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Wednesday, 2 June 2010
Page: 5010


Ms GILLARD (Minister for Education, Minister for Employment and Workplace Relations and Minister for Social Inclusion) (4:55 PM) —Thank you very much, Mr Deputy Speaker—I hope I have done that right! I rise in this matter of public importance debate to introduce something we have not heard so far—and that is the facts. First and foremost, let us just reflect on why we are here today with this matter of public importance, in which the member for Sturt has not even shown the basic courtesy to sit and listen to the reply. That is because he does not want to know the facts. That would puncture his argument—what he says publicly every day. He prefers to pretend, prefers to go by, the watch word of this opposition, which is being phoney.

We are here today because the member for Sturt’s ego has been stirred. On the day that the Auditor-General’s report was delivered into the public demain, the Leader of the Opposition and the member for Sturt went out for a press conference and they promised a forensic examination of me over Building the Education Revolution. They were full of huff and puff and vim and vigour. Oh dear, dear, it was such a scandal! Oh, they were so upset! Then we came to the parliament. Budget week came and went. Last week came and went. Monday came and went. Tuesday came and went. Anyway, we are finally here trying to save the member for Sturt’s face, to make it look like he is playing some role in the coalition—although we know that the discontent on the coalition’s backbench at his inept parliamentary tactics is the subject of regular discussion in the corridors. So we are here trying to save the member for Sturt’s face. After promising this hard-hitting attack, here we are with an MPI. I believe he asked me one question today, and that is it.

Anyway, this MPI is about effective management of the Primary Schools for the 21st Century program. So let us talk about the question of effective management, which I believe the member for Sturt at no point—amidst a spray of personal abuse—managed to get his way to in any real sense. Fact 1: if you are going to effectively manage a program, you have to support it and you have to believe in it. Of course, the opposition do not support this program and they do not believe in it. You do not need to take my word for that; just dial up Hansard where all of their votes against this program are recorded. Every member of the coalition voted against every dollar to every school. So you cannot effectively manage a program you do not believe in. And then, of course, to effectively manage a program you have to be committed to its continuation, and the opposition are not committed to its continuation.

The member for Sturt, the Manager of Opposition Business, took a personal explanation after question time today and he claimed to have been misrepresented when this side of the chamber indicated that the opposition was threatening the Building the Education Revolution. I understand that there are substantial political and factional differences between the member for Sturt and the Leader of the Opposition, but the position of the coalition going into the election is defined by the Leader of the Opposition. Let me record for Hansard so no Australian is under any misrepresentation the threat that a coalition government elected under the current Leader of the Opposition—the fourth Leader of the Opposition in far less years—would mean to Building the Education Revolution. These are the words of the Leader of the Opposition. This is the policy of the coalition going into the election. The Leader of the Opposition was on AM on 14 May. He was being interviewed about Building the Education Revolution. After a series of questions, the journalist asked him:

But the pot of money will be the same, the pot of money in Building the Education Revolution?

The Leader of the Opposition answered:

Well, look, um, ah, I’m not going to give you that absolute commitment.

There we go—case closed. The money for Building the Education Revolution is under threat from an opposition led by the current opposition leader—that is the fact.

Fact three is that in order to effectively manage a program you have to understand what the outcomes being sought for the program are. A key outcome of the Building the Education Revolution is supporting jobs, and day after day, because of their complete inability to understand the macro economy, to absorb the nature of the global financial crisis, to understand what it was going to mean and continues to mean for this country, the opposition cannot seem to understand that Building the Education Revolution has as a key outcome supporting jobs—and it is supporting jobs.

There was a very important set of economic statistics released earlier today, and they were the national accounts. They are telling us about growth in the economy, telling us about the growth that sustains jobs. It is abundantly clear from the national accounts that private non-residential building investment fell in the quarter and remains at a depressed level, and, without the substantial ongoing support provided by the Building the Education Revolution program, activity and employment in this sector would have been lower. So a key outcome of this program is supporting jobs. The opposition say to suspend it; the opposition want to cut it. They need to understand, and acknowledge in doing that, that they would be chucking people out of work, with everything that means for their families—the ability to put food on the table, the ability to keep a roof over your head because you can pay the mortgage. We know the Leader of the Opposition would prefer our economy was like New Zealand’s; we know he would prefer a deep recession; we know he is unconcerned about the prospect of people being out of work. Well, the government is not. Building the Education Revolution is so important to supporting jobs.

Day after day—we heard it from the member for Sturt today—in order to mischaracterise Building the Education Revolution they dismissively come in here and refer to Julia Gillard memorial halls and that kind of thing. It is political spin; we expect no substance from the opposition. We expect them to be all talk, with no real political action, and that is what we hear day after day. They come in with this phoney political packaging to try to make people believe somehow that what is happening in schools under this program is somehow inconsequential. Let us listen to the words of educators, of people who care, of people who know—not those sitting opposite but people who actually understand schools. Geoff Pelling, from Cooran State School, says:

We identified what the school needed and we look forward to sharing the facilities with the wider community …

…            …            …

I think we got an excellent result. It’s given us a 21st century approach to education to use with traditional learning.

