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Thursday, 24 June 2010
Page: 4355


Senator MASON (2:26 PM) —My question without notice is to Senator Carr, the Minister representing the Minister for Education. Given the head of the BER Implementation Taskforce, Mr Brad Orgill, has embarrassed Ms Gillard by recommending something she should have done a long time ago—that is, withhold the next $75 million instalment to the New South Wales government on account of a history of botched projects—will the minister also now accept that Ms Gillard’s implementation and oversight of this program have been a shambles and wasted billions of dollars of taxpayers’ money?

Honourable senators interjecting—


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


Senator CARR (Minister for Innovation, Industry, Science and Research) —Senator Mason has been kind enough to ask me about why this is such a wonderful program and about the $63.7 billion that is being spent on school education from 2009 to 2012 compared to the $33.5 million that the previous government invested over a three-year period. So there has been a doubling in expenditure on Australian students, Australian schools, and you have the audacity to say that this is a waste of money. What we do know is that the Liberal Party is very anxious to assault opportunities for children and schools in Australia and is in the business of actually withdrawing support from Australian schools.


Senator Mason —Mr President, I raise a point of order. I rarely take points of order because I enjoy the theatre, but today the question was about the implementation of the BER, not about school funding.

Honourable senators interjecting—


The PRESIDENT —Order! On both sides, interjecting is disorderly.


Senator Ludwig —Mr President, on the point of order, the minister was being relevant. I can only assume that was the point of order being taken because unfortunately Senator Mason, although he loves theatre, seemed to be more interested in that than in question time. When raising a point of order, the issue should be raised as to what the point of order is—whether it is on relevance—and we should then go to the issue. In this instance, Senator Mason did not go to the issue. I humbly ask you to point out that it is not a point of order and should be ruled accordingly.


The PRESIDENT —Senator Carr, I draw your attention to the question. You have one minute and five seconds remaining to answer the question.


Senator CARR —What we are being asked to comment upon is the fact that this government has insisted upon value for money in the BER program. This government expects education authorities and their building contractors to ensure that there is value for money for taxpayers and for school communities when delivering the BER program.

What has occurred is that a $75 million funding instalment for the Primary Schools for the 21st Century program has been withheld from the New South Wales government while claims of waste in state school projects are investigated. The Minister for Education and Training in New South Wales, Ms Verity Firth, has advised that part of the scheduled payments in July will be withheld. The government is aware that Minister Firth—

Opposition senators interjecting—

Government senators interjecting—


The PRESIDENT —Although there are only a few seconds remaining, it is very difficult to listen to the answer that is being given when people are constantly interjecting across the chamber. It is completely disorderly.


Senator CARR —Minister Firth has withheld moneys to a particular— (Time expired)


Senator MASON —Mr President, I ask a supplementary question. Is the minister aware that Mr Orgill also recommended that Ms Gillard stop dragging her feet and stop the Victorian state Labor government from stalling the provision of vital BER data to the Commonwealth? Can the minister therefore confirm that he and Ms Gillard have not even been able to obtain the cooperation of their own home state in the delivery and implementation of this program?


Senator CARR (Minister for Innovation, Industry, Science and Research) —Senator Mason would be aware that the government has insisted upon value for money in the operations of the BER program. The establishment of the BER Implementation Taskforce has been put in place precisely for this point. This is an additional measure to ensure value for money. Senator Mason would also be aware of the Liberal Party’s plans to take trade training centres away from 1,800 schools.


Senator Brandis —Mr President, on a point of order: the question was not about the Liberal Party’s plans; the question was about the failure of the Victorian government to deliver data to the Commonwealth. Nothing the minister has said so far—or seems to be about to say, since he is addressing the Liberal Party’s policy—is remotely relevant to that question.


The PRESIDENT —I am listening to the minister’s answer. The minister has 30 seconds remaining.


Senator CARR —I can understand why the Liberal Party is so embarrassed about their policies and their attempts to withdraw educational services from Australian schools, and why they are so embarrassed about the withdrawal of $400 million from the quality teaching program and their withdrawal of—


Senator Abetz —Mr President, I seek to remind you of the point of order raised by the Deputy Leader of the Opposition in the Senate, Senator Brandis. There is clearly no direct relevance in this answer to the question that was asked.


Senator Ludwig —Mr President, on the point of order, I submit that the Leader of the Opposition in the Senate did not in fact raise a point of order, but sought to remind you of the point of order that was raised by Senator Brandis. I humbly ask you to rule that there was no point of order raised by Senator Abetz. Senator Abetz seemed to have missed raising a point of order. In any event, the minister has been directly relevant in answering the question.


The PRESIDENT —I draw the minister’s attention to the fact that there are eight seconds remaining to address the question that has been asked by Senator Mason.


Senator CARR —The government’s achievements in education are clear. The opposition’s program to take away computers in schools from Australian children is also clear. (Time expired)


Senator MASON —Mr President, I ask a further supplementary question. Can the minister explain to the Australian people how they can have any faith in Ms Gillard leading the nation after she presided over the biggest waste and mismanagement of taxpayers’ money since Federation, as well as a string of other disasters such as computers in schools and trade training centres?


Senator CARR (Minister for Innovation, Industry, Science and Research) —I can be absolutely confident that Prime Minister Gillard will pursue rigorously attempts to transform education in this country. With Ms Gillard as Minister for Education, we have seen the doubling of funding for schools in less than two years. Under Mr Abbott we will see the removal from 1,800 schools across Australia of the opportunity to access trade training centres and the removal of 120,000 computers from schools. The Liberal Party also wants to gouge $400 million out of the quality teaching program. I can be absolutely confident of what an Abbott government would do to destroy Australian education and destroy equality of opportunity for Australian children. I can be absolutely confident of Prime Minister Gillard’s commitment to quality education. (Time expired).