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Friday, 10 November 2000
Page: 19692


Senator ELLISON (Special Minister of State) (11:38 AM) —Senator Carr knows perhaps better thananybody else with his involvement in education that the scheme in place has been in place for a long time—it was in place under the previous Labor government—and, in this regard, Victoria has repeatedly failed to meet the recognition requirement under the agreement either to arrange an opening or to seek agreement to a ministerial exemption for 400 projects over the three years 1997 to 1999. The Victorian education department was advised in March this year—


Senator Carr —Did you say '97?


Senator ELLISON —The advice that I have is from 1997. The Victorian education department was advised in March 2000 that funds may be withheld if openings were not arranged or exemptions sought. These are the same recognition requirements, as I say, that applied under the previous Labor government. To say that it is all about a plaque and that whose name goes on it is facile is not the point at all. What we have is a system where capital works are provided. The Victorian government receives some $50 million from the Commonwealth for capital works in government schools annually on conditions agreed to by the state and territory governments. As Senator Carr and other senators and members would know, when you have a function of this sort, it is a great opportunity for members of parliament to meet with the parents, teachers and students and other people related to the school to find out what is really concerning them. Functions of this sort at schools are great opportunities for members and senators to attend and to get excellent feedback on what is going on. I have certainly benefited from that.

In June this year, the Victorian education department sought a blanket exemption for all projects for the 1997-99 period that had not met the recognition requirement to date. On 6 October this year, Minister Kemp wrote to the Victorian minister offering to exempt all but 26 major projects which were due for completion this year, and indicated an intention to reduce Victoria's allocation by $2.5 million if there was no assurance by 20 October that openings for the 26 projects would be arranged and held within a reasonable time frame. So we are talking only about 26 major projects that were the subject of this correspondence. Whilst no response has yet been received from the Victorian education department, the government is pleased to note that Minister Delahunty is reported to have confirmed that such an assurance will be given. It is appropriate that that assurance be given.

We have a situation here which is no different from that which operated under the previous Labor government. It is fair that the Commonwealth get recognition for the funding that it provides for education—and the previous Labor government held to that as well. It is not fair that you have a situation where state education authorities do not want to acknowledge the contribution by the Commonwealth government of the day. I would have thought that Senator Carr would be the first to acknowledge this, as a person who holds more to the centralist line of politics than to states' rights. This is an issue or principle involving the acknowledgment of where the contribution comes from. The people of Australia are entitled to know where a contribution to schooling comes from or, for that matter, anything else, and whether an initiative is a Commonwealth initiative or a state initiative. I think that is a basic right of Australians to know. These functions provide an opportunity for parents, teachers and other people related to the school community to know exactly where the funding is coming from. I think that that is a very important issue indeed.

This is an amendment that the government cannot support. The Democrats are proposing to bring about a situation which could impinge on the bilateral relationships that you have between the Commonwealth and state governments; for instance, the publication sought would intrude upon the sensitivity of that relationship. Obviously, relationships between the Commonwealth and various state governments do become, from time to time, somewhat sensitive. I think that what the Democrats are proposing could well make that relationship even more difficult to manage. It is important for the good of all Australians that our federal system is managed properly, and this is not an amendment which would see the advancement of that proper management.