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Wednesday, 14 September 2011
Page: 6054


Senator GALLACHER (South Australia) (13:20): I rise to speak about Building the Education Revolution. It was an enormous national undertaking, with around 24,000 construction projects. The vast maj­ority of these projects, approximately 92 per cent, have been completed, and 99 per cent have been commenced. This investment of $16.2 billion in school infrastructure by the Labor government significantly increased the infrastructure spend in an area that had been sadly neglected by the coalition government. We only have to look at the coalition's record to see that the Investing In Our Schools Program accounted for a tiny fraction of funding compared with the BER. I have had the great opportunity to experience the ben­fits that these projects have created. In my first two months as a senator for South Australia I have been welcomed into schools to visit and open their new or upgraded facilities. In these two months, it has been humbling to witness their appreciation for the investment they have received. Not only are principals expressing their appreciation; the parents, the community and, most impor­tantly, the students and teachers are doing so. At the end of May 2011, we measured the success of the Labor government's BER pro­gram. From its implementation, over 5,000 new buildings, over 4,000 new classrooms, over 2½ thousand new libraries, over 2½ thousand multipurpose halls, over 1,500 grounds and sporting facilities and over 250 science centres have been completed.

The Building the Education Revolution was an important part of the economic stimu­lus package that saved Australia from an economic meltdown. This stimulus package saved jobs. It is expected that the project will support around 120,000 jobs throughout its life. That stimulus kept Australia out of rece­ssion and kept unemployment low, unlike most other developed nations. Australia's unemployment currently stands at 5.3 per cent, compared with 9.1 per cent in the United States. So this economic stimulus package has worked. It was a major compo­nent in allowing our economy to function and was a major factor in the creation of over 750,000 jobs since Labor came to govern­ment in 2007.

In the Australian Primary Principals Association survey of 30 April 2010, 97 per cent of all respondents across all sectors reported that their students would benefit from the Primary Schools for the 21st Century program. An overwhelming 96 per cent also agreed that the National School Pride Program would benefit children, and more than 90 per cent of principals indicated that their schools were receiving projects that the community wanted. It is a real shame that these positive stories are not getting covered. When the principal of one school invited the media, the first question asked was whether there were any problems. When the reply was negative, there was no interest from the media. Sure, this is not a front-page news event for a newspaper, but for the local communities involved this is a great story.

In my short time as a senator I have been fortunate to open BER projects all over South Australia. I have been able to see the great work done in these schools, I have seen the refurbished classrooms at Richmond Primary School, the new library and refurb­ished classrooms at St Monica's school, the new library at St Ignatius' College, the new multipurpose hall at Catherine McAuley School, and the new multipurpose hall and classrooms at St Jakobi Lutheran School.

At every event, the school community has been extremely appreciative of the new facilities that the students are able to utilise, because people know that the investments made will go to the benefit of students. When I talked to the principals and staff of these schools, they seemed quite surprised that some people have been engaging in misinformation about the projects. They feel they received a great deal and, from their experience in talking with the wider commu­nity, people agree that these projects were great value for money. Catholic education representatives were glowing in their assessment of the Building the Education Revolution.

Talking to the students was simply wonderful. These are highly intelligent students, apparently insulated in this ever-changing technological world. The students absorb information at lightning speeds, and it gives me great hope for our future as a highly skilled and intelligent nation. That is why they need the best facilities at this stage of their lives. They need facilities that cater to students' educational needs but also give them great pride in their schools, making education more valuable and enjoyable. I think all acknowledge the fact that, without the government stimulus funding, many of these projects would have been only a dream of the school boards, principals, parents and friends and, indeed, students.

I would like to spend a bit of time talking about each school's project. Richmond Primary School was the first BER project I visited and I was highly impressed with the refurbished classrooms. Some of the year 7 students took me on a tour of the building, and they were able to articulate the benefits of the new classrooms. The students took great pride in the new buildings. Student Joshua Whitaker-Lockwood wrote in the school newspaper:

It stands sharp against its surroundings. It is pearly white and it is smooth and soothing to the eye. The building inside has swirling paintings hanging on the walls adding to the modern yet classy sense and reality. The colours on the building provide a gentle relief from the rest of the buildings which are all spotty, brown, brick walls which are sharp to touch. The building is very open with many windows allowing the sunlight to flood the rooms.

Obviously Joshua takes great pride in the new buildings. Principal Lindy Brooke, from Richmond Primary, said:

I have been working in education for 30 years and I have never seen this kind of investment before. The school was able to move into the 21st century from old classrooms built in the 1970's being replaced by new classrooms, badly needed because of the growth the school was experiencing. The project was able to employ approximately 150 workers.

