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Wednesday, 17 November 2010
Page: 1466


Senator MASON (2:15 PM) —My question is to the Minister representing the Minister for School Education, Early Childhood and Youth, Senator Evans. Noting that this week marks three years since Kevin Rudd’s computers in schools announcement, can the minister confirm that in these past three years not one of the promised computers has been connected by the federal government to the fast, up to 100-megabits-per-second fibre broadband, as also promised by Mr Rudd at the time of the 2007 election?


Senator CHRIS EVANS (Minister for Tertiary Education, Skills, Jobs and Workplace Relations) —I thank Senator Mason for the question. I enjoyed his interview in the Australian today. There was a very nice photo, but I thought he was a bit harsh about former Prime Minister Howard, if accurate. It would have been useful for Senator Mason to have started with the great success of the rollout of the computers in schools program, the fact that the program is delivering computers to schools in accordance with the government’s commitment and that many children are already accessing those computers and using them in their schooling. The rollout is continuing apace and the government is on track to meet its commitments for the provision of computers in schools. So the characterisation you seek to put by trying to focus on the connection issues, I think, seeks to misrepresent the great success of the program. I think it is about time the opposition recognised the success of many of these programs in lifting the education standards of Australia and giving children greater opportunity. Senator Mason had the opportunity to take us through this in estimates, and he did in part. He has those statistics available to him, and what they will tell him is that the program for the rollout of computers in schools is proceeding apace and that many have already been installed, with the rest progressing. Whenever I go to schools the feedback is that they have been a tremendous resource and are proving education—


Senator Mason —Mr President, on a point of order: with the greatest respect, the minister has not answered the question. It is quite specific. It relates to how many computers have been connected by the federal government to fast broadband. He has not addressed that.


The PRESIDENT —Senator Evans, you have 13 seconds remaining to address the question that has been asked.


Senator CHRIS EVANS —As I was saying, I think it is important to provide the context of the rollout of the computers. As I understand it, already 345,000 have been installed, or 44 per cent of the target set by the government. (Time expired)


Senator MASON —Mr President, I ask a direct supplementary question. How many computers have been connected by the federal government to the fast, up to 100-megabit-per-second fibre broadband, as promised by Mr Rudd at the time of the 2007 election?


Senator CHRIS EVANS (Minister for Tertiary Education, Skills, Jobs and Workplace Relations) —As Senator Mason would be aware, the rollout of the broadband network has commenced. Senator Conroy has answered many questions about the extent and the availability of that in Australia, about the priority areas and how we are seeking to provide broadband services to all communities in Australia to provide support for families, businesses and education providers. As I said, I think the key point to make is that the government has indicated it will provide funding for over 788,000 computers. We are on track with the purchasing and installation of those, with 44 per cent of those already installed. As I said, the rollout of the NBN will obviously provide support for providing the functions that the senator refers to. (Time expired)


Senator MASON —Mr President, I ask a further supplementary question. Having already broken one-half of their crucial election promise, can the minister explain to almost half a million Australian students why, three years into the program, they still do not have their laptops? Can the minister guarantee that all the remaining computers will be delivered and connected to fast fibre broadband by December 2011?


Senator CHRIS EVANS (Minister for Tertiary Education, Skills, Jobs and Workplace Relations) —Senator Mason, I think if you had listened to the two answers I have already given you would have got that answer. I made it very clear that the fund is designed to reach a computer-to-student ratio of one-to-one for years 9 to 12 by the end of 2011. I indicated to you that already 345,000 or 44 per cent of computers required to reach that ratio have been delivered. The election commitment was to reach a one-to-one ratio over four years and we are on track to deliver this commitment. The rollout, as I said, is continuing apace. People are already using those computers—students are accessing those computers. From every school I go to, the feedback I get is that they are tremendously supportive of the program and they are very grateful for the Commonwealth’s investment.