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Wednesday, 8 December 2004
Page: 75

Mr VASTA (2:31 PM) —My question is addressed to the Minister for Education, Science and Training. Would the minister inform the House of the government's initiatives to improve standards and values in our schools for the benefit of Australian children and their parents?

Dr NELSON (Minister for Education, Science and Training) —I thank the member for Bonner for his question. He is the first member of the federal parliament from the electorate of Bonner which was named in honour of the great Australian and former Liberal Senator, the late Neville Bonner. Last night in this parliament, historic schools legislation was passed that will deliver not only $33 billion to schools over the next four years but, for the first time, will demand that there will be a common starting age for schooling right across Australia; there will be national standards in schooling; plain language reports to parents about the progress of their children; the national values framework for schooling will be adopted and displayed in Australian schools; there will be available to parents and prospective parents of schools the real performance of a school at a local level; literacy and numeracy testing benchmarks will be reported to Australian parents right across Australia; and, of course, school principals—which might seem unremarkable to many here—will have a say over who actually teaches in the school for which they are responsible.

In relation to the schools policy, on 1 December last week the Courier-Mail reported on Labor's schools policy and said:

But despite trying to convince Australians it was learning from the past, the Opposition has endorsed the controversial `hit list' of private schools that would be stripped of public funding under a future Labor Government.

So the hit list of private schools was endorsed. In fact, the story said:

A caucus spokeswoman denied the decision meant Labor would again take a hit list of private schools to the next election.

I thought, right, they are not going to take a hit list to the next election, but they have endorsed the hit list! That is the sort of stuff that inspires John Cleese. The story went to say:

But she admitted `there will be redistribution', meaning some schools would lose funding.

The reality is that the Labor Party we now know has endorsed its schools policy. The Prime Minister said during the election campaign that hit lists never shrink, they only grow. Labor's hit list initially proposed to slash the funding to support the education of 160,000 Australian children in 178 schools. I heard some Labor people saying, `The Prime Minister's going to say that sort of thing; that the hit list would only grow.' In fact, the Prime Minister and people on this side have actually read Labor's policy and many Labor caucus people have not. You need to go to the footnote on page 17. Labor's policy of course says that once you hit the hit list threshold of funding—above and beyond which Labor says, `Parents should not be paying any more for the education of their children; stop making sacrifices; we in Labor want to punish you'—it says on page 17 at footnote 2: `This funding will be indexed against a weighted average of wage cost index and CPI.' The average person would think: what does that mean?

In plain language, it means that under this government funding to support the education of the one million kids in Catholic and independent schools increases each year by around six or seven per cent. Under Labor, it would increase by three per cent. On 16 September, at the Catholic education forum in Brisbane that I also addressed, in answer to a question from the Catholic Education Office the Deputy Leader of the Opposition admitted that over a six-year period the Labor Party's policy would take not 178 schools, but every one of those 2,650 schools onto Labor's hit list. The reality is that the Labor Party has a vendetta, particularly led by the Leader of the Opposition, against parents who make sacrifices for the education of their children. Under the current Leader of the Opposition, `ALP' means `Against Learning Privately'. I can assure you, Mr Speaker, under this government's literacy programs by 2007 every Australian child, every one of those 1.1 million children in Catholic and independent schools and their parents, will be able to read Labor's hit list and will understand that every child in the system is vulnerable if the Labor Party ever comes to government.