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Monday, 17 June 2013
Page: 2966


Senator MASON (Queensland) (14:50): My question is to the Minister representing the Minister for School Education, Early Childhood and Youth, Senator Lundy. I refer the minister to reports in The Daily Telegraph that Labor MPs and senators were called on by the spin doctors in the caucus communications team to campaign for the government's schools strategy at school gates. Can the minister advise how many of her colleagues actually complied and campaigned at schools? Can the minister give the Senate an assurance that, in every case, the presence of a Labor politician at a school's gates had the permission of the school?

Senator LUNDY (Australian Capital TerritoryMinister Assisting for Industry and Innovation, Minister for Multicultural Affairs and Minister for Sport) (14:51): I thank Senator Mason for the opportunity to speak today about our National Plan for School Improvement. Along with many of my colleagues in the government, we are proud to be campaigning on this policy. This policy will transform education in Australia. The Gonski review has provided the framework and we are enacting those recommendations. Why? Because Labor has always been the party for improving education in Australia. We have a plan to improve our schools—

Opposition senators interjecting

The PRESIDENT: Order! Senator Lundy is entitled to be heard in silence.

Senator LUNDY: It is only Labor in government that chooses a stronger, smarter and fairer Australia, and that comes about in part by investing in education.

Senator Brandis: Mr President, a point of order on the question of direct relevance: the minister is not quite halfway through her answer. She was asked how many of her colleagues engaged in a particular piece of political theatre and whether, in each case, it had the permission of the school authorities. A wide answer about the Gonski report is not directly relevant to either of those two topics.

Senator Ludwig: I am a bit rusty, Mr President, but on the point of order: Senator Lundy was answering the question. The question was far broader than that. It also went to issues around how this government is campaigning for better schools, and of course that is what Senator Lundy is also advising the Senate about.

The PRESIDENT: There is no point of order.

Senator LUNDY: As I have said, I join many of my colleagues in visiting schools, and one of the reasons for that is that I am incredibly proud of the $9.8 billion that our budget delivers to the National Plan for School Improvement over the next six years. We want to see funding to schools increase, and the issue for Labor is very much about the extent to which the opposition seems hell-bent on preventing this unprecedented level of investment in Australian schools.

We have the opportunity of a generation. We have received the independent advice from Gonski and we are implementing it. We are proud to campaign on these issues. It is incredibly important that the people of Australia understand the breadth and dimension of this investment. We have also seen a number of states—

Senator Ian Macdonald: Mr President, I rise on a point of order on the grounds of relevance. The minister was asked: did those who attended get the permission of the schools involved? I am waiting to hear that answer.

The PRESIDENT: The question was broader than that. But you are quite correct; that was part of the question. There is no point of order at this stage.

Senator LUNDY: I presume all of the participants who made those visits put in place the appropriate procedures. Regardless of that, it does not detract from the point that this is the best the opposition can do in making a contribution to education policy. This is the best they can do. (Time expired)

Senator MASON (Queensland) (14:55): Mr President, I ask a supplementary question. Given that the government says that its Gonski school reforms are crucial and need to be urgently signed up to by all states by the end of this month, why isn't the government introducing the bills that it says will free up funding for this policy, such as amendments implementing the $2.3 billion higher education cuts announced in April?

Senator LUNDY (Australian Capital TerritoryMinister Assisting for Industry and Innovation, Minister for Multicultural Affairs and Minister for Sport) (14:55): Again I say to the opposition: we have a once-in-a-generation opportunity to improve school funding, through our National Plan for School Improvement. Obviously, to legislate for these changes we need to identify the sources of funds that will help fund this unprecedented opportunity and, in doing so, we will bring forward the legislation.

What I find unfathomable and what the Australian people are asking of the opposition is why on earth they would reject such a visionary plan for our schools. Why are they so intent on unpicking the plan that is now before us? We have already seen their New South Wales counterparts come on board with the National Plan for School Improvement. We have seen their colleagues in the South Australian government come on board. I am very proud to see the ACT government has come on board, and we know that other states are actively contemplating the merits of the National Plan for School Improvement. (Time expired)

Senator MASON (Queensland) (14:57): Mr President, I ask a further supplementary question. Given the government's own figures show schools will be waiting until 2019 for the rivers of gold that Labor is promising to start flowing—that is, six years and three elections away—instead of ambushing parents and students shouldn't Labor MPs and senators be lobbying for a better deal for their schools outside the Prime Minister's front gate?

Senator LUNDY (Australian Capital TerritoryMinister Assisting for Industry and Innovation, Minister for Multicultural Affairs and Minister for Sport) (14:57): Reform of the magnitude that we are embarking on takes time, and it is very important to get it right. The Prime Minister has put in place an offer to those states that are now contemplating that agreement. We know that schools will start to see the increases in funding from 2014 and we would like to get this program started as soon as possible. Why? Because it is important. As a nation we need to keep pace with the challenges of the future, and that includes ensuring that we have a productive and highly skilled workforce for the future. This means education is now the right place to make our investment as a nation. That is what we are trying to achieve with our National Plan for School Improvement. We are seeking to put that plan in place now and we are saying to the opposition: take some leadership from the New South Wales government; sign up now. (Time expired)