Caevei. opec ana urw-t; ore
others that are just crying out for it. But we can't discriminate
tinder the constitution between one State and another. We can,
if we make a grant, Wle can't discriminate in our taxation
laws. We can't say, "' Yell, all right, you can go without paying / 3

taxes. Je want to encourage you." Mind you, we've tried to.
' Ie've got a rather unlawful statute operating at the present
time, but as a strict constitutional principle, discrimination
is barred. Now. I just give you that very simple exaiaple of
why the passion for uniformity can be a serious menace to
national growth. And I believe it would be a serious menace
to individual growth.
Today, education, in particular primary and secondary
education, are within the domain of the States, and not within
the domain of the Commonwealth. Now, this is an excellent
thing in my opinion. I would violently resist a proposal
that the whole business of education should be passed over to
the Commonwealth, and put under some central legislative and
administrative control because I believe that would be a very
bad thing for education. And why? Because I don't think it
is necessarily true that the curriculum or circumstances
appropriate to a child north of Cairns is necessarily the same
kind of thing that is appropriate to a child south of Hobart.
This is an enormous country; it has all sorts of differences
of climate and conditions and industrial growth all the
varieties in the world can he fcund in Australia. To say that
every child in Australia must go through exactly the same process
of tuition and be controlled by an all-wise Parliament at Canberra
seems to me to be hopelessly wrong and, indeed, vary dangerous.
Uniformity in education has little to commend it
in my eyes. IPm all for variety, a variecy of schools, a variety
of curricula standards to be observed, yes standards to be raised,
but above all things, never let us lose sight of the fact that all
men ( I say nothing about wcmen for this purpose) but all men are
not the same, and all men are not equal, except in the eyes of
their Maker and I hope, in the eyes of the law, But otherwise
we're individcais, all different: some have great inborn talents
for one thing, some great inborn talents for anothcr some with
moderate talents., and some with ncne beyond -he routine of life.
We know this. Our great function when we approach the problem
of education is to equalise opportunity to see that every boy and
girl has a chance to develop whatever faculties he or she may have,
because this will be a tremendous contribution to the good life
for the nation, and to their own good life, because there's an
immense personal satisfaction in accumulating some of the treasures
of the mind, But we're never to fall into the error of thinking
that we are all equal in talents, in aptitudes, in industry, in
ambition, in energy, because if we are obviously not all identical,
one or the other, in this way, it follows that what may be a very
proper course of education for one may be inadequate for another,
or inappropriate to a third.
I recently had occasion to be reading something about
what has been called the mechanistic approach to life the
system of rather heathen philosophy which was practised by Karl
a-x and. expounded, b. Kar Marx and-by. Engels te idea that
rmn voJ. liion, ind vill pul mnai lilton renily. oi no momunt,
that the whole of history moves along to the exercise of muchanical
forces by material eircumstnces which, of course redces
human respoiiiility to a minimum, and reduces in te human brain
the necessary consciousness of having some command over his own
destiny. And this is to be contrasted with our more civilised
ideas which concentrate upon freedom for the individual, and the
development of the individual the encouragement the opening
of doors, where doors may now be locked and barred but if we
accustom ourselves too much, too easily, to a highly centralised,
uniform, almost authoritarian control over the process of
education, then we will be moving more towards that bad philosophy
to which I referred, and away from the good philosophy in which
I think all of us here this morning most firmly believe,

