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Tuesday, 16 June 2009
Page: 6083

Mr PYNE (2:46 PM) —My question is again to the Minister for Education. I refer to the minister’s misrepresentation made in the House yesterday, confusing the Hastings Primary School in Victoria and the Hastings Public School in New South Wales, the recipient of $400,000 for a covered outdoor learning area 10 times—

Mr Albanese —Mr Speaker, on a point of order: such an accusation against a minister can only be made by substantive resolution. The question is out of order under the standing orders.

The SPEAKER —The point being made in the preamble to this question was not made in a way that required a motion—that is, it was not indicating a deliberate misrepresentation—but I will listen to the rest of the question to get a sense of the context of the comment.

Mr Albanese —Mr Speaker, standing order 100(d)(ii) argues that questions must not contain arguments; part (iii) says questions must not contain inferences; part (iv) says questions must not contain imputations and part (v) concerns insults. I put it to you, Mr Speaker, that it is appropriate that you rule the first part of the shadow minister’s question out of order and allow him to rephrase so that it is in order.

The SPEAKER —As I indicated in response to a point of order made by the Leader of the House yesterday, most questions would not pass a rigorous application of the standing orders that relate to questions—for instance, descriptions of programs being ‘debacles’ and the like are obviously argument. But there has been a growing tradition in this place of their being permitted. I will listen carefully to the totality of the question to get the context of the opening comment.

Mr PYNE —I might even make it easier for the House by simply saying: I refer to the minister’s representation, made in the House yesterday, confusing the Hastings Primary School in Victoria and the Hastings Public School in New South Wales, the recipient of $400,000 for a covered outdoor learning area—10 times the amount the same school received in 2003 for another covered outdoor learning area, which the principal described today as ‘almost as big as the one we anticipate building now.’ Does the minister share the view of the Principal of Hastings Public School in New South Wales, which is ‘I want someone to show me why a weather shelter is going to cost $400,000?’ Why won’t the minister do the right thing and refer the waste and mismanagement of this program to the Auditor-General?

Opposition members interjecting—

The SPEAKER —Order! I would have thought that, the question having been asked, those on the left would allow the response to begin and would listen to it.

Ms GILLARD (Deputy Prime Minister) —Can I say to the shadow minister that, in adding to an answer yesterday, I was hoping to assist him. At that point, of course, he was not in the chamber, as a result of being excluded by you, Mr Speaker. What I can say to the member for Sturt, if he is interested—and maybe because they choose to interject rather than listen, he is not—is that the circumstances at the Hastings Public School in New South Wales are these: in 2003, there was a joint project involving a covered outdoor learning area. My understanding is that there was $40,000 of government funding and a $40,000 co-contribution from the P&C from fundraising they had undertaken themselves—a total of $80,000 for, no doubt, a very worthy project. What has been made available to the school, under Building the Education Revolution, is a significant structure. It is the size of 1½ tennis courts; it has a solid roof; and it will include the fit-out, which will include an amphitheatre, seating, a sound system to facilitate school assemblies and performances, and science and art work spaces. This is obviously a very substantial structure with a fit-out which will enable whole school activities under cover.

What seems to me remarkable about these questions is that the shadow minister’s only position on education is to come into this parliament day after day and say, ‘Why doesn’t the government do less on education?’ Presumably the shadow minister for education would only be happy if the government was doing nothing on education. Presumably he would be happy then because it would exactly mirror what the Howard government did in office—absolutely nothing. I challenge any member of this House to name one successful, profound school reform that happened under the Howard government. No, it did not. There were lots of articles in the Australian about Maoists on curriculum boards, but not one profound reform that—

Mrs Bronwyn Bishop —Mr Speaker, I rise on a point order. I refer to the relevance standing order and say that the minister has attempted to answer the question; the rest is just rhetoric and rubbish and she should be sat down.

The SPEAKER —The Deputy Prime Minister is responding to the question.

Ms GILLARD —It is always helpful to get a contribution from the future of the Liberal Party, the member for Mackellar. We wait for her to make a re-emergence much closer to the front. It is inevitable over time. My point is simply this: if we look at the track record on education of the Howard government, we are invited day after day to do less by the opposition. Well, we will not be doing less, because we do not want this nation to be at the back of the OECD for investment in early education. We do not want this nation to have slipping education standards. We do not want this nation to have disadvantaged children left behind. We do not want this nation to have children in substandard facilities. We do not want this nation to lack a 21st century vocational education and training system able to meet the needs of the modern economy, particularly during the days of the global recession. We do not want this nation to lack a 21st century university system which is ready for a decade of reform so a greater number of Australians can get the benefit of a university education, particularly Australians from disadvantaged backgrounds.

I know every member of the Liberal Party might find those things offensive, but it is what drives us each and every day and we will continue to deliver it.