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Wednesday, 2 June 2010
Page: 5006


Mr PYNE (4:40 PM) —The school hall stimulus program, otherwise known as the Julia Gillard Memorial School Halls Program, or the school halls rip-off program, is a tale of rorting, rip-offs, duckshoving, substitution by state governments, blow-outs, over-inflated costings, deception, disappointment and the misleading of parliament and of the people. But, ultimately, it is a failure of responsibility by the minister to do her job. There is no untruth that the minister will not tell to avoid taking responsibility for her failure.


Mrs Bronwyn Bishop —The queen of failure!


Mr PYNE —As the member for Mackellar has said, she is the queen of waste and the queen of deception. Let us take the $1.7 billion blow-out in the school hall stimulus program as the first example. The minister tried to blame the department of finance for making a mess of the costings. She misled the parliament and the people on 10 September and 6 May when she said, on 10 September, that more money was ‘going into this program because it is going gangbusters, because more schools want to be in this program’. She said:

Our Finance Department produced a costing of 90 per cent, assuming that the uptake by schools would be 90 per cent.

But the truth, of course, was put on full display in the Auditor-General’s report a few weeks ago, when the Auditor-General reported:

Ultimately, the need for the additional funding provided by the Government in August 2009 arose from most schools having sought the maximum payments available. It did not flow from any deficiencies identified in the procurement processes or other activities of Education Authorities in delivering the program

But, more importantly—and this is the key quote:

… nor was it the result of more schools seeking to participate than had originally been forecast.

So the Minister for Education in September last year said:

More money is going into this program because it is going gangbusters, because more schools want to be in this program.

But, in fact the Auditor-General put the lie to that statement to this parliament by specifically reporting that there was no truth to the suggestion that there was a $1.7 billion blow-out because of more schools taking up the program. But instead of taking responsibility for her failure, for her inbuilt blow-out, which she knew from the beginning was going to be a blow-out of $1.7 billion in magnitude, she attempted to blame the department of finance—because this minister can never be wrong. She always has to duckshove responsibility to someone else—it’s the principals’ fault, or it’s the P&C’s fault, or it’s the state government’s fault, or it’s the department of finance’s fault. No wonder the minister for finance briefed Glenn Milne’s column of last Monday, outlining in stark relief for everyone to see how it was the Minister for Education’s fault and her mistake and that she had misled parliament. I can tell the House that for certain, because I know that Glenn Milne did not even contact me about that column—he only needed to speak to Lindsay Tanner, the Minister for Finance and Deregulation, to get all the information he needed to be able to lay it out for all to see that this minister was more than prepared to mislead the parliament rather than take responsibility herself for her failure.

Let us take a look at the evidence that has stacked up against this government’s claims about the school halls stimulus rip-off. Tottenham Central School, in the member for Parkes’ electorate, just today came to Canberra because they are so angry and so outraged that their cubbyhouse canteen cost $600,000—that much for a canteen that they cannot even fit a fridge into, a pie warmer into or an oven into; a canteen that has not even got a preparation area. That is according to Rick Bennett, the P&C chairman, who attended the rally—as did the member for Cowper, who is quite rightly also outraged by the waste and mismanagement. They have not even got a preparation area in their cubbyhouse canteen; they have to use the counter to prepare the sandwiches for the kids at their school because they have wasted $600,000 on a canteen that is not up to being used for the purpose that it was built for.

What really makes the parents, friends and principals in government schools angry is that they know that if they went down the road to the local Catholic school or the local independent school—the non-government schools—where the program was essentially run in the same way as the previous government’s Investing in Our Schools Program, they would find that those schools did get value for money. However, the government sector has been ripped off blind, and the person who is supposed to be standing up for them—the minister, who is sitting at the dispatch box—has done nothing except duckshove, avoid responsibility and accuse either the Australian or the opposition of making up or fabricating examples of waste and mismanagement. They know that what this minister has really done, ironically, is preside over a widening of the gap between the non-government and the government sectors in terms of infrastructure and facilities.

The government sector is rightly furious, because when parents send their children to government schools they believe that their infrastructure is not as good as the non-government sector. They hoped that, when the government announced that it was going to spend $16.2 billion of taxpayer money on new infrastructure, they might get value for money and they might get better resources, but what they really got were cubbyhouse canteens. Down the road at the Holy Trinity School in New South Wales they used $800,000 and they got a canteen with cold rooms, many counters, necessary fridges, pie warmers and heaters—everything you could possibly need in a canteen—for one tenth of the cost that they achieved in government schools.

The issue of the Quaama Public School was raised today by the member for Gilmore. That school has spent $800,000 on walkways and breezeways for their local school but there are homes in the electorate of Eden-Monaro where, for $480,000, you can get a full family home. As the member for Gilmore pointed out, that is half the cost of the rip-off that occurred in Quaama Public School. No wonder the Vice-President of the P&C, Debbie Platts, has said that the waste that has occurred under this scheme is mind-blowing.

