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Wednesday, 11 November 1998
Page: 233


Mr LINDSAY (6:18 PM) —I appreciate the opportunity to speak on the States Grants (Primary and Secondary Education Assistance) Amendment Bill 1998 . The purpose of this bill is to give effect to the initiative announced in the 1998-99 federal budget. Standing here today, I guess it feels like an eternity has passed since the 1998-99 budget was handed down. It was an important budget in that it was a budget that saw the Australian economy go back in the black and back on track.

Today we are dealing with a small but important part of that budget—namely, the introduction of full service schools over three years and the extension of the National Asian Language and Studies in Australian Schools Strategy. The government is providing an additional $40.2 million over two years from 1998 to support, enhance and expand Asian languages and studies through our school system. It is a very positive decision and one that I welcome. I also acknowledge the opposition's support for this extension.

I recall speaking on the 1996 states grants bill for primary and secondary education. At that time the Asian economic crisis was still far from the front pages of the national newspapers. Indeed, many strategic analysts were publicly saying that the outlook for the Asia-Pacific had never looked so secure.

We live in a very different region economically from that of two years ago. While Australia has weathered the Asian economic crisis well, many of our regional neighbours have not. This, however, does not diminish the importance of the Asia-Pacific area to Australia. Countries like Indonesia, Japan, South Korea, Malaysia and China all remain very important trading markets for Australian exporters, and particularly so for North Queensland exporters. While the Asian economic crisis has in many ways hampered trade in our region—and in your region, too, Madam Deputy Speaker—it has also created many new opportunities for Australia. The economic potential of the Asia-Pacific region is still very significant. We should not close our doors to those opportunities.

I said in this place two years ago that exporters in Townsville and in North Queensland should be doing everything they can to try to break into those new and emerging market opportunities. We, after all, are on the doorstep of the Asia-Pacific region. The $40 million expansion of the NALSAS strategy is a positive step towards preparing now for Australia's greater economic involvement and engagement in the Asia-Pacific region in the future.

As I said earlier, the other major points that this bill deals with are the measures to provide $20 million over three years for schools to develop programs and innovative services to address the special needs of young people who are at risk of not completing year 12.

I think that the Deputy Prime Minister summed up the youth allowance very well when he said that it was not about putting the unemployed down but, rather, about bringing students up. I acknowledge that there have been some problems with the introduction of the youth allowance. With any social reform of this size, there always is. But overall, and particularly in my area, it has been widely welcomed.

The goals of the youth allowance remain clear: bring students up; give them incentives to stay in schools; provide them with the same level of financial support as we give to the unemployed; and provide adequate traineeship and apprenticeship opportunities for those who do not choose higher education.

One of the intended effects of the youth allowance was to encourage students to complete their secondary education. I quote from the honourable member for Goldstein's second reading speech:

In recognition of the possible additional costs associated with these high needs students, the Commonwealth has established the full service schools program.

The full service schools program is intended to provide supplementary assistance to schools to enable them to effectively meet the needs of students who are likely to return to or remain at school. It will also build on the range of other initiatives that the government has already put in place.

A result of part of the funding in this bill tonight was seen at an opening in my electorate today at St Anthony's School, Deeragun. It was unfortunate that I was unable to attend that particular opening, because we are here in Canberra, but money that is being provided in the budget will affect that school in the Catholic system in my electorate of Herbert. I am pleased to support this bill, and I recommend that it obtain the support of the parliament.