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Wednesday, 4 February 2009
Page: 200


Mr PYNE (11:44 AM) —While the opposition may be taking the politically unpopular course with the Appropriation (Nation Building and Jobs) Bill (No. 1) 2008-2009 and cognate bills by not immediately acquiescing to the government’s demand that we pass them without proper scrutiny—which is what they are demanding—we are prepared to take the courageous line because at least one political party in this country has to act responsibly. At least one political party in this country has to do what is right, not what is easy and politically popular. Those who are on the government benches are yet, since the election in November 2007, to make a difficult decision. They are following the advice of their senators from New South Wales who advise them to be prepared to go into deficit, and deeply, if it would help them to win the next federal election. They are doing that. They are being profligate with taxpayers’ money. They are making the easy decisions to spend, spend, spend. But the opposition, led by Malcolm Turnbull, the member for Wentworth, are prepared to stand up for what is right, and in the end, in the long term, the Australian public will see this debate for what it is: one side of the House being prepared to take out the taxpayers’ credit card and run it up to the absolute limit, and the other side of the House being prepared to stand up for what is right, to stand up for proper scrutiny and to stand up for no debt and low deficits or surpluses.

Those on this side of the House believe in fiscal rectitude. Those on the other side of the House believe in spending in order to buy their way out of difficulties—in the same way they have done since time immemorial. Labor’s way has always been to tax and spend. There is not a spending idea that most members of the Labor Party do not think is a worthy spending idea—because they are not spending their own money; they are spending taxpayers’ money. The pattern has been the same since the Whitlam government in 1972, and this government are the sons of Gough, the sons of Jim Cairns and even—in one case, literally—the sons of Frank Crean. There is a Crean in the Rudd government, and unfortunately he is allowing the government to pursue the same policies that his father, Frank, allowed his party to pursue in the Whitlam government. They are sons of Cairns, sons of Crean and sons of Gough.

To those Australians who look at this package and see an advantage for themselves today and wish that the opposition would immediately support the package, I say: consider the long-term consequences. This package will put the Australian budget into tens of billions of dollars of debt overnight. Within four years, the country’s debt will be $70 billion, and that is the conservative estimate. In the longer term, our debt will be beyond the wildest nightmares of those of us who were dismayed by the Hawke-Keating government’s $96 billion debt when we took over in 1996. We had to fix up the mess that had been left to us by the Hawke-Keating governments. And isn’t it always the way! Labor spends and the Liberals and Nationals have to fix the mess. And it will happen again. It happened after 1929-32, when we had to fix the mess created by the Depression and exacerbated by the Scullin government. It happened again after 1972-75, a period when the oil shock crisis brought unprecedented economic conditions to Australia. That situation was exacerbated again by the Whitlam-Cairns-Crean government, and we had to fix the crisis. It happened again in 1996 and it will happen again in 2010. In the longer term, the Australian public will look at this package and think, ‘Thank God that one side of the House showed some responsibility while the other side of the House, the Labor Party, were prepared to spend into debt and deficit!’

This debt will dwarf the Kim Beazley black hole of $10 billion that we inherited in 1996. We are talking about a debt that will lead to higher taxes and reduced opportunities for our children—and not only for our children but for our grandchildren. As the father of four children all under nine years of age, I am not prepared to saddle them with such an enormous debt into the future. Other members of the House, those on the Labor side of the House, seem prepared to do so. I know that many members of the government have young children. They have obviously decided that saddling them with the debt gets them out of a fix and will help them win—they hope—in 2010. They have decided that their children and grandchildren can wear the consequences of the decision they are making today, just as long as they win and get their backsides back on the government side of the House in 2010. That is all that has ever mattered to the Labor Party. That was the advice of Mark Arbib, from New South Wales, when he went to see Rudd and Swan and told them, ‘We must spend into deficit if we want to win.’ That is the New South Wales way. That is why New South Wales is now a national disgrace economically, and it is why their government is almost as bad as Hugo Chavez’s government in Venezuela.