Now, Sir, I don't want to hold you up at any
length, but I wanted to say those things because every now
and then I detect a temptation in people's minds to say that
if we're going to have a proper, effective, one hundred per cent.
satisfactory educational system it's the Commonwealth that must
do it. Jell there's a very old proverb about the man who pays
the piper calling the tune, and it's pretty deep-seated in human
nature, I'm the last man to complain about the Commonwealth
being called upon to make contribution where contribution is
necessary. I, in fact, have the great honour of having instituted
a system of advances in the tertiary field, in the University
field, which have now amounted to very large sums of money paid
out by the Commonwealth every year, and I don't complain of it,
I'm proud of it. I think it was right, because I think the
universities would have gone hopelessly bankrupt if we hadn't
come in. In a week or two I'm going to receive a report, I'm
told, from a special committee set up to investigate tertiary
education, and this report will most obviously though I've
not seen a word of it but I know will contain recommendations
of a far-reaching kind, which will produce, no doubt, a few pale
and wan countenances in the Treasury. But that's in the future,
though it's in the very near future.
We have recently intervened in the secondary fiald
to the extent of our provision of scholarships and of science
teaching facilities both of these things of tremendous
importance if, firs t we're going to maKe the best use of our
universities and if, second, we're going to increase the resources,
the scientific and technological resources of this new world
into which we move,
But all I want to say to you is this, that if the
habit develops of saying that the Cemmonwealth ought to take over
the financial responsibility for education as a whole ( and we
now carry quite a handsome percentage cf it. I may say), but if
the Commonwealth is to be told time after times " You must take
over the financial responsibility for education", then don't
you think that it's quite likely that the Commonwealth Parliament,
or the Government of the day may say: " Well, if we're to have
all the responsibility we must have all the control. If we're
to pay the piper in full, we must call the tune in full." Look,
this is a very great danger. It's not a danger with me, I may
say, but then, of course, I won't, strange as it may seem, last
forever. It would be no danger with me, because I have the
most violent objection to the Commonwealth interfering with the
States in the exercise of their powers because they do their
jobs very well, and I have no shadow of complaint about it.
But in the long run, if you take a broad view of
constitutional growth, and compare it with the history of other
countries, you will realise that in every Federal system ( and
that's the most difficult system in the world it's the most
legalistic system in the world), that in every Federation you
either have a movement away from the centre, so that the
Federation tends to break up, or you have a centripetal movement
so that more and more power goes to the centre, sometimes without
constitutional amendment at all; so that you may finally say:
" Well, the States have become mere shadows the whole power is in
the central Parliament and administration. Now, this is
elementary, constitutional history, I am bound to say.
In modern times, we've seen two new Federations
established: one in the West Indies, and one in Africa the
Federation of Rhodesia and Nyasaland. Each of them broke up
within a few years; neither of them lasted I think the one in

Africa lasted for ten years, the one in the West Indies for
almost a matter of months. And that's because the instinct
for central government was weak and the parts came apart,
separated into their original form. Now in Australia the
process is different. The whole movement here has been rather
to strengthen the position of the central administration,
particularly in financial matters; and this is, perhaps, an
inevitable part of history. But I don't want, myself, to see
that centralising process in terms of power, authority, control,
carried to a point . where the States no longer manage their own
educational programmes and affairs. Nothing could be worse.
You must have a proper respect for politicians,
but you must also have a certain healthy distrust of ua. lTe're
not always to be entrusted with great pouer. It's a very good
thing to have a division of power, if you're going to preserve
liberty. Give any political orgnisation full power, and you
are taking the first step in the direction of a tyranny which
will be based on the idea that as all of those whom we control
must obey us, then they must all be uniform, they must just be,
so to speak, pawns in The power game. Don't, don't ever permit
yourself to get into a position where there's a strong movement
to hand over education to the Commcnwealth.
I, speaking as the beneficiary of the educational
systems of my own country, of all sorts, would regard it as a
bad day for Australia if we ceased to have this variety of
authorities, this variety of curricula in the schools, this
immense variety of parents visiting the schools, t2ling to the
teachers, producing a broad attitude of mind, encouraging the
teacher by their interest, learning from him, and at the 3ame
time, all the time, contributing; to this variety in human
nature which, when you consider it, is the essence of life,
isn't it? Just thirnk of it: suppose we wore all the same,
suppose you looked all the same. I would h., ve gone mad instantly,
and I nevor would have received my award as the Father of the
Year. Sir, I have the greatest pleasure in the world in
declaring this Conference open. 5

Transcript 975