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Tuesday, 5 November 1996
Page: 6504

Mr CHARLES —My question is addressed to the Minister for Schools, Vocational Education and Training. I remind the minister—

Mr Martin Ferguson —You will not see the Cup when he gets up there.

Mr SPEAKER —The member for Batman is delaying events.

Mr CHARLES —I remind the minister that there are those in the community who claim that, if young children are not up to speed on literacy and numeracy by the time they are aged seven or finished grade 3, they will be in big trouble for completing their schooling. Can the minister confirm that there is any veracity in these statements?

Dr KEMP —I thank the member for his question.

Mr McGauran —He's been doped!

Mr Howard —Oh! They are under starter's orders. You had better hurry!

Honourable members interjecting

Mr Melham —This will be your best answer ever.

Dr KEMP —Prime Minister, may I have a glass of water?

Mr Howard —Here you are. There is nothing in the water.

Dr KEMP —Thank you.

Mr Melham —You took the water! Bronwyn would not take the water. You are in Cabinet now. You have passed the water test.

Mr SPEAKER —Order! I am not planning to take a swab, so just relax.

Dr KEMP —I do not know whether it is because it is the Melbourne Cup today, but I am feeling a little hoarse, as members can tell. I thank the member for La Trobe very much for his question. He is of course right: unless the literacy issue can be properly addressed in the early years of schooling, it is very difficult to correct the literacy difficulties of students later on. That is why the government has introduced a new literacy goal that every child should be able to read, write, spell and communicate by the end of primary school. It is also why we have introduced, and will be introducing with the states and territories, national standards for years 3 and 5 in primary school which will meet the needs of students in those early years.

Members of the House would be particularly interested to know that over the next four years the government will be putting some $635 million into literacy programs. That will include specific targeted programs aimed at these early years of schooling. The expert evidence certainly does confirm what the member for La Trobe has said. He is quite right on that point according to all the information that the government has. We will be doing everything in our power to make sure that students in these early years get the attention which students failed to get during the previous 13 years.

It is evident that there has not been a single question on this matter from the shadow minister for education. He has completely failed to leave the starting gate. You cannot get him out of the starting gate. I thought today they might get him up on this issue, but they could not even manage it then, when I was feeling a little hoarse. So we have had to have this question asked from our own side.