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Wednesday, 22 August 2012
Page: 6087

Carbon Pricing

Senator MASON (Queensland) (14:00): My question is to the Minister representing the Minister for Climate Change and Energy Efficiency, Senator Wong. Is the minister aware of reports that the Anglican Church Grammar School in East Brisbane faces an increase in its electricity bill of $70,000 per year, an increase of some 30 per cent, as a direct result of the government's carbon tax? Isn't it the case that every school in Australia will, like the Anglican Church Grammar School, face significant increases in running costs as a result of the carbon tax resulting in either cutbacks in student services, higher fees or other costs to parents, or both?

Senator WONG (South AustraliaMinister for Finance and Deregulation) (14:00): The answer is no because, as the senator would well know—and it is embarrassing that the only way he can get a question on education is to ask a question on carbon. That is how much priority those opposite place on education. The only way you can get a question in the portfolio area is to ask a question about carbon pricing.

As you would well know, Senator, the Commonwealth funds schools on an indexed basis. The funding is based on the AGSRC, average government school recurrent costs, amount that takes into account increases in operating costs, and utility costs are included in that index. That is the truth, but of course what we really want to know is what the coalition would do when it came to education because apparently, according to Mr Robb, they are going to give all of education to Campbell Newman. That is the new policy from the coalition: We are going to outsource education and health to the states because we—Her Majesty is on his feet.

Senator Brandis: Mr President, on a point of order on the question of direct relevance to the question: the question was about the effect of the carbon tax on the costs to schools; it has nothing whatsoever to do with Campbell Newman.

Senator Jacinta Collins: Mr President, on the point of order: Senator Wong is being directly relevant. She is outlining what the opposition's alternative would be to school funding and operating costs, which may include any costs associated with running schools, and Senator Brandis understands as well. Senator Mason regrets the fact that he was asked to present this question, because he full knows the answer about the AGSRC.

The PRESIDENT: There is no point of order. The minister has 59 seconds remaining to address the question.

Senator WONG: In fact I answered the—

Senator Bernardi: Mr President, on a point of order: Senator Wong continually refers to senators on this side, particularly Senator Brandis, by the incorrect title. As someone who has been the most precious, outspoken and glass-jawed minister that has ever been taken into this Senate, we should not have to put up with the petty abuse from the most failed and pathetic minister that we have ever seen in this place.

Government senators interjecting


Senator Chris Evans: Mr President, on a point of order: Senator Wong merely seeks to recognise Senator Brandis's position as a member of royalty and the demeanour which he brings associated with that, and I am sure it is meant as a compliment.

The PRESIDENT: Order! That is not a point of order. I remind honourable senators on both sides that, when referring to members of this place or the other, the correct title of the appropriate person must be used on both sides and in both chambers. The minister now has 55 seconds remaining to answer the question.

Senator WONG: Given Senator Brandis demands that we call the British government Her Majesty's government, I did not think he would be offended by the term 'Her Majesty'. But if he is, I will not call him 'Her Majesty' whilst I am on my feet. If I can just return to the question: I in fact answered it in the first 10 seconds, which shows what sort of question it was. I am unsurprised that Senator Brandis jumps to his feet to suggest that it is not relevant what the shadow minister for finance says the opposition will do for education. We have made very clear when it comes—

Senator Brandis: Mr President, on a point of order: with respect, you cannot allow this minister to defy your authority as she continually does. Having ruled the last point of order out of order, you are now entertaining a minister answering a question about the effect of a carbon tax on schools by making a comment on the motives of one senator in taking a point of order on relevance. How can that be relevant to the question she was asking?

The PRESIDENT: There is no point of order. I am listening to the minister's answer. The minister has 19 seconds remaining to address the question.

Senator WONG: As I pointed out to the senator in the first 15 seconds, the AGSRC does take into account increases in operating costs, and utility costs are included in that index—and this is from the government that doubled funding to schools.

Honourable senators interjecting

The PRESIDENT: Order! A question was asked by Senator Mason. Senator Mason is entitled to hear the answer to the question. Senator Mason is also entitled to supplementary questions if he so chooses. Other additional comments from those other than Senator Mason should not interrupt the procedure of this question time.

Senator MASON (Queensland) (14:07): Mr President, I ask a supplementary question. The minister has indicated that schools will be compensated for the carbon tax through the indexation of federal funding, which I understand is currently calculated at around six per cent a year. How much does the government intend to increase school indexation to cover the cost of the carbon tax?

Senator WONG (South AustraliaMinister for Finance and Deregulation) (14:07): That is properly a question for the Minister representing the Minister for School Education, Early Childhood and Youth but, given that the opposition seem to want to ask questions of only me, I am happy to provide what information I can.

Honourable senators interjecting

Senator Chris Evans interjecting

Senator WONG: No, 'knuckle draggers' is Senator Carr's trademark. He has a patent on that. I understand that the AGSRC is calculated using the expenditure by state and territory government schools and is updated by the ministerial council. Whilst the main inclusions offer salaries and allowances for teachers and related on-costs, the index also includes other recurrent costs such as the cost of utilities. If you want further information, Senator, I suggest you ask the relevant minister.

In relation to the broader issue of funding, this is the government that has doubled school funding—something that cannot be matched by the opposition, given that their plan is to slash services such as health and education. (Time expired)

Senator MASON (Queensland) (14:08): Mr President, I ask a further supplementary question. Given the many sacrifices Australian parents already make to send their children to school, and the tireless effort to which school communities go to raise funds for their schools, why is the government making it harder for schools, harder for students and harder for parents by taking money out of the education system to pay for this toxic tax based on a lie?

Senator WONG (South AustraliaMinister for Finance and Deregulation) (14:09): This government has been second to none when it comes to supporting education. Unlike those opposite, where we have the Leader of the Opposition declaring war on the public school system, we have sought not to divide and not to play the politics of division when it comes to education. If we want to talk about making it harder for parents and schools, those opposite voted against the schoolkids bonus. I am asked about making things harder for schools and school communities. Those opposite have continued to criticise the Building the Education Revolution—a massive investment into infrastructure for our children and for future generations. Those opposite, I assume, are criticising this government for doubling school funding. If you want to ask a question about education, I suggest you get your own house in order. Your only policy, Senator, is to outsource it to Campbell Newman—and everyone knows what that means. (Time expired)