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Monday, 10 April 2000
Page: 15559

Mr HAWKER (2:53 PM) —My question is addressed to the Minister for Education, Training and Youth Affairs. Could the minister advise the House what significant decisions have been made by the Commonwealth, states and territories in setting standards for education? Is the minister aware of any alternative approaches being made?

Dr KEMP (Minister for Education, Training and Youth Affairs and Minister Assisting the Prime Minister for the Public Service) —I thank the member for Wannon for his question. The council of state, territory and Commonwealth education ministers, the Ministerial Council on Education, Training and Youth Affairs, met 10 days ago and took further significant decisions to provide educational benchmarks and nationally accepted standards in education in Australia. The ministers decided to extend the process of literacy benchmarking to year 7, and they also decided on numeracy benchmarks for years 3 and 5. So Australia now has the agreement of all governments to the benchmarking process, which is driving higher standards in literacy in this country and extending equity in education. Work is also progressing on benchmark standards in relation to science, mathematics and vocational education.

This agenda is all about parents' right to know about, and have, objective standards against which they can compare their child's and their school's performance. This benchmarking process and this process of establishing accountability standards is right at the world forefront of educational policy, and it is lifting educational standards in this country in a way that has not happened for decades. The Howard government is marking up achievements which the Labor Party is unable to match, and the reason is that the Leader of the Opposition is too weak to stand up to the education unions. At the July conference, we read in the press, there is going to be a huge brawl over education and education policy. Sharan Burrow, who is the ventriloquist to the ventriloquist's doll on the other side of the table, dictates policy to the Labor Party and has issued her ultimatum. We read in the Australian Financial Review of Friday last week:

Last night, the new ACTU president, Ms Sharan Burrow, issued a blunt statement that the Left would be seeking to exert its influence over policy direction.

And I quote the comment attributed to her:

We would want to see key areas like trade, industrial relations and education measure up to fundamental principles ...

We know what these fundamental principles are: they are no national standards, they are no accountability, they are no reporting to parents, they are no school choice for low income parents and they are more power to the union bosses over these vital areas of government policy. The July conference of the Labor Party is shaping up to be a very big test for the Leader of the Opposition. We will see whether there is any substance at all to his rhetoric that he wants to be a supporter of education in Australia. So far, he has capitulated to the trade union movement and to Sharan Burrow on every policy. When Shazza rings, the Leader of the Opposition jumps. He knows she is the one who ultimately calls the shots for him. We will see in July whether he can pass the leadership test or whether he will continue to be, as he is widely perceived to be, a very weak and very opportunistic Leader of the Opposition.