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Tuesday, 26 June 2001
Page: 28555

Mrs HULL (3:07 PM) —My question is addressed to the Minister for Trade. Would the minister inform the House of how the education sector, including Charles Sturt University in Wagga Wagga, contributes to Australia's export performance. Is the minister aware of the existence of any plans that would jeopardise this?

Mr VAILE (Minister for Trade) —I thank the honourable member for Riverina for her question and also for her support of that fine tertiary institution in her electorate that does participate in what has become a great Australian export industry, the knowledge based education system within Australia. Last year this country exported $30 billion worth of knowledge based exports, a 48 per cent increase over the last five years. We have seen a significant increase, in the term of our period in office, in the level of knowledge based exports going out of Australia as part of the overall mix of export earnings for Australia. The majority, the top 10 markets for education exports out of Australia, are within our region of East Asia, and so that is especially good, given the economic circumstances within the region in recent years.

Education, the member will be interested to note, has become Australia's seventh biggest export. It is bigger than wool, wheat or meat in terms of the earnings that it brings into this country from offshore. They are earnings that sustain jobs not just in the metropolitan areas of Australia but also in the regional centres across Australia, such as in the institutions in the member's electorate and, indeed, Mr Acting Speaker, in your own electorate. It is interesting to note that in 1991, when the Leader of the Opposition was the education minister, the figure that we earned from education exports was $995 million. Under our government, that figure has multiplied fourfold, and last year we earned $4 billion from Australia's education exports.

Obviously that is attributable to sound management of the economy in Australia, particularly with the abolition of a lot of the tax burden on Australia's exports but also, as the minister for education outlined, with the significant investments we have made in the world-class education system that we have in Australia, where we already have a knowledge nation. The majority of Australians recognise that, and certainly a lot of people overseas who are buying education services from Australia acknowledge that. It is a wonder that the Labor Party has not worked it out yet, given its time in opposition. That has all been achieved at a time when we have been reducing the level of indebtedness of the Commonwealth. We inherited a $96 billion debt from the Labor Party when we took office. By the end of this fiscal year, we will have reduced that by having paid off $60 billion worth of Labor's debt. That frees up a significant amount of capital that can be invested in the future of this country.

What are the opposition proposing to do? How are they proposing to fund their so-called knowledge nation? We heard today out of the Sydney Morning Herald that the member for Fremantle says it is going to be funded by education bonds and more borrowings. We and the Australian people have spent the past five years getting rid of Labor's debt, and they are flagging that as soon as they get back into office they are going to start running up that debt again—and running it up at a rapid rate. The Treasurer read a quote from the Sydney Morning Herald this morning, and I will read a couple of others. Further on, that article says:

Dr Lawrence believes they would get a good response from financial markets because bonds are drying up as the government retires debt.

Well, that is absolutely right: we are retiring debt. We are getting rid of the debt that the Labor Party burdened all Australians with. The Australian Labor Party are proposing all these policies, and we now know how they are going to be funded: by raising more debt from the public sector. This is the Labor Party that gave us some of the policies of the past—and we now know that the Leader of the Opposition is living in a time warp. They gave us policies like Investing in the Nation, Creative Nation, Shaping the Nation and Our Nation—and we all remember Working Nation. But now we know—the member for Fremantle has told us—what they are going to deliver to us. They are going to deliver us another debt ridden nation.