Note: Where available, the PDF/Word icon below is provided to view the complete and fully formatted document
Disclaimer: The Parliamentary Library does not warrant the accuracy of closed captions. These are derived automatically from the broadcaster's signal.
Order In The House -

View in ParlView

(generated from captions) THEME MUSIC Welcome to Order In The House, in Federal Parliament. the review of the week's business

establishing a new bank Why is the Government from the Middle East that will channel petrodollars to State Labor Governments? Leader of the Opposition The proposition put by the acting is just absurd. of this nation The non-government schools to pass the bill. are calling on the Liberal Party like a bully in the schoolyard. The Rudd Government is behaving hand over your lunch money, "Give me your homework, or you'll cop it."

Labor legend, Frank Crean was a genuine to public service. and a man deeply committed in his sons who, His character is reflected

are recognised across this House despite our political differences, as very decent and dedicated men. THEME MUSIC

the Government's handling Once again, dominated debate. of the financial crisis interest rate cut in the wind, On Tuesday, with a big want to wait around the Opposition didn't

for the official announcement. banks now benefit Given that Australia's from the Australian taxpayer-backed and deposit guarantees, wholesale funding

finally change his tune when will the Prime Minister

in unequivocally telling the banks and join the Coalition interest rate cut to pass on any official across the country ? in full to borrowers no ifs, no buts, just pass it on? rate reductions, On the question of interest party represented by those opposite, I also find it remarkable that the interest rate rises in a row, which presided over ten

of the House with a lecture would provide anyone on this side should be conducted in this country. about how interest rate policy of the Opposition I suggest that the Leader statements in recent times, should reflect on his own a 25 basis point rise in which he said that excited about. was nothing to get terribly that the government's position today I say to the Leader of the Opposition and that is that any is as it has always been,

official interest rate reduction by the banks as rapidly as possible. should be passed through to his misguided and mistaken message I refer the Prime Minister earlier this year to Australian borrowers was out of control in Australia. that the inflation monster have to say What does the Prime Minister to those Australian mortgage holders and politically motivated comments who took his irresponsible

and locked into fixed rate loans on inflation seriously because of his inflation monster fearing interest rates would rise and who are now paying interest prevailing interest rates? at rates well above current SPEAKER: The Prime Minister. Opposition asked me about inflation. The honourable Leader of the

to repeated statements I would draw his attention over a long period of time by the Reserve Bank of Australia challenges which existed about the inflationary and the capacity constraints in the Australian economy inflationary pressures ? which underpinned those of the previous government a failure on the part skills at a critical time of need. to invest in infrastructure and in successive interest rate rises, The consequence of that was to see by Australian mortgage payers and the consequence of that was felt interest rate rises in a row. right across the country with ten Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry. My question is to the Minister for Order. INTERJECTIONS he made at his 17 October summit I refer the Minister to comments with banks and farming organisations.

of confidence now that before long He said, "I have a high level interest rate cuts being passed on." we are going to see that cut interest rates since the summit, Given that the Reserve Bank has now and his Government why has the Minister the interest rate cuts in full failed to get the banks to pass on agricultural loans and overdrafts? to farmers, particularly on

Fisheries and Forestry. The Minister for Agriculture,

for his question. I thank the Shadow Minister as we have always said, The government continues to say, interest rate cuts to be passed on that just as we expect to residential customers, as soon as possible so too do we have that expectation Australia's small businesses. for Australia's farmers and Order, order. INTERJECTIONS at a summit held on a Friday The comments quoted were made by me that we would begin to see when I had a high expectation those cuts coming through. then went ahead with cuts Most of the banks on the Monday following that Friday, which happened subsequently, but the 75-basis points cut,

at all to Australia's farmers. has largely not been passed on Association, only last Friday, When I addressed the Farm Writers and continue to make the expectation I again pressed the expectation of the Government clear to the banks residential customers that just as we expect for cash based products ? to receive the benefits

product then it is not based obviously if it is a market based on the Reserve Bank cash rate ? for Australia's farmers. so too do we expect the same Reserve Bank has just announced I can inform the House that the the official cash rate that it will be reducing

by 100 basis points to 4.25%. and the businesses of the nation We join with the families substantial relief. in welcoming this very from the Reserve Bank, This is a vital rate cut our joint efforts are directed delivered at a time when all and protecting Australian jobs. towards strengthening the economy

does expect the banks For these reasons the Government to pass this on in full. since September can give savings Decisions taken by the RBA of up to something like $600 a month with a $300,000 mortgage. for families My question is to the Prime Minister. the standard interest rate Prime Minister, charged by the big four banks to 21.14% on credit cards. ranges from 19.24%

in the cash rate to 4.25%, Given today's reduction is the Government taking what decisive action to ensure that credit card holders in the cash rate? benefit from the reductions

The Prime Minister. In response to the honourable member's question,

it is important that the banks act to pass on interest rate cuts to the maximum number of customers using the maximum range of credit instruments. That is absolutely the case. The honourable member should reflect on the historical record of the credit card rates during the period his own party was in office.

But, then again, the facts can be very discomforting. While Wednesday's national accounts figures showed quarterly growth of just 0.1 of 1%, the Treasurer was upbeat. But the Opposition kept its focus on interest rates.

