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Wednesday, 4 May 1994
Page: 193


Senator FOREMAN —Is the Minister representing the Minister for Employment, Education and Training aware of press reports that the South Australian government is about to decimate its teaching force and close schools right across the state? Is the minister able to assure the people of South Australia that this will not lead to a sub-standard education below nationally acceptable levels for that state's young people?


Senator SCHACHT —Yes, I am aware of the reports in the media—it has been extensively covered in the South Australian press. Apparently, the Brown government now plans to sack 1,800 teachers in South Australia and close up to 150 schools. That report is astonishing—


Senator Hill —Mr President, I take a point of order. Firstly, what he said is false. In what capacity is the minister answering this question?


The PRESIDENT —The minister is representing the Minister for Employment, Education and Training. I have no way of determining whether what he is saying is accurate or not, and I cannot make judgments on that. But I do not think there is a point of order.


Senator SCHACHT —I can assure Senator Hill that I am leading to the point of why it is quite a relevant question for me to answer, representing the Minister for Employment, Education and Training, Mr Crean, and the other education minister, Mr Free. Yesterday the South Australian government announced a potential major reduction in education levels in South Australia, despite promising at the last state election to increase spending in the 1994 budget, keep school closures to an absolute minimum and maintain current class averages. There is a striking contradiction between that promise and the announcement made yesterday.

  Today in our white paper statement we will announce major initiatives in training and education. We want to assure the people of South Australia that the Commonwealth will maintain its commitment to education. I point out that we supply $210 million worth of funding to schools in South Australia, and that will be maintained. We also provide $50 million for TAFE in South Australia, and that will be maintained. We want to assure the people of South Australia that, whatever these drastic cuts in education in South Australia may be, the Commonwealth government will not run away from its commitment, unlike the Dean Brown government which is running away from the commitment it made last November.

  We want to point out particularly that we will maintain the major policy initiatives in vocational training of the last year or so by pouring over $100 million into vocational training. On behalf of the Minister for Schools, Vocational Education and Training, Mr Ross Free, I point out that we expect the state government to maintain its commitment to vocational training. On behalf of the federal government, I assure honourable senators, the parents, students, teachers and trainers of South Australia that the Commonwealth will be watching the Brown government very closely indeed to ensure that that amount of funding is not cut. If it becomes clear that the South Australian government is reducing expenditure on vocational training, we will take other action.

  We do not believe that this reduction in education is good for Australia. The best asset South Australia has is the quality of its people. It is just scandalous for the Dean Brown government now to suddenly, out of the blue, go back on its promise by cutting 150 schools and 1,800 teachers. We want to assure the people of South Australia that the Commonwealth will maintain its commitment to education in South Australia, unlike the Liberal Party which in government in South Australia is wasting it.