Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 2001 Week 8 Hansard (9 August) . . Page.. 2669..
MR SPEAKER: I call Mrs Burke.
Mr Berry: Are you going to ask about the 5,800 jobs that have gone since last September; or the rising unemployment under-
MR SPEAKER: Mr Berry, if you are not careful I will take that as your question.
MRS BURKE: Mr Speaker, my question is to the Minister for Education, Mr Stefaniak. Minister, I note that the government has undertaken to support the education of children by providing free school buses from 3 September this year to eligible children at an estimated aggregate cost of $27 million over the next four years. Minister, what is the value of this assistance to an average family with school age children? Has the minister considered alternative ways for using those funds?
MR STEFANIAK: I thank the member for her excellent question. The provision of a free school bus scheme for Canberra children was first promised by my party in 1995. That is an election commitment that we have been slower to fulfil but it was an important electoral issue in that campaign and I believe it was certainly a factor in the success of the party gaining government.
Of course, history and the Auditor-General have subsequently shown that the Labor Party left the ACT's economy in disarray-one might say, in tatters-with an operating loss of $344 million when we took over the treasury bench. I know that that will probably get a few opposition members going and Ted will not agree, but that is what the Auditor said.
We would certainly have liked to implement that commitment at the time but the first priority, of course, was to restore the health of the budget, and I think, Mrs Burke, you realise we have done that. There has been a big effort over the last six years to achieve that. We now have a balanced budget and that has enabled us to look again at that commitment and, indeed, a lot of other things that you see in the budget-and I am not going to talk about them.
We believe that parties should be held accountable for their promises. We can now afford to deliver on that promise. But we have gone a lot further than that. Not only have we been able to provide those funds-they come from transport, so I suppose it is irrelevant for me to speak about the alternative ways of using them-but we also provided an extra $91.5 million for education programs over the next four years.
Mr Stanhope: $27 million less than us.
MR STEFANIAK: I am very glad Mr Stanhope says "$27 million less than us" because I am going to talk about that in a second. But $40 million of that is for initiatives and new programs. Guess what-they have inherited all of those. They have said, "Yes, they are good programs. Let's do that." These are all of our programs. They might not have any good fresh ideas but at least they recognise good programs when they see them. I do not mind if they take some of our good ideas and use them.