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Tuesday, 7 December 2004
Page: 126

Senator VANSTONE (Minister for Immigration and Multicultural and Indigenous Affairs and Minister Assisting the Prime Minister for Indigenous Affairs) (9:17 PM) —Mr Temporary Chairman Watson, you saved me pointing that out to Senator Carr, who was not so much ranting and railing but offended that no reasons were given. In fact, when I inquired—

Senator Carr —You didn't know!

Senator VANSTONE —That is right; I did not know. Frankly, I assumed—

Senator Carr —That I did?

Senator VANSTONE —No, that some reason would be available with a message, and apparently that is the case. I was inquiring into that when you were ranting and railing.

Senator Carr —I thought I wasn't ranting and railing.

Senator VANSTONE —All right, Senator, you were putting your view. In any event, you were more interested in getting stuck into the government. Perhaps before you do that next time you might just check and see whether things have been made available to you.

Senator Carr —I asked three questions.

Senator VANSTONE —Mr Temporary Chairman, the honourable senator has had his moment and was left pretty much undisturbed to put his view. I would like to just briefly put mine. The first point I would like to make is that, presumably, we are all moderately adult in our mentality here. We understand the views of the opposition and the Greens, and they understand ours. They were put in this chamber and the House of Representatives disagreed. That was made clear and it has come back. If we were amused at the prospect of this whole edifice of parliament being here just for us, we could, if we wanted to, sit here and repeat all those arguments at vast expense to taxpayers. We could indulge ourselves. If that is what you want to do, you are welcome to do it.

I simply put this to you: this government believes that all kids should have equal opportunities, that some parents will decide that they want to send their kids to private schools and that the fees a school charges are not of themselves an indicator of the parents' wealth. As I said last night, and I will briefly repeat the argument, you might find a family that either by luck or hard work has ended up a wealthy family and for them the fees are immaterial. But you also find at private schools families where that is not the case, families where the mother and/or the father are working, some of them in two jobs, in order to meet those fee entitlements. The fees are not an indicator of a family's wealth. That was made very clear. What this government uses as an indicator of wealth are the SES social indicators by the postcodes of the students going to the schools.

I do not know that you could ever find a mechanism whereby somebody did not fall on the wrong side of the line. But to look at the fees charged is not a good way to do it, for the reason I have given you: you can find two parents that work extremely hard, sometimes in a couple of jobs, in order to meet that fee requirement. You sometimes find parents, for example, that extend the mortgage on their house because of the value they place on education. The fees are not an indicator of wealth. The payment of them might be an indicator of the effort and the risk that a family is prepared to take in order to send their children to a private school.

As to the national reporting requirements, we had that debate here last night. From my perspective and that of the government it is very clear that senators on the other side of this place would like the reporting requirements to focus on what goes in. Let us talk about what goes into the schools so that the teachers and the principals can yada, yada, yada at length. But there was a refusal to look at what comes out. My conclusion from that debate last night is that senators opposite are interested in the bureaucracy and the teachers, and we are interested in the parents and the students. We want information publicly available. The Democrats say, `Oh no, you cannot make it publicly available; people might get the wrong idea.' That is an extraordinary view to put, that information about schools and the outcomes that they achieve should not be publicly available.

We stand very firmly in favour of saying to Australian families: we do not want to dictate what you do in terms of schooling. You might send your kids to a state school that is primarily funded by the state, although with significant contributions from the Commonwealth. So you will get taxpayer funding if you go to a public school. But we also say: if you choose to send your kids to a private school you will get a degree of taxpayer funding that will very largely come from the Commonwealth government. We do not think that you should say to kids: your parents are either hard workers or lucky so you are not getting anything from us. That is more of the lowest common denominator argument that we so often hear from those who are bereft of a capacity to see how to make this country grow. I just put that briefly on the record to indicate—let us not pretend that the case has not been put here—that the case has been put and it is understood. The issue here is that you do not agree with it. I understand that and I accept that, but rehashing those arguments is not going to change anything.