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Monday, 10 November 2008
Page: 10294

Ms KING (4:20 PM) —I rise today to speak on the Tax Laws Amendment (Education Refund) Bill 2008, which follows through on one of the government’s key election promises, improving our education system. In the 2007-08 budget, the Rudd government announced $4.4 billion to create an education tax refund. This commitment recognises that many families are battling with the high costs of living and seeks to lift some of the burden by way of a tax refund for education expenses. It also forms part of the government’s commitment to improving access to education and recognises the important role access to technology plays in ensuring that young people have equal education opportunities.

Education is central to the nation’s prosperity, and it is vital that we have a highly skilled and educated workforce heading into the future. It is absolutely vital that action be taken now to ensure our future prosperity, and the Rudd government is taking action. The Rudd government has already been working hard to implement its education plans. An important part of the government’s education plans was our election commitment to invest $2.5 billion over 10 years in trade training centres in schools. Round 2 of our Trade Training Centres in Schools Program is already underway, and these training centres will go a long way towards addressing the skill shortage in traditional trades that this nation faces.

Also, as part of our education plans, we announced during the election our National Secondary School Computer Fund. In my electorate we have already seen round 1 of this program provide funds for 545 new computers for local schools Damascus College, Bacchus Marsh Grammar and Ballarat Christian College—schools that met the criteria of being highly in need in terms of their computer to student ratio. Round 2 applications are currently being reviewed. This is an important investment for students in my electorate. The Rudd government is also investing $62.5 million over three years in the Local Schools Working Together program. I was pleased to discuss this program with a number of schools in my electorate, with the lead school, Sebastopol Secondary College, applying for funds for shared infrastructure. All of these programs are on top of our commitments to early childhood education, providing preschool education of 15 hours per week to every four-year-old.

I stand here today very proud to say that I am part of a government that is getting the job done, making good on election promises and taking steps to improve education for our future leaders at the same time as providing tax relief for families. Funding a child’s education is not cheap, and I recognise that many families are under financial strain. Those financial costs are particularly evident after Christmas and during the Christmas school holidays, when families need to start forking out for education costs for the start of a new school year. Money for textbooks, stationery and new software programs or, in some instances, new computers has to be found. Throughout the year, the ongoing costs of internet connection are another strain on the family budget. This bill goes a long way towards providing relief to hardworking families who are struggling to pay their household expenses. Rising petrol prices, mortgage repayments and grocery bills all add up and can leave families wondering how they will fund another essential family commitment, such as their children’s education.

It is particularly important in times like today, when we are in the midst of a global financial crisis, that we continue to focus and provide relief to families. We have seen the government dedicate $10.4 billion of the budget surplus through the Economic Security Strategy to assist those Australians who need it most. My office has been flooded with calls from pensioners and families who can now look forward to some much-needed relief before Christmas. The Economic Security Strategy, alongside this bill, demonstrates just how committed we as a government are to helping families deal with the cost of living.

The tax laws amendment bill introduces the education tax refund. Under this proposal, parents with children in primary and secondary school will be able to claim a tax refund rebate of 50 per cent of eligible education expenses, such as computers, stationery and textbooks. Parents with primary school aged children are entitled to a 50 per cent refund up to $750 per child, and parents with secondary school aged children are entitled to a 50 per cent refund up to $1,500 per child. This refund will provide parents with refunds of up to $375 per primary school student and $750 per secondary school student. The bill will provide relief to approximately 1.3 million families across Australia and around 2.7 million students attending school. The education tax refund is active now. Eligible parents can receive the tax rebate from 1 July 2009. It is important that parents, if they have not started to do so already, from now on save their receipts relating to the purchase or hire of eligible expenses so they can receive the maximum benefit of their next tax refund. I cannot reiterate enough the importance of retaining these receipts. Without them, parents will not be entitled to reap the benefits this bill, which allows for parents putting children through primary or secondary school education.

In addition to the education tax refund, additional amendments will be made so that Centrelink and the Australian Taxation Office can share data relating to education tax refund recipients. This will enable the tax office to administer and monitor the take-up rate of the refund amongst Australian families. All parents who receive family tax benefit part A will be eligible for the refund. Parents whose child or children receive payments or allowances such as youth allowance, the disability support pension and Abstudy living allowance, and who would otherwise be eligible for family tax benefit part A, are also eligible for the education tax refund. Those families who have shared care arrangements in place and are eligible for family tax benefit part A or who share receipt of family tax benefit part A will share the education tax refund, just as they share the family tax benefit part A. Those families in similar circumstances who receive other payments and are eligible will enter into a similar arrangement for sharing of the education tax refund.

The bill also benefits families with home schooled students. Provided that student is registered with the relevant state or territory authority, families with home schooled children can benefit from the refund, as can school children who are independent of their parents. Families with children who are transitioning from primary to secondary school in a single financial year will be able to claim the full 50 per cent tax offset—that is, the full $750 education tax refund available to secondary school students for that financial year. Families with students who commence school or complete school in a school year can claim half of the full 12-month amount of the education tax refund for that financial year for the six-month period in which the child attended school. That is a refund of $187.50 for half a year’s primary school education and $350 for half a year’s secondary school education. The bill is in no way limited to one child per family. Parents can receive the full benefits for each child, regardless of whether they are primary or secondary school aged. The bill really does cater for all kinds of Australian families.

