Mr CRITTENDEN: My question without notice is to the Minister for Education and Training, and Minister Assisting the Premier on Youth Affairs. What has been the response to the New South Wales Government’s back-to-school allowance?
Mr SPEAKER: Order! I remind honourable members that a number of them, including the honourable member for Ermington, are on three calls to order.
Mr AQUILINA: The back-to-school allowance program has been an outstanding success.
Mr SPEAKER: Order! I call the honourable member for Lane Cove to order.
Mr AQUILINA: The Government recognises the extra drain on the family budget that comes with the new school year. The pressure on families to meet the wants and demands of schoolchildren is greater than ever. Even the basics can be costly. The Carr Government is helping to ease the burden: it is giving something back to New South Wales families. While the Opposition carps and complains and tries to sort out whether to keep or scrap the allowance, public acceptance of the back-to-school allowance is overwhelming. More than 80 per cent of the almost 63,000 callers to the back-to-school
allowance call centre supported the allowance and were pleased with the service provided by the Department of Education and Training. Only 0.3 per cent said they were unhappy. The graph speaks for itself.
Mr O’Doherty: On a point of order. The Minister may need pictures to understand this, but he is not allowed to display them in the House.
Mr SPEAKER: Order! The Minister may allude to a chart, but he should not display it in the manner he did a moment ago.
Mr AQUILINA: Some of those endorsements of the Government’s initiative on the back-to-school allowance speak for themselves. There have been many endorsements from just about every electorate in the State. I refer to Linda from Ballina. Does the honourable member for Ballina know Linda?
Mr SPEAKER: Order! The honourable member for Ballina need not respond to that question.
Mr AQUILINA: Linda from Ballina said:
Not to be outdone, Harriet of Tyagarah, also in the electorate of Ballina, said:
As a single mother of two school aged children it was certainly a pleasant surprise. I will certainly be using the money wisely towards schooling costs.
Trisha from Batemans Bay said:
. . . thank you for the $50 you sent me for my son Roland and in anticipation of the $50 you will send for my son Kai.
Jane from Caringbah in the electorate of Cronulla said:
As a sole parent of three school-aged children, two of whom are teenagers, it is not always easy to fund all the girls’ educational requirements, and the contribution you have made has made a huge difference.
Mr Photios: On a point of order. The standing orders of the House require a Minister who is quoting from documents to make that documentation available or define or designate where it comes from. At the moment the Minister is using possibly fictitious names and there is no evidence that even three people support his back-to-school allowance. The Minister should be required to ascertain the validity of those documents.
Mr SPEAKER: Order! I do not uphold the point of order.
Mr AQUILINA: I would be very happy to table the documents. I looked in vain for one from the honourable member for Ermington’s mum. Joy of Picnic Point, Debbie from Beverley Hills, Pauline from Manly Vale, Janice from Coolamon and Janet from Beecroft -
Mr D. L. Page: How many sisters have you got?
Mr AQUILINA: Sadly, I have none. I wish I did. Narelle from Frederickton, Dagmar from Bowraville, a mother from Wentworthville and Alison from Niagara Park - the list goes on and on. I even have an endorsement from the electorate of the honourable member for Ku-ring-gai, from Jane of Hornsby Heights.
Mr SPEAKER: Order! The Minister will cease referring to correspondence.
Mr AQUILINA: The payments have been made on time and, for the vast majority, ahead of the original schedule. The overwhelming community support for the allowance stands in stark contrast to that of the Opposition.
Mr AQUILINA: All we ever hear from the honourable member for Ku-ring-gai is waffle, flip and flop. The Opposition’s position, and that of the honourable member for Ku-ring-gai, on the $50 back-to-school allowance has become a joke. The honourable member waffles on. One minute he is saying something and the next minute he is saying something else. We do not know what the stance of the Opposition is in relation to this popular program.
Did you cash the cheque?
Mr SPEAKER: Order! I call the honourable member for Ku-ring-gai to order for the second time.
