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Wednesday, 9 May 2012
Page: 4265


Mr SIMPKINS (Cowan) (11:06): I welcome the opportunity to comment on the Family Assistance and Other Legislation Amendment (Schoolkids Bonus Budget Measures) Bill 2012 today. I had not planned on speaking directly after the member for Bradfield, who is always a hard act to follow. I had expected, according to the very latest speakers list, to speak after the member for Robertson, but as usual it appears that the government speakers list is as inaccurate as their budget forecasts.

What is this bill really about? We have heard a lot of talk today that it is about education and making sure money gets to the right people, but there are some other aspects to this as well and we can never lose sight of those. Possibly this bill is not all about education; maybe it is all about politics and maybe it is also a little bit about the budget. I will get to those aspects which so many of my colleagues have spoken about this morning and make my own points.

Education is something that all of us in this place agree is of great value. It is the great leveller, the great equaliser—the chance for people born in the lowest socioeconomic circumstances to rise up to great places in this country and to do great things for our nation. That is important, and that is why we supported the education tax rebate. It is a very good, targeted program. I spoke a couple of years ago about the need to expand it when you could not claim a refund for uniforms. I am on the record for having said you should be able to, and later it was expanded to allow that.

I know that there are families within the electorate of Cowan—in Girrawheen, Koondoola, Ballajura, Marangaroo, suburbs like that—where there are young kids who just do not fit in at school, where the fact that they do not have the leavers shirt or the latest upgraded uniform means they do not feel that they really fit in. I made an offer to Ballajura Primary School recently that I would help pay for leavers shirts for a couple of kids who did not appear to have them, because I know how important it is for young people to fit in. Obviously my 13-year-old and my nine-year-old do not want for such measures, but I know there are families in the community that struggle. So it was a welcome thing that the education tax rebate focused on specific, directed delivery to allow kids to fully participate in the educational process and the educational system, so that they did not have to feel different and that that was not something that made them less likely to turn up to school each day.

There is no doubt that we as a coalition support education and that we want kids in the more struggling families in the lower socioeconomic areas to have the same opportunities and not to feel bad for want of the basics such as a decent school shirt or a decent school uniform to wear. We certainly would not want them to feel that they could not have the same textbooks and other things that kids in Western Australia get from places like Wooldridges, the great suppliers of the book lists in the state school system in Western Australia. So it is important that we focus on making sure that the money that is on offer to Australian families actually makes it to the mark and results in real educational outcomes. Those outcomes were aplenty: school uniforms, books, school fees, even those voluntary fee ones in state schools in Western Australia. They were the sorts of things that could be claimed: actual deliverables, an actual impact as a contribution to the school and directly to the student.

What worries me about this proposal, specifically when we are talking about the educational outcomes, is that this will be something like the BER . It will purport to be some education revolution but, like a new building, which is great, not something that substantially changes the actual education outcomes for kids. I know from past experience—quite distant past in my case—and from the experiences of a lot of families in Cowan about the impacts of the cost of living and what happens when money lands in their accounts. What will happen when this money lands in the accounts of some families in the electorate is that that money will not just be immediately moved over to an education account or subaccount for that family. They will receive that money and then, when the next bill comes in, that money will probably just flow out to pay for that. In a very small number of circumstances we may see a pick-up in whitegoods, TVs or, worse and hopefully in none or hardly any cases, drugs and alcohol and other excesses and vices and things like that. The one thing that we can be certain of is that there can be no guarantee that the upfront $820 cash payment for a high school student or $410 for a primary school student will actually make an educational impact for a student. We can always hope, but we can be certain that it will not all go in that direction. And that is what the education tax rebate was really all about at the start.

As I said before, both sides of politics agree on the great value of education. What we believe in on this side is making sure that every dollar that comes from the taxpayers—it does not come from the government; it does not fall from the sky—actually ends up making some impact on the educational opportunities for young people across this country. That should particularly be so for the students in those great state schools I mentioned before within the electorate of Cowan: Hudson Park Primary School, Roseworth Primary School, Koondoola Primary School, Waddington Primary School, Marangaroo Primary School, Rawlinson Primary School and South Ballajura Primary School. Those are in areas where there is struggle, where there are people doing it hard. They are the lower socioeconomic areas where education is needed to help children to lift up to be great participants in this great country's life.