Under the Rudd government’s plan, parents will be able to claim refunds for a variety of education expenses. Recognising the central role that information technology plays in education, students and parents will be able to claim the cost of laptops, home computers, home internet connections, printers, printing paper and education software. This is on top of learning materials such as school textbooks, stationery and even tools that students in trade may use at school. The refund not only covers purchase of these items but the lease, hire or hire-purchase of those items as well. The government understands that not every working Australian family can afford to purchase a laptop at the drop of a hat. By including lease, hire and hire-purchase options in the refund, these families have options available to them to provide education tools to their children, whilst still being able to receive maximum tax offsets as a result of this bill.

The bill is another incentive for parents to ensure that their children are equipped with all of the learning tools they need to complete their schooling to the best of their ability. Access to technology is vital in breaking down socioeconomic barriers. This measure, alongside the government’s computers in schools program, is aimed squarely at ensuring that all students, regardless of their background, have equal opportunities to access learning through technology. All the evidence shows that access to information technology can break down socioeconomic disadvantage and provide a significant advantage to children’s learning. It is no coincidence that the country’s more well-off schools have invested significantly in information technology and in information technology learning environments.

As I touched on earlier, the introduction of this bill will see parents benefit from the rebate from 1 July next year. Parents can make their first claims from 1 July 2009 for the 2008-09 financial year. I reiterate what I said earlier—that is, I urge all parents, both in my electorate and across the country, to make sure they retain every receipt relating to items that can be claimed under this refund. If parents are not doing so already, they really must start keeping receipts now so they can obtain maximum benefits from this education refund come tax time. I encourage parents eligible for tax benefit part A to store their receipts in a safe place; I know it is something I often neglect to do. Every time parents purchase a new school textbook or need to replenish their schoolchildren’s stationery supplies, if they purchase a computer or learning software or they pay their internet connection bills—all of these receipts should be stored away ready for tax time. For those parents and independent school students who do not pay tax and are not required to lodge a tax return, it is still essential that they too retain all eligible educational receipts. Their entitlements will still be refunded through the Australian tax office by completing a separate form at the end of the 2008-09 financial year.

In my electorate we have over 40 primary and secondary schools, servicing more than 24,000 students. I certainly hope that the parents of these 24,000 students are assisted through this bill. My community constantly tells me how difficult it can be to make ends meet in tough times such as those we are experiencing at the moment. Just paying the essential family expenses can be a challenge. Working families in my electorate deserve a tax break and the children in my area deserve a solid education. This bill meets both needs. It provides a cash rebate to families who are working extremely hard to provide the best possible foundation for their children’s education. It is a way to acknowledge the commitment of these families to their children’s education and to their futures. It helps to ease the financial burden and make it easier for parents to afford to invest in their children’s education through purchases of what can be expensive learning resources such as computers, education programs and textbooks.

Looking at a child’s schooling years from prep through to year 12, the refund has the potential to provide a very large cost saving for families. Parents who receive the full refund for one child during their primary school years—that is, prep to grade 6—will receive a maximum $2,625 refund from the government. That is $2,625 in assistance from the government to help cover the expenses associated with putting one child through primary school education. The total maximum education tax refund parents can receive under this bill for one child during their secondary school education is $4,500. Overall, this government is committing over $7,125 to help fund a child’s education through primary and secondary school with the education refund. Just imagine what a difference that extra money will make to the average family. There will be more than $7,000 put back in their pockets over the 13 years of a child’s education. And, as we know, most families are not just sole-child families. If a family has more than one child and meets the eligibility requirements of this bill, their refund can move into the tens of thousands of dollars—to over $14,000 for families placing two children through their entire schooling education and to over $21,000 for families with three children—freeing families to dedicate that funding to other much needed areas of the family budget.

This is a fundamentally important bill for our families and for the children in this country. It is another way that the government is investing now in our future and it is another demonstration of our wholehearted commitment to the education plans that we have in place and that we have promised across the country. The bill is another demonstration from the government of our commitment to working families, to assist with education costs and to help, through them, to shape our nation’s future. Putting children through school is an expensive exercise, and the refund will go a long way to helping parents provide appropriate resources to fund their children’s education by helping to fund the learning resources they require in the classroom, such as textbooks and stationery, as well as helping to fund the learning resources they need at home to complete their work effectively, such as computers and the internet.

The government has allocated $4.4 billion to the refund over the next four years. It is a significant investment in this country’s future. It will help us as a nation to grow and prosper and will help ease the financial pressures placed on our families. These rebates provide a significant cost saving to families. The government believes that better education is pivotal to our society and providing better access to that education is pivotal to our children’s future. The bill is helping to ensure that our leaders of tomorrow are harnessed through their education and afforded every academic opportunity, regardless of their background, in order for them to do so. I commend the bill to the House.