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Thursday, 18 June 2009
Page: 3717

Senator FEENEY (2:07 PM) —My question is to the Minister for Innovation, Industry, Science and Research, representing the Minister for Education, Senator Carr. Can the minister update the Senate on the progress of Building the Education Revolution, a central plank of the government’s Nation Building Economic Stimulus Plan? In particular, can the minister—

Honourable senators interjecting—

The PRESIDENT —Senator Feeney, resume your seat. I missed part of the question. Just continue.

Senator FEENEY —In particular, can the minister update the Senate on recent media reports about Building the Education Revolution? Do they represent an accurate and balanced view of the program and do they reflect the widely-held views of Australian school communities?

Senator CARR (Minister for Innovation, Industry, Science and Research) —I thank Senator Feeney for the question. This is a program to build and refurbish facilities right across the country. It is a program that is benefiting 9½ thousand schools. It is a program that will enable a quarter of a million teachers to do their job more effectively. It is a program that will help our 3½ million primary and secondary students achieve their full potential. And what do we have arrayed against us on this issue? An opposition that is looking for a whinge-led recovery, and one media outlet. It may surprise some senators to learn that the media outlet in question is not the esteemed Victorian periodical Poodle Patter; it is the Australian newspaper, which this morning continued its campaign of trotting out someone, anyone, to denounce the program every day.

This morning it was a front-page rant about a school not getting what it wanted despite ‘agonising and calculated appeals to the opposition’. Everyone on this side understands what they mean about the agony. Perhaps those opposite can explain, however, what they mean by the calculation. The office of the Minister for Education confirms that the Victorian authorities have informed the Commonwealth that the school will indeed get the $3 million project that it proposed. School communities around the country have got right behind this program because they know that it is good for jobs and it is good for the kids. They should be demanding to know from the opposition why they voted against it.

Senator FEENEY —Mr President, I thank the minister for his answer and I have a supplementary question. Can the minister please update the Senate on related media claims that schools slated for closure and/or amalgamation are being awarded funds? Is there any foundation to these claims? What safeguards has this government put in place to make sure such events do not happen?

Senator CARR (Minister for Innovation, Industry, Science and Research) —The Building the Education Revolution guidelines are adamant that no school planned for closure will receive funding and that the funding due to schools planned for amalgamation will be used for the new school site. The Minister for Education has addressed each and every one of the false claims that have been brought forward, whether it be in the Australian newspaper or by the opposition. The funding due to amalgamating Queensland state schools, such as Inala West and Inala, Richlands and Richlands East, Dinmore and Riverview, will all go to the continuing school. The funding due to South Australian Gepps Cross Primary School will be spent on equipment for the new site, not the site scheduled for closure. The opposition’s willingness to peddle these false claims betrays their ideological antipathy to fighting the global downturn. (Time expired)

Senator FEENEY —I have a second supplementary question for the minister, Mr President. Can the minister update the Senate on media reports that contractors are overcharging? Is this credible given the competitive nature of the contemporary building industry? Has the global recession had no impact on the construction industry? And what safeguards have been put in place to make sure this does not take place?

Senator CARR (Minister for Innovation, Industry, Science and Research) —The Commonwealth’s funding arrangements with the states, the territories and the block grant authorities require that these authorities deliver value for money. They are required to report monthly on how the money is actually being spent. The shadow minister for education has tried to sow confusion by comparing apples with Schmackos, the cost of building to lock-up stage with the cost to the final fitout. Our buildings will have everything they need to make them fully operational.

Construction is always a low-bid industry, and in the difficult economic times competition becomes even more intense. Without this program, we would see hundreds of builders, tradespeople and service providers out of work. In fact, without the government’s stimulus measures since last October an extra 210,000 Australians would be out of work today. (Time expired)