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Tuesday, 16 June 2009
Page: 6113

Ms MARINO (4:43 PM) —As the shadow minister, the member for Sturt, said, no-one begrudges schools improving their facilities. However, with a record debt of $318 billion and with this particular program costing $14.7 billion, it is certainly our role on this side of the House to ensure that every one of those taxpayer dollars is spent extremely wisely and to the extent that they were meant. The fact that we have waste and mismanagement in this program has been highlighted by the members speaking prior to me. As I said, these are $14.7 billion of taxpayer funds, and we have a very clear responsibility to taxpayers. One example of the mismanagement we have seen in the past, which was highlighted earlier, is the Computers in Schools Program. The computers are still in boxes. The original announcement included no funding for cabling, installation, staff training or ongoing electricity costs. The program delivered only part of the cost for those computers in schools. This came at a huge cost to state governments and schools alike. There are new schools in my electorate that cannot and do not qualify for that particular program, even though they have a 1:5 ratio of computers to students, far below the 1:2 ratio the government committed to. But, of course, under the government guidelines they are ineligible for funding under the program.

Last week, I was visited by two principals who are very concerned about the conditions of that particular program and their exclusion from it. The condition of the Building the Education Revolution which prevents comments from principals and boards is of great concern, particularly for regional areas. I can certainly understand why the shadow minister has requested the Attorney-General to investigate the government’s taxpayer funded expenditure on this program. I am also very concerned, as is the member beside me, the member for Gippsland, about jobs for regional local businesses—a critical part of this, as the member expressed very succinctly. We heard today in the House how a builder was a contender for a BER project three hours from his location but not for a project three minutes away. This is one simple example of the waste and mismanagement.

One of the Prime Minister’s own infrastructure advisers has slammed this program. Schools in some areas that need new classrooms have been told they have to build a standard school hall even when the school already has one. Yesterday in question time we heard the minister concede that funds could be spent on air-conditioned buildings being constructed but not on upgrading existing buildings—a very significant issue for remote and regional schools, schools which we on this side of the House understand very well and schools which would have qualified under the coalition’s Investing in Our Schools Program.

When Building the Education Revolution was announced, the Prime Minister and Deputy Prime Minister promised that every Australian school would be eligible for the funding, which would be used for maintenance and renewal of school buildings and minor building work, but, as we know, that is not what is happening. Many schools, as we keep hearing, are encountering problems with the program. Schools are being forced to direct funds towards projects that do not address their needs or those of their area, nor improve the education standards of their students. We have noticed an article in the Australian talking about an Adelaide school whose children have to finish early in summer because they need air conditioning. That school is precluded from achieving that by this program—a very real issue if you are in one of those schools.

We are hearing complaints from school boards that they cannot negotiate their own deals and appoint their own tradesmen, another issue highlighted by the member for Gippsland. And not allowing schools to modify designs for their individual local needs or to appoint their own local contracts really compromises the benefits in those local and regional areas. The minister has to redress these issues. Many schools will receive what they do not need—a demountable, from the back of a truck, with a design which has no relevance to the school’s needs. Scrutiny by those on this side of the House of a $14.7 billion taxpayer funded program is appropriate. I commend the shadow minister for recommending this matter to the Attorney-General for further scrutiny.