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Tuesday, 30 October 2012
Page: 8433


Senator MASON (Queensland) (16:22): Senator Fifield is noted for submitting great matters of public importance for discussion in the Senate and this is a particularly good one, as I am sure you recognise, Acting Deputy President. As I have said on a few occasions over the last couple of years, there is one thing worse than the Labor Party keeping its election promises. What is that?

Senator Williams: Not keeping them.

Senator MASON: Exactly. But even if the Labor Party keep their promises, their implementation is atrocious. The Achilles heel of the Australian Labor Party is their implementation. The list of failures is as long as it is shameful. In a way, some of it is mildly amusing, and it would be amusing if it had not cost the taxpayers billions of dollars and in the case of one program it cost a few lives. If the Senate needed an illustration, it need look no further than the recent Senate estimates hearings. My area of education was front and centre as an illustration. You will recall that we first had computers in schools. You have heard me on this before, arising from Kevin 07's election promise that laptop computers would be the toolbox of the 21st century. In the end they were delivered, though they may have cost several million dollars more. Of course they are obsolete now, and the program has no more legs.

Putting that aside because I am in such a good mood, the problem was this: the schools have not been linked up to the NBN. The government made the promise that not only would this be delivered to high school students but they would be connected to the NBN or to high-speed digital transmission. Do you know how many have been connected after five years of Labor government? Ten out of 2,650 schools have now been connected to the NBN. That is the record of the Labor government. That is the so-called digital revolution. The revolution has fallen asleep.

Who would be surprised at all about the pace of the rollout? The evidence at the recent estimates was that the government is signing up new customers to the NBN at the astonishing rate of five households per day. Given there are probably about 10 million households in this country, it will only take a couple of thousand years before they are all connected at that rate! I was just thinking, imagine if the Labor Party had put together the Overland Telegraph Line and it was their job to connect it up. After 150 years, they would not have reached Broken Hill! That is the sort of shambolic implementation we see from the Labor Party.

You will recall that they made another big election promise—forget computers in schools and the digital revolution, for a second. What about trade training centres? What has happened after five years? We now know that 92 per cent of schools are still waiting. This was a signature Labor promise. Half the money is spent and only eight per cent of the centres have been delivered.

If you think that is bad, far, far worse—and my friend Senator Scullion would agree with me—are the Indigenous boarding facilities. I hate to say this because I am having such a good time, but Aboriginal children in the Northern Territory aren't because five years after the election, five years after Minister Macklin made the promise, only one has actually been built. The other two that were promised have not even commenced work after five years.

I am rebuked for talking about deadlines. We do not use the word 'deadlines' anymore with the Labor Party. We are not allowed to use the word 'deadlines' because that is too male, perhaps; we cannot say that. We cannot even use the word 'timetable'. I am not allowed to use the word 'timetable' when it comes to Indigenous boarding facilities. Do you know what I have to talk about now? Aspiration—no deadlines, no timetables just aspirations. It is all aspirational targets. The fact that only one boarding school has been delivered in five years—one out of three—is a failure of aspiration, not a failure in delivery. When I was young, I remember my mother saying to me, 'The road to hell is paved with good intentions.' Today with the Labor Party, the road to hell is paved with aspiration—not paved well, I might add; the work is always over budget and behind schedule.

We are talking about education, just think about Gonski, which is central to education reform for the Labor Party and the government. You would think that after all this time there would be some funding model. What did we discover after estimates, Acting Deputy President? There is no funding model. There is no money to pay for it even if there was one, and there is no agreement with the states. Do you know what we do have, Acting Deputy President? We have an aspiration.

The Prime Minister said at her address to the National Press Club that legislation will be introduced to parliament before the end of this year. She has about seven days left in the House of Representatives for the education act to be introduced. That act will not be about a funding model. It will not be about who pays for what. Do you know what the education act is going to be all about, Acting Deputy President? It is going to be about aspiration—yet again. There will be nothing about money and who pays for what or even what kids learn; it will be about aspiration. It will read like some United Nations declaration. It will be a matter of principle and heartfelt intuition, and aspiration.

When looking back now over all of these years of sitting through estimates, as you and I so often have, Acting Deputy President Marshall, I still find it hard to believe that the Building the Education Revolution still keeps on giving. After all this time, 87 school halls still have not been completed—two years after the end of the program. It is the gift that keeps on giving. And we could go on. You might think I get some joy, Acting Deputy President, from this litany of failure. I get no joy, because too many billions of dollars of taxpayers' hard-earned money have been flushed down the fiscal toilet. I do not get any particular joy out of this.

The problem with the government is not that their ideas are necessarily bad. It is not that their aspirations are bad. It is that their capacity to implement them is so absolutely appalling. It is always like this: some bloke from the blue carpet down there has a brain snap, some great idea, the grander the better. It is always a grand idea, a 10-second media grab. It goes something like this: a computer for every student, a great grab; a hall for every school, another great grab; broadband for every Australian home, another great grab. But, of course, the work has not been done. No-one thinks through all of these issues. No-one costs them and no-one does feasibility studies or business cases. Figures are just plucked out of thin air, but it all sounds terribly good on the 6 pm news—that is the problem.

They have grand ideas, lovely rhetoric, but no implementation and no business case. Then they wonder, of course, why it all falls flat. If Labor had only learned from their mistakes. But, even yesterday, we had the Asian century white paper released. Again there is talk about putting five more Australian universities in the top 100. That is all very well. I love the aspiration. But that will cost, says Professor Milbourne, at least $10 billion more, and this at the same time that in MYEFO the government has cut research by $½ billion. It is all very well to talk about aspiration and rhetoric but, in the end, you have to deliver, and the great failure of this government has not been their ideas or even their policies; it has been their failure to implement them effectively.