The September quarter national accounts released today show that GDP increased by 0.1% in the September quarter,

to be 1.9% higher over the year. This is a positive outcome for Australia, particularly in the context of a global recession. I will put these figures into perspective for a moment. The US, the UK, Germany, Italy, Spain, Japan, Singapore and Hong Kong have all recorded negative growth in the three months to September.

Two-thirds of OECD economies are expected to contract in 2009.

So, while other countries are contracting, our economy continues to grow. Australian households are pulling back on their spending,

in the face of the global financial crisis. Household consumption increased by just 0.1% in the September quarter,

as households continue to rebuild their savings. Businesses are continuing to invest in our economy. New business investment rose by a solid 1.8% in the quarter, and is 12.5% higher over the year. This continued momentum in major infrastructure projects

will help build economic capacity for the future.

Today's figures show that we cannot resist the pull of international economic forces but that our economy is better placed than other nations' to face this global financial crisis. All arms of policy are directed towards buffering our nation and its people from the worst that the world can throw at us. I refer the Prime Minister to the national accounts

and the low economic growth of 0.1% over the months of July, August and September. Does the Prime Minister now regret that up until the 16th of September, he and his ministers were talking up inflation

as an out-of-control monster apparently unaware that the impact of the global financial crisis

was already being felt every day by Australians in a rapidly slowing real economy? The Prime Minister. The challenges that the Government faced upon its election in relation to inflation was the subject of remarks by me in the Chamber yesterday. Those inflationary pressures existed as a consequence of capacity restraints in the economy. These were detailed in successive Reserve Bank warnings

to the previous government and not acted on. Secondly, when it comes to the challenge of the global financial crisis, all governments around the world have acted as effectively as they can to respond to the difficulties presented by the crisis. Firstly, in terms of the stabilisation of global financial markets but secondly, addressing the realities now confronting the global economy to embrace appropriate stimulus packages for the future. The Deputy Leader of the Opposition. Thank you. My question is to the Prime Minister. I refer to the Prime Minister's failure to call on all banks to immediately pass on in full not only the recent interest-rate cut but also the previous three interest-rate cuts. Given the fact that Australians now owe almost $45 billion on their credit cards,

how can the Prime Minister expect people to spend the upcoming stimulus rather than pay off their credit card debt while they are still paying interest to the major banks of around 19%?

The Prime Minister. Thank you very much, Mr Speaker and I thank the Honourable Member for Curtin for her question. It goes to the question of interest rates and passes through to consumers

and all category of consumers. I have just come across, interestingly, an opinion piece written by the Leader of the Opposition back in January where is says, and I quote, in the venerable national journal of repute, The Australian... You've got a problem with The Oz, have you? The... Order. And it says... I'll draw the Member for Curtin's attention to this and I quote the Leader of the Opposition,

"Banks will charge as much for every product they have as the market will allow." Here we have the free marketeer at work,

the free marketeer for interest rates, the Member for Goldman Sachs in full flight in January of this year, saying that banks should charge as much as they can get away with yet today we have, in a highly coordinated attack from the Deputy Leader of the Opposition a suggestion that governments should in fact dictate the reverse. Our policy is clear-cut and it has been throughout, namely, that we call upon the banks and have done so from the beginning to provide pass-through of interest-rate cuts by the Reserve Bank as rapidly as possible,

and we have maintained that position. I note the decision yesterday by two of the banking majors to pass on 100 basis points of the cut. The other two to pass on 80. To those who have not passed on the full amount, our call remains to pass on the full amount as rapidly as possible. I refer the Treasurer to the Prime Minister's failure to call on banks to immediately pass on in full the recent interest-rate cuts.

Given that the national accounts released today reveal that household expenditure on motor vehicles fell by 7.9% in the September quarter, what is the Government going to do now? Not in five or ten years' time, but now, to save jobs in the motor-retail industry which is facing not only a shortage of credit but high interest rates? MPs: Hear, hear.

The Treasurer. I thank the Shadow Treasurer for her question.

The Prime Minister, I think accurately before, answered the question from the Leader of the Opposition, and that is that we call on the banks to pass through in full and as rapidly as possible any Reserve Bank official rate cut.

In the House yesterday I noted that two of the majors did precisely that. And it wasn't just for mortgages. It was also for their business loans, and that was good, and it was long overdue. The fact is that the banks do have more to do, when it comes to business lending. They certainly have more to do when it comes to credit cards. We are the first government in a long time to put them under pressure to so do. In 11 years, those on that side of the House could not even put in place a bank-switching package. They did nothing for 11 years.

We are serious about ensuring that official rate cuts flow through to the economy, and that the the banks play their part when it comes to fiscal stimulus in this economy. Very serious about it. But the new position from the Opposition I find quite remarkable. This is what the Leader of the Opposition wrote in an op ed in The Australian on the 21st of the 1st this year when there was a debate in January

about whether the banks should pass through in full. And of course that's precisely what I was calling on the banks to do at the time. And here's what the Leader of the Opposition wrote in The Australian at the end of January. Just listen to this - just another example. Don't listen to what he writes, look at what he actually does. This is what he wrote. "The banks are free to price their products as they wish.