The next school I visited was St Monica's, a catholic school with a rich history. They were able to construct a new library and to refurbish classrooms. The project is state of the art, and the school took great pride in the construction of the buildings by documenting the process with photographs and presenting a book to me and the Prime Minister. The value of the constructions was around $2.1 million and approximately 30 workers were employed. I understand that the BER project has enabled the elimination of old asbestos-ridden buildings and created vibrant new educational spaces and a library. The project has also created large play spaces in areas that were once restricted by older buildings. Year 7 student Jessica Harris of St Monica's school wrote a message to Prime Minister Gillard in the book they created. She wrote:

To Prime Minister Gillard, We hope that you enjoy this book. Please come to visit St Monica's to see our beautiful new learning areas.

Again, this is students taking great pride in their school. On the same day I was able to travel to the junior school campus of St Ignatius' College, another Catholic school, opening up their new $3 million library. Again the same sentiments were shared, and every person speaking remarked on the positives of the project. The project was supported by the employment of approximately 200 workers. The headmaster, Father Robert Davoren, reiterated to me:

The Saint Ignatius' College Junior School BER Project, the MacKillop Building, is a once in a lifetime opportunity. It has provided the College with the unique advantage of incorporating a significant historical site, used by Saint Mary of the Cross MacKillop, into the project itself. This exceptional environment will now give students the chance to learn more about the life of Mother Mary and the devoted work of the Sisters of St Joseph. The Library and classrooms will continue to benefit generations of students to come.

Just last week I also was able to visit the Catherine McAuley School. The Catholic Catherine McAuley School received $3.2 million for a multipurpose hall. The school also shares its grounds with Playford Primary School, which were able to build a new gym through their funding. This facility will enable the school to have a performing arts centre allowing greater opportunities in drama, music and the arts. Also the main hall will allow for whole-of-school gatherings for liturgies, assemblies and gymnastics. This is just another successful piece of school infrastructure and, importantly, it provided local jobs in the area. I would like to convey Principal Georgia Dennis's sentiments. She stated in her speech:

Whilst this facility has always existed in our Education Brief the realisation has only ever been the stuff of dreams—that is until the Federal Government announced the Building the Education Revolution Stimulus package and the dream evolved into the concept, the plan, the design and finally this amazing building.

She went on to say:

We convey our heartfelt thanks to the federal Government for providing the future focus and funds for these combined projects. Their foresight in the face of the economic crisis has enabled schools across the nation to build and use facilities that they would never have dreamed possible without expensive loans and fund raising from already burdened communities.

It was quite a poignant speech, because it clearly outlines the fact that none of this would have been a reality if it was not for the political courage of the Labor government. This is the same courage and vision that a coalition government would never have possessed.

Finally the last school I was able to visit was St Jakobi Lutheran School, who received just above $2.1 million in BER and National School Pride funding. The school constructed a new multipurpose hall, which will now directly benefit a growing student population within the school. The school has an extremely rich history and is situated in the rolling hills of the Barossa Valley, just outside Lyndoch. I must say the views from the multipurpose hall, looking out into the countryside, are truly world class. I hope the students do not get as distracted as I was on the day I was there. I understand that this will benefit not only the school but the whole community, who will be able to access the hall for community events.

I know over the next few months I will have even more BER openings to attend, mainly in the regional areas of South Australia. As I did with these schools, I will speak with all the stakeholders, such as the principals, students and the local community, to see if their project has been a resounding success, so much like the schools I have visited so far. The Building the Education Revolution that I have seen has been a proven success: not only have we seen the facilities that will provide many generations of students and the community with impro­ved resources, but the program will allow many schools to move into 21st century education facilities. Schools that were relying on 1970s facilities can now be proud that their students have the very best learning facilities. Our future leaders need to be taught in an environment that allows them to make good use of the opportunities they are provided.

The Labor government was able to do this, and in doing so it kept an economy going. These projects saved jobs in tough economic times and created jobs in an industry that was likely to suffer if the country went into recession. Thankfully, the Labor government steered the ship through the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression. As a result of Labor's good management, we see improved facilities for students and their local communities, an economy that avoided recession, a nation with strong economic fundaments and a country with low unemployment compared to the rest of the world.

I would like to finish by recording the thanks expressed by so many of these schools directly to the Prime Minister, Julia Gillard, for her role as education minister throughout the global financial crisis and for, most importantly, the implementation of the Building the Education Revolution.