The fine detail of these bills, which never made it into the Prime Minister’s set piece speech for the media and the spinmeisters—a speech for which he had obviously spent weeks preparing and to which he gave the Leader of the Opposition an hour and a half to prepare a detailed response—is that the government is raising the legislated limit on the government credit card from $75 billion to $200 billion. The government is essentially asking the parliament to give it a $200 billion blank cheque. But my greatest concern is in my own portfolio area of education, where the government has announced a package of $14.7 billion of spending. This will be welcomed by the schools sector. Who would not welcome it? Schools will be delighted that this money may be spent in their schools and institutions. But I say that it ‘may be spent’. They may have the estimates correct on how much this is going to cost, but we cannot, on this side of the House, give a big tick to this package, no matter how seemingly generous, given the track record of the Minister for Education in delivering the policies that were announced before the last election.

In two key areas—trade training centres and computers in schools—the minister has hopelessly failed to deliver on the promises that were made by the now Prime Minister before the last election. The part-time Minister for Education, with her eye on the ball of industrial relations rather than education, has been manifestly unsuccessful in delivering the Trade Training Centres in Schools and computers in schools programs, and everybody in the sector knows it. While many are too intimidated to say so because the government is, of course, the biggest spender on education in Australia, the truth is they all know it. Computers in schools has been a manifest failure. It is in free fall. It is costing twice as much and delivering half as much as was promised. There was supposed to be one trade training centre for every one of the 2,650 secondary schools in this country. How many have been delivered?


Mr Baldwin —I haven’t seen any.


Mr PYNE —My honourable friend has not seen one in his electorate. Thirty-four have been delivered across the country. There is evidence that up to 10 schools in an area have to pool their resources to create a trade training centre, because principals know that a lathe in the corner of a classroom at the back of the school is not going to make the slightest difference to building skills and training and encouraging apprenticeships, vocational education and training in this country. So I think we can say with confidence that there will never be a time under the Rudd government when there is a trade training centre in every school across Australia. There will never be a time when there are 2,650 trade training centres in secondary schools, because it is out of the question that the money that has been allocated by the federal government would deliver a trade training centre in every school, and we are already seeing the need for principals to pool their resources.

Coincidentally, the kinds of resources that are being created eerily mirror the old Australian technical colleges that my venerable colleague the member for Goldstein, and before him the former member for Moreton, established under the Howard government. The Labor Party have essentially abolished them, and they refuse to visit them because they know how good they are and do not want to see the work they are destroying. They have trashed Australian technical colleges and decided to go with trade training centres which, because of the pooling of resources, bear an eerie similarity to Australian technical colleges. Isn’t that always the way with Labor? They are driven by ideology, bureaucracy and the union movement and kill things that work if they are free of regulation, involvement and control from the centre. That cannot be allowed to happen—we cannot have more freedom or the capacity for things to compete and grow! It has to be dominated by the union movement and the government, whether state or federal. It is one of the enduring embarrassments of Labor and can be traced right back to their very beginnings in the late 19th century.

In the package that has been announced there is a description of the Trade Training Centres in Schools Program as having received an outstanding response from schools across the country. The unreality of that statement struck me in its tendency towards Maoism. How absolutely ludicrous! It bears a similarity to Maoists’ descriptions of their own programs in the 1950s and 1960s, such as: ‘Consolidate and develop the grand achievements of the great proletarian cultural revolution,’ ‘Let’s go and save our money in the bank for the sake of building a happy life,’ and, ‘Warmly hail the successful happenings, warm care and great encouragement.’ These were the kinds of descriptions that Mao’s communist China used to put on its failed programs. In the package that was announced yesterday, trade training centres are described as having received an outstanding response from schools across the country. There are 34 out of 2,650 promised, hardly an outstanding response. Principals across the country are pooling their resources because of the paucity of the money that has been put forward for trade training centres. Federal President of the Australian Education Union Angelo Gavrielatos, no great friend of the coalition, described the centres as:

… a modest investment—

that—

… won’t offer a long-term solution to skills shortages.

That was post the election, after the coalition had been defeated with the AEU’s help. So how could trade training centres at the same time receive an outstanding response from schools? As I said, the suggestion has Maoist similarities in its air of unreality.