After all, they're in the business of making profits, and all things being equal, they will charge as much for every product they have on offer as the market will allow them." That is a repudiation of my position at the time that there should be a full pass. The Government chose to talk up inflation

when every other government around the world was more focused on growth and concerned about what it could do to ensure that this credit crisis would not lead their economies into recession

where, as we know today, many have found themselves. They took that approach for a purely political reason - they wanted to blacken the economic reputation of the Howard Government. That was the only thing they could go for because every other economic metric was in very good shape - unemployment was at historic lows. Growth was high. Labor's debt was paid off. The budget was in surplus. Every other economic metric was as close to ideal as one could hope for except that inflation was above the trend,

above the band, the target range, that the Reserve Bank had set. They want for that and said it was out of control. They talked up inflation and interest rates and today we have just seen in the national accounts

growth of 0.1% in the months of July, August and September. Madam Deputy Speaker, the interest-rate rises that were contributed to

by the Treasurer and the Prime Minister talking up inflation,

saying it was out of control at the beginning of the year, those interest-rate rises are having an effect now. There is always a big lag in monetary policy. What they managed to do was create a situation where we had interest-rate rises at the beginning of the year

where in every other country there were interest-rate reductions, interest-rate rises which then had a negative impact on growth right now in the second half of the year precisely when we need it the least. A catastrophic error of economic policy driven by a political agenda. No economic agenda, only a political agenda.

No substance, all spin. 'The economic debate took a fresh turn when the Opposition leader asked about government plans to raise money for the states.' Thank you, Mr Speaker. My question is to the Prime Minister. Can the Prime Minister confirm that the NSW government has complained that his mismanaged unlimited bank-deposit guarantee has made it extremely difficult for the State of NSW

to compete in the public funding markets? Is the Prime Minister planning to establish a national infrastructure bank which would see the Commonwealth government borrow billions of dollars

to on-lend to State governments, all carefully structured in a way that would not impact on the level of the Commonwealth's final budget result?

How will the Prime Minister assure the House that his new Labor bank will not go the same way as the catastrophic Labor banks in Victoria and South Australia?

The Prime Minister. Mr Speaker, on the first point which is... on the first point which his raised by the Leader of the Opposition concerning representations by - I think he said - the State Government Of NSW. I'm unaware of any such representations. But, secondly, I would say that it would be normal entirely for the Commonwealth Treasury to be in touch with State treasuries as would have occurred in the period in which the Liberals were in government, and certainly occurs now, on the overall public sector borrowing requirements of State and Territory Governments. That is simply the normal way in which things are done. Secondly, in terms of the funding for future infrastructure,

the honourable Leader of the Opposition would be aware - though he obviously finds these matters entirely amusing - that the Government stands committed to implement our building-Australia agenda, our nation-building agenda. It's for those reasons the Leader of the Opposition should be aware that the Government has established three nation-building funds - the Building Australia Fund for the funding of infrastructure, furthermore for the purposes adding to education infrastructure

across the country, Education Investment Fund, and, thirdly... thirdly...thirdly, also for the future of our hospital infrastructure as well. Prime Minister resume his seat. The... INTERJECTIONS ..Leader of the Opposition on a point of order. Thank you, Mr Speaker.

The point is relevance. The question was about a bank, a Labor Government bank. That was the question. That's what the answer should relate to. Order. The honourable member will resume his seat. The Prime Minister is responding to the question. Prime Minister. Mr Speaker, the Leader of the Opposition asked me a question about representations from the Government of NSW concerning their public sector borrowing requirements.

And he asked in particularly whether I was aware of any such representations. I've given him a direct answer to that. Secondly, he goes to the question of the funding of infrastructure. And on the question infrastructure, which in the past was funded exclusively by State and Territory governments, this Government has a clear different policy which is that we will embrace... Order. ..we will embrace... we will embrace a new approach for the national government to invest in infrastructure, to invest in health infrastructure, to invest in education infrastructure as well. That is why we established three nation - building funds, which have yet to attract the bipartisan support of those opposite.

Quite apart from their nation-building utility, could I say to those opposite... could I say to those opposite that they also provide added stimulus to the economy for the period ahead. And can I say also to the Leader of the Opposition that we continue to examine all appropriate measures to properly support infrastructure investment into the future. That is the normal thing that you would expect to do. That is the normal thing you expect any democratically elected government to do, one which supports the whole process of infrastructure building and nation building in the Australian economy. And if those opposite actually bothered to pause and ask themselves this question - with the global financial crisis underway, how are you going to fill the infrastructure gap other than through proper public investment? Our policy is clear. The Prime Minister will resume his seat. Has the Prime Minister concluded? The Deputy Leader of the Opposition.

Thank you, Mr Speaker. My question is to the Treasurer. Why is the Government establishing a new bank that will channel petrodollars from the Middle East to State Labor Governments? The Treasurer. ALBANESE: You're joking!

