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Thursday, 8 February 2007
Page: 8

Mr BARTLETT (3:59 PM) —Before turning to the issue of education, I would like to address the other aspect of today’s MPI, and that is the issue of Australia’s economic and social prosperity—or threats to our prosperity. I have to say that Labor’s timing is impeccable. On the day that it is announced that we have the lowest unemployment in 31 years, we have a motion from the opposition about Australia’s prosperity. One of the key determinants of a country’s prosperity is the economy’s capacity to generate jobs and to provide employment opportunities for its workforce, particularly for its young people. Today we have an unemployment figure of 4.5 per cent. What was it when Labor left office? It was 8.2 per cent. And what was it throughout Labor’s 13 hard years? It was an average of more than eight per cent. Compared with an average of eight per cent for 13 years under Labor, we now have unemployment at 4.5 per cent—the lowest level in 31 years.

As a reflection of this prosperity in my own electorate, unemployment in the Blue Mountains has fallen from 6.4 per cent to 3.7 per cent over the past 12 years. Indeed, in the new addition to my electorate under the recent redistribution, the Bathurst area, unemployment has fallen from 6.1 per cent to 3.9 per cent. As a mark of this country’s prosperity and the success of this government’s policies, we have seen over two million jobs created in the past 11 years, and nearly 60 per cent of those are full-time jobs. We are generating jobs and we are generating opportunities for young people to benefit and to participate in this country’s prosperity. The best chance of a share of this nation’s prosperity is the opportunity to have a job and to earn an income.

Under this government, there are two million more people working than there were when Labor was thrown out of office, and these people are earning higher incomes. Over the past 11 years, we have seen an increase of 17.9 per cent in real wages compared with Labor’s miserable effort. Over the 13 years of the previous Labor government, wages barely managed to increase at all, with a rise in real wages of less than one per cent. Under the 13 years of Labor government—the so-called protectors of the low-income earners—minimum real wages actually fell. We now have not only more people working than we had under Labor; we also have higher wages—an average of 18 per cent higher—than we had under Labor.

As well as the evidence of prosperity in the jobs market, I would make two other points. Not only do we have more people working and earning higher incomes, but people who are in business and people who are trying to buy their own homes are benefiting from the prosperity and from far lower interest rates. People are having to spend far less of their profits, far less of their companies’ revenues and far less of their incomes than in battling the 17 per cent interest rates that we had under Labor—or, indeed, the 12.75 per cent that we averaged throughout Labor’s 13 years.

Before I turn to the issue of education, I make the point that the evidence is this: in 1995, Australia was placed No. 13 in the OECD in terms of living standards. We are now No. 8. We have moved up from No. 13 to No. 8 in the world’s league of living standards and prosperity because of the management of this government. The opposition’s motion talks about the threats to our economic prosperity. I can enunciate some threats to our prosperity. How about the threat of a return to Labor’s economic mismanagement? How about the threat of budget deficits, of higher government debt, of higher interest rates and of higher unemployment? How about what those things would do to our prosperity? How about the threat of the return to union domination and sectoral interests, which would sap and undermine motivation and incentive in this country? How about the threat of the return to Labor’s outdated system of workplace relations, which would reduce flexibility, productivity, job generation and wages growth?

I am happy to compare this government’s record on prosperity and economic growth with the dismal performance of the other side any time, but I will now turn to the issue of education. Rather than the misleading assertions and empty rhetoric—and, sadly, at times, the sheer deceptive statements of the other side—this government’s record is clear. We have been committed to increased funding and higher standards, and we have been delivering on both: more funding and higher standards in education.

We heard from the opposition that 5.8 per cent of this country’s GDP is spent on education. Yes, it is 5.8 per cent, but what the two speakers on the other side failed to mention is that, in the last year of the Labor government, it was only 5.5 per cent. So the fact is that this government is committing a higher percentage of GDP—and a higher percentage of a much higher GDP, because of the strong growth that we have had for the past 11 years—than we had under Labor. We have increased funding for education from 5.5 per cent of GDP to 5.8 per cent of GDP.

Let us look at the three sectors. First of all, let us look at the schools sector—that fundamental sector where our young people get their start in life in terms of education. In this quadrennium, a record $33 billion in Australian government funding will go to our schools—a massive rise of 158 per cent, from $3.6 billion in 1996 to $9.3 billion this year. As the minister pointed out, the Australian government is increasing funding for state public schools at a much faster rate than the state governments, which have prime responsibility for state schools. Yes, there is a shortage of funding for state public schools and, yes, there is a lot that needs to be done in state public schools, but the governments that have the prime responsibility for those schools are failing to adequately fund those schools—despite the increased direct funding of the Australian government, despite the increased revenue to the state governments because of the GST bonanza, and despite the benefits of the booming economy we have had for the past 11 years. State Labor governments are failing to adequately fund their state schools. The federal government, as usual, is called upon to make up the difference, to carry the load, and that is exactly what we are doing.

But there has not only been increased funding; there have been serious efforts by this government to raise standards, despite the determined opposition of teachers’ unions and state Labor governments and the acquiescence of the federal opposition. If federal Labor really cared, they would be putting pressure on the state Labor governments to do something about this. In 1996, the evidence showed that 27 per cent of our year 3 students and 29 per cent of our year 5 students failed to meet adequate standards on literacy and numeracy. This government has been determined to try to raise standards throughout our schools by introducing plain English report cards for parents so that there is greater transparency and so parents can see, devoid of all the educational jargon, exactly how their children are performing in schools; by our efforts to introduce national standards of testing for literacy, which we started in 1999 in years 3, 5 and 7 and this year intend to introduce in year 9; by our efforts to increase the availability of information to parents and the public so that they know what is going on; and by our efforts to raise teacher standards.

The vast majority of the teachers throughout our country are committed, dedicated professionals, but they are not being adequately supported or encouraged by state governments. They are not being paid enough. If we had higher salaries for teachers, we would attract more people into teaching. And we ought to be rewarding those outstanding teachers who are making extra efforts. Instead of being hamstrung or handcuffed by the one-size-fits-all approach of the teachers’ unions, who refuse to acknowledge and reward excellence, those outstanding teachers, who are going the extra mile to do the extra work, ought to be rewarded. In terms of boys’ education, there are also the initiatives of this government to address the disadvantage of boys.

There is so much I could speak on—I have pages full of notes—and that I would like to be able to speak on. This government is delivering in school education, in university education and in technical and vocational education. We are delivering in terms of increased funding and we are delivering in terms of higher standards. But we are being obstructed at every turn by the state Labor governments, by the acquiescence of the federal opposition and the determination of the state teachers’ unions to pull the strings of the state education authorities. We are delivering in education, we are delivering on economic growth and we are delivering on prosperity for the Australian community. The only threat to all that is a return to the mismanagement of the Labor opposition.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER (Hon. IR Causley)—Order! The discussion is now concluded.