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Thursday, 19 February 1987
Page: 268

Senator CROWLEY —Has the Minister for Education examined the Opposition's education policy statements, including the difference between those policies as expressed by various factional spokespeople from the Opposition ranks? Can she say how the cost implications of those policies would affect education for Australians? In particular, could she comment on what the effect would be on the dramatic increase in secondary school retention rates that has occurred under this Government?

Senator Chaney —Mr President, I raise a point of order. It appears to me that that question is out of order on a number of grounds. For a start, it is a question which directly relates to an Opposition policy, although the questioner concedes that she is not asking a question about any official policy but about a number of different statements that might have been made. Quite clearly this is not a matter of public affairs within the administration of this Minister, and I would suggest, Mr President, that, like a question you ruled out of order yesterday, the question is in general out of order. If the honourable senator had stood up with some document and said `What would this cost?', that matter might be within the Minister's competence to give a reply, but the question in the terms used by this honourable senator, I would suggest, is not.

Senator Crowley —Mr President, on the point of order: Watching the Leader of the Opposition yesterday jumping up and down like a yo-yo opposing all sorts of things-I am not sure whether to have them struck off air or to get himself time-I gave some thought to this question because in fact I was proposing to ask it yesterday. Mr President, I put to you that to ask a Minister whether she has examined statements or Opposition policies is not a question outside her portfolio, but is entirely appropriate for her to answer. Secondly, to ask a Minister what kind of cost implications those policy statements have also seems to me to be entirely within the ambit of a ministerial portfolio. Also, to ask what effect they might have on a specific part of government policy seems to me, again, entirely appropriate for the Minister to answer. I think Senator Chaney rose too quickly. Having heard me say something about Opposition policies, he failed to know that I had written this question in such a way as to ask the Minister about that which I thought it was appropriate for her to discuss and to take into account precisely the points that you ruled on yesterday.

The PRESIDENT —There is a degree of validity in the point of order taken by Senator Chaney in that the majority of the question did refer to Opposition policies. I will allow it on the basis that the Minister answers only that part of the question that dealt with her portfolio and the Government's policy.

Senator RYAN —As I pointed out to the Senate yesterday, the Commonwealth is currently spending in the vicinity of $5.2 billion on education relating to schools-government and non- government-higher education institutions, technical and further education programs, student allowances and a number of smaller programs that the Commonwealth is involved in. If there were to be any reduction of the Commonwealth role in education and in that $5.2 billion-there have been a number of suggestions that such reductions should take place, suggestions which have not come exclusively from members of the Opposition; they have also come from the Premier of Queensland and other sources such as journalists and so forth-I would need to know exactly which part of the Commonwealth's programs were to be axed. I think that the general public would want to be aware that, for example, the dramatic increase in school retention rates which has occurred during the period of our Government can be linked in quite a close way with the increases our Government has made in the levels of student assistance to 16- and 17-year-olds from poorer families. For example, if there were to be a reduction of the Commonwealth's role in the payment of student allowances, I believe it would have a very deleterious effect on the progress we are making in increased retention rates.

Senator Chaney —Mr President, I raise a point of order. I think the Minister has reached the limit that you set for this answer. I point out that she has just said that if something happened something else would follow. I suggest that she is entering into a hypothetical area in terms which are barred by standing order 99 and, to the extent that it is not hypothetical, it is a matter of argument or inference, which is also barred by standing order 99. We have had the benefit of the Minister's views about the value of assisting poor students, a matter which was commenced by the Fraser Government. I suggest that you rule the Minister out of order and ask her to conclude her answer.

The PRESIDENT —I uphold the point of order and ask Senator Ryan to finish her answer to the question.

Senator RYAN —I will do that, Mr President, in response to your request. I cannot help but notice in passing, though, the particular sensitivity of the Leader of the Opposition in the Senate today on matters relating to education policy. I can well understand that, because the $5.2 billion that we are spending on Australian students of all ages in programs to assist Australian students and to improve the quality of Australian education is causing great difficulty for the Opposition. We have made enormous progress in this area. We are getting endorsements from business leaders and from educators all round Australia for the expenditure of that $5.2 billion.

Senator Chaney —Mr President--

The PRESIDENT —Order! I call Senator Chaney.

Senator Chaney —I was about to say that the Minister was clearly debating the question, but I think that she is tweaking all our tails and she has now resumed her seat.