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Monday, 15 November 2010
Page: 2188

Mr ZAPPIA (12:55 PM) —I take this opportunity to speak on the Tax Laws Amendment (2010 Measures No. 4) Bill 2010. As has already been stated, this bill contains seven schedules, and each schedule relates to a different aspect of tax law. I want to confine my remarks in this debate to schedules 6 and 7 of the bill. Schedule 6 adds the organisation One Laptop per Child to the list of eligible tax deductible gift recipients. The One Laptop per Child organisation was established in 2008 and aims to improve the lives of Indigenous children living in disadvantaged communities in remote and rural Australia by providing them with specially designed laptop computers. Schedule 6 also changes the name of the Clontarf Foundation Inc. to Clontarf Foundation. Clontarf Foundation dates back to the year 2000 and works to improve the health, education and employment and life skills of disadvantaged youth, predominantly Indigenous boys, through a number of Australian Rules football academies in Western Australia and now in other states.

Redressing Indigenous disadvantage in Australia has proven to be an extremely difficult goal for governments, both state and federal, over several decades. That, however, should in no way deter our determination to do so. I refer back to the apology given in this House by then Prime Minister Kevin Rudd on 13 February 2008, where not only did he apologise to the stolen generation but he also outlined much of the disadvantage that is faced by Indigenous people across this country. At that time he committed to providing parliament with an annual statement as to how this government was going to close the gap, as he put it—a strategy that was embarked on by the government to try and redress the disadvantage. I will come back later to some comments he made about the Clontarf Foundation.

Access to laptops for young people in remote areas will provide them with access to the rest of the world and the knowledge and opportunities that come with that. In remote areas, having access to the internet is in itself difficult enough. Having access to the kinds of computers that can be taken from one place to another and be used in those remote areas is also critical. That is what is special about this particular program—the computers have been specially designed and will be made available to young people, particularly Indigenous young people, in remote areas. Access to the internet will ensure that they become much more understanding of the world around them and more understanding of the opportunities and the options available to them. If they want to take advantage of those opportunities and options, it will give them access to the educational tools they will require in order to do so. It is fundamental and so important to providing them with the assistance that they need in order to change their life from one of disadvantage to one of advantage.

I believe every member in this House has at some stage or another talked about the importance of education and how education is the foundation of enabling a person to live a full and prosperous life. If we want our young people to be better educated, particularly Indigenous people, who are already struggling, then this is one of the programs that we should support, because it goes a long way in doing so. Providing the Clontarf Foundation with tax deduction eligibility will enable the foundation to raise additional revenue, which will in turn be used to provide those computers. However, this particular bill simply puts in place a change of name for this program. It is a program that I endorse and very much support.

The government has already invested over $2 billion in the school computer program and has committed $43 billion to the National Broadband Network, which I note was debated in this House again earlier today. Both the school computer program and the broader National Broadband Network are very critical to the future of this nation and for the Indigenous people in disadvantaged areas.

For disadvantaged young people in remote and rural Australia, even the investment into the National Broadband Network and the $2 billion plus investment into the school computer program will be of little benefit if they do not have access to a computer that is appropriate for their circumstances. That is the point that I made earlier today. One Laptop per Child Australia was founded in 2008. Since 2008, the organisation has delivered over 1,500 laptops to 20 disadvantaged schools in the Northern Territory, Western Australia and Queensland. It hopes to provide up to 20,000 laptops by 2012. The organisation will be in a significantly better position to attract private and corporate donors to raise critical funds to meet its 20,000 laptop objective by being granted deductible gift recipient status. The listing of One Laptop per Child is expected to cost the Australian government $2.4 million. In my view, that is a justifiable and very good use of public funds. The Commonwealth is also already investing $7 million over four years from 2009-10 on improving internet access in Indigenous communities through the National Partnership Agreement on Remote Indigenous Public Internet Access.

I said a moment ago that, when it comes to Indigenous disadvantage, we need to do a lot more to improve educational opportunities for Indigenous young people around the country. In 1995, the percentage of Indigenous young people who completed year 12 was 30.7 per cent. The figure at the moment is 46.5 per cent. It is still only just over half of what the national figure is for non-Indigenous young people in this country. We still have a long way to go. Any program or project that should assist us in getting there should be supported.