All the minister needs to do is get out of her ivory tower and go and speak to the angry parents and friends. She should go and speak to principals like Henry Grossek and the principal and P&C chairman at the Hastings Public School, or go to Berriedale, where I have been with the Leader of the Opposition, to find out what the people really think about the rip-off that is part of the school hall program. The Hastings Public School has become emblematic, because in 2003 they managed to build a covered outdoor learning area for $78,000. In June last year, they were told a covered outdoor learning area which is slightly bigger would cost $400,000. By December it was going to cost $954,000. The New South Wales department of education’s audit office found that there was nothing untoward about this contract. Sure, it was taken off the drawing board because of the campaigns by the opposition and the parents and friends, but if it wasn’t for that campaign, $954,000 would have been spent building a covered out-door learning area which experts say should not have cost any more than about $200,000.

And we do not need to rely just on parents, friends and principals; the Rawlinsons construction handbook points out that a public school—a government school or non-government school—building should cost about $1,350 per square metre, and yet this government is costing the same buildings out for $4,500 per square metre. And that is not even comparing canteens; that is just comparing general buildings.

We know that the minister keeps insisting that fees cannot be charged at more than four per cent by state governments and contractors, yet time and again stories have appeared in the media—particularly in New South Wales, which has released the data, unlike the other states—where some contractors like the Reed construction group are charging 20.96 per cent of the contracted price in management fees and site fees on every single site. Even when the same building has been built in dozens of places across New South Wales for upwards of seven years they are charging the same fee for drawings, architects plans and site management at every single site. They are ripping the taxpayers off blind.

We have seen state substitution at Yankalilla Area School in South Australia, Stirling East Primary School, Basket Range Primary School and Macclesfield Primary School. The schools are being told to use their BER money to build water tanks for their schools although that is the responsibility of the state government. The state government is shifting those responsibilities to the federal taxpayer.

There is still billions to spend on the school hall rip-off program—$5½ billion—and yet the minister is committing that $5½ billion before her handpicked taskforce has handed down its recommendations in August. If we needed any more evidence that the Orgill taskforce is simply window-dressing, and another opportunity for the minister to duckshove responsibility to someone else, then this is it. The taskforce is reporting in August. The minister is rushing the money out before the taskforce reports, making a mockery of her claims that she is in the least bit interested in how to make sure that taxpayers get value for money. Brad Orgill has already admitted, on the Ray Hadley program today, that he cannot access the costs for every contract unless there is a complaint made about a school. On this side of the House, we expected that when the task force was established—instead of our, preferred judicial inquiry—Brad Orgill would be given all the costings in all the schools for all the contracts—

Opposition members—He should have!


Mr PYNE —And he should have, as my colleagues say, so that he could examine every contract and work out for taxpayers whether they were getting value for money. As members said during question time, what is the point of a complaint being made about a COLA or about a canteen being built after the bricks and mortar—or, in more cases, the prefabricated buildings—are in place and the money has already been spent. What is the point of Brad Orgill investigating money that has already been wasted. We expected, and this minister needs to explain, how it is that a task force that should be recommending improvements has not got access to every contract in every school before a complaint is made. This is no way, Mr Acting Deputy Speaker, to run a country.

Here is a minister who thinks that she can giggle and toss her hair on Channel 9 on a Friday morning into the Prime Minister’s job, supplanting Kevin Rudd, having only ever delivered in her portfolio abject failure and expensive underperforming programs. There is no better example than the school hall rip-off program, where only recently in estimates the Auditor-General was able to say that it was not possible for the government to claim that they had achieved value for money. He answered Senator Mason’s questions by saying that he was correct when he said that there was no way the government could guarantee it had achieved value for money. Mr Acting Deputy Speaker, being Prime Minister takes a lot more than having a cosy relationship with the press gallery. It takes hard work, it takes having runs on the board, and if the government believes that its answer to the sinking approval ratings of the Prime Minister is to replace him with the Deputy Prime Minister what it will find is that the public will soon discover that all this minister has done is deliver failure and duck shoving. The school hall program was supposed to make the Deputy Prime Minister look good, but it will hang around her neck like a rotten carcass, leaving nothing but the stench of failure behind her.


The DEPUTY SPEAKER (Hon. AR Bevis)—The member for Sturt, particularly in his role as Manager of Opposition Business, should be aware that the correct way to address the chair, when there are occupants other than the Speaker, is Mr Deputy Speaker. There is not a position of acting Deputy Speaker. There is, from time to time, an Acting Speaker. You might just like to adopt the proper forms of the House in future. I did not interrupt him when he was speaking, but he would be well to remember that. I call the Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Education.