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Thursday, 24 June 2010
Page: 4382

Senator MASON (4:18 PM) —Mr Acting Deputy President Trood, let me ask you a question. Who has been responsible for the greatest administrative failure, the greatest waste of money and the greatest administrative shambles since Federation? Let me give you a little clue. I might just tease the Senate for a second. It is a $16 billion question.

Senator Ronaldson —The Prime Minister.

Senator MASON —It is a $16 billion question, and you guessed it, Senator Ronaldson: it is the Prime Minister—brought to the Australian people by the union movement; part of that gang of four who ran the country who are responsible for our lows. Those with a historical bent like you, Acting Deputy President, realise that Ms Gillard is more the Madame Mao of the Gang of Four. Mr Garrett presides over the pink batt fiasco and wastes about $2 billion and now he spends most of his time shepherding koalas across the road. Ms Gillard presides over the shambles of the school hall program, and what happens to her? She becomes Prime Minister. Mr Garrett would no doubt feel upset that he did not waste a bit more money—because then the union movement might have thought that he qualified to become Prime Minister as well.

The Senate committee’s report details some themes out of about 10,000 school projects, and some very important themes have emerged. It has emerged that Catholic and independent schools who managed their own school building projects are nearly universally happy with the outcomes. If school principals, P&Cs and local communities controlled the building projects, they were happy with the outcome. But, on the other hand, state schools—attended by about 70 per cent of students in Australia—are largely unhappy. These are the building projects administered by state Labor governments, and nearly 60 per cent—three in five—state primary school principals were not satisfied that there was value for money in their school projects. Nearly 60 per cent of school principals were not satisfied.

And why would they be satisfied? The building costs were typically double for government schools and often much, much more. Rawlinson, who produce the most respected benchmarks for the construction industry, described the cost of state school buildings as ‘insane’ and ‘anomalous’. Billions of dollars spent by Ms Gillard and those costs were ‘insane’ and ‘anomalous’. The current Prime Minister presided over a scheme where the expenditure was—as described by Rawlinson—’insane’ and ‘anomalous’. Imagine this: state Labor governments ripping off state schools. Can you imagine it? A party supposedly indebted and committed to state schools and state Labor governments rip off state schools. And what was Ms Gillard doing while this was happening? She was sleepwalking; she did nothing. Supposedly, the Labor Party are friends of public education—and they did nothing.

What is even worse than that is that Ms Gillard and her department are spending $16 billion and yet, as the Auditor-General found in evidence, they have failed to put in place sufficient oversight mechanisms to properly ensure that state governments got value for money for school projects. That is the crux of the problem. They failed to put in place proper oversight and accountability mechanisms to ensure there was value for money. The Auditor-General was absolutely unequivocal. It was Ms Gillard’s responsibility and the Auditor-General said she did not do enough. She failed to administer the program efficiently and properly—that is what the Auditor-General found. Now, the union movement—her union bosses—have made Ms Gillard the Prime Minister. So, now, instead of a $16 billion fund that she is in charge of, she is in charge of a $1 trillion economy. Is that not wonderful? What are the prospects for the country now? Hold your breath and hold on to your purse.

This is the nub of it: in the entire time that this project has been going—more than 12 months now—over 10,000 projects have been approved and not on one occasion out of more than 10,000 did the department refuse to approve a project on the basis of value for money. That is absolutely appalling. Not once in 12 months in over 10,000 projects did the department—Ms Gillard’s department, she is responsible—refuse to accept a project on the basis of value for money. The department apparently could not say no; they were not up to it.

What did Ms Gillard do during this appalling waste? We know now that she was sharpening her knife to take out the embarrassing Mr Rudd—not that I blame her for that; however, let us not mix pleasure with business. But Ms Gillard was the minister responsible for a program that had been unequivocably criticised by the Auditor-General. It is now commonly viewed as the greatest fiasco in administration since Federation. It has cost something of the order of $5 billion more than it should have. Why? Because Ms Gillard did not put in place oversight mechanisms to make sure that state Labor governments spent the appropriate amount and got good value for money for their schools. That was an appalling oversight.

In addition to that, we know about Ms Gillard’s failure with laptop computers and trade training centres. Strangely, the press has never focused on this appalling administrative failure—the greatest waste of money since Federation presided over by our new Prime Minister. All I can say is that I fear for our country and I hope that Ms Gillard performs better as Prime Minister than she ever did as the Minister for Education.

Question agreed to.