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Wednesday, 17 March 2010
Page: 2125

Senator FERGUSON (4:55 PM) —I too would suggest that Senator Marshall gets a tape and has a look at what he said. He may wish to change unions or else join the Showmen’s Guild, I am not quite sure which. Much of what Senator Marshall has said in this matter of public importance is certainly no defence of this government’s so-called education revolution. This is not an education revolution; it is a building revolution. To talk about the building of gyms, halls and a music centre—which is partly learning—as an education revolution is the greatest misnomer I have ever seen.

Senator Furner interjected and said, ‘Talk to any school principal and parents and friends association; they love it.’ Who would not love it? The government comes with buckets of money that you do not have to raise at your school and the expense of which you do not have to justify. People can put in an enormous quote for any building. Try to find one principal and one parents-and-friends association that would say, ‘I don’t want the money.’ It is government money borrowed from the people to put into this so-called education revolution program. I am not the slightest bit surprised that principals and parents-and-friends associations love it. They might not love it in 20 years time when their children are still paying for it. I am sure Senator Furner’s children will not want to pay for this in 20 years time. The way things are going, with the amount of money that this government is borrowing and the lack of scrutiny on the tender operations that have gone into this whole education or building revolution, has to be seen to be believed.

Senator Marshall said, ‘Give us some examples.’ I have one from my home town. I am not going to name the contractor, so the contractor will not suffer. I can tell you that the foundations for the building are down—that is as far as it has got. It is well in excess of $1 million, to the best of my knowledge. The school is going to build a music centre for some 30-odd students in a school of 260. It is an area school that used to have 600 students. They knocked over the newest building, which was the junior primary school, to put this hall there—and it has not yet been built. Only the other day, I was approached by a staff member who said to me, ‘When this hall is complete, we will have to close five classrooms in the school.’ I said, ‘That is ridiculous; this is supposed to be an extra hall.’ He said, ‘We will have to close five classrooms because there is no budget for cleaning an extra room in the school. We as a community cannot raise it.’ Once they have to clean the new hall that is being built under this education revolution, they will have to close five classrooms in the school.

That is what I call a revolution! It should be a revolution, because people know that, in doing this and setting up these new halls, schools are getting buildings that most of them never asked for. They will always say yes if the government is giving something away; they will never say, ‘No, I don’t want it.’ They will always say, ‘Yes, I want it.’ Many of them never asked for them in the first place and, because they were given a Christmas present, they said, ‘Yes, we will take it.’

That is only one part of the matter of public importance today. We have had a lot of people talking about the buildings that are being put up and there are so many examples of people working out a quote, adding a bit and then thinking, ‘The government is going to pay for this, so I’ll add a bit more and, just for fun, I’ll add a bit more,’ and they still get the job. There is no scrutiny whatsoever of whether or not value for money is being obtained from the builders of these halls. I know that in country South Australia there are buildings that are costing twice as much as an equivalent building would have cost prior to this money being offered.

But what are the other parts of this matter of public importance today? One part is about delivering and connecting computers in schools. I remember that a Labor election policy was to revolutionise classroom education by putting a computer on the desk of every upper secondary student. What a farce. There were going to be over a million computers. So far I think about 180,000 have been distributed. Some who were promised in June last year computers when they went home for Christmas holidays still have not received them. A computer on every desk! We will get to the next election and they still will not have their computers. I am absolutely sure about that.

What about the promise to establish trade training centres? The Rudd government promised new trade training centres built in Australia’s 2,650 secondary schools. How many have been built? I think one. I know there is one in the Prime Minister’s electorate.

Senator Jacinta Collins —That’s not true. I’ll give you the details on it.

Senator FERGUSON —Perhaps you can give us the details, Senator Collins, but it certainly is not 2,650. Not only that, they have changed what they are offering. The program was so underfunded that schools were forced to pool funds to build something that resembles a trade training centre and time share access with other schools. This means that there could be one trade centre for every 10 schools—not the 2,650 that were promised by the Prime Minister prior to the last election.

They say they are going to deliver improved learning outcomes. Well, can I tell you that in the education revolution there is not much in the buildings—or many of them that have been built—that is going to improve the standard of education in Australia. If in fact the government is so sure that they are getting good value for money in the money that is being spent through these buildings that are being built, I would say let the Auditor-General have a good look. Let him have a good look and you will be exposed. This government will be exposed for the enormous rorts that have taken place in this industry. It is all right for Senator Marshall to say: ‘Show us. Show us.’ There are not many people who want to endanger the livelihoods of some contractors who have successfully tendered for these operations. But I can tell you that when they speak to you on a one-to-one basis they can give you example after example.