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Wednesday, 13 February 2013
Page: 1328

Mr VAN MANEN (Forde) (15:58): It is always a pleasure to follow the member for Canberra. It is great to see the further centralisation of bureaucracy and spending in Canberra at the expense of the rest of Australia. I rise to speak today on the appropriation bills Nos 3 and 4 of 2012-13. The member for Canberra said in her contribution that we oppose spending money on health, education, infrastructure et cetera. Just for the member's edification, we do not oppose spending in any of those areas. What we are opposed to is spending that is wasteful and not properly targeted. We would much prefer to see the money spent in a sensible, thought-through manner so that we get better value for money from our funds. That brings me to the main point of my speech today: the government's inability to control their spending and, even worse, their basing of spending on forecasts that they have been plainly advised are incorrect. We see them as a government in denial. They are a government with a broken crystal ball that is obviously wreaking havoc over their forecasts. If the government were a corporation, I do not think the shareholders would respond too well to comments like, 'We expected a better year. We thought it would be rosy, so we spent everything that we had. Once that ran out, we borrowed some more money that we were going to pay back. But now who knows where we will get it?' The shareholders might well ask themselves: what on earth have they spent all the money on?

The little bits of correspondence you get along the way are instructive. Some of the money is being spent on pencils and sharpeners, of course. If it is not bad enough that they have spent $5 million on an ad campaign to promote a schoolkids bonus, telling people how they could access the assistance even though it was being paid straight into people's bank accounts, now we find they have spent even more money purchasing things to go inside schoolkids kits, promoting the Schoolkids Bonus, and parents kits, including things such as a pencil case, a ruler, mini coloured pencils, a sharpener, a lead pencil, a tote bag, a magnetic to-do list and a 2013 calendar. I would have thought that that is why the money was being paid to the families: to go to the stationery store and buy these things for the kids. Why does the department need to send out another marketing kit to the parents when they have already bought that stuff?

The government has already handed out the cash to the parents that was supposed to go to assist with those costs of getting kids back to school. It is perplexing to even try to understand why the government would need to spend more money on top of the advertising that was already pointless because the money was going straight into people's bank accounts.

Meanwhile, we have the Smith Family running a huge campaign at the moment to help disadvantaged children get back to school. Their website states:

Without the right uniform, bag or even books, they'll find it hard to fit in and will struggle to keep up.

It begs the question: if the government were really out to help families and children with the costs of schooling, why didn't they give the money directly to the Smith Family, or even to the schools, to ensure that the money actually goes to its intended purpose? We all know that, often, these cash handouts end up in electrical retailers' pockets or other places. The fact that the Smith Family are still out there doing what they do best, pushing for more support for disadvantaged children, has me seriously doubting this government's ability to improve the outcomes of our disadvantaged families. The government have been giving them a handout instead of a hand up and not looking for solutions to the problems that cause poverty in the first place.

Last Friday, I hosted the shadow minister for families, housing and human services in the electorate to meet with some of my local community service providers to discuss ways that we can improve the lives of our local families. Local community service representatives included representatives from NightLight, Rosies, Mothers Against Drugs, Lighthouse Calvary Care, the Soul Centre, Queensland police, the state government and Logan City Council. They all met to discuss issues such as homelessness, social inclusion and cost of living pressures on our families. One of these organisations, NightLight, shared a remarkable story of how they had helped a local person in our community. A 12-year-old boy had been found out on the streets. He had dropped out of school because he had never learned to read or write. That had created conflict for him at home. NightLight organised to have a tutor assist the boy, and the outcome was that eventually he got back into school to complete his education.

This is just one example of how the community as a whole can work together to find solutions to problems through empowering people to be able to end the cycle of poverty. This is a real example of how a local schoolkid was helped not through a cash handout from the government but through practical engagement with the community—working together. This is what we need more of. We need to stop the government's wasteful and profligate spending and provide additional funds to support these types of organisations, organisations which are actually at the coalface in our communities and are achieving wonderful outcomes on the ground.