Order. Order! TANNER: Petros dollars. Order! INTERJECTIONS

Order. The Treasurer has the call. Treasurer. The proposition put by the Acting Leader Of The Opposition is just absurd, Mr Speaker. The global financial crisis is impacting on all organisations who raise funds on credit markets, including commercial banks and, of course, State Governments. And, of course, the current conditions in financial markets

do make it harder for State Governments to borrow to fund important capital works. In the environment we are in at the moment,

nothing could be more important than capital works, particularly when it comes to critical economic infrastructure. The Government has made no secret of its commitment, its to invest in infrastructure and its commitment to see the private sector invest in infrastructure and the State Governments do the same. This is a very, very important part of strengthening our economy in the face of the global financial crisis. But, as importantly, an important part of reform in the Australian economy,

which had been neglected for 12 long years. Critical economic infrastructure goes to the core of the capacity constraints

that this economy has suffered from and under over a very long period of time. And, of course, as the Reserve Bank pointed out, on 20 occasions the previous government was warned by the Reserve Bank about the implications for inflation because of the failure of the previous government to take infrastructure issues seriously. This Government is determined to ensure that Australia does have the infrastructure we need to underpin growth and prosperity for the long term. And, like any... And, like any sensible government,

and like any government that is committed to economic prosperity,

we will take on board any sensible suggestions that are made to us from either the private sector or the public sector. But, as for, as for the ridiculous speculation that the member put forward then, and other matters in the paper what this Government is on about is a commitment to infrastructure. We will take on board in our discussions with the States some means to assist them if that is required - if that is required - if that is required - when it comes to their borrowing programs. There's been an exchange of correspondence with the Queensland Treasurer, that the member is aware of, and I have written back to the Qld Treasurer suggesting to him

that we're happy to work constructively

with the State Governments to see a resolution to this problem but rejecting the solutions that he put forward in that letter. The Deputy Leader of the Opposition. Thank you, Mr Speaker. My question is to the Treasurer. Is the Treasurer giving consideration to the establishment of a Government bank? And, if so, given the poor financial position

of many State Labor Governments has a risk assessment of the new bank been undertaken by the Treasury and has it been scrutinised by the Commonwealth Loans Council? The Treasurer. Mr Speaker, I've got nothing more to add to the alternative... LAUGHTER Order. ..the answer that I gave before. I said... I said very clearly that the Government is prepared

to examine any sensible and alternative measure. Any... No, it's not... Order. The Treasurer has the call. I've... I've already said that the proposition put by the Acting Leader of the Opposition is completely absurd, I've made that very clear. Now, in question time today, given the huge media and public interest in this...zany scheme of the Government,

we asked the Treasurer a series of questions - four, in fact - about this proposal. And while he obfuscated and ducked and weaved he did not rule out this proposal. And I asked him directly, "Will the Treasurer rule out the establishment of a new Government bank?" He did not rule it out. speaks volumes.

And I think that we will see over the coming weeks, probably on New Year's Eve, when everyone else is otherwise diverted, we'll probably see more information coming out about this proposal that was clearly cooked up on the eve of COAG between the State Treasurers. Interestingly, the WA State Treasurer was not invited to the meeting where this scheme was cooked up.

So in a hotel room somewhere in NSW we have the beginnings of the 2008/2009 Kevlani Affair. Now, why would State Treasurers be involved in a discussion with the Treasurer and the Prime Minister about a scheme to raise funds from overseas to channel through a bank to prop up State Governments?

Well, that is because successive State Labor Governments have failed to invest in infrastructure. They have failed to use the windfall from the GST to build necessary infrastructure. And they have driven their budgets into deficit. They are driving their States into debt. And we know that the hallmark of Labor Governments

around this country throughout history is deficits and debt. Only today I was informed by the member for Mayo, only today, the South Australian Government has announced, an 18% increase in water rates to pay... MAN: Outrageous. pay for their desalination plant. MAN: That sounds familiar. They cannot pay for their own infrastructure. They're passing it on to the taxpayers of SA

by way of an 18% increase. MAN: Double-taxing. The members from Victoria tell me that the Victorian State Government is doing the same thing. They have so badly mismanaged their budgets

that they are coming up with these madcap ideas - not denied, certainly not ruled out by the Treasurer - to channel money via the Federal Government to the State Governments and keep it off balance sheet.

Why would the States do this? Because they need the Commonwealth to bail them out. This now gives us the clue into why the Government announced last week that it was going into deficit.

This has nothing to do with the global financial crisis. This is all about a cover for incompetent State Labor Governments. This deficit is not about supporting the Commonwealth budget,

this is about supporting State Labor budgets. And it is notable that WA with a Liberal Government, was excluded from discussions on this scheme. Shame. The School's Assistance Bill which ties $28 billion of funding for private schools to an agreed national curriculum was held up in the Senate by the Opposition and the Family First Senator. This bill is one of the bigger building blocks in that national agenda.

It gives the many non-government schools certainty of funding, and applies transparency and accountability requirements that are consistent with government schools. We need an education system that delivers excellence and equity and can only achieve this if Australians are confident

that government is applying the same principles to all of our schools, something that has never been done, certainly, something not done under the previous government. As pointed out by the Deputy Prime Minister in the other place, under the previous government, schools were held accountable not for quality, not at all for quality, but more for whether or not they had a functioning flagpole,

or whether they displayed posters about Australian values. We believe in Australian values, and equity is certainly one of them, but we also use values when framing policy, not tacked on as an afterthought. This bill will also require as a condition of funding the implementation of the National Curriculum being developed by the National Curriculum Board by 2012. This will also apply, of course, to all schools. And I want to just say here, however, this shouldn't be a matter of concern for non-government schools, despite what I have heard in the media this morning from some Senators in this place. As the Deputy Prime Minister said yesterday,

the National Curriculum Board is writing the national curriculum. The Board is composed of representatives

from all states and territories, and all school systems, and all school systems. It is independent of government. It will drive results and quality up in this country. So what we're actually looking at is whether or not those who provide curriculum will still do it in different ways, no doubt about that, to ensure that there is world class curriculum being taught, but the teaching methods that those schools use can still continue to use those. The bill also seeks to tie funding for non-government schools to compliance with the National Curriculum, yet the National Curriculum isn't drafted. I'm pleased to see the direction the curriculum seems to be heading is a back to basics approach.

