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Monday, 10 November 2008
Page: 10233

Mr BALDWIN (12:05 PM) —I rise to speak on the Tax Laws Amendment (Education Refund) Bill 2008 and the impact that this bill will have on the constituents in the Paterson electorate. This bill amends the Income Tax Assessment Act 1997 by introducing a 50 per cent refundable tax offset for eligible education expenses, up to a maximum of $750 per child undertaking primary studies to provide a maximum offset of $375 and up to $1,500 per child undertaking secondary studies to provide a maximum tax offset of $750 per child per year. The bill proposes that families who purchase school related materials—such as computers, computer related equipment, internet connections, computer software, school textbooks, stationery and course required tools—will be refunded 50 per cent of these costs. In the second reading speech the Treasurer stated that this bill is ‘a key part’ of the education revolution, ‘helping parents meet the everyday costs of their children’s education’. While I support the notion of tax offsets to assist Australian families in the expense of education, this bill does not go far enough to ensure the education revolution that the Rudd Labor government promised and does not relieve families of the real everyday costs of education.

The former Howard government proposed at the last election that all Australians should have the opportunity to deem what is best for their own children. The coalition stands for choice. The former Howard government empowered Australian families by enabling parents to choose the best education for their children, which often required them to juggle their priorities but also the costs associated with educating their children. The coalition believes it is the parents who know what is best for their children. The former Howard government’s aim was to meet the everyday needs of Australian families.

The coalition’s policy adopted a broader approach, allowing Australians to prioritise the costs associated with educating their children. The coalition went to the election with a policy to rebate up to $800 annually for each secondary student and up to $400 for each primary and preschool student. The policy that the former Howard government brought to the last election explicitly included school and preschool fees, school uniforms, textbooks, stationery, calculators, camps, excursions, laptops, broadband, software and extracurricular activities such as sport and music. These are the real expenses of education that Australian families need assistance with. The former Howard government’s policies offered more scope and empowered choice.

We all heard the shallow promises and cheap publicity stunts resorted to by the Rudd Labor government in the lead-up to the 2007 federal election. ‘Every child shall have their own computer’, we repeatedly heard those opposite claim. Now, 11 months on, the promise has been replaced with a much-watered-down approach, replaced with a promise to provide every child from years 9 to 12 with ‘access’ to the latest technology. The Rudd Labor government’s proposed tax offsets do little to assist parents and students alike in the purchasing of ‘education revolution’ tools such as computers and associated expenditures. How the Rudd Labor government can be confident and assured in their approach to this matter and continually proclaim unfulfilled promises to the future leaders of our nation is beyond me.

The bill’s inadequacies concern many members of the Paterson electorate. It is far too narrow and far too limiting. It is yet another example of why ‘Kevin07’ has quickly become ‘Mistake08’. Many parents in my electorate struggle to keep their children in school uniforms, let alone have the luxury of a computer. How is this bill going to help them when the price of an average computer starts at around $1,500, a quality laptop is at least $1,000 and printers start from $150? How on earth is a family who is struggling to put clothes on their children’s backs going to afford $1,500 for a computer? This bill is absolutely unrealistic. Furthermore, the bill goes to show just how out of touch the Rudd Labor government truly is with Australian families and their associated needs. In reality, disadvantaged families will not be able to afford the upfront costs of a computer.

This bill fails to address the real things that people are struggling with, like the cost of school uniforms, which starts at around $200; the cost of a pair of solid school shoes, which is at least $50; and the cost of school camps, which can be upwards of $300. And the Rees government in New South Wales has recently announced the abolition of the $50 back-to-school bonus and of free travel to school for schoolchildren. These are the issues that parents have to deal with on a day-to-day basis, the issues that the Rudd Labor government is not acknowledging. This government purports to represent working-class families when it is obvious it is out of touch with Australian families, the issues that concern them the most and what education costs are causing them the most significant financial burden.

This bill is yet another example of the Rudd Labor government failing to address the basic things families and children need. In the Paterson electorate alone there are over 2,200 preschool children whose families will reap no benefit at all from this bill. What I demand to know is: why has the Rudd Labor government excluded preschool children from this bill? If the Rudd Labor government truly believes that reimbursing books and computer software will give our children a better start, then why wouldn’t the most logical step be to include rebates for preschool children as well? Sending children to preschool does represent significant financial costs to parents. There are costs associated with preschool fees, books and school equipment. Is the Rudd Labor government too blind to see this? Or perhaps it is just that those opposite are already too arrogant to listen to the Australian public and ask them what is important to them during this time of significant financial stress. The people of Australia deserve better. What is the Rudd Labor government doing for my electorate? And what, may I ask, are the Rudd Labor government’s plans for constituents in my electorate who may already own a computer but need relief from the other educational expenses? This bill simply neglects those families.

I agree with the shadow Treasurer and Deputy Leader of the Opposition, Julie Bishop, that the Rudd Labor government’s bill does nothing to address the basics of a good education, does nothing to support families with the real day-to-day costs of schooling and does nothing to encourage choice. The bill, in summary, is a joke. The Rudd Labor government is a joke. Australians need relief from the expensive burden of education brought on by the mismanagement of the economy by state Labor governments. The Rudd Labor government said this bill is an education revolution. I say, particularly to those children up in the gallery, this is an education dissolution. Since the Rudd Labor government came to power, their ability to implement such a revolution has been replaced with an embarrassing display of acts which highlight their incompetence and absolute inefficiency. All this bill is good for is revealing the complete lack of credibility and capability within the Rudd Labor government. This bill is significantly less comprehensive than the policy that the former Howard government took to the last election.

