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Monday, 21 June 2004
Page: 30908

Mr NEVILLE (3:24 PM) —My question is addressed to the Minister for Education, Science and Training. Would the minister inform the House how the government is supporting choice and opportunity for Australian parents and school students? Is the minister aware of any plans to remove the record funding from Australian schools?

Dr NELSON (Minister for Education, Science and Training) —I thank the member for Hinkler for his question and for taking me to one of the finest schools in the country, Kepnock State High School in Bundaberg. This government believes very strongly in quality education and in choice in education. Australians, having paid their taxes to support what should be well-resourced state schools which are funded, run and largely administered by state governments, should be free to choose the kind of school that they think best meets the educational aspirations that they have for their children. This week the Prime Minister and this government will be announcing not only record funding for schools over the next four years but also a determination to drive standards, quality and national consistency right across Australia in school education.

I am asked about alternative policies. It is somewhat difficult to get the full detail of alternative policies but, for example, on 26 March this year at the William Carey Christian School in Sydney, the Deputy Leader of the Opposition was asked about school resourcing. She said, `Well, as I was just mentioning, the No. 1 issue is fees.' She was then asked whether it was just a handful of schools that were going to be affected and have their funding cut under a Labor government, and she said, `It's more than a handful, because once you go into Melbourne as well as Sydney there's many.'

The following day the Australian Financial Review, in reporting this, said:

Mr Latham's press release specifically mentions Sydney's The Kings School as overfunded, but his education spokeswoman, Jenny Macklin, has previously singled out a number of schools, and one of those was the Bunbury Cathedral Grammar School in Western Australia.

So the Labor Party is saying to Australians that in government it will reduce the level of assistance to parents on the basis of the fees charged by the school. So the higher the sacrifice made by the parents the less assistance they will receive from a Labor government.

Bunbury Cathedral Grammar School charges $9,200 a year in fees. That means that there are at least 127 non-government schools in Australia—educating 123,000 Australian children—that will have their funding cut under a Latham Labor government. The Australian Labor Party needs to come clean now and tell us which those schools are. If you do go to Melbourne, Mr Speaker, you might go to the Mount Scopus Memorial College in the electorate of Chisholm. There are 1,300 students there—Australian children. Or you could go to the Mount Scopus Memorial College at St Kilda East, at Gandel Besen House. I would like to see the member for Melbourne Ports turn up there and explain to Jewish families why their kids are worthy of less support for their education under a Labor government. If there is one thing that the Jewish community knows a lot about it is sacrifice and making sacrifices for your kids to get a better education.

As to other policies, we know that when the Leader of the Opposition was Labor's education spokesman he felt very passionately about his education policy—so much so that when he put it to the then Leader of the Opposition, the member for Brand, it was completely rubbed out. In fact, after the election in October 1998 Alan Ramsey reported:

His voice came burning down the line. His anger even still was intense. Yet Mark Latham regrets nothing, he says, to be treated like dirt.

So what did he feel he was being treated like dirt about? What is there that he felt so passionately about that it made him seethe with anger and go to the back bench for a couple of years? What was it in that policy? Brian Toohey reported it the following month, in November 1998, in an article entitled `Homework police'. He said:

Mark Latham wanted parents to lose social security benefits unless they agreed to let retired teachers into their homes to monitor compliance with homework requirements.

Can you believe that in this day and age the leader of a major political party would feel so strongly about that? He also said:

Latham wants to start with the long-term unemployed by cutting their benefits if they do not agree to help their kids with homework.

So the homework police are going to knock on your door at four o'clock in the afternoon and find out whether your kids have done their homework and whether their parents are helping them with it. If not, they have to go to a monthly democracy education class. It would be funny if it were not so serious, but this is the kind of Australia that we are likely to see under a Labor government, where some kids are considered to be of so little value that they get less—if any—money for their education and the novice nanny leader is going to come into their homes with the homework police at four o'clock in the afternoon. The Labor Party needs to come clean on its policy and it needs to do so immediately.

Mr Howard —Mr Speaker, I ask that further questions be placed on the Notice Paper.