But the Parliament can hardly be asked to agree

to make funding for schools conditional

on compliance with a document none of us have yet seen. Indeed, a key issue is how prescriptive the National Curriculum will be. The National Curriculum does have the potential, if badly framed and implemented, to destroy choice in our education system. The non-government school sector is a big part of that culture

of choice and diversity. If the National Curriculum is framed and implemented in such a way as to erode the flexibility and choice of curricula available to parents

when they choose schools for their children,

then non-government schools will have no choice but to comply or lose their Commonwealth funding. The potential for the removal of flexibility for schools

in developing their curriculum content is of great concern for the non-government school sector. John Marsden, the principal of Candlebark School in Victoria, told the Senate inquiry into this legislation that "the dead hand of already rests heavily upon Australian schools.

The Parliament should be working to lift it, not add to its weight." If the Government begins to take Australia away from a diverse school system, characterised by choice, the only destination will be a one size fits all system. And this will require much more prescription and regulation, adding to the burden referred to by Mr Marsden.

There is no reason why the finding delivered to non-government schools in this legislation needs to be tied to National Curriculum compliance now. Let's see the National Curriculum first, and have a debate about it. Of major concern to Family First is the degree of bullying being displayed by the Federal Government. The Rudd Government is behaving like a bully in the schoolyard, "Give me your homework, hand over you lunch money, or you'll cop it." The Government is trying to ram through this $28 billion School Funding Scheme in the last sitting week of the year, in an effort to bully schools into signing up to the Government's proposed, but unseen, National Curriculum. How can you sign up to a National Curriculum when no-one knows exactly what it looks like? Many representatives from schools and schools' associations

that I've had discussions with believe that they are being held to ransom by the Rudd Government over this bill. They say it is a case of being pressured to sign up to the unseen National Curriculum

if they want to see a cent of government funding. They say the Rudd Government's line is "Trust us, we'll give you the detail of the National Curriculum eventually, just sign up first." The Government's decision to refuse funding unless schools agree to the National Curriculum

has left independent schools stranded. The end of the school year is looming, and these schools still don't know if they will have the funding they need to maintain their programs next year. If the Government really wants schools to support its National Curriculum, then it would stop standing over schools like a schoolmaster from the 1940s,

and stop threatening them with the strap if they don't sign up to something they can't even see. In case the Government hasn't realised or noticed, education has moved on since the 1940s. The bill is currently being held up

because the Liberal Party is opposing that section of the bill which delivers the National Curriculum. Now, in doing so, of course, the Liberal Party has embarked on a course which means non-government schools around this country could open in January and February next year without the benefit of government resources. Now, Mr Speaker, I am sure all members in this house can imagine what chaos and what pressure that will be on non-government schools,

on the principals, on the teachers, on the parents and, indeed, on the students themselves, given for many of these non-government schools - The Member for Sturt.

government funds are %40, %50, %60, %70 of the funds that they use. Now, Mr Speaker, earlier today -

The Member for Sturt will stop interjecting. I conducted a media conference accompanied by Mr Bill Daniels, who is the head of the Association of Independent Schools,

the national voice of independent schools in this country. I was also accompanied at that media conference by Mr Bill Griffiths, who is from the National Catholic Education Office of this country, the national voice for Catholic schools. Both Mr Bill Daniels and Mr Bill Griffiths said at that media conference to the Parliament and to the Australian people

that they support the National Curriculum, they do not seek the deletion of the clause dealing with the National Curriculum in the Schools Assistance Bill, and they asked this Parliament to pass the bill. I thank Bill Griffiths and Bill Daniels for appearing at that media event. I also thank them for facilitating me sending, as this Parliament sits,

a letter to every non-government school in the country, and that will be received by email in the coming period, in the next few hours. That letter, from me to the school communities around the country, non-government schools, says in part, and I quote, "The Independent Schools' Council of Australia and the National Catholic Education Commission have supported the bill. Unfortunately, the Senate has not passed the bill. In these circumstances, the Government will continue to urge the Senate to pass the bill. We will continue to do everything we can to give funding certainty and consistent accountability to non-government schools for the year ahead." Now, Mr Speaker, I table that letter, it may assist members of Parliament,

particularly members of the Liberal Party who get phone calls from non-government schools today asking them why it is that they are holding up funding to non-government schools. The Deputy Prime Minister will resume her seat. What the national curriculum won't do is to mandate particular classroom practices. It will give schools and teachers plenty of room for innovation and creativity.

