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Wednesday, 29 November 2000
Page: 20129

Senator ROBERT RAY (2:53 PM) —I direct my question to the Special Minister of State, Senator Ellison, representing the Minister for Education, Training and Youth Affairs. Is the minister aware that the Australian Secondary Schools Association has complained that the nightmarish administrative burden of the GST is forcing schools to rethink extracurricular activities they offer students? Have these concerns been brought to the attention of the government? And is it true that the government's attitude is that schools will simply have to accept the GST burden, no matter what the cost and no matter what the disruption to school programs?

Senator ELLISON (Special Minister of State) —I understand Senator Ray is talking about the comments that were quoted in the press from the Australian Secondary Principals Association. Whilst the new tax system has changed the tax landscape for schools, it has done that for the whole Australian community, and the compliance costs will be more than compensated by the surge of resources available to the sector through a reformed, efficient tax system. We have also announced in the GST start-up office an additional $17 million to assist the education sector with the implementation of the GST. Treasury has estimated that the cost of delivering education will fall by about a billion dollars over four years. That is an enormous cost saving to the educational sector over four years. The Commonwealth grant payments to non-government schools have been grossed up to take into account the GST and have not been reduced due to the abolition of the wholesale sales tax, which I understand is one of the concerns mentioned. There will be an overall reduction in Commonwealth grant funding in the foreseeable future.

The government position on the GST is quite clear: all educational activities that are related to a school's curriculum are GST free. What we have here is a new tax system which offers great benefits to the community across all sectors. What we have is a new tax system which is offering a cost saving of a billion dollars over four years—and that is a Treasury estimation. We have announced measures to assist with the implementation of the GST in the education sector, and I mentioned $17 million going into that. What we have here is a new tax system which is going to benefit also the parents of those students attending Australian schools. What we have is benefits, income tax reductions, for the majority of parents who send their children to Australian schools—and that is across the board, whether it is the government or non-government sector. We stand by our new tax system and we stand by the benefits that it will bring to the education sector across both the government and non-government sectors.

Senator ROBERT RAY —Madam President, I ask a supplementary question. Minister, are you in fact saying that schools have absolutely nothing to complain about in terms of the complexity and the administrative burden that has been placed on them by the GST? Are you in fact saying that they are complaining for no good reason at all? And will you, as minister, or the minister you represent, approach the Australian Taxation Office and try to have the paperwork simplified so that many of these extracurricular activities can continue, to the great benefit of students?

Senator ELLISON (Special Minister of State) —I mentioned the GST start-up office has $17 million for the implementation of the new tax system to assist in these very measures that Senator Ray has mentioned. We have announced that we realise that it is a new tax system and that there are changes across the board. But we have also announced assistance from the GST start-up office for these sorts of measures. I would say to those people Senator Ray has referred to that they should go to the GST start-up office and make use of that valuable assistance that is there for them.