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Wednesday, 3 December 2008
Page: 12329

Mr BRIGGS (11:49 AM) —In this debate on the Schools Assistance Bill 2008 I wish to speak about the great Gillard backdown, the great Deputy Prime Minister backdown. I pay tribute to the shadow minister for education, the member for Sturt, who has done a fantastic job on this bill. It started in October, in this House—and I spoke on this bill—when we opposed the requirement that funding be made public, which is what the minister intended to do. Make no mistake: this is part of a long-term agenda that the Deputy Prime Minister has. It is about the school hit list. This is what this is all about.

If we go back to 2004 to look at the history of this matter we find that the Deputy Prime Minister’s then favourite member of parliament was the member for Werriwa—the Leader of the Opposition at that time, Mr Latham—whom we all remember. There were three great policy issues that dominated the campaign in that year.

Dr Southcott —Medicare Gold.

Mr BRIGGS —The first one, of course, was the forestry issue, which was so well handled by those on the other side! The second one, as the member for Boothby so rightly identifies, was Medicare Gold, which will hang like an albatross around the Deputy Prime Minister’s neck for ever. She does not mention it anymore. It is the policy that dare not speak its name. But it was her idea. She pursued it. It was her great idea to win the election, but of course we know what happened. The third issue was the school hit list, which I do not think she was involved in at that point.

Dr Emerson —How are you going on the Work Choices?

Mr BRIGGS —Well, I noticed that there are some interesting changes to that bill too, Minister. What we have seen here today is the Deputy Prime Minister arrogantly refusing to acknowledge that the reason they have changed this bill is the opposition. She arrogantly refuses; it is part of the tactics. She is an extraordinarily clever lawyer; there is no question about that. She is an extraordinarily clever debater. She gets up in this place and answers questions through omission. That is what she does. She does not answer the question; she leaves out what she does not want to answer. The Deputy Prime Minister did that yesterday in question time. She is very clever; there is no question about that. But on this matter it is quite clear that these amendments were pushed by the opposition and pursued by the opposition. And credit should go to the opposition. It is to our credit that we pushed this. This was of great concern to private schools in my electorate, to independent schools who were very concerned about this information appearing on the front page of the Advertiser.

And, make no mistake, that is what the Labor Party do. That is what they do at the state level and that is what they will do at the federal level. What they do is build a case on their ideological agenda, put it through the newspapers and say: ‘Well, you know, they do have a lot of money; they do have a lot of resources. We should take a lot of resources off them.’ That is exactly what their intention was with that amendment. It was the school hit list writ large on its way back, the Deputy Prime Minister pursuing an ideological agenda. She arrogantly dismisses our role in this. She uses Senator Xenophon as a fig leaf, as the member for Sturt rightly identifies—an interesting fig leaf. She arrogantly refuses to accept our role in this because, of course, it is the greatest spin-run government in the history of the Commonwealth. Yesterday I mentioned the ‘decisive-o-meter’. We have not heard ‘decisive’ on this. This, of course, is a decisive decision to backflip on this.

Mr Forrest —A decisive backflip.

Mr BRIGGS —It is. Hopefully it will add to the six mentions of ‘decisive’ so far in December. We had 156 in October and 111 in November. We had one in January. We were not decisive in January, but we were decisive in October and we were decisive in November. We have started strongly being decisive in December and this could be a ‘decisive’ day today—a decisive backdown. The other piece of information that has come to me overnight, interestingly, on the decisive-o-meter is the decisive-o-meter versus business confidence. You will see the comparison: decisive is up, business confidence is down.

I come back to the point, which is that the Deputy Prime Minister arrogantly refuses to accept the work of the member for Sturt, the work of the opposition, who stood up for independent schools on this and protected independent schools from the hit list. Because, make no mistake, the hit list is back—back with this minister, back with this Deputy Prime Minister. I commend the member for Sturt.