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Thursday, 26 February 1987
Page: 702

Senator COOK —Is the Minister for Education aware of statements by Sir Joh Bjelke-Petersen that among his flat tax and flat earth policies he would transfer the Commonwealth's education functions to the States? Is she also aware that, in an effort to outdo Joh, John Howard on the Carleton-Walsh Report on 18 February upped the ante by favouring the total abolition of the Commonwealth's education role when he said: `What you've got to do is abolish the function altogether'? Is it practical to abolish Commonwealth education functions? Would it create any savings for the taxpayer if it were done? What would be the effect on private schools, universities and colleges and students in low income families?

Senator RYAN —I have not been surprised to hear Premier Bjelke-Petersen running around the country saying that he is going to abolish the Commonwealth's role in education, nor have I been surprised to hear him say that he wants the States to run education. He does not feel under any obligation to explain how he can give people more back in their wage packets and reduce taxation burdens on the general population while at the same time spend more money. But Mr Howard, the current Leader of the Opposition, has until recently tried to maintain some sort or rationality in the comments that he has made. He has tried to suggest, for example, that if the Opposition wishes to abolish the fringe benefits tax and the capital gains tax it will have to introduce a consumption tax to pay for it. I suppose that I must give him credit for trying to maintain some sort of rationality when he pointed out in an interview on the Carleton-Walsh Report on Tuesday, 18 February this year that it would be of no use to do what Joh Bjelke-Petersen says and simply transfer Commonwealth education functions to the States, that it would be necessary--

An incident having occurred in the gallery-

Senator RYAN —I shall continue. I resumed my seat so that order could be established. I was saying that at least John Howard, the current Leader of the Opposition, was prepared to agree that the Commonwealth's education function would have to be abolished entirely. This means that the $825m which goes to private schools, for example, would disappear, that the $2.5 billion which goes directly from the Commonwealth to higher education would disappear and that the $500m which the Commonwealth spends on education allowances for young people would also disappear. So it is quite clear now that the implied abolition of the Commonwealth education programs by Mr John Howard would mean that parents of students in private--

Senator Chaney —Mr President, I take a point of order. Making mistakes is one thing, but making deliberate misrepresentations of the Opposition's position is another. This Minister is now suggesting-I think she said `implied'-policies on behalf of the Opposition. It is a total abuse of this place for Ministers to claim that they can speak by implication for what the policies of my Party are. The Minister is not competent. She has claimed that she is not competent to give her own Party's policy on interest rates. I suggest that she should not try to give our policies on education.

The PRESIDENT —Order! I was listening to the Minister's answer. I think she was getting away from the terms of her responsibility. I ask her to come back to that part of the question which dealt with her responsibilities.

Senator RYAN —Mr President, I have here, and I am happy to table, a transcript in which Mr Howard says:

Well, I'll tell you where I'd cut. I'd abolish a lot of departments . . . Even if you abolish the Federal Department of Education and Housing and Health and so on you wouldn't save money. It is no good shifting a function from the Federal Government to the States. What you've got to do is abolish the function altogether.

Senator Cook was interested to know what would happen--

Senator Chaney —Mr President, I take a point of order. I am deeply grateful to the Minister for reading that quotation because to make what she said earlier consistent with what she has just read from Mr Howard one would have to say that Mr Howard was arguing that we should abolish education. It is an absolutely ludicrous proposition which this Minister has been putting forward. Mr President, I suggest that you should again call her to order and let us get on with the business of the Senate.

The PRESIDENT —I remind Senator Ryan, as I did before, to answer that part of the question which deals with her responsibilities. I ask you to do so as quickly as possible.

Senator RYAN —Yes, Mr President. I point out again that this year the Commonwealth will be spending something like $852m on schools funding, something like $2.5 billion on higher education and in the vicinity of $500m on allowances to young people to continue their education. If that function were to be abolished and not transferred to the States, as was discussed by Mr Howard, the parents and the students would have to make up for that loss of some $5.2 billion of Commonwealth expenditure.