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Monday, 1 December 2008
Page: 7682


Senator MASON (2:22 PM) —My question is to the Minister representing the Treasurer, Senator Conroy. I refer to the Prime Minister’s pre-election pledge that his so called ‘computer for every student’ election promise was ‘fully costed and funded’. Can the minister confirm that this was not the case and that there has been a 66 per cent blow-out in the cost of the so-called ‘computers in schools’ program from $1.2 billion to $2 billion?


Senator CONROY (Minister for Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy) —I thank Senator Mason for that question. It would perhaps have been better directed at Senator Carr, but I am happy to deal with the question. For the first time there is a capital program dedicated to ensuring that, when a student in years 9 to 12 needs a computer for their education, it will be available. The Australian government has always recognised there are additional associated costs with the implementation of the National Secondary School Computer Fund. Only through COAG could these costs be agreed. A review to determine legitimate and additional funding implications of the National Secondary School Computer Fund was first completed with the full cooperation of all education jurisdictions. The report was then considered at the COAG meeting in conjunction with a range of Commonwealth-state financial reforms.

The funding package provides funding to meet the costs of installation and maintenance of the new computers purchased through the fund. In January 2008 the government conducted a nationwide preliminary survey of computers in schools, with 97 per cent of Australian secondary schools participating in the survey. The national audit asked schools to tell us how many computers they had that were under four years old, and specifically for students in years 9 to 12. The national audit revealed that the national average is one computer to every five students, despite claims— (Time expired)


Senator MASON —Mr President, I ask a supplementary question. Is it a fact that as well as a 66 per cent blow-out in the cost there has been a 50 per cent reduction in the number of computers to be made available, from a ratio of one to one to one to two? Aren’t Australian students now getting half the promised computers for almost double the promised price?

Honourable senators interjecting—


The PRESIDENT —Order! I am waiting for order so that I can call Senator Conroy.


Senator CONROY (Minister for Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy) —As I was mentioning, the national audit revealed that the national average is one computer to every five students, despite claims from the then Minister for Education, Science and Training that she had ‘yet to see a school that is not well served with computers’. One to five! That was the attitude of those opposite—everything was just fine. In round 1 of the program 946 schools from across Australia were invited to submit an application. These were schools with a student to computer ratio of one to eight. One to eight? You should be ashamed after 12 years in government. And worse was identified through the national audit. Round 1 provided funding of over $116 million to 896 secondary schools across Australia for 116,820 computers to take these schools to a ratio of one to two. (Time expired)


Senator MASON —Mr President, I ask a further supplementary question. Given that the computers in schools program was a major election commitment, why did it take the government until 3 September this year to formulate its own estimates of costs and until 4.55 pm last Thursday before those estimates were finally made public? Secondly, given that the government received friendly advice in the February Senate estimates that the program’s true cost was over $2 billion, will the government save time in the future by simply going to the opposition for the costing of its policies?


Senator CONROY (Minister for Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy) —I guess this is a drawback of the new system. Not everyone is quite used to it yet, because, when you get the answer to the question that you are going to ask third in the first answer, you have to be a little bit more nimble. Let me repeat: the Australian government has always recognised that there are additional costs associated with the implementation of the National Secondary School Computer Fund. Only through COAG could these costs be agreed. A review to determine legitimate and additional funding implications of the National Secondary School Computer Fund was first completed with the full cooperation of all education jurisdictions. I do not know how you can be more relevant or more direct in answer to the questions that have been asked than to actually repeat what you have already— (Time expired)