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Wednesday, 2 June 2010
Page: 5013

Mr JOHN COBB (5:10 PM) —The Deputy Prime Minister forgot to mention quite a few things. One which stands out is: why did the Catholic schools and other non-government schools in New South Wales get value for money while no other school in New South Wales did? The reason is they managed it themselves and the New South Wales government and the federal government were not running it. The New South Wales government did not get the opportunity to rip it off. To my amazement I just heard the Deputy Prime Minister say she was happy to talk to Tottenham. Well, Tottenham invited her to come out this morning and talk to them. They even built out on our front lawn a replica of their $600,000 canteen, a canteen that, at about eight metres by three metres, cost $26½ thousand per square metre, with no amenities inside it. A local builder quoted it at $80,000 but it cost the taxpayer $600,000. I notice, Deputy Prime Minister, that you do not want to stay to listen to this. It is getting a bit rugged for you, isn’t it?

I think it is quite incredible that, earlier, the Deputy Prime Minister, the Minister for Education, could stand there and tell us what great value the Australian taxpayer got, particularly in New South Wales, when the taxpayer was totally ripped off. In recent months the Australian public have become used to hearing about money being wasted by the Labor government. Pick up any newspaper and you see the pages are lined with literally billions of dollars worth of mismanagement, budget blow-outs and waste. There really are not very many stories as good as the BER program. Week in and week out in the Central Western Daily in Orange, and not from the Daily Liberal, there are stories about the Australian public not getting value for money.

Let me start this speech by saying that my colleagues and I are completely behind education, public or otherwise. However, we are behind sensible, well-planned and well-managed investments—totally unlike what we are seeing out of this program with the public school system. This morning on the lawns of Parliament House we saw the construction of a replica canteen based on the one being built at the Tottenham public school. At eight metres by three metres it is not big enough for a drinks fridge, a meat slicer, a pie warmer or a freezer but it is still costing the Australian taxpayer $600,000. It was no accident that the taxpayers association was down there with the parents of the Tottenham school. If the Deputy Prime Minister did ring up the headmaster of Tottenham, I dare say he would have got muscled like all of the headmasters, headmistresses and principals in my region have been. I have been called by them. They are not game to say who they are as their jobs are at risk. I feel very sorry for them. They are embarrassed. They are angry, as angry as the parents. But what can they do? Their jobs are on the line, especially those at schools of under 50 people which were guaranteed $250,000 buildings or whatever. I have had them ring me and say, ‘If we get 100 grand out of this we’ll be doing well.’ At one stage they were being charged about $30,000 for plans that were drawn up in 2003, plans that were six or seven years old. I think this is almost worse than the pink batts scheme.

You must wonder if the Deputy Prime Minister did not say to the Premier of New South Wales: ‘We know you are doing it pretty tough. We can’t just hand you over money. Have a go and see what you can get out of the BER scheme.’ But let me take you on a BER tour of my electorate, always remembering that the one I just mentioned, Tottenham School, were so angry that they drove for five hours to get here to present their case to a Deputy Prime Minister who refused to face them. So she should not stand here talking about how she will talk to them. She had her opportunity today. There was $19,000 on the breakdown of the costings of Tottenham School—$19,000 for a demolition and there was no demolition of anything done. But what does that matter? The Deputy Prime Minister says this is a great program. It is a great program if you have a construction company on the coast and you transport the workers in, because they certainly are not giving any money to anyone locally unless it is a non-government school where they do get the locals to do it. As I said, a local would have built this canteen for $80,000, not $600,000.

In the east at Mount Victoria, where the school was allocated $850,000, the original plan was to build a hard court cover and large brick classroom—reasonable goals without much money on offer. What they received is a Colorbond classroom, and even that is struggling to stay under the $850,000 mark. Cooerwull Public School, where their brand new hall described by a local councillor as a ‘giant boatshed’, cost the taxpayers $2½ million and only one local contractor got a cent out of it. In the middle of Calare, at the Claregate School, $250,000 of taxpayer funds paid for another modular design building that included $60,000 worth of design. I wonder whether that was also a plan they pulled out from 2003. Mullion Creek School received what was described by a P&C member as a ‘lined tin shed’ and this was just transported there. The original $250,000 price tag blew out by $24,000. Spring Hill’s modular classroom arrived with cracks in the wall and a sagging veranda and, despite all that, it was still over budget. Errowanbang Public School would be comical if it did not represent a huge waste of taxpayer funds. The school, which currently has 22 enrolled students, received a modular classroom. The problem is that there are two buildings in the school and the modular building cannot hold any more students as it houses the computers as well. Under the department’s guidelines, the school will not qualify for a second teacher until it gets at least four more students. So they can either opt to cram in any new students into the room or use the other classroom, which would leave the students unsupervised.

Nashdale Public School is one of the great examples of the Deputy Prime Minister’s BER scheme. When the school community received a quote from Bathurst based builder Bruce Hackett, it seemed this money would really provide the revolution that was promised—a library, staffroom, principal’s office, sick bay, interview room and toilets at a quote of $740,000. When the school could not raise the required deposit to self-manage—they don’t like them self-managing these things—they were forced to go with the Labor government’s option. They got a modular double classroom, no toilets, no disabled access, no air conditioning, no staffroom or entry. The cost blew out by another $150,000 over what would have been a totally new school from the local builder to $907,000.

Why were they so against locals managing their own thing? We would have got the kind of value the Catholic and the other non-government schools got. Do you think there are not any businesspeople on the P&Cs of these schools? They told the headmasters, ‘If you want to self-manage, you have to be personally responsible for the insurance.’ What headmaster could go ahead with that? It was designed to stop them doing it, having to go with the New South Wales education department, which brings us to this rubbish.

This is just a quick selection of the schools in my part of the world that have been let down by the Deputy Prime Minister’s BER spendathon, and there are more. I know blokes who got $2,000 a day to go and just erect some of these sheds that have been built on the coast and elsewhere instead of being built locally, simply because they were told they had to be done by a certain date—‘Don’t worry what it costs, we will foot the bill.’ There are principals and P&C groups who are too scared to talk about this because they worry about the consequences for their principal, their teachers and their chances of future funding, because there is one thing this government is—it is vengeful. We have seen many cases before where after the Deputy Prime Minister makes a phone call all signs of resistance fade into the nether.

The Deputy Prime Minister continues to spruik schools that are happy to receive the funding and happy with what they are getting, but it does not change the fact that the Australian taxpayer has been cheated. It was no coincidence that the Australian Taxpayers Association were here with Tottenham School today, because they are so incensed about the wastage. (Time expired)