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Tuesday, 24 May 2011
Page: 4395


Mr DREYFUS (IsaacsCabinet Secretary and Parliamentary Secretary for Climate Change and Energy Efficiency) (20:37): I want to speak tonight about the government's well-framed budget, brought down two weeks ago. I want to speak about the government's excellent management of the economy over the last 3½ years. And I want to speak about the impact of one aspect of that excellent economic management in my electorate, specifically the new school buildings which have been built under the Building the Education Revolution program. There have been a large number of buildings. I hear constantly from parents at these schools and I hear from people who have worked on the construction programs at each of these schools just how beneficial those buildings built under the Building the Education Revolution program have been for the schools and how beneficial they have been for employment in our local community.

Two weeks ago, the Treasurer brought down his fourth federal budget in this House. This year's budget was framed at a defining moment for our economy against a backdrop of natural disasters at home and overseas, softer economic conditions in the near term and a return to boom conditions that will stretch our economy's capacity over the coming years. In the face of these complexities, the government's focus with this budget has been clear: to bring the budget back to surplus, to invest in skills and training and to get more Australians into work. This budget lays out our path for returning to surplus in 2012-13 as we committed to do. It does so despite the large downgrades in revenue flowing from the global financial crisis and the natural disasters and as a consequence of our patchwork economy.

There has been an extraordinarily inadequate response from the opposition to the budget brought down by the Treasurer a couple of weeks back. The opposition front bench in fact can barely bring themselves to mention, for example, the global financial crisis. We had last week from the member for North Sydney, the shadow Treasurer, the extraordinary description of the global financial crisis as a 'hiccup'. This 'hiccup' is something we might like to put in context. It is a financial event that saw global output fall for the first time since the 1930s. None of the events of the past seven decades had ever caused global GDP to fall—not World War II, the 1970s oil crisis, Black Monday in 1987 or the Asian financial crisis—but in 2009 the collective output of the world's economies went backwards. And in the shadow Treasurer's mind this constituted a 'hiccup'.

We faced in our country the sharpest, deepest, most synchronised global economic recession in 75 years. On some accounts, by the end of 2010, the loss in global output arising from the shock to global growth could be around US$4 trillion. The number of jobless people worldwide rose by more than 30 million in the past two years, and the destruction of wealth was unprecedented in peacetime. If the shadow Treasurer in this country believes this level of disaster to be a hiccup, I would hate to be around when anyone in the opposition burps. This demonstrates yet again what a risk the member for North Sydney and, I could add, what a risk the Leader of the Opposition would pose to our economy if they were ever to move to the government benches.

The global financial crisis, which the shadow Treasurer chooses to describe as a hiccup, made a $130 billion hit on Australian government revenues. Relative to other industrialised economies, Australia faced the global crisis from a position of considerable strength. We implemented timely and targeted fiscal stimulus packages at the height of the crisis to restore confidence, support investment and minimise job losses.

To speak of just one of those stimulus packages, one part of the government's timely and well-sized stimulus packages, I mention the $16.2 billion Building the Education Revolution program, which is still delivering 23,693 projects in 9,501 schools across Australia. It is a program that has already provided much-needed infrastructure to Australia's schools and to their communities and at the same time protected Australian jobs during the economic downturn. The vast majority of schools and the vast majority of communities in which those schools stand are overwhelmingly happy with the Building the Education Revolution program.

Just to make the point about the timeliness of this stimulus program, which of course has delivered all the time and is going to continue to deliver benefits to schools across Australia, as at 31 March 2011, 90 per cent of all BER projects had been completed. To date the Australian government has paid $15.4 billion in BER project funding to state, Catholic and independent education authorities. Of course, the government has been committed to providing BER funds to the education authorities with both bilateral agreements with state governments and funding agreements with block grants authorities, they being the non-government education authorities.

