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Tuesday, 22 June 2010
Page: 6103

Ms LIVERMORE (3:07 PM) —My question is to the Minister for Education, Minister for Employment and Workplace Relations, Minister for Social Inclusion and Deputy Prime Minister. Will the Deputy Prime Minister outline the importance of investing in education in regional areas and update the House on current policies in this area?

Ms GILLARD (Minister for Education, Minister for Employment and Workplace Relations and Minister for Social Inclusion) —I thank the member for Capricornia for her question. I know that she is very interested in education in regional communities, including most particularly in her own. I know that she, like I, was disgusted to find that the track record of the Howard government on participation by students from rural and regional areas in universities was one where participation had gone backwards—had gone backwards to 18 per cent. Nothing effective had been done to get more country kids into universities. Nothing effective had been done to invest in country schools. Nothing effective had been done to invest in quality teaching. There was no national curriculum. Nothing effective had been done to encourage more country kids to finish year 12.

We have been turning around that shameful track record of neglect of the education of students in country Australia. We have been investing in buildings and equipment at schools, we have been investing in quality teaching, we have been investing in trade training centres and we are helping more country kids get to university. Through our Bradley reforms we are rewarding universities for enrolling students from low SES backgrounds—and, of course, country kids tend to have low SES backgrounds. Our loading is actually worth 15 times more than the previous equity funding. Universities have already responded to the Bradley reforms by growing places by more than 40,000. It should be received by this parliament as very good news that the fastest growth rates are amongst the cohort of students who come from the lowest socioeconomic backgrounds—that is, our reforms are working to get more poorer kids, including country kids, into universities. We have also reformed student income support so the system is better and fairer, and in every electorate in this country more students are getting youth allowance as a result.

I am asked about recent policy developments, and of course I tend to follow the statements of one of my counterparts, the Leader of the National Party—the man who would be Deputy Prime Minister if the Leader of the Opposition and his team became the government of this country. That is something for people to contemplate—the man who would be Deputy Prime Minister. On the weekend he announced, ‘A new coalition government will create a $1 billion regional education fund,’ and I thought, ‘That’s very interesting—a $1 billion regional education fund.’ But $1 billion in the hands of the Leader of the National Party is not really $1 billion, because Senator Williams from the National Party clarified it all on radio for us, and I thank him. He was very clear and he said:

... the plan is this. And it’s been ticked off by Tony Abbott and Joe Hockey, that we put the billion dollars invested, away, and what that billion dollars earns in interest, we then spend in regional Australia to improve education.

So it is not $1 billion on regional education; it is $1 billion invested and the interest spent on regional education. Then Senator Williams went on to say the kinds of things it was going to be spent on:

... we want to see ... the good teachers ...

So they are going to spend on good teachers with this interest—say, around $50 million on $1 billion they are going to spend on good teachers. What they do not tell you is that they are taking $400 million out of our quality teaching program. So they are going to spend on good teachers on one side and there will be a $400 million rip-off on the other side. It is a very edifying interview. Senator Williams went on to say:

There’ll be incentives for the buildings ...

That will come from the interest on the $1 billion that is also going on quality teaching. What he does not tell you is that the rip-off the other side means that 1,800 schools will never have access to a trade training centre. The rip-off the other side will mean that schools will not get their Building the Education Revolution projects. Then he goes on to say that this interest on $1 billion that is going to pay for good teaching and pay for new buildings is also going to pay for infrastructure. Prime Minister, you would find that remarkable, wouldn’t you? What they do not tell us is that the rip-off the other side is that they are going to stop the provision of 120,000 new computers. I see the Independents in this parliament starting to smile. I see them smiling away, because they know a bit about the National Party. What they know about the National Party is tricked-up announcements to try to fool country Australians but proof yet again, proof positive, that what the National Party actually stands for is selling out country Australia, and this time they are selling out country kids. It could not be more obvious.