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Wednesday, 22 August 2012
Page: 6105

Senator SMITH (Western Australia) (15:11): I also wish to take note of answers given by Senator Wong to questions asked by coalition senators. We have heard more denial from the government this afternoon about the impact of their carbon tax. It stands to reason that schools use a fair amount of electricity: classrooms have to be lit, heated or cooled, and there are computers and AV equipment in many of them. Those school halls the Prime Minister has built, whether or not the schools actually wanted them, all have electric equipment in them too. School canteens prepare hot food for students. All of this requires electricity.

The July power bill of one large high school showed a carbon charge of almost $500 separately listed on an account totalling just $6,000. Schools just cannot cop that. The cost of a canteen lunch is going to have to go up. Shame on Labor. Shame on the government. Once again this government and this Prime Minister are asking us to trust them. They claim any increases will be offset by the indexation of federal funding. They want parents to trust them on that and now they want parents to trust them on the Gonski review of school funding.

This government is playing Australians for fools. It thinks it can get away with anything. The problem that is now coming home to roost, though, is that no-one trusts this Prime Minister or this shambolic, deceptive, incompetent government that she leads. Over the weekend we saw a leaked list of 3,200 schools—Julia Gillard's hit list of schools that will have their funding cut. Hit lists are not new to the Labor Party. Back in 2004, when Mark Latham was the new sensation and Julia Gillard his chief cheerleader, Labor had a hit list of schools targeted for funding cuts. They were proud of it. You will not often hear me praise Mark Latham but at least he was honest about the fact that he was committed to cutting school funding. Julia Gillard says she has no plans to cut funding—just like she had no plans to challenge Kevin Rudd; just like she had no plans to alter the private health insurance rebate; just like she had no plans to introduce the world's biggest carbon tax. Yet on Monday during an interview on Sky News, the Minister for School Education, Early Childhood and Youth, Minister Garrett, was asked to guarantee that no school would be worse off. He could not.

We have the Prime Minister running around telling us that everything is wonderful—that there will be chicken in every pot, or perhaps I should say a sausage roll in every lunchbox; everyone will be better off. On the same day we have her own minister refusing to support her claims. If we take everything that has been said in the last day, Labor's position is that every school will be better off—but they cannot guarantee that no school will be worse off. No wonder parents are confused.

I would like to turn for a moment to focus on schools across the Great Southern region of Western Australia—an area in which I take a great interest. I had a look at the hit list and was horrified to discover that some of the schools targeted for significant cuts are some of those most in need. There are many communities across the Great Southern that have been identified as being areas of high socioeconomic need. They are proud and hardworking communities, but they are not necessarily wealthy communities. For instance, one of the schools on the hit list for a funding reduction is the Western Australian College of Agriculture at Narrogin. This is a school that is training the next generation of farmers. We all know that it is becoming harder to keep young people working on the land. Families that have farmed for generations are selling up because their kids do not want to carry on farming.

For those who do choose to remain, we need to ensure that their kids have the best education possible and the very best practical farming education there is so that they can run successful farms in the years to come. We are talking about people who will grow our food in the years ahead. This government seems incapable of understanding that simple fact. The Western Australian College of Agriculture at Narrogin is slated to have its funding slashed by over $2.7 million. To take another example, the Gonski hit list proposes a funding cut of over $1.7 million for the Mount Barker Community College, a school that services a catchment area with a significant Indigenous population and high levels of socioeconomic disadvantage. There are many other schools on Labor's hit list, including Kojonup District High School, Katanning Senior High School, Southern Cross District High, Brookton District High and Newdigate Primary School. By my count, 41 schools across the Great Southern region are on the hit list. None of them are wealthy schools. Many of them are government schools. This is more bad news for the Great Southern community from a government that either does not understand rural and regional communities or simply does not care.