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Monday, 10 November 2008
Page: 10244

Mr DREYFUS (12:54 PM) —The Tax Laws Amendment (Education Refund) Bill 2008 introduces the education tax refund. This refund will provide Australian families with a 50 per cent refundable tax offset for eligible education expenses up to a maximum of $750 per child in primary school and $1,500 per child at secondary school. This is a significant $4.4 billion boost for education in this country. It is part of the Rudd government’s commitment to provide all Australian children with the opportunities afforded by a world-class education.

It helps to take the pressure off working Australian families, particularly at this time of global economic crisis and increasing strains on family budgets. Who can receive this refund? It will be families in receipt of family tax benefit part A. It will be those who receive other payments that preclude them from receiving family tax benefit part A, and independent students who receive youth allowance, the DSP or Abstudy living allowance. Taken all together it will cover some 1.3 million families and 2.7 million children. It will be claimable when income tax returns are submitted from 1 July 2009, so it will come in next year.

There is a long list of expenses that will be eligible for this education tax refund including computers and computer related equipment, such as printers, disability aids and associated costs. It will cover home internet connection, computer software, school textbooks and other paper based school learning materials including stationery. It will cover course prescribed tools of trade. It does not cover school fees or school uniforms.

The aim of this government is to create an outstanding world-class education system so that every single Australian child will have the best job opportunities and the best life opportunities in future. As I say often when I go to schools: the gift of an education is, apart from the love that we can give our children, the best possible gift that we can give to set children up for their future lives. It is the giving of that gift of education that is the reason why the Rudd government is committed to implementing an education revolution. The features include a universal preschool entitlement of 15 hours per week for all four-year-olds, a national curriculum board to develop a national curriculum in the areas of English, mathematics, science and history by 2011 and $1.2 billion for a digital education revolution—meaning a school computer for every student in years 9 to 12 supported by digital content resources, professional development and broadband connections. There will be a $2.5 billion investment to build trades training centres in state, Catholic and independent schools to develop vital skills. There will be Future Fellowships to support Australia’s top researchers, and the government is also investing in the teaching of Asian languages and studies to ensure that as a nation Australia is prepared for what is being called the Asia-Pacific century.

This government’s education revolution is about opportunity and it is about prosperity. It is about opportunities for all Australian children and it is about securing national prosperity in the future. It is not enough for the opposition to say that they believe in quality in education. It is not enough for the opposition to say that they believe in choice. It is not enough for them to say that they believe in providing all children with the best education possible—they have to back their words with actions. They failed during their time in government and they are still failing now. One wonders if the deputy opposition leader, who spoke earlier on this bill, has actually read the bill. She claimed:

This bill refunds parents for only a limited amount of expenditure on information technology related goods.

She further claimed in her speech in this House that the bill does not cover expenses for textbooks. This is simply false, which she would know if she had made it to page 12 of the bill. It is typical of a lazy opposition frontbench and, in particular, it is typical of the intellectual laziness of the deputy opposition leader.

The deputy opposition leader has decried the fact that this bill does not fund what she terms ‘extra tuition’. What the deputy opposition leader really means when she says this is that she wants to prioritise government spending on private tutors in Dalkeith, Nedlands and Peppermint Grove over the very real needs of the great bulk of Australian working families, who are doing it tough and trying to provide a decent education for their children. The deputy opposition leader also claimed:

It is through values based reform measures that quality in education will be achieved.

It is an interesting choice of words from the deputy opposition leader, assuming that she has not picked them up from somewhere else. If the opposition wants to turn this debate into one of values, that is a debate that I am more than happy to have.

Underlying any government action to improve schooling in Australia must be principles of quality, equity and choice. These are values that Australian families understand to be important in providing the best future for their own children and for all Australian children. Equity in education is vital, and as a government we reject the notion that hundreds of thousands of Australian children can or should be left behind by the Commonwealth government.

The coalition talk about choice, but they fail to understand that when you remove investment in public education you remove choice from the vast majority of parents who send their children to state schools. When a government undermines investment in public education, it removes the choices that parents are able to make, the choices that schools can make in the provision of services and the choices that children will have in the future.

What values are the opposition promoting when they put up speaker after speaker on the cognate debate on the Education Legislation Amendment Bill 2008 and the Schools Assistance Bill 2008 which we had earlier this year to argue against the most basic levels of accountability on the part of schools and institutions that receive enormous levels of funding from the Commonwealth government? The outrage expressed in the arguments that we heard from those opposite gave the game away. They do not believe, it would seem, that private institutions that receive billions of dollars in government funding should in any way be accountable to the Australian public for the expenditure of that money. I cannot go past the speech by the member for Sturt, who was outraged in a way that only he can be outraged that schools might be required to ‘publish information about all of their sources of funding’. Imagine that a private institution that is carrying out an important public purpose and that is reliant on public money might be required to assure the minister that the institution is financially viable!

If you are looking for an example of the failure of those opposite—the failure of the Liberal Party and the Nationals—to understand accountability and good governance, you cannot go past the example that has cropped up in vivid colour in the last two or three weeks, that of ABC Learning Centres, of which the Rudd government is now trying to pick up the pieces. Under the former government, ABC Learning Centres were allowed to grow and grow to a dominant position in the childcare industry—

Mrs Irwin interjecting

Mr DREYFUS —I was in fact going to mention Larry Anthony. It is now clear that many of its centres were running at a loss, but the Liberal and National Party approach to accountability of companies and organisations receiving large amounts of public funding is that accountability and disclosure are not necessary. Notions of good governance and accountability are foreign, it would seem, to those opposite.

Perhaps it is that they did not want to hold to account one of their own, the former member for Richmond, the Hon. Larry Anthony. He lost his seat, and thereby his ministry, at the 2004 election—and I remind honourable members that he was the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs. In that role he was responsible for the childcare industry in this country. He went virtually straight onto the board of ABC Learning Centres. That is revealed by the annual report, which I happen to have. At the annual general meeting in November 2005, Sallyanne Atkinson, the former Liberal Lord Mayor of Brisbane, who was the chairman of this company, had this to say about Larry Anthony joining the board.

We were looking for another when Larry Anthony had a career change and I was absolutely delighted when he accepted my invitation—

Mr Abbott —Madam Deputy Speaker, I rise on a point of order. Reluctant though I am to interrupt the member speaking, the fact is that what he is saying now appears to have nothing to do with the bill in hand, and I suggest that you draw him back to the legislation before the House.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER (Ms AE Burke)—I thank the member for Warringah for his point of order and I will ask the member for Isaacs to come to the bill before the House, but I do point out that the bill is on education and that many other speakers have been fairly broad-ranging on the topic of education.

Mr DREYFUS —Indeed they have, and many other speakers have spoken on this subject of accountability, which lies at the core of the Rudd government’s approach not only to education but to funding generally with public funds of private institutions. This company, ABC Learning Centres, and Larry Anthony’s role in it, provides no better example—

Mr Abbott —On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker, members opposite can start defending Bob Carr and the Macquarie Bank and the—

The DEPUTY SPEAKER —The member for Warringah is now abusing the point of order.

Mr Abbott —He is abusing the standing orders by speaking as he has.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER —The member for Isaacs will address the bill before the House, which I again state is on education and I think there has been a fairly broad-ranging discussion.

Mr DREYFUS —Sallyanne Atkinson, the former Liberal Lord Mayor of Brisbane, said:

Apart from his personal skills (and his considerable charm) he has a Bachelor of Commerce degree, a background in banking, and some experience in our industry as Federal Minister for Children and Youth Affairs.