Mr SPEAKER: Order! I call the honourable member for Ku-ring-gai to order for the third time.
Mr AQUILINA: The honourable member for Ku-ring-gai refuses to answer. Did you cash the cheque?
Mr SPEAKER: Order! I have now called the honourable member for Ku-ring-gai to order three times. I ask the Serjeant-at-Arms to remove him.
Mr Hartcher: On a point of order. The Minister for Education and Training was repeatedly baiting the honourable member for Ku-ring-gai across the Chamber. He asked, "Have you cashed the cheque?". The honourable member for Ku-ring-gai was not interjecting, in violation of your ruling, but responding to questions put by the Minister for Education and Training. It is the Minister who is out of order.
Mr SPEAKER: Order! I will hear no more on the point of order. The point taken by the honourable member for Gosford is perfectly correct, but a member who is being baited is under an onus to restrain his interjections. I have always sought to maintain the decorum of the House by ordering the removal of any member who continues to defy the Chair after having been called to order three times. During question time the Chair overlooked a number of interjections by the member for Ku-ring-gai. He has now been called to order twice in rapid succession, and there is little the Chair can do to maintain the decorum of the House other than to order that he be removed. I ask the Serjeant-at-Arms to remove the honourable member for Ku-ring-gai for the duration of question time.
[The honourable member for Ku-ring-gai left the Chamber, accompanied by the Serjeant-at-Arms.]
Mr AQUILINA: Eleven months since the Government announced the scheme, a full two months after the first payments were sent to parents, and more than $44.5 million having been cashed, the Opposition is still struggling to decide whether it wants to keep or scrap the program. The Government is fully committed to the $50 back-to-school allowance and will not be scrapping it. It is about time the Leader of the Opposition worked out what he will do. When will the Leader of the Opposition tell parents what he plans to do with their $50? On 17 February the Leader of the Opposition was reported on ABC radio as refusing to say whether he advised that the $50 back-to-school allowance be paid to parents at the beginning of next year if he becomes Premier. He stopped short of saying whether a coalition government would axe it.
Two days later the honourable member for Ku-ring-gai told 2UE listeners he refused to confirm that a coalition government would abolish the allowance, while indicating that the payments could go direct to the schools but not to the parents. But he said, "We have no plans to scrap the allowance." If they proceed down this path they will incur the wrath of many parents, including Jenny, from Mannering Park, Swansea, who wrote telling me:
I had not expected to receive, nor had I sought, any money towards Andrew’s schooling costs and I am really pleased to have this assistance. I really do appreciate your government’s sensitivity -
Giving the money directly to schools has taken it away from parents. If the Opposition is going to scrap the allowance by giving it to schools, it should tell parents that is what it plans to do. What will the Leader of the Opposition tell Amnon of Burwood-Strathfield, who wrote to the Premier saying:
We spent our $100 cheque on buying shoes, shirts sports shorts, socks and pencils. I support the idea of this money being given directly to parents rather than schools.
A lovely letter. I will be pleased to table it.
Mr Hazzard: On a point of order. The Minister is being tediously repetitious and also has failed to identify the writers of the letters. I quote from Decisions from the Chair, at page 54:
Thank you for the $50 you gave to my mummy. She bought me a pair of school shoes for $45. I like them very much.
The Minister has mentioned numerous letters. He should let the House know who signed each of these letters, and he can do that by tabling the letters.
Mr SPEAKER: Order! The member for Wakehurst would be aware that the Minister is not reading the whole of the correspondence. He has referred to the letter and to its author. It is a matter for him whether he chooses to table the documents.
Mr AQUILINA: That is a lovely little letter. I have very little more to add. Once again, a negative, knocking Opposition that criticises everything is criticising a welcome initiative by the Carr Labor Government. The coalition has nothing positive to say, no policies, no plans, no ideas, and, if it had its way, no back-to-school allowance either.
A member reading a letter must indicate by whom it was signed.