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Thursday, 5 February 2009
Page: 459


Senator MASON (3:07 PM) —I move:

That the Senate take note of the answers given by the Minister for Innovation, Industry, Science and Research (Senator Carr) and the Minister for Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy (Senator Conroy) to questions without notice asked by senators today relating to the proposed economic stimulus package.

Paradoxically, in politics the truth often comes from unusual sources. This morning I was reading the Australian Financial Review and an article by a former Labor leader, Mr Mark Latham. He said this, speaking about Mr Rudd and Mr Swan:

They—

Mr Rudd and Mr Swan—

have jumped all over the financial crisis, not with a clear economic strategy in mind, but with an urgent sense of the political opportunity it presents.

This is not an economic stimulus package; this is a political stimulus package. A principal part of the package, as Senator Carr did say—and I agree with this—was the so-called second tranche of the education revolution. The government promises to provide a school hall for every primary school in our nation, at a total cost of about $15 billion. It sounds good. On the face of it, it sounds terrific. But I know of schools that already have a school hall, that do not have room for a school hall or that have even more pressing priorities. The opposition believes that schools should be able to determine how that money is spent—that school principals, school boards, parents and teachers know much more than a central government about how to spend money in primary schools. We should decentralise this back to the schools who need the money. That is why the opposition is proposing to again commence the Investing in Our Schools Program that was scrapped by the Labor government. Doing that was absolutely ridiculous. Labor have this view of a great leap forward, spending billions of dollars, and they do not even know if primary schools need it. School boards, principals and teachers know far more than the Labor government here in Canberra about how to spend billions of dollars.

The Investing in Our Schools Program would be far more efficient, because schools would set their own priorities; it would be far, far, far cheaper; and finally of course you do not have to deal with state governments. The fiasco thus far of the computers in schools program is all because it has had to go through the coffers of state governments. The great benefit of the Investing in Our Schools Program was that the money went from the government directly to the schools concerned and not through the sticky fingers of state governments—all the way to schools, principals, their boards, their teachers and their schools.

Thus far the education revolution has been a shambles. Just think of it. This is what is going to happen to the $15 billion that has been promised. The problem is the delivery of the service. What have we seen so far with the delivery of computers? One million computers were promised. At the end of the school year last year, how many computers had hit the desks of year 9 to 12 students across this country? I can tell you: about 10,000—one per cent of the computers promised. At this rate it will take 100 years for those one million computers to be distributed. So-called partnerships between state and federal governments have become an absolute shambles, with New South Wales in particular not wishing to take the computers because the federal government, until the other day, would not pay the infrastructure costs of those computers. Finally, when the federal government fessed up, they realised something—that their proposal was short-changed by $800 million. That is on Commonwealth estimates. It was short-changed, under budgeted, by $800 million. On this sort of form for the $15 billion now promised, it is not going to cost $15 billion; it is going to cost about $30 billion. It will be another shambles. What worries the opposition is not the commitment and the money; it is the fact that it has been impossible thus far for this government to deliver services to schools. Whether it is trade training centres or the Computers in Schools program, it has been an absolute fiasco. If Labor cannot put a computer on the desk of every year 9 to 12 student in this country—and they have not been able to—how the hell are they going to be able to deliver a school hall for every primary school in this country? It is absolutely impossible. (Time expired)