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Monday, 10 November 2008
Page: 10321

Mr ANTHONY SMITH (6:21 PM) —I want to briefly take the time of the House to address the Tax Laws Amendment (Education Refund) Bill 2008 and, as previous speakers before me have done in this debate, some of the broader education issues related to it. As speakers on this side have made clear, the coalition will be supporting this measure; however, as we have also made clear, we think it is too narrow. It is no secret that at the last election we had a broader policy, both in items covered and in families covered. We think this policy that has been put forward is too narrow—we have said so—but we acknowledge that it will be of assistance to those parents who are eligible in the narrow field of items that are covered.

The previous speaker, the member for Shortland, mentioned the digital revolution, as it is called by those opposite, which many other speakers from the government side have lauded. Those opposite in their heart of hearts know that there is great scepticism about the so-called education revolution. The hollowness is now coming to the fore. We have heard the computers in schools policy lauded by those opposite, but they know that, as we approach the one-year anniversary of the election of this government, many will look back to those first few days after that election when the first COAG meeting was held to set out the new deal with the states and to end the blame game. The first thing that was going to happen on that agenda back in December was that all of the costs for the computers in schools were going to be worked out. But, no, that was deferred until March and deferred again until July. We had the Treasurer saying in the days before that July COAG meeting that everything would be sorted out. New South Wales has since refused to participate in the computers in schools policy.

We have had parents complaining across all of our electorates. We know that members opposite have had the same thing across their electorates because as the detail has come to the fore it has become quite obvious that this program was not thought through properly and that the cost of putting computers on the desks of every student in years 9, 10, 11 and 12 had not been thought through. What has happened is that the states have said they are not going to pay the bills. Julia Gillard, the Minister for Education, has put her head in the sand all year on this issue and, as we have warned from this side of the House right through this year, parents are now being hit with the bill. We have the extraordinary situation where we have the members opposite saying how important it is to assist parents—and we agree with that—but ignoring the fact that now parents are being hit with a new Rudd government computer tax. In my electorate of Casey—

Mr Shorten interjecting

Mr ANTHONY SMITH —The member for Maribyrnong might learn something here. He might find that he is going to have a similar situation in his electorate. I have had parents inform me that they will need to pay an annual levy of between $150 and $300 every year—it has just come out to the parents this week—to fund the computers in schools policy. The school has had to impose this levy to pay for all of those on-costs that are obvious to anyone installing a computer anywhere, obvious to anyone except the minister. I would not go so far as to exclude those opposite from that. I think that they would realise that, if you buy a computer and you actually want to make it work, you need to plug it into something, you need to connect it to the internet—

Mr Shorten —Who told you that?

Mr ANTHONY SMITH —Not Julia Gillard, not the Minister for Education. Now the parents at Lilydale High School have been told that they will have to pay an annual levy of between $150 and $300 a year. This is about to be repeated in numbers of high schools across Australia if they want to make the computers work. If they are prepared to leave the computers sitting in boxes, gathering dust and not making use of them, perhaps they will not have to charge a levy, but high schools as a result of combined federal and state Labor incompetence—as a result of one year of talk and no action—are having to charge parents to implement this Rudd Labor government policy. This has been happening all year; it has been obvious to anyone wanting to see.

I do not know what happens at these COAG meetings. Perhaps somebody has the secret remote control that they pointed at the Treasurer last week when they hit ‘mute’ and for 80 seconds he sat there unable to speak. Perhaps that is what happens every time computers in schools are mentioned at COAG; perhaps there is just silence. But now this new Rudd tax will be imposed on the parents of Lilydale High School students and other high school students across Victoria and Australia.

It was with great fanfare that the policy was announced at the last federal election—a computer on every desk—but I tell you what was not in the policy. What was not in the policy was that every parent would have to pay a fee or a tax to actually make the computers work. The other thing parents across Australia, particularly at primary schools, have realised is that the Investing in Our Schools Program has been abolished. The Investing in Our Schools Program, which enabled schools to pick the projects they wanted, has been abolished.

Mr Shorten interjecting

Mr ANTHONY SMITH —I persist in light of unfair interjections—

The DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr S Sidebottom)—Do not be incited. Order!

Mr ANTHONY SMITH —Those opposite will do everything they can to defend the indefensible. Before the last election, if you go back to the computers in schools policy, nowhere did the Prime Minister say, ‘I will impose a tax of $150 to $300 on the parents of high-school students.’ This has been announced by Lilydale High School. There will be other schools that will do the same thing. They are forced to do this because of the complete and utter incompetence of those opposite.

As we approach the anniversary of the last election, two weeks away, parents will reflect on the great gap between what was promised and what is actually being delivered. What is being delivered today in this legislation—we say it is too narrow, we say it should be broader—is only possible because the previous government left a budget in surplus, left a budget able to fund precisely these sorts of programs, like the Investing in Our Schools Program, across the education area. As those opposite speak on this bill, they should consider the computers in schools policy. It is not good enough to talk about just the rebate and the new computers in schools policy in tandem without acknowledging the fact that parents right across Australia are now starting to be hit with fees and levies in order to actually make the computers work.