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Monday, 15 March 2010
Page: 2548

Mr LAMING (7:06 PM) —I would like to focus on the present, rather than reading from some archaic tablet about the history of education in Queensland, and commend this motion. We have to recognise Queensland teachers for the great work they do, and there is no better example of that than a Brisbane bayside initiative, the bayside excellence in teaching alliance, which is government and non-government schools working together to further the profession of teaching, to establish a network of teachers who will meet to talk about the advances in teaching and have a collegial dialogue about the great challenges that this great profession faces. We are expecting teachers from scores of schools in the bayside area. Attendance is already overflowing, and I think it will be a very successful meeting when it happens next week.

Unfortunately, these wonderful, talented teachers exist in a system that is not only broken but broke. I want to highlight the recent initiative to build seven schools in Queensland by a state government that actually has no money at all. Instead of embarking on a public-private partnership, it embarked on a private handover of structural debt because there simply is no public money to add to the solution anymore. The structured debt arrangement to build seven schools, including one in my electorate, for a total cost of around $300 million in today’s dollars, will cost the Queensland taxpayer $1.1 billion over 30 years because this decrepit state government could not find any private partner to fund the project. Every bank consortium failed to fund it completely, and in the end the government had to turn to a construction company to buy that commercial debt.

This is the saddest of days in funding education because, quite simply, the 30 years that it will take to pay off this structured debt will see the students of today become 40-year-old parents, with children, and potentially grandkids, of their own before the debt is repaid. The Bligh government will pay off two instalments over two years before they go to an election and they will leave the other 28 instalments to governments of the future to pay off. The Bligh government are artificially hiding their debt. The Bligh government are artificially not funding schools the way they should and they are abrogating their responsibility to provide schools in my electorate.

Let us get the record straight. There is no getting around the NAPLAN scores; there is no getting around the fact that this Premier, Anna Bligh, was the education minister from 2001 to 2005. And what were the scores after five years of ‘the smart state’ under this Premier? Reading scores were the lowest in the country, writing was the lowest in the country, grammar was the lowest in the country, bullying was the highest in the country, numeracy was the lowest in the country and punctuation was the lowest in the country. There is no getting around that and there is no getting around the lack of funding in the area.

The one thing that is absolutely startling and shines like a light is the flurry of excuses that have come out of this administration. We have had ever-increasing attempts to explain away this fall in outcomes for Queensland students, as a reflection of age and maturity, not having a prep year—every imaginable excuse. But what we are left with are committed teachers fighting for what they know is right in a situation where principals are not given the autonomy, independence and power to make their schools better places.

I phoned one of my principals and I said: ‘Give me a rough idea of how much you can spend in a discretionary way on your school.’ They said, ‘In a discretionary way—the money that I can actually devote to maintenance in my school? Mine is a band 4-5 school. Andrew, my budget is about $20,000 to $25,000 a year to spend on maintenance.’ That is an enormous shame. Take that figure and apply it to this structured debt arrangement—which is theft; it is transfer of resources straight to the private sector for schools that this state administration cannot build. And it is good to see a Queensland Labor MP here tonight facing that music, because that arrangement is simply transferring $700 million into the private sector for the privilege of hiding debt on behalf of the government—and that is the shame. That is the shame: this government that claimed a $15 billion GFC-induced bailout now discovers that it is $2.7 billion. But they will still sell off all those assets: the Port of Brisbane, the motorways, the rail, the forestry—poof, all gone in a puff of smoke. All of the dividends for the future have been lost to our children and grandchildren. All of that case for sell-offs was built on GFC-induced deficits which never materialised. All we have is government-induced debt and mismanagement, and the teachers and principals in the Queensland state system suffer as a result of the Bligh administration.