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Wednesday, 11 November 1998
Page: 116

Mr HAASE —Mr Speaker, may I add my name to the long list of those congratulating you on your ascension to high office. My question is addressed to the Minister for Education, Training and Youth Affairs. Can the minister outline to the House the government's ongoing commitment to delivering quality education for all Australian children, and is he aware of any alternative proposals in this area?

Dr KEMP (Education, Training and Youth Affairs; Minister Assisting the Prime Minister for the Public Service) —Mr Speaker, may I take the opportunity to congratulate you on your elevation, which I have not previously had the chance to do. I also congratulate the member for Kalgoorlie on becoming the representative of the world's largest electorate. He will be an excellent representative.

The government, unlike the people on the opposition benches, is committed to providing young Australians with basic literacy and numeracy standards which will ground their education for their future careers, lifting teachers' skills and providing apprenticeships to meet skill shortages in rural Australia. They constitute the core of the very important election commitments we made.

On the other side of the House I am aware of alternatives and that the opposition education policy is a shambles. This is not a partisan comment because it is, indeed, the description offered by the member for Werriwa, the little Red Indian sitting on the back bench up there, who made it very clear that this was not a policy worth supporting.

Mr SPEAKER —Order! That was not an appropriate reference to the member for Werriwa. But I must say I have heard a great deal of scorn and derision from not only the member for Hotham but also the member for Batman and, in one instance, the member for Bruce. I think we could all restrain ourselves. The minister has the call.

Dr KEMP —Mr Speaker, far be it from me to debate the point, but that is the description by the member for Werriwa of himself. He was a little Red Indian who was not going to take it any more on the front bench of the Labor Party.

I must make it clear that during the election campaign I unfairly criticised the member for Werriwa because I wrongly believed that he was the author of the education policy of the Labor Party. But he has now made it clear through the Sydney Morning Herald of 10 October that the policy was in fact butchered by staffers the day before it was released, to the Labor Party's embarrassment. He said:

I put 18 months into a policy document to have it butchered by staffers the day before it was released . . .

He also said:

Mike Pezzullo, chief policy adviser, and John Angley, who worked for Kim as finance minister and had no involvement in the education area, rewrote the bloody thing, all under the approval of McMullan.

Mr Beazley —Mr Speaker—

Mr SPEAKER —The minister will resume his seat. I call the Leader of the Opposition.

Mr Beazley —I raise a point of order on relevance. The question quite clearly went to alternatives to the government's current position in the area of education. I know this fellow has had his portfolio halved—

Mr SPEAKER —No, no.

Mr Beazley —and he has got a smaller and smaller capacity to bore us as a result of that—

Mr SPEAKER —The Leader of the Opposition will resume his seat.

Mr Beazley —but the issue of relevance is still important to him.

Mr SPEAKER —The Leader of the Opposition will resume his seat. The Leader of the Opposition cannot expect that level of tolerance from the chair. I call the minister, and I ask him to make his remarks relevant to the question.

Dr KEMP —Mr Speaker, I was asked about alternatives and the quality of those alternatives. There is surely no better authority on this than the member for Werriwa, who described in detail the nature of the Labor Party's education policy. What he said was this:

So they stuffed it up. . . . So we have an argument in the airport lounge, and I'm told the Victorian branch was printing different versions at 1 o'clock in the morning and taking out a dozen spelling mistakes.

Mr SPEAKER —I call the minister's attention to the question.

Dr KEMP —Mr Speaker, I am describing the alternatives that I am aware of—

Mr SPEAKER —I understand precisely what the minister is doing.

Dr KEMP —to the government's comprehensive plan to raise education standards. Let us be quite clear what this means. It means that the Labor Party has an education policy that is so flawed that the shadow minister resigned rather than take responsibility for that policy.

All that can be said is that the member for Dobell was not too intellectually proud to pick it up; indeed, apparently any old policy will do for him. He is apparently very satisfied to be the education spokesman for the intellectual vacuum which now exists in the Labor Party in this vital policy area.

Opposition members interjecting

Mr SPEAKER —When the House comes to order, I will call the member for Brisbane.