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Labour's figures on laptops don't compute

By Sinclair Davidson and Alex Robson - posted Thursday, 22 November 2007


Labor leaders used to promise that no child would live in poverty. The Coalition’s economic management has been so good that they are now forced to guarantee that no child will be without access to a laptop computer.

There has been little said about how Labor's education policies will improve the quality of our education system or learning outcomes.  But this is the new Labor spin: anti-poverty platitudes are out and computer clichés are in.

Actually, Labor seems to believe that working families have done so well under the Coalition that one computer may not be enough to buy their vote.

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Let’s go back to the first week of the election campaign when Labor told us that school children need a laptop.

Never mind that laptops cost hundreds of dollars; that childrens' school supplies frequently go missing; and that laptops would overburden already over-weighted school bags.

Kevin Rudd's much anticipated tax plan simply consisted of some families being able to claim a rebate on some school expenses, including computers.

Now fast forward to week five of the campaign. Mr Rudd promised one billion dollars over four years to "turn every secondary school in Australia into a digital school".

Under the policy, schools can apply for grants of up to $1 million for computers or computer related expenditure. So even if (courtesy of the Rudd tax rebate) a child already owns a laptop at home, they could conceivably have access to a taxpayer-funded computer at school as well.

Why is this wasteful duplication needed? There is already a high level of computer penetration in Australia - 68.9 per every 100 people, which puts us at sixth among 122 countries ranked by the World Economic Forum.

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And what will it cost the taxpayer? Technical support for the computers, running costs, insurance costs and housing costs for school computers are likely to be very high.  Under the laptop plan those costs are absorbed by the family, but under the school plan they would be borne by the school itself.

The ALP says its secondary school grant scheme will cost $1 billion over the forward estimates out to 2011. This figure is very interesting because Rudd used it last week when he claimed that he was the more fiscally responsible candidate.

According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics there were 2,659 schools with secondary students in 2006.

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About the Authors

Sinclair Davidson is a senior fellow at the Institute of Public Affairs and Professor in the School of Economics, Finance and Marketing at RMIT University.

Dr Alex Robson is a lecturer in economics at the Australian National University.

Other articles by these Authors

All articles by Sinclair Davidson
All articles by Alex Robson

Creative Commons LicenseThis work is licensed under a Creative Commons License.

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