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Tuesday, 16 September 2008
Page: 32

Senator MARSHALL (3:59 PM) —In my very first speech in this place I said, among very many other important things, the following:

I believe education is a fundamental right that all people should have the opportunity to receive. It is an ingredient that all in our society are richer for and, in turn, it is the responsibility of all in our society to fund and control it. It is the basis for all invention, innovation, research development and leading social theory in our society. It is the key to equality, opportunity and prosperity.

That is why, after being in this place for six years, I am excited and thrilled that this newly elected Rudd Labor government is embarking on the much needed education revolution for this country. I think it is disappointing that Senator Brandis, who readily admitted in his contribution that he has dealt with all these issues already through the Senate estimates—

Senator Carol Brown —You mean Senator Mason.

Senator MARSHALL —Did I say Senator Brandis? I say sorry to both Senator Brandis and Senator Mason, and I hope neither of them sues me. Senator Mason readily admitted in his contribution to this debate that all these issues have been thoroughly dealt with through the Senate estimates process. All those issues and figures that Senator Mason talked about were thoroughly canvassed and adequately responded to by the department and the relevant minister at the table through many, many hours of Senator Mason’s questions, yet Senator Mason continues—based on a fabrication—to run the line that this government is not committed to the education revolution. Quite frankly this demonstrates the poverty of the previous government’s, the now opposition’s, position with respect to education as a whole.

Senator Mason well knows that some of those figures that were being quoted were on the basis of a single computer with singly purchased software in a single installation. That is clearly not the case and that was gone through and explained to Senator Mason hour after hour by the department. The costs of bulk purchasing of the many thousands upon thousands of computers and their software together with the bulk arrangements for the rollout of these computers in schools are nowhere near the costs that he quotes for a single individual unit. I think it is unfortunate that, based on that fabrication, Senator Mason wants to run the line that what we are doing in terms of an education revolution is not with the best intentions for the future of our economic development in this country and with the best interests of our community at heart.

I appreciate that Senator Mason is actually very passionate about education and I give him due credit in that respect. But it is a problem when in opposition—and I have seen it because I have spent quite some time in opposition—that rather than constructively addressing the issue he is trying to take this fabrication and expand it into an argument to undermine the very education revolution that this country needs. I thought that Senator Mason was better than that. One must wonder and question, given his contribution today, whether he actually thinks that rolling out computers to secondary school students is a good thing or a bad thing.

Senator Brandis —You shouldn’t question that at all. What he said is that you screwed up the policy.

Senator MARSHALL —Senator Brandis, maybe you should have been here for the contribution.

Senator Brandis interjecting—

Senator MARSHALL —I will listen very carefully to your contribution to this debate later on. Senator Mason’s words stand for themselves. Given his attacks on the rolling out of computers, which are all based on a fabricated set of figures, one must question—

Senator Brandis —They weren’t a fabricated set of figures.

Senator MARSHALL —Maybe, Senator Brandis, you should listen a little bit more carefully to what I have just explained to you and which was explained hour after hour to Senator Mason. Either he did not listen to what the departmental officials were explaining to him or maybe, just conveniently, he did not want to hear, so he could keep running this fictitious case based on fabricated figures, which he knows—and I am disappointed that he is not better than this and that he is not actually lifting his game to a higher level—is simply a political stunt to undermine the education revolution that this country so needs. One would have thought that he could have actually got up and told us about what they did when they were in government. We did not hear anything about that because we know that what they, the now opposition, did in government was simply to de-fund education. They did worse than stand still.

In the House today Minister Gillard talked about the latest OECD figures from 2005—and they are the latest figures available. They showed that public school funding during the life of the previous government was 4.3 per cent of GDP in this country against the average OECD figure of five per cent. We were ranked 19th in the OECD. That is very close to the bottom. In early education spending we were 24th out of 26 in the OECD. So it is not surprising that Senator Mason cannot come in and contribute to this debate based on any record of the previous government and instead simply wants to undermine our education revolution, which is so needed to fill the neglect that was left by the previous government.

The initiatives that the Minister for Education, Employment and Workplace Relations has undertaken in her portfolio touch on a number of bases. The education revolution is not just a slogan. The education revolution is a response to over 12 years of Liberal Party neglect.

Opposition senators interjecting—

Senator MARSHALL —I will be very interested to hear those senators interjecting opposite get up and defend the record of the previous government, because that record is absolutely atrocious.

Senator Brandis interjecting—

Senator MARSHALL —I wait to hear your contribution in this debate, Senator Brandis; you seem to have a lot to say in your interjecting from the sidelines, but let us hear your contribution. If you total up all the new commitments in education that the Rudd Labor government has made since the election, the figure is around $17.6 billion committed to our education revolution. Against what?

Senator Brandis —Did The Hollowmen write your speech for you?

Senator MARSHALL —Senator Brandis, if you want to keep interjecting, tell us what you spent. In your contribution to this debate, you can tell us what your government spent, because it pales into insignificance with our plans for an education revolution.

There are many reasons that this education revolution is needed. Research undertaken by the previous government last year showed that 44 per cent of Australian businesses were having trouble recruiting the people they needed. They were your figures, Senator Brandis. What we have in this country is a skills crisis. This government has made fixing it a national priority, and that does not mean just plugging the skills gaps we have today; it means building the skills we will need for tomorrow. That is in stark contrast to everything the previous government did. It was always about short-termism, always about blaming everybody else but never about a long-term vision of what this country needs. That is why this government has undertaken the education revolution. The people on the opposition benches should be applauding us for these initiatives, but instead we heard from Senator Mason a fabricated set of figures, which he then based a whole argument on, to try to undermine the massive commitment that this government is making to the future of our economy, our education system and our society.

This government has made massive new investments in every stage of the learning journey. At the heart of this initiative, it is essential that we overcome disadvantage and improve educational outcomes. We need a skilled workforce to fill the jobs of the future—white-collar, green-collar and blue-collar jobs—and that is a fact that the opposition apparently failed to recognise in their entire term of office.

Moreover, the government need to address the challenges of 12 years of climate change denial by the previous government. We need smart citizens to make climate change adaptation work on the ground and the education revolution will ensure that we have people with these skills to handle the new technologies climate change will summon forth, to hold down increasingly knowledge intensive jobs and to contribute creatively to the innovation process. (Time expired)