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Monday, 6 December 2004
Page: 96

Senator VANSTONE (Minister for Immigration and Multicultural and Indigenous Affairs and Minister Assisting the Prime Minister for Indigenous Affairs) (7:57 PM) —I have a couple of things to say on each of the amendments. Obviously, there are some philosophical differences here. Members opposite believe that it is appropriate to look at the fee income that a school gets. We do not. We think private contribution to education should be encouraged and should not be used as a discounting mechanism for getting some assistance from government in relation to schooling.

As many members in this chamber and other chambers understand, there are, at any one school, parents who can easily afford to pay the fees out of a single-income family income and there are other situations where both parents are working and one has or both have two jobs and they are really struggling to pay those fees. But they have made a choice that they want to put in the extra effort, the extra hours and extra work themselves and put their otherwise disposable income into sending their children to what many would regard as elite schools. Those struggling families should not be deprived of assistance because they make that choice. In fact, we should help them to make that choice. So we disagree with the basis on which Labor chooses to define `need'. I am not sure that we are ever going to come together on that.

I am reminded of some remarks in this place in 1996 or 1997 when Senator Stott Despoja, who is not with us at the moment—I do not know that we have any news from her on the impending birth of their child—was getting stuck into the government on the basis that we were supporting people who were `rich and thick'. I made the remark to her that it was all very well for her to say that about private schools but perhaps she should let everybody know that she went to one herself. On that occasion I got a filthy letter from her mother, saying how outrageous it was of me to bring her down in this way by mentioning that she had been to a private school. The letter from her mother, which I have referred to in the past and have not yet revealed—and I am not indicating by that an intention to do so—was nonetheless very telling about how hard it had been for her mother to send Natasha to a private school and about the tremendous effort she had to make in order to do that. I agree; I understand. Lots of parents do that. They are not all sole parents, as Natasha's mother was at the time. This applies to dual-income parents, where they are both on very low incomes and decide to get extra jobs and pool their resources. I just thought it was a bit rich for someone who went to a private school—

Senator Allison —Mr Temporary Chairman, I rise on a point of order. This is a bit inappropriate given that Senator Stott Despoja is not here to speak for herself. I have heard Minister Vanstone tell this story before. As I recall, she has misused the words and taken them out of context.

The TEMPORARY CHAIRMAN (Senator Ferguson)—Senator Allison, you are starting to debate the point. The statement being made by the minister is relevant to the amendment before the chair.

Senator VANSTONE —I am sorry that Senator Allison is bored by this story. Of course not everybody was listening years ago. There is a new audience.

Senator Carr —There's not a new audience in here.

Senator VANSTONE —I think Senator Buckland, behind you, was not here at the time. He might be enjoying this story. It goes to the point that I made that not all kids who go to private schools come from wealthy families, and the fee income of that school is not an indicator of the wealth of the parents. That is why we say it is the wealth of the parents that you should take into account, which we do by our SES formula. Nothing in this world is perfect, but we think the proposition being put here is a mistake. It simply takes into account the fee income of the school and ignores what might be a dual income, a single income or a two-job effort of families who want to put things in. I will just put Senator Allison on notice: if she thinks I have misrepresented the situation, I am happy to find the letter and release it.