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Thursday, 5 February 2009
Page: 450


Senator MASON (2:31 PM) —My question is to that famous economic conservative, Senator Carr, the Minister representing the Minister for Education. How many of the primary school building projects proposed by the government in their stimulus package are shovel ready—that is, ready to commence construction immediately?


Senator CARR (Minister for Innovation, Industry, Science and Research) —Senator Mason, I thank you very much—

Opposition senators interjecting—


The PRESIDENT —Order! It is not much use asking the question and then shouting, because I cannot hear the answer and I need to hear Senator Carr.

Opposition senators interjecting—


The PRESIDENT —Order! I will wait until there is quiet before I call Senator Carr—simple as that.

Honourable senators interjecting—


The PRESIDENT —Order! I will call Senator Carr when there is order on both sides. Senator Carr.


Senator CARR —Thank you, Mr President, and I thank Senator Mason for his question. I recall it was not so long ago that he was giving us lectures about being on the wrong side of history. It is a pity he has not learnt from that experience, because if ever there was a political organisation on the wrong side of history it is the Liberal Party. If ever there was an organisation that was out of touch—way, way out of touch—with the needs of ordinary Australians it is the Liberal Party. The neoliberal philosophy of the Liberal Party—


Senator Abetz —Mr President, I raise a point of order. The minister is now 25 per cent of the way into his time to answer the question, which was very specific as to how many of the primary school buildings were ready to commence construction immediately. We do not need the sort of rant and tirade that we got which is completely and utterly irrelevant and therefore in clear breach of the standing order which requires the minister to be directly relevant.


Senator Faulkner —Two points, Mr President, on the point of order. First of all, it may or may not have been tongue in cheek but I did note that Senator Mason, in asking the question, described my colleague Senator Carr as an ‘economic conservative’—and that is obviously a matter that Senator Carr would want to address. Secondly, in response to Senator Abetz’s point of order, I make a similar point to that I made yesterday in relation to relevance. This is a very early stage of Senator Carr’s answer. There is forthcoming another three-quarters of an answer to a primary question, two supplementary questions and two answers. I would respectfully suggest it is a little early and quite preposterous for Senator Abetz to be taking such a point of order.


The PRESIDENT —Senator Carr, you have one minute 27 seconds in which to address the question that has been asked by Senator Mason.


Senator Abetz —Mr President, by recalling Senator Carr without indicating anything, are you ruling that his first 30 seconds was directly relevant to the question that was asked?


The PRESIDENT —I drew Senator Carr’s attention to the question that had been asked by Senator Mason and asked him to address the question.


Senator Ferguson —Mr President, on the point of order: I listened to Senator Faulkner’s comments in relation to whether or not Senator Carr was relevant and he made no attempt to suggest that Senator Carr was relevant but said that he had only used up one-quarter of his question time. To the best of my knowledge—and I just ask you to check—there is no provision in standing orders for a minister to use part of their answer to be totally irrelevant.

Honourable senators interjecting—


The PRESIDENT —Order! Senator Ferguson has the call.


Senator Ferguson —To the best of my knowledge, there is no provision in the standing orders for any minister to allow for part of his question to be totally irrelevant while the rest of it is relevant.


Senator Chris Evans —Mr President, on the point of order: as I have indicated to those opposite before, if the senator asking the question seeks to make a commentary as they start the question or prior to asking the question then they cannot expect that not to be addressed. On this occasion the senator asking the question made a comment prior to asking his question. That Senator Carr responded to that is quite natural and to be expected, and then Senator Carr was to turn to the specifics of the question. He has had 33 seconds and he has not had the opportunity to get to the core of the question. If Senator Abetz stopped rising with fruitless points of order, the opposition would get a lot more questions, but it seems they are not interested in holding the government to account. Senator Ferguson’s remarks are quite wrong. If you want serious answers, ask serious questions. If you do not want ministers to make political responses, do not put them in your questions.


The PRESIDENT —Order! I have indicated quite clearly already that Senator Carr has one minute 27 seconds left to answer the question and I draw his attention to the question that has been asked by Senator Mason.


Senator CARR —The government has announced a $14.7 billion Building the Education Revolution initiative. It is made up of three separate components: $12.4 billion is for primary schools for the 21st century. Round 1 of the program will see 20 per cent of schools with projects funded between the period of February and April 2009. States and territories and block grant authorities will be assessing proposals incorporating the views of parents, friends and citizens groups where appropriate and submit their lists to the Commonwealth so that the projects will start not later than June 2009. The second round, which will be aimed at 40 per cent of the other schools, will be in a similar manner, and round 3, which will be concluded by no later than December 2009, would see the remaining 40 per cent of schools with projects assessed. Of course, projects will come on stream as they are ready. That is the designation that has been agreed by COAG and announced today.