On the topic of schoolkids, I believe this government has some serious work to do on the curriculum. They like to tout the benefits of the national curriculum, but we need to look at how to restore the quality of our education system, not just via an amount of money or a nice, big, shiny, new building but via outcomes for our students in reading, writing and arithmetic. In 10 years there has been a 40 per cent increase in school funding and yet we are falling behind. Funding, or spending money to solve problems, in most cases does not work if you do not deal with the underlying issues. Plans to improve basic literacy and numeracy under this government have failed despite $540 million being spent in this area over the past five years. An independent performance audit concluded that Labor's literacy and numeracy program is yet to make a statistically significant improvement in literacy and numeracy in any state.

Recently we conducted a survey of over 1,000 people in the electorate. Of those, 930 said that basic skills of reading, writing and arithmetic were of great importance. We seem to have ventured off course somewhere, instead of returning to these basic, fundamental building blocks of education to give us a structure that would improve the education of young people.

Earlier today I compared a grade 8 examination from the US from 1895 against a grade 9 NAPLAN test paper. Here are a few of the questions you would need to be able to answer in 1895 in grade 8. I confess at the outset that I would have struggled big time. Under grammar, the questions include:

1. Give nine rules for the use of capital letters.

2. Name the parts of speech and define those that have no modifications.

3. Define verse, stanza and paragraph

4. What are the principal parts of a verb?

…   …   …

6 What is punctuation? Give rules for principal marks of punctuation.

7 - 10. Write a composition of about 150 words and show therein that you understand the practical use of the rules of grammar.

Another section was orthography. I had to look that up, but it means the rules of spelling and punctuation. Here are a couple of the questions:

1. What is meant by the following: Alphabet, phonetic, orthography, etymology, syllabication.

…   …   …

10. Write 10 words frequently mispronounced and indicate pronunciation by use of diacritical marks and by syllabication.

In contrast, the majority of questions on NAPLAN's 'language conventions' paper gives students multiple-choice questions, providing the opportunity to take a stab at the answers. The paper asks students to correct some spelling errors, identify where some basic punctuation should appear and identify which sentences are wrong from a number of given examples, rather than them having to come up with the answers themselves. Over the years, despite how far we have come and how much money we have thrown at our schools, education results have declined. I would hazard to say that the exam questions from 1895 reinforce that point.

We want to have the best and most robust curriculum available to our students. All of us on both sides of politics agree that we need to improve the educational outcomes of our students. We know that having a robust, high-quality curriculum will create more opportunities for Australians as well as boost productivity. Not only will it boost productivity but it also gives student an opportunity through their education to become innovative and to use the technology that they will have at their hands when they enter the workforce. I believe a quality education is one of the areas that we need to focus our attention on.

As I said earlier, this government has a spending and forecasting problem, and I am very concerned that we still have no indication as to where all the money will come from to pay for things like Gonski, the dental scheme adjustments, the NDIS, the NBN and the like. This Labor government inherited in 2007 a net worth totalling $73 billion. Now we see that it is all gone and we have the biggest debt in Australian history and we are paying some $7 billion a year in interest on that net debt.

But what did we get for all that spending over the past five year? We got a $6.6 billion blowout on border protection policies and a $4.6 billion blowout in operating capital expenditure in relation to the National Broadband Network. There was nearly $70 million spent on advertising the carbon tax—which, before the last election, they said they would not introduce. There was $30 million spent on market research; $150 million a year spent on spin doctors to sell Labor's policies; $7 million spent on administration for the set-top box program—at $350 each when you could buy a set-top box from Harvey Norman and have it installed for 150 bucks; $1.4 million spent on origami style cardboard cut-out NBN Co. trucks to grace all of our offices; and another $10 million a year spent on checking what is said in the media about government agencies. The list goes on and on. They were just a few examples.

It is time for change and it is time to end this cycle of waste and misspending which will create a debt burden not just for the current generation but also for future generations. As we have talked about education extensively, it is those students who, when they enter the workforce and start earning, will be paying for this government's debt. Fortunately for the Australian people they will have a choice later this year—and they will have a clear choice. They will have a choice between a government that does not know how to stop spending and wasting money and a coalition that has a demonstrated track record of effective economic management and will provide hope, reward and opportunity for all Australians.