It will allow them to use their own professional judgement

about how to develop and to deliver learning programs, about what to cover in and the sequence in which that material is covered. Schools and teachers will continue to make their own decisions about how best to reflect their unique circumstances and philosophies

in the curriculum. They will still be free to take advantage of teachers specialist knowledge and to pursue students specialist interests.

The national curriculum will be flexible enough to accommodate all schools, including Montessori and Steiner schools, schools preparing children for the International Baccalaureate,

the University of Cambridge International Examinations and programs of that quality. We will ask the National Curriculum Board

to advise on the best way of acknowledging the curriculum these schools offers. It was never our intention to hold up the distribution of $28 billion at all. Rather, the amendment put this morning, sponsored by Senator Fielding and co-sponsored by the Opposition,

was all about seeking reassurance. It was simply about seeking reassurance for alternative educational philosophies such as Steiner and Montessori, and different curricula such as the International Baccalaureate and the University of Cambridge International examinations. We were concerned that they would be prejudiced by this bill. We were concerned about it. You may not have been, Minister. We were. And it affects thousands of students in this country and their parents.

We didn't' do this for some reason of high principle per se. It was a practical reassurance that we were after, and Minister, I want to congratulate you for this morning, coming into the Senate and providing that practical reassurance. You've said that the bill will not mandate teaching methods or philosophies and I want to thank you for making that clear.

It's very important to us in the Opposition and for all those students studying in those different curricula or educational philosophies. I suppose I do wish though, Minister, upon reflection, that the assurance had been given right at the beginning of this debate, because then, perhaps, you wouldn't have had to have this backwards and forwards between here and the other place, all the tension, all the press releases, all the news conferences about this issue.

If we'd just been given the reassurance, perhaps weeks ago, we would have been much much better off. It was never ever ever the intention of the Opposition to hold back funding. We agree with the government that this -

the funding must be given to schools by the end of this year. We agree that the National Curricula is a very good idea, and we do not, in fact, Minister, at all, even object to the idea of funding being tied to the National Curricula.

That isn't the issue. We were simply concerned that some schools would be prejudiced by it. That was our concern, I thank the Minister very much for clarifying that, and I just want to put on the record, Minister, then, that the Opposition will be withdrawing its amendment and will be supporting the bill. Will the Acting Prime Minister update the House on progress in delivering the government's education revolution? MR SPEAKER: The Acting Prime Minister? Thank you very much, Mr Speaker, and I thank the member for Chisholm for her question, and I know she will be as members of the government will be relieved to know,

that the Senate has passed the Schools Assistance Bill and there is now no threat to the funding of non-government schools in 2009. Now, members of the government may be wondering how this happened

because they would recall that we were in this parliament yesterday, and the stated position of the Shadow Minister for Education who chimes in right on cue, the stated position of the Shadow Minister for Education was that he was going to fight on, he was going to fight on because he wanted to delete from the government's bill,

the reference to the National Curriculum. Now the bill has been developed and delivered in whole. It delivers $28 billion of funds to non-government schools, it delivers the new transparency measures we promised in the form we promise them, and it delivers our commitment to the National Curriculum. Now, this has been achieved

because the Shadow Minister for Education today engaged in what must go down as one of the most humiliating backflips in Australian politics. He was fighting on as late as this morning and then went into the Senate and performed this humiliating backflip, and instead of just having the fortitude to go out publicly

and to say, "Yes, I did backflip, I did change my mind", instead of having the fortitude to do that, the Shadow Minister for Education has been trying to pretend to all the world

that apparently a statement about curriculum was made today in the Senate, that had never been made before. Well, Mr Speaker, this simply isn't true,

and if I can just indicate to the House on how many occasions in the past, and this is not an exhaustive list, on how many occasions in the past the government has given commitments to schools that offer alternate curriculum like Steiner schools and Montessori schools,

that they would be able to work with the National Curriculum process and that there teaching styles were not under threat -

something the Shadow Minister in his humiliation and shame, is trying to pretend only happened this morning. The Coalition was strained in the closing stages of the Senate. The Liberal leadership decided to give up the fight to amend the government's national building bills, but when it came to the vote, two Liberals joined the nationals in opposing the bills. On entry into this parliament in 2005,

the Telstra debate was front and centre of this issue. The Nationals and the Coalition went to the people of Australia and asked for their trust, for their trust on the issue of how, on the sale of Telstra, their interests would be protected. Through that process, a fund was negotiated.

There was $1.1 billion, the Connect Australia fund and a $2 billion trust fund.

I can remember every part of that debate. I can remember negotiating for the lifting of the Natural Heritage Trust of Australia Act for how the assessment of those funds would be delivered. I remember from the negotiations that they wanted it in shares,

and making sure that we got it in cash at the 30-day bank bill rate. It was something that was fought uphill and down dale, and the Australian people, especially the people of regional Australia, had an extremely high scepticism about whether they could trust us or not. This issue was one of trust,