Senator MASON —Mr President, I ask a supplementary question. Will the minister guarantee that every one of Australia’s primary schools will get a new library, gym or multipurpose hall as promised by the package?


Senator CARR (Minister for Innovation, Industry, Science and Research) —It is the government’s intention to build or upgrade multipurpose halls, libraries and large-scale infrastructure for all primary schools, special schools and K-12 schools. It is intended that the program be rolled out in terms of the timetable that I have outlined to you today. It is our expectation that every one of Australia’s 9,450 schools will secure direct benefit from this project. What is standing in the way of that? Those gentlemen and those women on that side of this chamber. You are standing in the way of achieving benefits for 9,450 schools.


Senator MASON —Mr President, I ask a further supplementary question. Which 500 of Australia’s secondary schools will receive a new science and language lab under the stimulus package? Importantly, will the minister guarantee that these new facilities like those for the primary schools will be delivered as promised and on budget?


Senator CARR (Minister for Innovation, Industry, Science and Research) —I am at a loss to understand the Liberal Party’s attitude. They have already announced they are going to vote against this package. They have announced they are rejecting this package. Irrespective of the evidence, irrespective of the need and irrespective of the consequences, they have announced they are going to vote against this package. Nine thousand schools in this country are going to be put at a severe disadvantage as a direct result of the Liberal Party’s action. Now we are asked whether or not we can guarantee that the announcements made today by the Prime Minister and the premiers of this country will be honoured. The only reason they will not be honoured is if you are successful in your extraordinarily destructive attitude aimed at the Australian people and aimed at hurting working families of this country.


Senator Coonan —Mr President, a point of order relating to the standing order requiring the minister to be directly relevant in his answer: the very clear question that the minister has not addressed—although well into his answer to the supplementary question—is whether he will confirm that only 500 of Australia’s secondary schools will receive a new science and language lab under the package and, secondly, whether these facilities, like those for the primary schools, will be delivered as promised and on budget. Without taking up Senator Faulkner’s earlier comments in relation to points of order, there was no commentary or comment from Senator Mason, who asked a perfectly straightforward question in his second supplementary, and instead we have from Senator Carr an absolute tirade about what may or may not happen to votes on the package. Clearly that has nothing to do with the opposition’s right to ask the minister straightforward questions about this package.


Senator Chris Evans —Mr President, on the point of order: the minister was asked a question about whether he could guarantee delivery of the program, and he made the most important point in response, which was that, if the opposition were successful in voting down the package, he could not guarantee it but that, if the opposition voted for the package, there was a capacity for us to implement the program. He was perfectly on message and perfectly on the answer. The other point I would like to raise with you—

Honourable senators interjecting—


The PRESIDENT —Order! Senator Evans, resume your seat. Senator Evans.


Senator Chris Evans —Mr President, while I am on my feet I just want to make another point in relation to the point of order which is that Senator Coonan took her point of order when the minister had 10 seconds remaining. This is another stunning tactic, and I make the point that the opposition are making a farce of question time when they ask for one-minute answers then interject and take a point of order with 10 seconds remaining. It is completely disrupting question time and limiting the number of questions able to be asked.


Senator Abetz —Mr President, I was wondering if you might be as good as to indicate to the chamber when it is too early to take a point of order, when it is too late to take a point of order, whether it should be at exactly the halfway mark, or when it is just right for Senator Evans or the hapless Senator Carr. Really, Mr President, that last point of order by the Leader of the Government in the Senate just shows how incompetent they are in everything they do.

Honourable senators interjecting—


The PRESIDENT —Order! Senator Carr and others on my right, I am waiting to call Senator Ludwig. Senator Ludwig.


Senator Ludwig —Mr President, on the point of order. Unfortunately, now what we have seen from the opposition on the point of order is an embarrassing tirade about nothing because what the opposition have now risen on is a point of order, not the original matter. Senator Abetz did not rise on the original matter but went off on a flight of fancy of his own, complaining about another point of order. Mr President, my submission is that, if you are going to take a point of order, you should say whether it is about relevance or about what was originally raised. You did not respond to that and you have to respond to that in that instance. My submission is that Senator Carr was relevant to the question.


The PRESIDENT —Senator Carr, you have 10 seconds left to address the question that has been asked by Senator Mason.


Senator CARR —The government has announced its commitment to $1 billion for the Science and Language Centres for the 21st Century Secondary Schools program. It is designed to assist schools with a demonstrable need— (Time expired)