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Tuesday, 15 October 2002
Page: 5172

Senator CARR (5:25 PM) —I would like to explain our position on this. We have listened to what the government have had to say on this matter. We find the government's explanation totally unsatisfactory with regard to their spending patterns. I understood the government to be saying that there had been an extension of Commonwealth funds since 1996 of 5.6 per cent on capital. We now discover it is not capital; it is actually a mixture of funds. We were told that the states since 1996 had only increased their funding by 2.7 per cent—and I have yet to see the figures on that—so I find that extraordinary.

The proposition, however, that the Democrats have asked us to agree to is that spending on government schools be increased by $50 million across five years—$10 million per year. It is a sentiment we, of course, support. We support the principle behind it. We think the intentions are appropriate. However, the problem with these sorts of amendments is that they are done on a piecemeal, ad hoc basis. Frankly, I do not think you can run a program from this chamber on that basis. For that reason, we cannot support this request for amendment. We have taken a similar approach to other matters when the Democrats have sought to move small amendments on matters of considerable principle which do not go to the heart of the problem.

The government has indicated that the States Grants (Primary and Secondary Education Assistance) Amendment Bill (No. 2) 2002 has a measure of urgency about it and we do acknowledge that point. There are capital programs that do require some planning. I can say from my direct experience of working in this area that there is a requirement to have some certainty for students as to the funding of capital works projects. We are talking here about the Commonwealth providing assistance for capital works, such as a building that might be used for a library, or a gymnasium, or a school hall. These are important facilities for the children of this country. This is why we strongly support the program. As we say, it was initiated by a Labor government under Whitlam. It did build on the earlier program that the Menzies government introduced in terms of the science block program, but we extended it. This government has kept the program, but it has not kept the money going. That is the point we are making, and we think that that is not appropriate. However, we do not say that the response therefore follows that you should deprive children of those facilities. Therefore, we will not be supporting this request for amendment.