My real concern is how this bill will affect families in my electorate of Paterson. Why should parents in my electorate be totally out of pocket for education which is supposed to be free? The Rudd Labor government has again failed Australian families. This bill should have addressed the cost of school uniforms, fees, camps, children’s extracurricular activities and now, in New South Wales, things as simple as the cost of transportation of children to school each day. The Rudd Labor government is, as I said, out of touch with average working families in Australians. If it had consulted with the community the government would have know that these are the real concerns of Australian families. I personally know many families in my electorate that struggle to afford to pay for their children to be engaged in sport, have difficulty affording to keep their children in school uniforms, cannot pay for their children to attend school camps and cannot even consider attempting to pay for extra tuition if their children are struggling with a particular subject. And this bill does nothing for them.

The Howard government always put the interests of Australians first, rather than simply trying to look good in the limelight. The former Howard government were not into cheap publicity stunts; they were about substance. In stark contrast, the Labor government is showcasing a terrific example of what can happen to a country’s governance when the party in power is solely concerned with attracting the limelight but fails to implement fair, realistic and effective policies. This so-called ‘education revolution’ is just like a fake tan: it looks good first up but the gloss wears off eventually and, when it does, you are left with a mismatch and a mess. In contrast, the coalition’s policy was to help families provide more educational opportunities for their children, and the coalition introduced a 40 per cent rebate on education expenses, including school fees. During its 11-year term, the former Howard government worked hard to help Australian families and to provide realistic education opportunities for our children. Unlike the Rudd government, we did not parade shallow education revolutions. We designed a policy that would actually help the Australian people.

The Rudd Labor government has not done a single thing to ensure Australians get the relief they urgently need. It is absurd for the Rudd government to suggest that refunding money from a computer or textbooks is enough to deem it an education revolution. What if the parent has already bought a computer for their child and is looking at reimbursements for other education needs? They will miss out. There is nothing brilliant or remotely exciting in this bill. There are many families in my electorate who do not need a new computer every year. What they need is help with the ongoing financial burden of education—like school fees and uniforms—and help to fund extracurricular activities. This bill is a gimmick to trick the Australian people into thinking that the Rudd government is working in their best interests. The government is doing nothing to support the real cost of education.

I believe that education is the most valuable investment that can be made in our children because, no matter what happens to children in their lives, education is the one thing that can never be taken away from them. The bill does absolutely nothing to address the basics of a good and successful education. The Treasurer, in his second reading speech, said that this bill will help kids get the best start. I ask the government: how will this bill ensure that kids get the best start? I doubt that reimbursing even the cost of a computer or some schoolbooks is enough to fulfil your promises and give Australian children the best start. My constituents tell me that they are greatly concerned about the time it will take for the rebate to be put in the pockets of hardworking families. Some of the families in my electorate cannot afford the cost of a computer without being reimbursed immediately. If somebody bought a computer tomorrow, they could not seriously put in a claim until they got their group certificate, and realistically that could mean Australian families may not be reimbursed for up to 12 months.

The Rudd Labor government’s attitude is that the single most important thing that they can do for young Australians is to give them a chance at a decent education. This is a paradox. The Rudd Labor government have excluded key factors for reimbursement that would help a child’s education. In this bill the Rudd Labor government do not reflect their supposed passion for protecting and helping Australian people. They are all spin and no substance. The Rudd Labor government’s Tax Laws Amendment (Education Refund) Bill is not practical, and it disadvantages Australians and denies them choice. In my electorate alone there are over 20, 000 schoolchildren who expect more from the Rudd Labor government after all the promises they made during the election campaign. After nearly 12 months of government the bill shows how out of touch the government have become. This so-called ‘education revolution’ is nothing more than a throwaway line. This bill is an empty promise. It reminds me of the election campaign launch in June 1987 when then Prime Minister Bob Hawke said that no child would be living in poverty in Australia by 1990. Hawke’s promise was just a throwaway line, a gimmick. Unfortunately, there are still Australian children living in poverty to remind us of this every day. The Rudd Labor government’s so-called ‘education revolution’ has similarly amounted to little more than a throwaway line, a fake promise doing nothing to relieve Australians of the real cost of education.

I would like to leave you with the words of a very alarmed Paterson constituent. Steven Loft’s views echo my concern and the concerns of the coalition and represent the views of many Australians. Mr Loft recently wrote to the Australian Prime Minister, Kevin Rudd. He said:

Dear Prime Minister,

There is nothing more important than the education of our children.

It’s time to invest more in our public schools to ensure every child gets the best education.

More funding would make a real difference.

The money should be spent on the things schools and students really need: smaller class sizes, more individual attention for students who need it and modern buildings and facilities.

Yours Sincerely,

Steven Lofts

Mr Loft’s views reinforce the fact that the Rudd Labor government are not taking their responsibility in government seriously enough and that they are abusing their power and the trust and livelihood of the Australian public. These tax offsets need to cover a wider scope of rebates to ensure more choice for Australian punters. The Rudd Labor government need to inject more money into the education system as a whole to ensure a more realistic, prosperous and efficient future for Australian education.