The Building the Education Revolution program has delivered vital infrastructure to school communities on an unprecedented scale. Indeed, it is a historic investment in the modernisation of Australian schools. Of course, there have been some criticisms. To deal with those criticisms, the government very properly commissioned Mr Brad Orgill and the Building the Education Revolution Implementation Taskforce, which delivered its first report on 13 December last year. I think it says it all just to quote the key conclusion expressed by the chairman of the task force, Mr Brad Orgill:

… the vast majority of BER projects across the country in the government and non-government systems are being appropriately and successfully delivered. This has resulted in quality and, from our observations, generally much-needed new school infrastructure, while achieving the primary goal of stimulating economic activity.

I turn now to what the results of the Building the Education Revolution program have been in my own electorate. I will just go through some of the wonderful new buildings that I have been able to open on behalf of the Commonwealth government in my electorate. I say very directly to those opposite that they should perhaps attend some of these openings and hear directly from the schools which are benefiting from this program just what they think of the value that has been given to the Australian community in general and the value that has been given to particular communities from this program. I will start with one of the earlier openings. I had the great privilege on 28 April 2010 of opening the new early learning centre at Mentone Girls Grammar School. A new foyer for the assembly was also part of that project. It is a wonderfully innovative early learning centre. These facilities will continue to serve that school for many years to come. Fran Reddan, the principal, spoke in one of our local papers about the federal government's contribution and said:

Of course we would not have been able to have these projects ready for 2010 without the incredible contribution of the Australian government.

Another early opening in my electorate was on 25 June 2010 when I opened a wonderful building known locally as the sports stadium and community centre at St Joachim's Catholic Primary in Carrum Downs. Desmond Noak, the principal, said that the school could never have afforded to fund these facilities and expressed his gratitude to the federal government for taking the initiative to invest funds in schools.

I go next to the Resurrection Primary School in Keysborough, which I opened on 27 June 2010. It involved almost a complete rebuild of the school but centred on a library and learning centre. The school community was so excited by the results that Steve Bellescini, the principal, produced a booklet on the success of the school's Building the Education Revolution project. Australia's education magazine, Teacher, the national education magazine, published an article on the success of this project. In October 2010, Steve said:

As you know our BER project was a great success thanks to your Government and other factors.

On 5 August 2010, I opened a facility at the Lighthouse Christian College in Keysborough. They received a learning resource centre and library. It is a school with both primary and secondary facilities. They obtained $2 million for their primary facility and were successful in obtaining a grant for the secondary school under the science and language components of the Building the Education Revolution program. Tim Rogers, the principal, said that the entire building project had been on schedule and to budget. He said this very proudly at the opening on 5 August. One of our local papers published a picture of the students at Lighthouse with the caption, 'Students at Lighthouse Christian College couldn't hide their delight when new buildings were opened at the Keysborough school last week. The structure was paid for by the federal government's Building the Education Revolution program.' I recall this opening very sharply because it was at this opening that one of the representatives of the construction companies involved in the project said words to the effect that the stimulus program had kept not only the building going but also his company afloat during the global financial crisis.

On 13 August, I had the pleasure of opening the Skye Primary School's new facility at the southern end of my electorate. People in the school community said to me at the opening and since just how greatly needed those improvements to the school were. (Quorum formed). Those opposite do not want to hear about the success of the Building the Education Revolution program.

The other schools that I have had the great privilege of opening new buildings for in the last several months are: Carrum Downs Primary School, St Anthony's Catholic Primary School, Patterson Lakes Primary School, St Louis De Montfort's Primary School, Rowellyn Park Primary School in Carrum Downs, Berry Street in Noble Park, Aspendale Gardens Primary School, Chelsea Heights Primary School, St John Vianney's Catholic Primary School in Parkdale, Dandenong South Primary, Chelsea Primary and, just last Friday, St Brigid's Primary School in Mordiallic. At every one of these schools parents, teachers, children and the whole of the school community expressed delight at the results of the Building the Education Revolution for their local community. I will end with the words of the chair of the school board at St Brigid's Mordiallic who, in his speech last Friday, said:

I would dread to think how many fundraisers the school would need to have had to raise the monies to actually do this building program and in all reality it would never have happened without the generous assistance of the Federal Government.

It has been a pleasure to be a part of a government, and I am proud to be part of a government, that has contributed in this way. (Time expired)