The Clontarf Foundation has been successful in changing the lives of Indigenous youth by combining their passion and ability to play Australian Rules Football with education, discipline, self-esteem and life skills training programs. The Clontarf program has partnered with schools in Western Australia, Northern Territory and Victoria, establishing over 30 academies across those states. I want to talk a little bit more about the Clontarf Foundation because it links very closely with the closing the gap statement made by the former Prime Minister in 2008 and when he gave his annual response to parliament on 11 February 2010. He said:

Overall, the programs have achieved an average attendance rate of 79 per cent, six percentage points above the average rate for all Indigenous students in the schools. So I am pleased to announce today that in 2010 an additional 17 sports academies will commence across Western Australia, the Northern Territory and Victoria. This will support about 1,000 students, and will bring the total number of students in the program to some 10,000. Ten of these new academies will be for girls.

That was former Prime Minister Kevin Rudd in a statement in this House on 11 February 2010. He was talking specifically about the Clontarf Foundation. It is terrific that it now includes women as well as men. It has grown to 34 or 36 academies now around Australia. That highlights that it is working. If the foundation needs to be supported by giving it tax deductibility status, then we should give it that, because it is achieving the desired objectives. The former Prime Minister talked about the attendance rates of the students who participate at those academies being higher than for those students who do not. In other words, linking Australia Rules football training with education works and we should support it. I certainly do.

The new academies will be established in Broome, Fitzroy Crossing, Bunbury and North Albany in Western Australia; West Arnhem, Palmerston, Katherine and Alice Springs in the Northern Territory; Mooroopna, Bendigo and Ballarat in Victoria; and Townsville in Queensland.

Schedule 7 extends access to tax deductible donations to all volunteer fire brigades. There are more than 6,200 volunteer fire brigades in Australia. Until recently they were all considered public benevolent institutions and therefore eligible for taxation deductibility for donations. Recently the Commissioner of Taxation ruled that most volunteer fire brigades do not strictly meet the public benevolent institutions criteria and therefore would not be eligible for taxation deductibility for donations. The amendment in schedule 7 enables volunteer fire brigades to continue to receive tax deductible donations.

All of us in this place know only too well about the invaluable service provided by our volunteer firefighters. We also know that they can always do with more resources, that they are not-for-profit organisations and that they embark on much of their own fundraising. I suspect that there would be few organisations that most Australians could confidently grant donations to knowing that the money would be used 100 per cent for the benefit of the community. That in itself is important, given some of the concerns that have been raised in recent times about charitable organisations. Funds raised by volunteer fire organisations are used entirely by those organisations and ultimately do benefit the community. As I said a moment ago, all of us in this place would be familiar with their work.

I take a moment to acknowledge the work of the two volunteer fire organisations in my own electorate of Makin. I refer to the Tea Tree Gully Country Fire Service and the Salisbury Country Fire Service. The Tea Tree Gully Country Fire Service was established in 1939. It has existed for over 70 years serving that community. Just looking at its last annual report, the service attended 238 community call-outs. Those call-outs would have included things like grass fires, vehicle accidents, car fires, animal rescues, community events and the like—probably the same as that which all similar organisations do around Australia. The Salisbury Country Fire Service was established in 1943—four years later. It attends something like 500 call-outs, on average, every year—again, similar types of call-outs. I am aware that both of those services also participated in fire operations interstate when the demand was there and their colleagues and mates interstate needed support. They both travelled, whether it was to Canberra during the Canberra bushfires or to Victoria last year, to assist with those fires. They are always ready and willing to support communities wherever the need arises. In fact, they would put in thousands of community volunteer hours per year.

Organisations like that are deserving of tax deductibility. For that reason again, I support the change, made in these amendments, to enable them to continue to receive deductions for any fundraising efforts that they enter into and therefore any funds that are provided to them as a result of those efforts. Their service to the communities, at both a local and a national level, is invaluable. Once again, I commend the work of the two organisations in my own electorate and, likewise, the work such organisations all do around Australia.

I said at the outset that I only wanted to speak about schedules 6 and 7. I have done so. I believe that these amendments simply restore changes to the Income Tax Assessment Act that were intended as a result of other acts of parliament. I commend the bill to the House.