We need to make sure that this money goes all the way through. We are not opposed to $820 going to a high school student or $410 going to a primary school student. But we stand for that money going to the educational benefits for those children and not, through an act or omission or other issues, being diverted to something else. The government knows that. The government knows exactly where this money could end up and they are not concerned about making sure that every dollar goes to education. This government is thinking of other things now.

This government is thinking about what it has done in the past in this place and the impact of that from 1 July 2012. I am talking about that great betrayal of the Australian people by the Prime Minister and by the government with regard to the carbon tax. The government knows that the Australian people disagree with it. It knows that it is going to have to try and buy its way out of this adversity. Despite the scandals that afflict the government right now, it knows that the big tidal wave is coming and it is going to have to try and buy out the Australian people—to flash some cash in their direction—to try and get off the hook on that deal. This is primarily about politics. It is about the government's benefit, not ours.

We on this side believe in the great value of education. We believe in what must be done for young people in Australia. We believe that $820, for secondary school students, and $410, for primary school students, should go towards their education, towards helping them and towards providing benefits to them—that is, making sure they fit in and that they can fully participate. We believe in that. And, without this bill, that would continue. There would still be the need for accountability—that is, people would have to prove that they actually spent the money on education for their child. Is that such a bad thing? Is it such a terrible thing that Australian parents should have to prove that taxpayers' money went to the education and benefit of their child? I do not think that is too much to ask. That is exactly the sort of support that this federal government, and this parliament, should be providing. They should be making sure that taxpayers' money goes to the future of this country, which is represented by all those young people around the country. It is not too much to ask. It is the right thing to do.

However, in the case of this bill, it is not right. This is not what is going to benefit Australian children. This is not going to be an investment in the future. An investment in the future was the education tax rebate—that was working. Maybe, if the government is so concerned about people not participating because they did not know about the rebate, it should divert some of the $36 million that it is spending on promoting its toxic carbon tax. Maybe it should put some of that into some posters on the front doors of school admin blocks around this country, to tell people that the education tax refund is there for them. Maybe that is what it should be doing with some of these advertising dollars. But instead, what we have is this sugar hit, this sweetener and this compensation for the carbon tax in the form of extra cash handouts. That is what this is really all about.

However, it is not just these matters—the lack of focus on education, the politics and the buy-out. It is not just those things. We have also got the budget. Last night, the Treasurer tried to persuade us that his figures were going to be accurate this time: $1.5 billion for a surplus—not a whole lot of change from the figures for the year before, when he told us there was going to be a $22 billion deficit, which has now blown out to $44 billion. But this time, apparently, it is all going to be accurate. It is all going to be cast in stone. It is going to be accurate for the first time in four years. I think the Australian people know that it is not going to work out that way. This coming year will be another red ink year, despite the fact that, if this bill passes, the government will have managed to move these payments, such as the $750 million in educational tax rebate payments, into this financial year, which helps it take that little bit of pressure off the next financial year. That is sleight of hand.

The government has also announced that the $1.1 billion in flood payments to local governments is being moved from what was forecast as part of the next financial year—that is, this allegedly $1.5 billion surplus financial year—into this financial year as well. Again, a sleight of hand. What we are seeing with this government is that it talks about education but it is not about education. This bill is about politics. It is about buying people out. It is about trying to compensate for the government's toxic carbon tax. It is also about trying to create a false image, which will be seen to be such in the coming months. It is about trying to balance the budget and trying to do that sleight of hand with the budget.

As I have said, both sides of this House believe in education, but we on this side stand by our opposition to this bill because we believe that it is not too much for taxpayers to ask that every dollar of the contribution they make to the future of this country towards issues like education and towards the education tax rebate should go towards an educational outcome. We should be able to be certain that every dollar spent goes to those young people around the country, including those in Cowan, who need to fit in and who need to have the resources there to make sure that they do not miss out We need to make sure that education, that great leveller, is pushed out through all the streets and all the communities of our country. It is not too much to ask that the money that the government offers actually goes all the way through to an educational outcome.

What the government proposes today is no guarantee for that. It is just a handout. It is just a sugar hit. We cannot be sure that educational outcomes will ever be achieved by this measure. It is not the right way to go. It should be left as it is. We support the current situation with the education tax rebate and the government should leave it alone in the best interests of this nation.