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Wednesday, 2 June 2010
Page: 5018

Mr FLETCHER (5:30 PM) —This MPI debate is about one thing: whether or not the BER program Primary Schools for the 21st Century is being administered effectively. It is about whether the program is delivering value for money and it is about whether schools are getting what they want. Given the program is there, we now have a very clear focus on whether it is being efficiently administered and delivering value for money.

We have heard story after story of parents and school communities who are surprised and concerned by the poor value that they are receiving. For example, at Pymble Public School, in the electorate of Bradfield, there are two buildings being built. One is being built to replace a classroom that was burnt down in a fire, and the price that has been quoted for that building is roughly $1,700 per square metre. The other building, under the Building the Education Revolution program, is costing twice as much. This was reported by the Australian last week, and the president of the P&C association, Mr Peter Feather, while acknowledging that there were some differences between the two buildings that might contribute to some of the cost difference, said:

… he could not see why these two factors would more than double the square metre cost of what is essentially the same building.

The question is: how is the program being administered—is it being administered properly to deliver optimal value for money? When we hear comments about stimulus and jobs, none of that is a response in any way to the question of whether effective value of money is being delivered. After all, if we were getting better value for money, we could get more projects delivered for the same amount and we could get more jobs added to the economy. So the argument, ‘It’s economic stimulus so let’s not worry about value for money,’ frankly, makes very little sense.

It is clear when you look at the process that it is seriously flawed in a number of ways. The normal procurement disciplines you would expect when spending significant amounts of money are, sadly, not present—that is, the normal procurement disciplines designed to get the best value for money. We have seen the evidence of that in the materially better value for money that private and Catholic schools have been able to get. I have seen it myself in my own electorate, in schools like Holy Family Catholic Primary School in Lindfield, Our Lady of Perpetual Succour Catholic Primary School in West Pymble, Highfields Preparatory and Kindergarten School, Newington College Preparatory School, Abbotsleigh in Wahroonga and others. The Catholic and private schools have been able to administer the money themselves and they have driven the dollar much further.

The other aspect of poor process that is very concerning is the linkage between the Commonwealth government and the state government. At a meeting of the Northern Sydney Regional Council of P&C Associations which I attended on 29 March, Mr Angus Dawson, Program Director of the BER for the New South Wales government, said that their challenge was to spend $3.5 billion in 24 months and he gave some very interesting examples of the way that this is driving up the prices being paid for these projects. For example, he said Laminex had run out of product and ‘we have cornered the market in the Southern Hemisphere for whiteboards’. In other words, basic procurement disciplines cannot be achieved because so much money has been dumped into the system in such a short time that, naturally, the prices of inputs have gone up very significantly.

What we have is poor administration of this program and poor value for money that is letting down schools. It is also letting down taxpayers. It is very disappointing that the response that we get is simply a referral to the Orgill inquiry, even though there is lack of clarity about when that inquiry is actually going to report and, more importantly, what actions will be taken in response to that inquiry should it find that there has been the poor value for money that is just so evident from the complaints that are coming in from parents and school communities. I certainly want to pay tribute to the concerned parents and school principals who have raised these issues. We have a program which, sadly, does not reflect good procurement practices and good procurement disciplines, and an enormous amount of money is being wasted. (Time expired)