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Thursday, 29 November 2012
Page: 10258

Senator THISTLETHWAITE (New South Wales) (15:22): That contribution from Senator Joyce was one of the most disgraceful, irrelevant pieces of diatribe that I have heard in this place since I became a senator here.

Senator Brandis: You're the ones with a criminal in the Lodge.

Senator THISTLETHWAITE: This is our nation's parliament—

Senator Chris Evans: Mr Deputy President, I raise a point of order. Senator Brandis just said, 'You are the ones with a criminal in the Lodge.' Mr Deputy President, I ask you to make him withdraw, and he ought to when he is on his feet withdraw the outrageous statements he made yesterday. For a man who seeks to be the chief law officer of the nation, his performance over the last few days has been an outrage and disqualified him from the job. Mr Deputy President, we should not allow what occurred yesterday to again be repeated today. It is an outrageous inference on the Prime Minister and it ought to be withdrawn.

The DEPUTY PRESIDENT: Thank you, Senator Evans. Before I call you, Senator Brandis, I will deal only with the point of order before the chair today. The matter of yesterday is not before the chair. Senator Brandis, I do ask you to withdraw that comment concerning the Prime Minister. It did adversely reflect on the Prime Minister.

Senator Brandis: Mr Deputy President, yesterday I made a number of specific allegations about breaches of the Western Australian Criminal Code by Julia Gillard.

Senator Wong: Withdraw.

Senator McEwen interjecting

The DEPUTY PRESIDENT: Order! Senator Brandis, I am not going to deal with anything that happened yesterday. There is only one matter before the chair and that is a point of order on a reflection made on the Prime Minister.

Senator Brandis: Mr Deputy President, I seek your guidance on this question.

The DEPUTY PRESIDENT: Certainly, Senator Brandis.

Senator Brandis: Are you ruling that to say that a member of parliament has committed a crime is unparliamentary?

The DEPUTY PRESIDENT: Senator Brandis, it was the reflection on the Prime Minister and the way you said what you said about the Prime Minister.

Senator Brandis: You see, I do say, Mr Deputy President, and I will expand in my contribution shortly, that the Prime Minister has committed a series of breaches of the criminal and commercial laws of Western Australia.

The DEPUTY PRESIDENT: Senator Brandis, I think it would assist—it was the way in which it was said. There was a reflection, adversely, on the Prime Minister in your brief comment. How you contribute to the debate after this is fine. The matters before us about yesterday are irrelevant, in my view. I ask that you do withdraw that comment that you made about the Prime Minister.

Senator Brandis: Mr Deputy President, I withdraw it if you instruct me to but, in doing so, let me make it perfectly clear that I am not withdrawing an allegation that the Prime Minister has committed a breach of the criminal law, because I make that allegation.

The DEPUTY PRESIDENT: Senator Brandis, I ask you just to withdraw the comment you made.

Senator Chris Evans interjecting

Senator Wong interjecting

The DEPUTY PRESIDENT: Order! Senator Evans, I am trying to determine this matter. Senator Wong you are not assisting either. Senator Brandis, I ask if you would withdraw the remarks you made concerning the Prime Minister a moment ago.

Senator Brandis: I have already done so, Mr Deputy President.

The DEPUTY PRESIDENT: Thank you very much, Senator Brandis. Senator Thistlethwaite, you have the call.

Senator THISTLETHWAITE: Thank you, Mr Deputy President. This is our nation's parliament and it should devote most of its time to debating policy, to the contest of ideas. That is what the Australian people seek and expect from us as representatives. They want to know what our plans are for the nation, where we will take the people over coming years. Three weeks ago, I had the great pleasure of visiting Mungindi, a town that borders New South Wales and Queensland. I was there to open a trade training centre, a $2.4 million investment by this government in a hospitality and metalwork trade training centre to provide better skills development for the town.

Anyone who has visited Mungindi would know that it is a town with very big social problems. It has a very large Indigenous population. While I was at Mungindi Central School to open this trade training centre, I met a young girl, an Indigenous student, in year 10 who explained to me that she was so excited about becoming a chef because of the hospitality trade training centre that had been placed in her school. Her teacher was teaching her how to become a chef and she was just about to begin her apprenticeship. She was telling me that the school had developed a vegetable patch at the back of the school and that they were teaching the kids not only how to cook but how to cook healthy food. This young Indigenous girl would then go home to her family and was teaching her mother how to cook healthy food.

When we talk about closing the gap on Indigenous disadvantage in this country and when we talk about real social change, that is an example of real social change. That will not show up in any of the statistics that we see published on education or on indifference in this country. But that is real social change. What people have to understand, and what the Australian public are coming to understand, is that those opposite and Tony Abbott have a plan to cancel the trade training centres program in this country, to get rid of that program that is delivering real results for the Australian people.

One of the programs that this government can be most proud of is the Building the Education Revolution. We have rebuilt every single school in this country. At the moment, in New South Wales, the O'Farrell government is cutting $1.7 billion from the education budget. Last year I was at East Maitland Public School to open a new BER facility. This wonderful school with a wonderful principal, Sheree O'Brien, who is passionate about special-needs education, had put all of their BER money into building two special-needs classrooms. I was there to open that facility. At the morning tea after the opening of those wonderful new facilities, where kids with severe Down syndrome and autism are now getting an education, I spoke to some of the parents. One of the parents came up to me and said, 'Can you send my thanks to Julia Gillard and Kevin Rudd for this program.' She explained that she had moved her family all the way from Perth to get her son into East Maitland Public School because she had heard how passionate that principal was about special-needs education and because the school was investing in special-needs education.

Any special needs classroom has two teachers and at the very least a teacher's aide. When you talk about $1.7 billion worth of cuts to education, have a guess what positions will go first in those cuts. They are going to be those teachers' aides that assist those teachers providing special needs education in public schools throughout the country. That is the difference between a Labor government and a Liberal government when it comes to education. That is what this Senate and this parliament should be focusing on—the future of our schools, our hospitals and our nation. (Time expired)