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Computing the cost of an election promise: WA -

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Computing the cost of an election promise: WA says "tens of millions"

The World Today - Thursday, 13 November , 2008 12:14:00

ELEANOR HALL: A year after it promised to deliver a computer to every high school student, the
Federal Government is facing a rebellion from state leaders over the plan.

One state education minister says the program would cost her state "tens of millions of dollars" to
implement and she says this is simply unaffordable.

But the Federal Government says it is reviewing the digital education program and will discuss its
latest proposals at the next meeting of state and federal leaders.

In Canberra, Sabra Lane reports.

SABRA LANE: A year ago tomorrow - Kevin Rudd delivered the centrepiece of his party's election
campaign launch - a $1.2-billion digital education revolution, with a computer for every secondary
school student, from years nine to 12.

KEVIN RUDD: I want to provide every secondary school student with the foundations to move into the
digital economy of the future. This will not just be a one-off investment. We will fund the
replacement of these systems to keep them at the cutting edge.

SABRA LANE: In May, the ABC's Chris Uhlmann asked Mr Rudd to guarantee schools wouldn't have to
hold fetes to fund the digital education revolution.

KEVIN RUDD: Now what individual schools do for fundraising, well Chris, that is a matter for them.

SABRA LANE: This week, Liberal backbencher Tony Smith told parliament that Lilydale High School in
his Melbourne electorate has asked parents to pay an annual fee to help cover the costs of
computers in schools.

TONY SMITH: The school has had to impose this levy to pay for all of those obvious on-costs, that
are obvious to anyone installing a computer everywhere, obvious to anyone except the minister.

I wouldn't go so are as to exclude those opposite from that. I think they'd realise that if you buy
a computer and you actually want to make it work, you need to plug it into something. You need to
connect it to the internet.

Well, not Julia Gillard, not the Minister for Education. Now the parents of Lilydale High have been
told they will have an annual levy of between $150 and $300 a year.

Now this is about to be repeated in numbers of high schools across Australia if they want to make
the computers work.

SABRA LANE: Based on what computer parents choose for their child, they will pay either $150 or
$300 extra every year, per student, to cover what the schools says are additional administrative,
technical and software support costs associated with the computers.

Over four years that is $600 or $1200 extra per student. Mr Smith says parents weren't warned about
that during Labor's campaign launch.

TONY SMITH: With great fanfare the policy was announced at the last federal election. A computer on
every desk. But I tell you what wasn't in the policy, what wasn't in the policy was that every
parent would have to pay a fee or a tax to actually make the computers work.

SABRA LANE: The New South Wales Government recently banned its state schools from applying for
computers in the second round of the program because it couldn't afford the additional costs.

The West Australian Education Minister Dr Liz Constable says the policy - as it stands - is
unaffordable.

LIZ CONSTABLE: Well, as I understand it, for every dollar that the Commonwealth would spend, it
would cost the states three to four dollars in maintenance, in power upgrades, in ongoing costs of
staff to manage the computers' software and so on.

So the federal election commitment would in fact cost the states an awful lot more than it will
cost the Commonwealth.

SABRA LANE: It is not something that you could easily cop on the chin and just pay?

LIZ CONSTABLE: Oh no. We are talking tens of millions of dollars if not more. It is a cost that of
course, we don't have in our budget because it was an election commitment of the Federal
Government.

SABRA LANE: Is there any part of that additional cost that Western Australia could bear?

LIZ CONSTABLE: We could bear some cost but a lot less than we anticipate if there is no change to
the commitment of the Commonwealth. Some of the calculations that have been done here would suggest
that if there was one computer to every three students, we could comfortably bear some of the cost
but if it is a computer for every student, we can't.

SABRA LANE: Dr Constable raised the issue of costs at a meeting of state and territory education
ministers about a fortnight ago. She was assured costs would be discussed at the next meeting of
premiers and the Prime Minister due in the next month.

But the WA education minister says the policy is a good idea for some students.

LIZ CONSTABLE: They're especially a good idea for students from disadvantaged homes and backgrounds
because it gives them access to computers that they mightn't have in their own home.

But at the end of the day, computers are a tool to be used by students and teachers and there is a
lot more to education than just computers.

SABRA LANE: A spokeswoman for the Federal Education Minister Julia Gillard says it is the first
time the Commonwealth Government has a program to provide computers for students in year nine to
12.

The office says the Department of Finance has reviewed the additional costs faced by the states
which will be discussed at the next Council of Australian Governments meeting due by the end of the
year.

The spokeswoman says the Government understands that individual schools have their own programs and
that the Minister is pleased that Lilydale High School believes it is important for students to be
able to access information technology as part of their education.

But the office says the policies and fees charged by individual schools are a matter for those
schools.

ELEANOR HALL: Sabra Lane reporting.