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Monday, 1 December 2008
Page: 11879

Mr PYNE (2:33 PM) —My question is to the Deputy Prime Minister. I refer to the Deputy Prime Minister’s bungled computers in schools pledge, which will now benefit only half the students originally promised at almost twice the cost. Why was the Grimes report of 3 September, identifying an $800 million budget blow-out, kept secret from the public until after the Prime Minister sought a leave pass last Wednesday to run Labor deficits? Will the minister guarantee that no further taxpayers’ money will be required to address the numerous additional bungles in Labor’s already bungled policy?

Ms GILLARD (Deputy Prime Minister) —I do sincerely thank the shadow minister for education for his question. It gives me the opportunity to clarify some of his wildly inaccurate claims which have been made publicly. The fact is that the shadow minister for education is not someone known for accuracy. Interestingly, on ABC radio in South Australia this morning, the radio journalist said to him:

Christopher Pyne, previously on two—inaudible—your staff have sanitised our questions from the transcripts that you issued to the federal press gallery and others. Are you going to do that with this interview?

The shadow minister responded:

Not if you don’t want me to.

The modern Liberal Party: an amalgam of plagiarisers and sanitisers. But when it comes to claims about computers in schools from this bunch of plagiarisers and sanitisers, let me deal with the subject of the member’s question.

The subject of the member’s question is: how is the government’s program working to deliver computers to students in schools? Let me explain to him. We promised to bring computers to students in years 9 to 12. And we will deliver an effective one-to-one ratio for those students. What was the first thing that we did?

Ms Julie Bishop interjecting

Ms GILLARD —I know ‘ratio’ is probably a confusing concept for the shadow Treasurer; she might get someone to explain it to her. The first step we took when we came to government was that we audited to see what the situation was in Australian schools. We counted students and computers that were four years old or less. What did we find when we did that count? We found that there were 280 schools—that is, more than 10 per cent of secondary schools—that had a computer to student ratio of one to 20 or worse. That is, 20 or more children were trying to get access to the one computer. Out of that 280, 110 schools had no computers at all aged less than four years—no computers at all. The record of the Liberal Party in this nation after almost 12 years of government was that Australian students did not have access to the learning tools of the 21st century.

We have started resolving that. We have allocated $1.2 billion to the direct provision of computers. We have rolled out round 1, benefiting more than 800 schools. Whereas the shadow minister has distorted all of this, the approach the government took in round 1 particularly was to move the schools most in need from their woeful computer to student ratios—

Mr Pyne —Mr Speaker, I rise on a point of order on relevance. The minister was asked very specifically whether she would rule out more money being used to prop up this failed policy, and she refuses to get to it. Will she guarantee no more funding?

The SPEAKER —The member for Sturt might believe that he has asked a very direct question, but if it was very direct it was only a short part of a very broad context that he used in the question. He knows, because he has been here long enough to know, that that has been used by the responder to make the response relevant.

Ms GILLARD —The core distortion that the shadow minister for education has engaged in concerns round 1, which was for the schools most in need, the schools with the worst student-to-computer ratios. The government said that round was to bring them up to an effective ratio of one to two. We always said that was the first part of the benefit for those schools in a program that was going to bring all schools up to an effective ratio of one to one for students in years 9 to 12—promised and going to be delivered under the government’s program—and then it comes to the time frame that the government outlined in its policy documents and its statement since. Then, of course, in the policy document that we published at the last election, we said:

A Rudd Labor Government will work co-operatively with State and Territory Governments and the Catholic and Independent schools systems to partner this program by ensuring schools have sophisticated ICT strategies—including training, client support, maintenance costs and integration with the school curriculum.

So we engaged COAG in the delivery of this program just as we consulted independent schools and Catholic schools.

At the first COAG meeting late last year the audit was agreed to. That is the audit which showed the shameful legacy of neglect of the Liberal Party opposite—an absolute disgrace, leaving students without any effective access to computers. At the second COAG meeting this year in March we agreed with the states and territories that we would work with them, particularly with the working group of COAG, to assess the legitimate and additional financial implications. That was when the Grimes review was commissioned. The Grimes review was obviously fed into the COAG discussions which resulted, on Saturday, in an additional investment to ensure that the on-costs and deployment of computers, on which we said we would work with the states and territories and the Catholic and independent schools systems, would be delivered; hence the agreement for $807 million. Of course, the Grimes review was made public after it had been worked through in the COAG processes. It was part of the confidential COAG documents up until that point. It is available now.

I say to the shadow minister opposite that, if he wants to go to government schools and say that out of this $807 million they should not benefit from $521 million of it, then he can have that discussion, government school by government school. If he wants to go to independent schools and say to them that they should not have the benefit of nearly $121 million more, then he can have that discussion, independent school by independent school. If he wants to go to Catholic schools and say to them that they should not have the benefit of almost $165 million more of investment then he can have that discussion, Catholic school by Catholic school. But what this government is going to get on with doing is what we promised: getting rid of the Liberal Party’s shameful track record of neglect in this area and making sure that students in our schools have computers. That is what the digital education revolution is about, that is what we promised and that is what we are going to deliver.