and on that issue of trust, we took a contract with the Australian people

that we could be trusted. Now I know the Labor Party will - and we've checked this out - will say, "Oh, well, if the $2 billion as part of this fund is to be removed and to remain quarantined for regional telecommunications, that the infrastructure fund would fall over", and that is a load of rubbish. We have if from - we got it from the Clerk of the Senate that this bill can go forward, absolutely, without that $2 billion in it, and they can start spending the money as soon as they like, so there's not one semblance of a reason as to why this $2 billion, that there was a contract between the people of Australia and this chamber, and that contract should not be on it. The $2 billion would not be there if the Labour Party had had their way. If the Labour Party had had their way, then Telstra would never have been sold, there would have been no $2 billion. As a result of the Compact, as Senator Boswell quite rightly said, that our government reached between rural Australia and the government, we sold Telstra, and to ensure that rural and regional telecommunications would be constantly improved we took $2 billion of the sale proceeds and put them in this communications fund, and we locked it away from the ravages of future governments by guaranteeing in perpetuity of that fund with the earnings available, as I said, to ensure the improvement of telecommunications, so, what the Labour Party has so hypocritically and cynically done is take that $2 billion, and then what are they going to do? Destroy the Communications Fund and put this $2 billion towards their national broadband network. Now the whole country knows what a fuss and a joke and a cruel hoax this National Broadband Network is, but I regret to say that on balance it is the Coalition's position that we will not insist on these amendments. We know very well what the government will do if we vote here tonight to insist on these amendments. It will be falsely asserted by the media machine that this government runs, they're so obsessed with Spin, they don't actually make decisions, they just do the Spin, and they will assert falsely and completely contemptuously that the Coalition has blocked these infrastructure bills. MR SPEAKER: Senator Williams? I'll be very brief, just to say what a disgusting act this is. Everyone in this place and the place over there knows exactly why that $2 billion was put away in deposit.

We know it is for those people out there in the bush - working hard, delivering the food, the export dollars, driving on the dirt roads and the rough roads just to get a bit of a fair go for telecommunications. I wish to express my disgust in what is happening. My good colleague sitting behind me, Senator Boswell, just said that he will walk across the floor before he would walk away from the people of the bush. That is exactly what we will do.

And to sit in this chamber and to agree to hiving off that fund, taking it away from rural and regional Australia, the very people in this country that are probably doing it the toughest at the moment. When you look at the history of this, when you look at what Senator Joyce achieved for the people of rural and regional Australia during the privatisation process of Telstra,

you see he did the right thing by ensuring that there would be a $2 billion fund in perpetuity. That is what the Communications Fund was about. That was the covenant; that was a trust with the people of the bush to make sure that that money was there in perpetuity. The government's assurances do not comfort me.

The opposition did the right thing by moving those amendments.

I have a lot of regard for Senator Minchin but I cannot understand the logic of what the coalition has done, what the Liberal Party has done by saying, "All these measures of transparency and accountability -

we're not going to go ahead with them. We're not going to insist on those amendments, for the simple reason that Labor's spin machine will say we are holding it up.' Let the Labor Party, let the government justify

that by having a greater degree of scrutiny and accountability with this fund that is doing the wrong thing, that somehow is undermining this fund. In fact, it enhances it. I do not get this. I do not get how something as fundamental and as basic as this

could simply be abandoned. Whatever is going on in the Liberal Party, it has backed off to the Rudd government tonight.

It has not stood its ground. That is the third time this week, and it is not a good look for an opposition. I have to feel sorry for the National Party, which finds itself left like a shag on a rock by its Liberal Party partners.

If that is a coalition... ..the dictionary has a new definition. It is a tragedy that we are in this position, late at night,

because the Howard government sold Telstra. It should never have done it. When it did so, it did great damage to Australia. We have to find real ways of ensuring that the bush gets a much better deal out of telecommunications in the coming years. The question is that the senate not insist

on amendments 3, 4, 5, 8, 10, 11, 12 and 13.

Those of that opinion say aye. Those against say no. The no's have it. They aye's have it.

Ring the bells. Order, order. Before declaring the result of the division, I'll just clarify that the motion that we not insist on the amendment was moved by Senator Sherry, and that Senator Joyce asked that those clauses

that I announced previously should be voted on separately. Could I also indicate as chair instead that I voted with the no's. The question is... As a result of the division, there have been 35 aye's and 8 no's. The matter is resolved in the affirmative. Senator Brown. I would recognise that there's five Liberals there.

There are two on the left-hand side of the chamber from where I am, there's two on the right, there's three up the back and there's some 30 outside, or 20 to 30. I have never ever seen such disarray from one of the major parties ever in this chamber as we are seeing here right now. I cannot fathom what it is that has occurred

with the Liberal Party here tonight, but it is enormously destructive. There were condolences for the former deputy prime minister and treasurer Frank Crean, who died on Tuesday. Frank Crean's story was, in many ways, the story of Australia itself in the 20th century. His life spanned the great and the good,

as well as the dark and grim days of what was an incredible century for our country. He was born in February 1916, a time when Anzacs were just being evacuated from Gallipoli and being sent to the killing fields of France. He was one of those tough Australians who lived through two world wars and the Great Depression. These great cataclysms could have torn the heart out of anybody else,

but instead, in the case of Frank Crean, they only seemed to inspire him to work towards redressing the great social injustices and inequalities of those times. Like his hero Ben Chifley, he never stopped pushing forward

to reach that light on the hill which symbolises the fundamental Labor values for which he stood throughout his life. Frank Crean was a genuine Labor legend and a man deeply committed to public service. He spent more than a quarter of a century in our federal parliament, from 1951 to 1977, and played a central role in Labor politics throughout this period. He helped build and rebuild the party in some of its darkest days. He brought a real depth of economic and financial knowledge to the successive roles that he performed in the parliament.

