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Tuesday, 2 December 2008
Page: 81

Senator CARR (Minister for Innovation, Industry, Science and Research) (9:58 PM) —I move:

That these bills be now read a third time.

The government has made it clear that these bills are an essential part of the national framework for achieving excellence and accountability in Australian schools. That means setting the highest standards of accountability and transparency. We have made an election commitment to deliver a national curriculum. That is a process that has been underway in this country now for 30 years. As a result of the actions of the Liberal Party and other parts of this chamber tonight, that process has been set back. As a consequence, $28 billion of funding over four years for schools, which was to commence from 1 January, has now been put in question.

We have here a situation where, having made an election commitment to deliver a national curriculum, we have developed an inclusive, open process for creating and implementing that national curriculum. The reality is that one opportunity here was to actually get the framework for the funding and the accountability of schools in Australia and to get that right. The principles of establishing higher standards in transparency, which in our view have to be consistently applied across both the government and the non-government sectors, have, of course, now been put in question. We have delivered in the last week an unprecedented agreement with the state and territory governments about these same principles of accountability and transparency applying to both government and non-government sectors. Of course, due to the actions of the Liberal Party here tonight—and I hold them directly responsible; as people who claim to be and purport to be the alternative government in this country, they ought to be held responsible—those objectives have now been put in question. As a consequence, $28 billion of public support for 1.1 million students has also been put in question.

The stakeholders, including the Independent Schools Council of Australia and the National Catholic Education Commission, indicated to the Senate inquiry that they do not consider the issues surrounding the national curriculum to be so significant as to delay the bill. Mrs Temby, of the Catholic Education Commission, said:

… we believe that because we are engaged in the consultations we will have an input into it and that will be all right.

Further, the government believes that this is an unprecedented effort by the Senate to split a bill, as proposed off the floor here, and that the provisions of the Schools Assistance Bill 2008 must be considered as a whole. The government will therefore be ensuring that this bill is returned to the House of Representatives. The government have always made it clear that this bill, as I say, is an essential part of our legislative program and our election commitments, and we are determined to implement them.