Senator FIFIELD (Victoria) (Deputy Manager of Opposition Business in the Senate) (2:57 PM) -My question is to Senator Carr, the Minister representing the Minister for Education. Can the minister confirm that under Ms Gillard’s watch not one of the computers under the computers in schools program has yet been connected by the federal government to the fast up to 100 megabytes per second fibre broadband as promised at the time of the 2007 election?
Senator CARR (Victoria) (Minister for Innovation, Industry, Science and Research) -What I can assure Senator Fifield of is that the computers in schools program has been a very great success. I can also confirm that the coalition has signalled that it will end the digital education revolution, including the National Secondary Schools Computer Fund. In total, I can confirm that the coalition wishes to take $700 million from the digital education program, and $700 million would see a substantial reduction in the opportunities for students to enjoy the benefits of computers. We all know that computers are essential learning tools in the classroom. When I say we all know, all except the Liberal Party knows how important-
Senator Brandis -Mr President, I rise on a point of order on relevance. The question was directed to whether or not computers had been attached to the network. A commentary on the Liberal Party’s education policy, or assertions about it, cannot possibly be a relevant answer to that question.
The PRESIDENT -I draw the minister’s attention to the question. Senator Carr, you have 58 second remaining to answer the question.
Senator CARR -What I can tell the Senate is that the government have provided $1.4 billion for the program. Seven hundred thousand computers have been funded, 300,000 have been installed and we are well on the way to reaching our target of one computer for each student in years 9 to 12. We contrast that with the coalition’s attitude-
Senator Mason interjecting-
Senator Sherry interjecting-
The PRESIDENT -Senator Sherry and Senator Mason! Senator Carr, I draw your attention to the question. You have got 25 seconds remaining.
Senator CARR -What I can assure the Senate is that Labor have provided more computers in two years than the Liberals did in the 12 years that they were in government. Now we have their plan exposed: $700 million will be cut from the program under a coalition government. That is their attitude. They are a bunch of troglodytes. (Time expired)
Senator FIFIELD (Victoria) -Mr President, I ask a supplementary question, which may provide the minister the opportunity to inadvertently stray near an answer. Since Ms Gillard has already broken one-half of this election promise, can the minister explain to almost half a million Australian students why, three years into the program, they still do not have their laptops? Can the minister guarantee that all the remaining computers will be delivered and connected before December 2011 as promised?
Senator CARR (Victoria) (Minister for Innovation, Industry, Science and Research) -What this government is doing is investing $2.4 billion over seven years in the Digital Education Revolution, and $2.3 billion for the National Secondary Schools Computer Fund. By contrast, the Liberal Party is talking about taking away $700 million. Under the previous government, we saw 3,000 flagpoles delivered and, under this government-
Senator Brandis -Mr President, on a point of order: the minister is in plain defiance of your ruling. The question was whether he could explain to half a million Australian students the failure to deliver laptops and whether he could give an assurance that the program will be delivered by December 2011. A commentary or a criticism of the Liberal Party’s policy has no bearing on the answer to either of those questions. This is one of several occasions in this question time when Minister Carr has been in open defiance of your ruling and your authority.
The PRESIDENT -Senator Carr, you have got 31 seconds remaining to address the question that has been asked.
Senator CARR -To date, the government have provided over $1.4 billion through the fund to assist 2,900 schools. What we saw under the Liberal government was that they provided a great many flagpoles-3,000 of them. This government has provided 3,000 new libraries full of computers.
Senator Williams -Mr President, on a point of order: for years I have listened to screaming trucks and screaming tractors, and now I sit here listening to a screaming Carr, as in Senator Carr. Could you please ask him to tone it down a bit?
The PRESIDENT -That is not a point of order. Senator Carr, I do draw your attention to the fact that there are 12 seconds remaining to answer the question that has been asked.
Senator CARR -Since Senator Williams has raised his intervention in the way that he has, I can draw attention to his miserable performance when it comes to the so-called $1 billion regional education fund, which he has revealed to one and all- (Time expired)
Senator FIFIELD (Victoria) -Mr President, I ask a further supplementary question. I am getting a bit nostalgic for a bit of programmatic specificity, I must confess. Can the minister confirm that Ms Gillard has been too busy spinning the shambles of her $16 billion BER program to pay attention to Labor’s computers in schools promise? Can the minister also confirm that, under Ms Gillard, this program has had a $1.2 billion blow-out, has delivered less than 50 per cent of promised laptops and no broadband connections as promised in 2007? How can Australians trust this Gillard government?
Senator CARR -The senator talks about trust. What we found with Senator Williams’ comments about the National Party’s so-called $1 billion fund was in reality merely a fund to use interest off that fund-
Opposition senators interjecting-
The PRESIDENT -Senator Carr, you should come to the question that has been asked.
Senator CARR -Mr President, this so-called fund was in fact financed by removing 120,000 computers in schools and $400 million-
Senator Brandis -Mr President, on a point of order going to relevance: this is the fifth time this question time that Senator Carr has openly defied your ruling and proceeded when you have called him to the question-as you did before. Mr President, you need to assert your authority over this minister, who is defying you.
The PRESIDENT -Senator Brandis, you know as well as I do that I cannot instruct a minister how to answer the question. I can draw the minister’s attention to the question. If there is something that needs to be debated post question time, you can debate it then.
Senator CARR -The Liberal Party’s programs are actually being funded by cutting computers in schools. That is the point. They are actually withdrawing support for computers in schools, because they are essentially knuckle-draggers when it comes to education.
Senator Abetz -Mr President, on a point of order: sessional orders require that the minister be directly relevant to the question that was asked. This is now the sixth time that somebody on the coalition side has been forced to get to their feet to remind you, Mr President, of that sessional order. I also invite you to consider the fact that, whilst you cannot direct a minister how to answer the question, if the minister continues to defy your request that he be relevant to the question asked you have the authority to require the minister to resume his seat. I invite you to do that.
The PRESIDENT -The minister has 20 seconds remaining to answer the question.
Senator CARR -This government take the digital education revolution very seriously, because we understand how important computers are in education. This is in sharp contrast to the incredibly backward attitude we hear from the Liberal Party and of course from the National Party. When it comes to the use of computers, they really are in the Stone Age. (Time expired)