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Tuesday, 15 October 2002
Page: 5170

Senator CARR (5:18 PM) — Let us begin with Senator Alston's attendance in the chamber. We accept that he is a senior member of the government and he may well be distracted by other things. The point here is that he is always distracted. He does not front to estimates. He does not sit there; he always gets the parliamentary secretary in. He is often late for question time. He hardly ever participates in these discussions on educational matters. He is so distracted from his responsibilities as a senator here that you have to ask the question: what is he doing? He is clearly not doing his job here in this chamber and that is the point we are making. The government says that this is a serious matter that requires urgent attention by this chamber but cannot manage to get the relevant ministers to come and do their jobs.

Instead, Senator Kemp gets the responsibility of carrying this bill. The problem is that he is so provocative and he finds it so difficult to give a straight answer. I will repeat the question, because I noticed that you mentioned that there are some excellent advisers in the box, and I agree with that. Mr Evans, no doubt, will be able to slip him a bit of paper so that he can get it right this time. He has had plenty of time to get it right. I would ask Mr Evans if he could at least do the right thing by all of us and give him the relevant bit of paper that explains the calculations that he has made on behalf of the government that would tell us how it is that the Commonwealth can claim that its spending has gone up by 5.6 per cent on capital works and that state spending has gone up by 2.7 per cent.

You mentioned `total Commonwealth funds'. By that, did you mean not just tied grants but general recurrent grants? Did you mean the payments made to the states and then appropriated to this program, which is often the device used within the schools division of the department? I know it is an old trick. Just because it is an old trick does not mean it is not a good one, but we ought to at least be clear about the basis on which the calculations have been made. I think, on the face of it, this is a very serious allegation. What you are saying is that a whole series of Liberal governments have done this. It was the case in Western Australia, South Australia and Victoria.

We know Jeff Kennett devastated the education system in the state that I represent and that Senator Kemp represents. He would know what happened. He would know how many schools were closed in Victoria. He would know about the 360 schools that were closed. He would know Mr Spring, who was the director of education in Victoria. Of course, when the government fell, Mr Spring moved across to South Australia, which had a Liberal government. That followed his extraordinary record in the Northern Territory and now we know he has ended up as an executive consultant in the Commonwealth department of education. So we see a pattern of destruction through the education system in this country that has followed Tory governments. That is the nature of it. I think it is important that we get to the bottom of this question. Senator Kemp, since you obviously are the very best this government has to offer, please explain: how is it that the Commonwealth can make such a claim about so many conservative governments?