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Monday, 10 November 2008
Page: 10317

Mr SHORTEN (Parliamentary Secretary for Disabilities and Children’s Services) (5:55 PM) —I am pleased to rise this afternoon to strongly support the Tax Laws Amendment (Education Refund) Bill 2008 and the new education tax refund—one more election commitment of the Rudd government that we mean to keep. I believe that the recent worldwide financial meltdown serves to highlight the enduring value of what we learn in schools, colleges and universities in a changing world. This week we believe more than ever that education is an economic investment whose value cannot be eroded by global speculation and risky lending practices in overseas economies. Education is what lasts. When the last subprime mortgage security follows the last reckless hedge fund investment into oblivion, education will be the currency that does not fail. It is for this reason that we remain committed to an education revolution and to those parents who need additional help with the everyday costs of their children’s education.

Last month, the Rudd government took decisive action to strengthen the Australian economy and support Australian families during the present global financial crisis. Indeed, the Rudd government announced it would deliver a one-off payment this year of $1,000 to the parents of around 3.9 million eligible children. Those that will receive the support include 1.9 million families who receive family tax benefit A and families who receive youth allowance, Abstudy or a benefit from the Veterans’ Children Education Scheme payment. These families will also be eligible for the new education tax refund, which will provide a refundable tax offset at 50 per cent of education expenses. In fact, the Rudd government’s first budget included $4.4 billion to create the new education tax refund. It was, I believe, our first great investment in our nation’s future prosperity. It is our affirmation of a social partnership conceived at the best-practice standard, comparable with the best in the world. We did it because we believe education increases productivity, builds prosperity and breaks the intergenerational cycle of poverty. Education is our ticket out of the underclass. It is an improvement of our souls. Education means participation. These two factors are central to lifting productivity. Whilst our physical resources are finite, human potential, human capacity, human ability and human spirit are infinite.

It is clear now to us all that Australia’s productivity declined at the same rate that education funding declined under the previous, unfocused, mendicant, somnambulant, careless Howard government. This is why, unlike our tired, dispirited, directionless predecessors, we are getting on with the job of real education reform. The 2008-09 budget is meeting, with the difficulty that the world crisis presents, our promised election commitments and helping out with schooling and learning at all levels. We want Australians to reach their high potential and we are investing in our future. We want Australia to reach its high potential and we are investing in our future. The $19.3 billion investment delivers at all ages, from early childhood to primary schools and from high schools to vocational education, training and higher education.

The education tax refund is a refundable tax offset of 50 per cent of eligible expenses for children undertaking primary and secondary school studies. Hereafter parents can more readily afford to see their children properly taught. Under the plan, eligible families will be able to claim 50 per cent of school expenses, up to $750 for each child undertaking primary school, to provide a maximum tax offset of $375 per child per year. For children undertaking secondary school studies, parents will be able to claim up to 50 per cent of their eligible expenses, up to $1,500 per child, to gain a maximum tax offset of $750 per child per year. Eligible expenses will include laptops, home computers, printers, paper, education software, school textbooks and associated materials and trade tools. In addition, the expenses of establishing and maintaining a home internet connection are included. The refund plan began on 1 July 2008, so I recommend that eligible parents start keeping receipts for their 2008-09 income tax return. Indeed, those not paying tax because of low income should lodge a separate form, available from the tax office, at the end of the current financial year.

This will assist the great schools in my Maribyrnong electorate—schools like Rosehill Secondary College, formerly Niddrie Secondary College, a proud school where principal Anne Fox is working hard to give the school its new, developed image; Essendon-Keilor College, led by David Adamson, a school with a long history of excellence, with its great heritage buildings that reflect the grandness and a century-old dream of a decent education; and Sunshine Secondary College and St Albans Secondary College, led by Tim Blunt and Kerrie Dowsley respectively. They are schools that have a vibrant culture and innovative programs. Other schools and staff include Mrs Olwen Bell, Principal, Ave Maria College; Mrs Carolyn Grantskalans from Lowther Hall Anglican Grammar School; Mr Tony Larkin from Penleigh and Essendon Grammar; Mr Frank Fitzgerald from St Bernard’s College, who is retiring this year; Ms April Honeyman from St Columba’s College; Mrs Julie Williams from Kealba Secondary College; Ms Christina Utri from the Catholic Regional College; Mr Mark Vodell from Gilson College; Mr Tony Tartaro from Buckley Park Secondary College; and Mr Andrew Williamson, CEO and Principal of the Australian Technical College Sunshine.

I know that all these talented, hardworking, dedicated and passionate education teachers and leaders believe that better education is the cornerstone of a decent society. In fact, for Labor, better education is the cornerstone of a decent society. It is the lodestone and the talisman, the guardian angel and the bankable guarantee of a better society that we are striving for. Education is for us in Labor, and always has been, the light on the hill to which our eyes are ever turned and our efforts ever directed. Through our budget measures, through this legislation and through the great efforts of the Minister for Education, the Rudd government is striving to combat economic and social disadvantage—and this, I suggest, in Labor terms, is getting on with the job. This is what we are here for; this is our task. In this first way we create and sustain a fair Australia where the pursuit of happiness is available to all and a larger, more abundant life within the reach of those who seek it. I commend the legislation.