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Monday, 29 May 2000
Page: 16408

Mr GEORGIOU (2:39 PM) —My question is addressed to the Minister for Education, Training and Youth Affairs. Would the minister inform the House about Australia's national investment in education? Is the minister aware of any comments implying that Australia is reducing its national investment in education? What are the facts in relation to this issue?

Dr KEMP (Minister for Education, Training and Youth Affairs and Minister Assisting the Prime Minister for the Public Service) —I thank the honourable member for Kooyong for his question. Education spending under the Howard government has reached a record, with $11.6 billion being available for education in this year 2000-01. This represents a boost of some $382 million over the previous year for education expenditure.

I am aware of comments that Australia is, in fact, disinvesting in education. Those comments occurred in the Leader of the Opposition's reply to the budget speech. He argued that Commonwealth spending on education was 1.8 per cent of GDP this year and had declined from 2.2 per cent five years ago. Mr Speaker, you would have to say that there was a reasonably small chance that this statement by the Leader of the Opposition was correct because, whenever he gives himself over to some factual comment on education, he is invariably wrong.

Mr Crean —You ought to talk!

Mr SPEAKER —The Deputy Leader of the Opposition!

Dr KEMP —We remember the policy that he introduced at the last election campaign that was so bad and so full of errors that the shadow minister for education resigned on the strength of it and went to the back bench.

Mr SPEAKER —The Deputy Leader of the Opposition!

Dr KEMP —We remember his recent announcement of the opposition's goal on education being that 90 per cent of school leavers would have a post-school qualification. That turned out to be a slight exaggeration from the current figure of 12 per cent and it was later revised.

Mr Speaker, when you look closely at the Leader of the Opposition's figures, you find that they are completely incorrect—that the 2.2 per cent of GDP quoted by the Leader of the Opposition as representing Commonwealth expenditure five years ago included Austudy. Since then, of course, there has been a major reform: the youth allowance has been introduced. The youth allowance was placed in the Department of Social Security; it is no longer in those education figures. That explains the difference between the 2.2 per cent five years ago and the 1.8 per cent today. This was sheer carelessness on the part of the Leader of the Opposition—sheer carelessness.

Mr SPEAKER —The member for Dobell!

Dr KEMP —Where did he get this figure from? He got it from the press release of the member for Dobell.

Mr SPEAKER —The member for Dobell is warned!

Dr KEMP —The member for Dobell presumably got it from the Australian Education Union. Sharan Burrow, Shazza, has now gone on to bigger things, but she has been replaced by Denis Fitzgerald—and Dezza is no more reliable than Shazza was. As a source of information, the Australian Education Union is hopeless. The Leader of the Opposition ought to know that he should never rely on the member for Dobell for facts about education. He should have had the commonsense to check this figure before including it in his speech. It was not a minor statistic just in passing in the speech; this was the fundamental fact on which the Leader of the Opposition based his claim—his false claim, his fallacious claim—that Australia was disinvesting in education.

Mr Beazley —What is the figure?

Dr KEMP —The correct figure is now 1.9 per cent, not 2.2 per cent. Therefore, there has been essentially no change whatever in the investment in education. Indeed, because GDP has been growing so rapidly, there has been a 15 per cent real increase in Commonwealth spending on education since 1994-95; schools spending has risen as a proportion of GDP from 0.65 per cent to 0.73 per cent of GDP. In other words, the Commonwealth is increasing its investment in education; it is making a massive investment in education. It is the sheer laziness and incompetence of the Leader of the Opposition that led him to base his claims on a completely fallacious statistic.