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Monday, 13 October 2008
Page: 5760

Senator MASON (2:53 PM) —My question without notice is to Senator Carr, the Minister representing the Minister for Education. Is the minister aware of an article in today’s Australian which reveals that the majority of Australian schools have to run raffles to provide for basic equipment and amenities for their students? With the Rudd government set to leave schools with billions of dollars in ongoing costs for the computers in schools program, how can the government expect schools to provide basic facilities such as textbooks, toilets and even hot running water?

Opposition senators interjecting—

Senator Chris Evans —All those problems emerged in the last 10 months, did they?

The PRESIDENT —Order, Senator Evans!

Senator Mason interjecting—

The PRESIDENT —Senator Mason, you’ve asked the question. I am waiting for silence so that I can call the minister.

Senator CARR (Minister for Innovation, Industry, Science and Research) —Senator Mason, I thank you for the question but I must inform the Senate that I am not aware of the article. Nonetheless, I can inform the Senate of the great strengths of this government in terms of its capacity to provide additional resources for Australian working families and for Australian students to ensure that there is a genuine level of equality of opportunity in this country—which, of course, the previous government failed to provide.

What Senator Mason refers to is the National Secondary School Computer Fund. He drew our attention to what he perceives to be the inadequacies of that fund. The truth of the matter is that the Australian government is investing $1.2 billion over five years in a digital education revolution which is aimed to improve access to world-class information for Australian secondary students. One part of this investment is $1.1 billion for the National Secondary School Computer Fund.

Round 1 of the fund paid $116 million to 896 secondary schools across Australia. That is 116,820 computers that we have provided through this fund. That means that the ratio of computers for these schools has moved from one to eight to one to two. This is a very, very significant improvement. Some 9,293 computers have been delivered to 85 schools across Australia. This stands in sharp contrast to the position of the previous government, the previous regime, where the computer to student ratio was one to five. It was much, much worse than that in many schools. The Rudd Labor government are delivering on our long-term plans to implement a digital education revolution.

Senator Mason interjecting—

Senator CARR —Round 2 of the fund, Senator Mason, I presume you will be delighted to hear—

Opposition senators interjecting—

The PRESIDENT —Senator Carr, resume your seat. Senator Carr is entitled to be heard in silence.

Senator CARR —Round 2 of the computer fund has recently closed and a total of 1,420 schools across Australia have applied. That is 793 government schools and 342 independent schools.

Senator Mason, I think the question highlights that this is a government that is providing substantial resources for computers in schools. We have a situation where, after 12 years of funding neglect by the previous government, the Rudd government are actually committed to ensuring that our schools are world-class. That is why we are providing such a massive investment in education in this country.

Opposition senators interjecting—

Senator CARR —We are working with the state and territory governments and the Catholic and independent schools sector to enter into new funding agreements to ensure that we can see that Australian students have access to a much higher level of assistance—

Opposition senators interjecting—

The PRESIDENT —Senator Carr, resume your seat.

Senator Conroy —Make sure the supplementary’s relevant to the question, Brett.

The PRESIDENT —Senator Conroy and others!

Senator Coonan —You have a go at answering it, Steve.

The PRESIDENT —Senator Coonan! We are entitled to hear the answer from Senator Carr. Senator Carr, you have 33 seconds left.

Senator CARR —Thank you very much. Senator Mason of course has failed to appreciate the fact that, in the period 2008-09, the Australian government will spend a record $9 billion on Australian schools—$9 billion. I think that is the simple fact that you should register in any of your supplementary questions.

Senator MASON —Mr President, I ask a supplementary question. If the minister has a look at the article in today’s Australian he will appreciate that over 80 per cent of school principals named funding for buildings as their top priority and more than 50 per cent of schools claim their toilets need repair. Will the minister now admit that the computers in schools policy is nothing but an ill-conceived, underfunded stunt?

Senator CARR (Minister for Innovation, Industry, Science and Research) —Senator Mason, there is a simple fact of life here. After 12 years of neglect by the Howard government, I do think you are somewhat audacious to now come and suggest that the Labor government should be spending more money than the $9 billion that it is spending this year in schools. If there are priorities they are, of course, in the process of being met through discussions with the states and territories, and with the Catholic and independent schools sectors, and new funding agreements will allow for the provision of the identification of new priorities. But $9 billion of support from this government in 2008-09 is surely an indication of the commitment that this government has to ensure equality of opportunity for Australian students right across this land.

Senator Chris Evans —Mr President, I ask that further questions be placed on the Notice Paper.