He was one of the finest ministers of the Whitlam government. In many ways, it is in Frank Crean's family that we find his greatest legacy. His character is reflected in his sons, who despite our political differences, are recognised across, around this House as very decent and dedicated men. The Labor movement is very rightly proud

of the record of public service of the Crean family and in particular our colleague Simon, to whom we extend our very deepest sympathy. Frank Crean was a decent, loyal and faithful servant of his party. He was always motivated by the public interest and what he thought was good for Australia. He was not in politics for personal gain. He did not speak ill of others and he saw good in his opponents.

I note in particular the comments last night of the Member for Berowra, the only remaining member of this House who served with Frank Crean. The Member for Berowra said: "He was an exemplar in the way in which he carried out his own role, but he encouraged people like me, even though I was of a different political persuasion." Malcolm Fraser has described him as: "One of the most decent and honourable members of parliament I have ever known." I hope that members will allow me to take the unusual step of adding to the remarks of the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition.

Frank Crean was a parliamentary colleague of my father. I have been a parliamentary colleague of his son Simon for 18 years.

Some 38 years ago, I commenced studies at university with David Crean. We were students together for three years. The course was for six years. Fortunately, I did not distract him long enough for him to graduate as a doctor and carry out a career in medicine before politics.

The one thing that struck me back in those days was that, as a mate of Dave,

I was a great friend of the Crean family. I could perhaps self-identify as a ratbag mate, but Frank and Mrs Crean welcomed us to what was a very warm family home full of great love.

Those are the memories that I have of Frank. As has been mentioned, basically a decent bloke, a great Australian and a fine family man. I join with the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition in extending my deepest sympathies and condolences to Mrs Crean, David and Simon, their families and loved ones, and to the family of Stephen. As a mark of respect, I invite honourable members to rise in their places.

I thank the house. The spirit of Christmas descended on parliament on the final scheduled sitting day of the year. 2008 has been a big year for everybody. There have been ups and there have been downs.

2009 looms as a huge challenge for us all in this place and more broadly for the nation. We have had a debate in here from time to time

about where the global financial crisis goes. It is going to affect a lot of people who will lose their jobs. That is the truth and it is an awful thing. It is happening right around the world. Whatever our policy debates may be about that, the other thing we need to be reminded of at a time like this

is, through our own work in local community, to support people who find themselves in those positions in the period ahead.

Agencies of state are important in delivering services to people who have lost their jobs and to the unemployed. Support and solidarity of the community around them is equally important, and I believe we all have a personal responsibility along those lines. As we approach the Christmas season,

there are often debates about Christmas being a Christian festival or a non-Christian festival in various parts of the world. I think the truth is this: whether we are of faith or not of faith, this is an important season for us all. For those of us who are of faith, it celebrates the birth of the Christ child. For those beyond faith it is a celebration for all families, and all therefore enjoy this season which lies ahead. Mr Speaker. All the best for Christmas, to all members of this parliament and for all those who serve the members of parliament so represented.

It is interesting at this time of year that we speak so warmly of each other, and if I just may end my comments about the House before I say something about the Liberal Party and my staff

and the people on our side of politics who make our work possible. I will just make this observation. The Prime Minister and I have both spoken very warmly of each other and warmly of both sides of politics and it is very good that we are doing that. It would be nice if we could do that more often. We are coming up to the new year - it is time for resolutions. I believe we would all do well, as we take some time off over the holiday period, to resolve to be a little more civil

and a little less venomous in our discourse. I spend a lot of time, as we all do, travelling around Australia and the most common sentiment that is expressed to me by members of the public is:

why are you all so nasty to each other? I say that, in the spirit of Christmas, we should aim to play the ball and less the man or, indeed, the woman. Finally, I join the Prime Minister in saying farewell as we approach the end of the year. We should all resolve to be kinder to each other in the new year. That may be a pious hope but, nonetheless, it is worth making. I believe as we go into this spirit of Christmas

that we should remember, as I said at the outset, that at the centre of the very mysterious Christian faith is a simple message of love.

Let's not forget that. Prime Minister, happy Christmas. ALL: Hear, hear. I actually rise at the end of Question Time to deal with a rumour I know is sweeping through the corridors of Parliament House. It may be concerning people, but there is no truth in the rumour that over the summer break members of the opposition are filming an Australian version of Batman.

I am informed that the Leader of the Opposition screen-tested well for the role of millionaire Bruce Wayne but did not do quite so well with the superhero bit.

I am informed that the Member for Sturt screen-tested very well as Robin. You can imagine him in that role. LAUGHTER, CHATTER

SPEAKER: Order, order. I am informed that various members of the Liberal front bench screen-tested well in the roles of The Riddler and The Joker, and I am informed that the Deputy Leader of the Opposition, in the honourable tradition of Eartha Kitt and Nicole Kidman, screen-tested well as Catwoman. With those comments, Mr Speaker, I ask that further questions be placed on the Notice Paper. LAUGHTER, CHATTER I'm pleased I didn't know where that was going. That's all from Order in the House this week. Parliament will sit again on 3rd February. Captions by CSI