At the Cowra South Public School, the principal has said:

Two years on we are now looking at a modern, permanent library for our students.

You never hear the opposition talk about libraries. Libraries—better for learning. He goes on:

The students all agree the new library looks fantastic and makes our school stand out. Students look forward to their library lessons each week because it is a comfortable, refreshing place to sit back, relax and read.

What about Principal Jane Warren—I have met her myself—at Bellaire, a state school in Geelong. She is an award winning principal. The multipurpose, flexible learning space that has been constructed in that school has transformed the way they are able to teach; they can now teach the way this award winning principal wants to teach. What about East Marden Primary School in the electorate of the member for Sturt? I have been there; I have seen their Building the Education Revolution project, and let me tell you they were delighted by the result. In order to effectively manage a program, you need to understand it—and clearly, from their dismissive rhetoric and their inability to understand anything about jobs, the opposition, each and every day, shows that they are disrespectful towards this investment in schools.

Let us look at another fact. In order to effectively manage a program you need to understand the kind of oversight it has been under. Today the member for Sturt is calling for a judicial inquiry; he has been out in the media saying we need a judicial inquiry and that it is very important. Around a year and a bit ago, he was out calling for an Auditor-General’s inquiry—it was absolutely vital; it would sort the whole thing out. And the Auditor-General did inquire. And we have received his report. I know what the member for Sturt wanted from the Auditor-General’s report—he wanted something that looked like the kind of report the former government got into regional rorts. That is what he was hoping for—he was hoping for a report as bad as that. Let us remind ourselves of it—20 recommendations made by the Auditor-General, and the Auditor-General said about regional rorts:

The manner in which the program has been administered over the three-year period to 30 June 2006 examined by the ANAO had fallen short of an acceptable standard of public administration.

That was a program of the Howard government. The member for Sturt, all pumped up, wanted an audit report just like that one. Of course, he did not get it. What he got was an audit report in which there are no recommendations made; an audit report in which the Auditor concludes in respect of the Primary Schools for the 21st Century program:

There are some positive early indicators that the program is making progress towards achieving its intended outcomes.

This is an audit report that included surveying school principals and it records the finding:

… more than 95 per cent of school principals saw the program as providing ongoing value to their school and their school community.

So, having received that audit report from the independent watchdog, now the member for Sturt wants a judicial inquiry. If he got a judicial inquiry I do not know what he would then want. Presumably he would want an International Criminal Court of Justice action. He is just forum shopping because the answer he has got from the independent watchdog is not the answer he wanted. The member for Sturt should think about the Auditor-General’s report and the findings of that audit report. Then he is on about ‘90 per cent’ and me supposedly misleading the parliament. If he genuinely thought that, wouldn’t he have moved a substantive motion ages ago, sometime near when he started to make the public claims that I was going to be under forensic examination in relation to this matter? But of course all of this nonsense about ‘90 per cent’ has been fully dealt with in Senate estimates and I would refer people to the transcript of the secretary of finance, David Tune, on 26 May 2010. So once again we have another phoney claim from the member for Sturt as he runs around.

Then there were claims made during the member for Sturt’s address, and a claim made before that during a ministerial statement on financial services—go figure!—that somehow I was unconcerned about the circumstances of the Tottenham Central School. I am not. That is why I have spoken to the principal today. That is why I have made arrangements to speak with the head of the P&C of that school. I understand that that school community is unhappy with their Building the Education Revolution project and I will be more than happy to talk to them about it. As has been a matter of public record for a number of weeks, reported in that great journal of record, the Daily Liberal, the Building the Education Revolution Implementation Taskforce is seized of this matter and Mr Brad Orgill, or a member of the task force on his behalf, will be visiting the school in the next few weeks. But I am concerned to speak to people associated with the Tottenham school. Indeed I have already spoken to the principal. I want to get value for money and they want to get value for money.

On the question of value for money, obviously what we have done is create the Building the Education Revolution Implementation Taskforce. The member for Sturt today criticised me—I get that—but impliedly criticising Mr Orgill is disgraceful. This is a leading Australian businessman leading this task force, which of course can get the documents it needs and is focused on value for money. It was a completely disgraceful attack. All of this is about covering up the cutbacks that they want to make to education: ripping out trades training centres—so no more—including ones promised to schools, with no more computers in schools, including those for kids who are waiting for them, no more teacher-quality money—that will end programs like Teach for Australia, getting the best graduates into the schools that need them the most—and no more productivity places, so jobseekers cannot get an opportunity to get a training place and get a job. We on this side of the House stand for better schools and a better education system. The coalition stands for neglect and ripping money out of schools. (Time expired)