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Thursday, 13 May 2010
Page: 2835


Senator MASON (2:32 PM) —My question is to the Minister representing the Minister for Education, Senator Carr. Is the minister aware that according to Australia’s leading construction cost survey, Rawlinsons construction handbook, a single-storey primary school building should cost between $1,300 and $1,400 per square metre to build? Is the minister also aware that in New South Wales a standard library delivered to hundreds of schools is costing $5,400 per square metre and that a standard canteen is costing $13,300 a square metre? How can the minister still maintain that the buildings imposed on schools under the Building the Education Revolution are good value for money?


Senator CARR (Minister for Innovation, Industry, Science and Research) —I thank Senator Mason for the question. I always enjoy a question from Senator Mason. He has had to wait in the queue for some time. Senators opposite have obviously been pushing ahead of him. The simple fact of life is that the Building the Education Revolution is a program of $16.2 billion which has been supporting jobs in local communities right around Australia—24,000 projects around Australia. We have seen 9,000 schools around Australia enjoy considerable benefit from this program. We have seen a full and thorough investigation into the claims that have been made.

Senator Mason, I have given you this advice on many occasions: the Australian is not the best source of advice that you could find. What you should do is go to the ANAO for advice on these questions. The ANAO have shown that the department of education’s governance arrangements have ensured that the BER and P21 are delivering improved education facilities to almost all primary schools in Australia.

Opposition senators interjecting—


The PRESIDENT —Order! Senator Carr, please resume your seat. When there is silence we will proceed. Senator Carr, continue.


Senator CARR —The Australian National Audit Office survey results reflect strong support for the program and confidence in the outcomes—95 per cent of principals were confident that the BER would improve their schools and provide ongoing value to their school and to the school community, while over 80 per cent of principals were confident the program would achieve its education— (Time expired)


Senator MASON —Mr President, I ask a supplementary question. Is the minister aware that, according to national quantity surveyors BMT and Associates, the standard school hall under the BER is costing taxpayers $5,800 per square metre? That is four times as much as a one- or two-storey air-conditioned office building. How can the minister still insist that the buildings imposed on schools under the Building the Education Revolution are good value for money?


Senator CARR (Minister for Innovation, Industry, Science and Research) —I know Senator Mason does his job in a manful way. He seeks to denigrate a program that is providing support to 9,000 schools around Australia. This program is probably the biggest single investment in the educational opportunities of the children of this country. But of course he is like a lot of opposition members and senators who come into this parliament and attack the BER and vote against it, but are happy to go back to their electorates and their communities and promote the successes of the program, and claim that as their own work. What we have seen across this country—and we will see it again and again— (Time expired)


Senator MASON —Mr President, I ask a further supplementary question. Is the minister aware that Rawlinsons now excludes the data about the BER projects from its industry-wide cost survey because it calls it ‘insane’ and ‘anomalous’ and says it would distort its nationwide construction data? Minister, who is insane: the most respected construction firm in Australia or the government, which claims the buildings are good value for money?


Senator Arbib —Tell us which schools, Brett.


Senator Mason —I’ll tell you anytime you like.


The PRESIDENT —Order! The time for debating these and other questions is post question time.


Senator Heffernan interjecting—


Senator Sterle interjecting—


The PRESIDENT —Order! Senators Sterle and Heffernan!


Senator CARR (Minister for Innovation, Industry, Science and Research) —What the government has done is to appoint an implementation task force to ensure absolutely that there will be value for money in the BER rollout. The task force has the power and resources to investigate complaints, particularly in regard to the issue of value for money. But that will not change the fact that opposition senators and opposition members will be fronting right around this country as we open project after project over the next few months, and they will be claiming credit for them, despite the fact that they have voted against these measures, despite the fact that they have argued against these measures and despite the fact that they have sought to undermine the education programs of this government. It is time for the opposition to come clean: what do they stand for, what are they committed to, and are they genuinely interested in running an education policy rather than a slur against schools in this country? (Time expired)