I now turn to the computers in schools program and its absolute failure. So far we have seen Trade Training Centres in Schools, essentially an unsuccessful program run by a part-time education minister who is more concerned with her future in the Labor Party than she is with delivering the policies that were announced by the then Rudd opposition. But the greatest criticism of the Labor Party’s pathetic performance in education can really be saved for computers in schools. The computers in schools program was going to cost about a billion dollars and apparently deliver a laptop computer to every child between year 9 and year 12 in schools across the country. We have now seen it blow out to at least $2 billion. It is now costing twice as much and delivering half the value. The promise now is that every second child will have access to a laptop computer—every second child at twice the cost! On any reading, computers in schools is a dramatic failure of public policy. It blew out from a billion dollars to $1.2 billion and then to $2 billion and is delivering half the value. When will the next blow-out occur? On that basis, the latest announcements in yesterday’s package will cost not $14.7 billion but more likely $29.4 billion and deliver half of what is promised. Maybe a school hall will be shared between every two schools.

This program has been a shambles from the start. And the Minister for Education, the part-time minister, bears absolute responsibility. In the first year, computers were allocated to less than 10 per cent of public schools in Australia, and many schools that were promised computers midyear had still not received them when their students left school for Christmas. Freedom of information applications and estimates hearings forced the government to reveal that the program was underfunded by several billion dollars, because it had not occurred to the minister that giving someone a computer without software, IT or ongoing maintenance or networking support was pointless. The minister tried to pass these costs on to the states and—surprisingly!—the states rebelled. The states revolted. And why wouldn’t they—because everybody knows that the uplift factor from $1 billion being spent on computers was dramatically more than the $1 billion outlay? The states simply did not have the money; they did not have the resources. Alan Carpenter, the then Western Australian Premier, said:

It’s a matter of how you implement it rather than having boxes of computers which nobody can afford to use in schools.

Independent Schools Queensland director of operations David Robertson said:

Where independent schools have additional maintenance costs they have limited choices—raising fees, stop doing something they are currently doing or appeal for parent fund raising …

Anne Gisborne, of the State School Teachers Union of Western Australia, said:

… if you’re going to be putting forward something positive and constructive, and it can’t operate, then it’s fairly useless.

I will repeat that: if you are going to be putting forward something positive and constructive and it can’t operate, then it is fairly useless. What better way to sum up all the announcements of the Labor Party in education over the last 18 months. They make a big announcement—trade training centres, computers in schools, money for numeracy and literacy—but, when the rubber hits the road in the delivery, the administration and the management of these programs, it is an abject failure. So why would the opposition tick off their latest big announcement, their latest hollow-man announcement of huge spending in the schools sector, when we have zero confidence in the capacity of the government to deliver this package on the ground in schools? We know full well that what will happen is that this will disappear into the ether, like the computers in schools program, like the trade training centres. The government will get a couple of good headlines, and the principals, the parents and the students will be left without any actual nourishment for the programs that have been announced. They will be delighted, initially. But the failure of administration, the failure of management and the failure to deliver will leave them hollowed out as individuals and schools, with the disappointment that that brings, because we know that the minister will be incapable of delivering this program.

Finally, there are huge holes in this program from the point of view of education. With its $41½ billion of taxpayers’ money to be run up on the credit card, not one dollar has been earmarked for the response to the Bradley review of higher education. With the money being blown in the way that it is—with the latest cash splash, of over $11 billion, following up on the December cash splash of $10 billion, sapping away at the resources of the taxpayers of Australia—where will the money come from for the response to the Bradley review? Where will the money come from for improvements to aged care, which is in desperate need in this country? Where will the money come from for waiting lists in hospitals—for infrastructure in hospitals? There are so many holes in this package. In education alone, I have identified a number.

The Labor Party, having pooh-poohed the Investing in Our Schools Program, is now seeking to bring it back! We support that. We believe in investing in our schools. We initiated that package. We wanted to keep that package. Labor abolished it. And now they are seeking to bring it back in this package. That is one area that we will look at in our response to this package that the leader, Malcolm Turnbull, will announce in the hours and days ahead.

So, more in sorrow than in anger, the opposition will oppose this package in the House of Representatives and the Senate.