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Monday, 10 November 2008
Page: 10318


Ms HALL (6:03 PM) —It is with great pleasure and some pride that I stand to speak on the Tax Laws Amendment (Education Refund) Bill 2008, because this is evidence of the Rudd government’s commitment to the education revolution. This reflects the Rudd government’s determination to see that each and every child in Australia can afford the resources they need to attend school. This is very important legislation—legislation that I know will be welcomed in my electorate. In fact, since people living in my electorate have heard of this legislation they have been keen for it to be introduced so that they can access the benefits that will accrue to them under it.

This bill proposes to introduce a 50 per cent education tax refund aimed at assisting families with children at primary or secondary school to meet school education costs by assisting with certain education expenses, the kinds of education expenses that have put in place barriers that prevent young people from lower income families being competitive. It is okay for young people to be able to attend school and to use the resources of the school but, when it comes to things like home computers and internet access, if a student does not have these things then they will not be competitive with students who do have a home computer and access to the internet. It is also very important that the other things that are covered in this legislation, which I will get to a bit later, are made available to all students.

The education refund comes in the wake of several reports over a number of years. These reports have highlighted the difficulties of schooling costs for low-income families. For instance, the 2007 education cost survey by the Brotherhood of St Laurence found that 72 per cent of the respondents could not afford items that would improve the education experience of their children, and two-thirds did not have a home computer with internet access. This is why the legislation we are debating here in the House tonight is of such vital importance. It is imperative that all children, no matter what their parents’ income is and no matter what their level of advantage is, have access to the resources they need to achieve good educational outcomes.

The Brotherhood of St Laurence report also showed that 60 per cent of those who responded to the survey had difficulty paying for books, and half of the parents said they had difficulty paying for equipment that their children needed when they were attending school. I know that this legislation will be welcomed by not only low-income earners in my electorate but also middle-income families who are struggling to pay for all the competing expenses that they have each and every day. It is expensive for children to attend school and it is expensive for children to get a decent education, and that is why the Rudd government has made the commitment to ensure that each and every child can access a quality education and have access to the things that they need to achieve that education.

Under the refund, families who are eligible and approved will be able to claim 50 per cent of the refundable tax offset each year for up to $750 of eligible expenditure for each primary school child—that will equate to a significant refund—and a 50 per cent refundable tax offset each year for up to $1,500 of eligible expenses for each child undertaking secondary school education. As I mentioned earlier, I have been contacted by students in my electorate who are very keen to be able to access this particular scheme (Quorum formed) Before returning to the text of my speech, I acknowledge that the member for Paterson called that quorum on me; and I must say that in another parliament I did the same to him. On that occasion he abused me mercilessly, but I understand the way that the parliament works and I acknowledge his right to call a quorum. I accept the rules of the House and I hope that the member for Paterson in future will be able to show the courtesy to observe the forms of the House in a way that he could not when he was on this side of the House. I will now return to the text of my speech, but I believe that the member for Paterson did deserve some special comment.

Eligible families will be families in receipt of family tax benefit part A in respect of one or more children undertaking primary or secondary school education. Parents with one or more children who would be eligible for family tax benefit part A but for the fact that they or the child receive certain payments or allowances such as youth allowance, the disability support pension or Abstudy living allowance are also eligible. Students undertaking primary or secondary school studies and receiving the independent rate of income payments may also be eligible in respect of their own expenses. For families with shared care who are eligible for family tax benefit A or shared receipt of family tax benefit A the refund will be shared. So both parents or both carers will receive part of family tax benefit A, just as family tax benefit A is shared. For families in receipt of other payments, similar arrangements for sharing the education tax refund between the parents will occur.

Students entering or leaving school in any school year can claim half the refund attributable to the half of the financial year they attended school. Families with homeschool students may also be eligible for the refund. Eligible expenses—and I think this is very important—include the purchase, lease, hire or hire-purchase costs of laptops and home computers and associated costs; printers and paper; educational software; and school textbooks, materials and prescribed trade tools. In addition, expenses associated with establishing and maintaining a home internet connection are eligible.

In this debate I have heard previous speakers on the other side argue that school fees should attract this refund. For any member to argue that shows a complete lack of understanding of what this legislation is about. It is about providing access to the tools that will enable students to compete and to access the knowledge that is available through these tools. It is not about alleviation or making school fees any cheaper. It is about providing students with the opportunity to learn. That is very important.

There is a significant difference between what we on this side of the parliament are about and what those on the other side of the parliament are about. We are about giving each and every child the opportunity—an equal opportunity wherever possible—to learn. We are about making education accessible and making the tools of education accessible to all students. We are not about setting up a system where some students can benefit and some students cannot. This is about equity of access and equity within education.

This is legislation that, as I said earlier, will be particularly welcomed by low-income families. It focuses in the main on information technology and communication because that is vital to educational success. It is the revolution of the 21st century. For students to encompass all their learning goals, they need to have access to digital information. That is part of this government’s digital education revolution, which will be providing $1.2 billion over five years for information technology in schools.

The members on the other side of this parliament really need to embrace Labor’s education revolution. They need to acknowledge the benefit that all the students that attend their schools are obtaining from the computers that Labor is putting into their high schools. They need to acknowledge the benefit of the trade training centres, the fact that Labor is taking education into the 21st century and that Labor is about ensuring that each and every student has the opportunity to succeed.

I believe around 1.3 million families will be eligible for the refund. There was $4.4 billion included in the budget to create the education tax refund to assist these families. That is very important and of course was a Rudd government election commitment. The refund will apply to eligible expenses incurred from 1 July 2008. Eligible people should keep their receipts from 1 July 2008 to claim the tax offset in their 2008-09 tax return. I emphasise that point: it is imperative that receipts are kept so that families can claim this refund. Keep your receipts and put them in a safe place so that when it comes time to do your tax refund you will know exactly where they are.

Education, as I have said, increases productivity and participation, builds prosperity and offers hope in breaking intergenerational cycles of poverty. As I have already said, if you do not have access to the tools that give you the knowledge then you are going to find it very, very difficult to obtain a quality education and the skills that you will need to get jobs in the workforce that open the door to prosperity. No-one can deny that education is the key that unlocks the door to success in people’s lives.

It is very, very important that this legislation gets through the parliament in a timely fashion. It is very important that people within the Australian community know that, come tax time next year, they will be eligible for this allowance. I applaud the minister for putting this legislation to the parliament and the Rudd government for its foresight in acknowledging the importance that information technology plays and acknowledging the fact that education is the key to success and that to obtain that education you need to have the resources. That is why the education tax refund will be of such vital importance to all those people who are in receipt of the benefits that I highlighted earlier—those low- to middle-income families that need to obtain the tools for their children to succeed in education.