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Thursday, 10 May 2007
Page: 83

Mr RUDD (2:48 PM) —My question is again to the Prime Minister. Will the Prime Minister now confirm that according to his own budget papers his government’s spending on education will decline between 2005 and 2010 as a proportion of total government spending? How can the Prime Minister, four months before an election, pretend now to be interested in the future of education in Australia when his own budget papers and his own track record over the past 11 years demonstrate exactly the reverse?

Mr HOWARD (Prime Minister) —I can confirm everything which is in the budget papers in relation to education. I happily and freely do that. I repeat what I said yesterday: those budget papers reveal that over the four years of the forward estimates there will be a rise of something like 9.7 per cent in real terms in spending on education, and it will be at a rate of, I think, 3.7 per cent in real terms in relation to tertiary or university education. So I am very happy to confirm that.

Can I also confirm something else. I heard the Leader of the Opposition say something yesterday and I also heard it repeated this morning by the member for Perth while he was defending the intention of the Leader of the Opposition to change a policy he ultimately did not change through fear of upsetting Senator Brown. The member for Perth asked, ‘If the Prime Minister had been interested in tertiary education and university education, why hadn’t the government, earlier in time, invested $5 billion in the Higher Education Endowment Fund?’ That is a fair question, but do you know what the answer is? Earlier in time we were still paying off Labor’s $96 billion debt and we did not have the $5 billion. This little reality appears to have escaped attention.

I think I anticipate correctly: no doubt this little line will be a runner tonight in the Leader of the Opposition’s speech. He will say, ‘It’s four months before the election; why didn’t they do it a few years ago?’ We did not have the capacity to do it responsibly a few years ago because we were still in a net debt position. Now that we have made provision for the superannuation entitlements, inter alia of the men and women of the Australian Defence Force, years into the future through the Future Fund, we are in a position to make this magnificent investment.

And I have other news for the Leader of the Opposition which he will not like to hear. If the Australian people were to re-elect this government in the next election—and, unlike the Leader of the Opposition, I make no boasts on that subject—they can rest assured that we will make further contributions out of future surpluses into the Higher Education Endowment Fund. It is a magnificent investment in Australia’s future. It is a feature of this year’s budget that we have taken the great prosperity this country has and we have deployed it in two ways: we have given a human dividend to the present generation, to which they are entitled, and we have laid aside a portion of that prosperity for our financial security and for the young of Australia in the future. Thank heavens we are in a position to do it! I say to the Leader of the Opposition, through you, Mr Speaker: if we had been in a better financial position a few years ago, we would have done it then. The reason we were not was that the mob who sit opposite left us with a $96 billion debt. They tried to stop us getting rid of that debt. Now we are in position to do so—

Mr Tanner interjecting

The SPEAKER —Order! The member for Melbourne!

Mr HOWARD —we can make this decision.

Mr Tanner interjecting

The SPEAKER —The member for Melbourne is warned!

Mr HOWARD —We are proud of it, and we will be happy to proclaim the value of it from one side of this country to the other.