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Monday, 7 September 2009
Page: 5717


Senator RYAN (2:28 PM) —My question is to the Minister Assisting the Prime Minister for Government Service Delivery, Senator Arbib. Will the minister confirm that Labor-held metropolitan seats received, on average, double the amount each of funding compared to coalition-held metropolitan seats under the science and language centre component of the so-called Building the Education Revolution program?


Senator ARBIB (Minister for Employment Participation and Minister Assisting the Prime Minister for Government Service Delivery) —I am very happy to be able to speak about the science and language centres because this is a fantastic part of Building the Education Revolution. When you talk about productivity—the productivity of schools, the productivity of the stimulus package—this is one area in particular which will provide a great deal of productivity for the economy. That is what education does. Again, the Liberal Party neglected education. This government is taking it up.

The government committed itself to deliver 500 science and language centres. We will deliver 537 of those. Senator Ryan would, I am sure, be aware that there was a comprehensive and competitive application process to determine which schools would receive funding under the science and language centre element of the BER. An independent assessment panel was established to assess almost 1,500—


Senator Fifield —Name them.


Senator ARBIB —I will name them, Senator Fifield. You wait for that; I will name them, all right. An independent assessment panel was established to assess over 1,500 applications against clear criteria. The assessment panel consisted of Steve Carter from the Australian Council of Social Service, Andrew Blair from the Australian Secondary Schools Association, Bill Daniels from the Independent Schools Council of Australia, the Director of the Research Centre for Languages and Cultures, Angela Scarino, and former Chief Scientist—


The PRESIDENT —Order! Senator Bob Brown is on his feet.


Senator Bob Brown —Mr President, I do not know whether you are unable to hear the interjections down here, but I cannot hear the answer because of those interjections. I ask to be able to hear the answer to this question.


The PRESIDENT —You are entitled to hear the answer to a question, Senator Bob Brown. Sometimes there are interjections from down that end of the chamber which do not reach me, but you are entitled to hear the answer. Senator Arbib, you will be heard in silence.


Senator ARBIB —I can again confirm to Senator Brown that an independent assessment body was set up. The panel consisted of Steve Carter from the Australian Council of Social Service, Andrew Blair from the Australian Secondary Schools Association— (Time expired)


Senator RYAN —Mr President, I ask a supplementary question. The minister was unable to answer that first question, but he may be more able to answer the second given his background and priorities. Will the minister further confirm that Labor-held marginal seats receive almost $1 million more each, on average, than coalition-held marginal seats under the same program?


Senator ARBIB (Minister for Employment Participation and Minister Assisting the Prime Minister for Government Service Delivery) —I cannot confirm that figure, no. But what I can confirm is that it was an independent assessment. The Liberal and National parties may not know what an independent assessment is. Certainly, their record in government shows that there was not much independence in terms of assessing infrastructure. This government, though, took a stand. We did have an independent assessment and also—


Senator Ryan —On a point of order, Mr President, and it is my first: I believe the minister started his answer by saying he cannot confirm that. Shouldn’t that be the conclusion of the answer?


The PRESIDENT —There is no point of order. I cannot tell a minister how to answer a question. Senator Arbib, have you finished the answer to the question that was asked?


Senator ARBIB —As I was saying, Mr President, it was independently assessed. I do want to finish saying who was on the panel. The other members of the panel were the Director of the Research Centre for Languages and Cultures, Angela Scarino, and former Chief Scientist—the actual Chief Scientist—James Peacock. That was the group that was involved in the assessment, and this was done on the basis of disadvantage. That was one of the key criteria: disadvantage. Again, Labor is delivering for schools; Labor is making a more productive country. The Liberal and National parties neglected schools for 12 years. (Time expired)


Senator RYAN —Mr President, I ask a second supplementary question. Given that the minister has mentioned the panel, did the government accept the advice of the department and the panel in the case of each and every project, and will the minister give a commitment to the Senate that no advice from the department was overturned by the minister in the case of allocating funding or otherwise determining projects? Furthermore, will the minister give a commitment that, in considering these applications, applying funding and making announcements regarding these projects, no discussions were had between his office or the department on the one hand and the ALP national secretariat and its staff or any of the respective state ALP secretariats and their staff on the other?


Senator ARBIB (Minister for Employment Participation and Minister Assisting the Prime Minister for Government Service Delivery) —Maybe that is how it used to work under the Liberal Party, but it certainly does not work that way under the Labor Party and the Rudd government. That is an insulting question and it shows the depths—


The PRESIDENT —Order! The time for debating these issues is at the end of question time.


Senator ARBIB —It amazes me that the Liberal and National parties voted against these science and language centres. They voted against disadvantaged schools receiving the funding, yet they have the absolute hide—


Senator Ryan —Mr President, on a point of order: the minister has had more than half the time allocated to answer the question, and he is not even getting close to being directly relevant to the question, which was: did the government accept the advice of the panel in each and every instance?


Senator Conroy —On the point of order: Minister Arbib’s answer was certainly relevant to the question. I would, however, point out to him that, if he was going to be truly relevant, he would have to name Senator Eggleston, Senator Minchin and all those other Liberal cronies that sat in there carving up—


The PRESIDENT —Senator Conroy, resume your seat. You are debating the issue. There is no point of order. Senator Arbib, you have 27 seconds remaining to answer the question.


Senator ARBIB —What I can confirm is that this was not the regional rorts program that the Liberal and National parties presided over during their term in government, when the money was going out the door. I remember driving down through Bondi, and there it was: Roads to Recovery. There is the highway right along Campbell Parade!


Senator Birmingham —On a point of order, Mr President: with five seconds left on the clock, the minister has time to give a yes or no answer and be directly relevant to the question asked by Senator Ryan, which was: did he accept the advice of the panel in relation to these grants on each and every occasion? If he needs a whiteboard to help answer yes or no, I am sure it can be brought in.


The PRESIDENT —Senator Birmingham, you cannot debate the question. Senator Ludwig, I am going to rule that there is no point of order because I cannot instruct a minister how to answer a question. It is not within my province. The minister is addressing the question, but I cannot tell the minister how to answer the question.


Senator ARBIB —If Senator Ryan had understood, I am not the Minister representing the Minister for Education; that is Senator Carr. He should have answered the question. (Time expired)

Honourable senators interjecting—


The PRESIDENT —Order! When there is silence we will proceed.