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Transcript of joint doorstop interview: 7 July 2010: the Coalition's real action plan to stop Labor's school halls waste; restoring integrity and fairness to refugee decision making; John Faulkner.

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Tony Abbott Doorstop - The Coalition’s Real Action Plan to Stop Labor’s School Halls Waste 07/07/10

Subjects: The Coalition’s Real Action Plan to Stop Labor’s School Halls Waste; restoring integrity and fairness to refugee decision making; John Faulkner.

TONY ABBOTT: First of all could I just thank everyone for coming to Annangrove. It’s very good of you to make this trip but this school is one of the worst examples of waste and mismanagement that we have yet seen in the Building the Education Revolution programme. What we have here is a school which has had an overpriced library even though it’s already got a library, and it’s typical of this programme that schools were told what they would get even when they already what they were going to get, and not only do we have an overpriced school library, we have a building that’s not properly air conditioned and most monumentally we’ve got $52,000 worth of so-called landscaping which basically involves two square metres of concrete and a few hundred dollars worth of turf.

Now, this is just classic waste and it is tragically typical of what’s happened under this programme. The Building the Education Revolution programme has probably been one of the most monumental wastes of money in Commonwealth government history. What we’ve had is overpriced school halls, we’ve had overpriced school canteens, we’ve had inappropriate buildings, we’ve had consistent neglect of the real needs of schools and their communities and it’s just not good enough. We know because this is what the industry guides tell us that single storey school buildings should cost about $1,500 per square metre. We also know because it’s on the record that Catholic schools, for instance, have been getting their buildings at about $2,400 a square metre and yet in New South Wales, on average, buildings constructed under this programme have been costing four-and-a-half thousand dollars per square metre.

Now, there’s a simple explanation for the problem. It is due to the fact that the money has been spent not through the school communities but through the bureaucrats in head office. That is the reason for the problem. But I’m afraid that was always going to happen under the current government because the current government is incompetent, it’s deceptive and it’s ideological. Incompetent, deceptive and ideological. Incompetent because it has presided over rip off after rip off, ideological in that it has spent the money wastefully through bureaucrats rather than efficiently through parents and principals, and deceptive because as soon as these problems started to become apparent the warnings were ignored, the critics were derided and the damage has been done.

Now, there is a better way. There is a better way. The Coalition showed the way in government through the Investing in Our Schools programme where the money was given to school communities and right around Australia there are many examples of good value school infrastructure that was built by school communities under the Investing in Our Schools programme. And I’m here with Christopher Pyne, the

Shadow Minister for Education, with Alex Hawke, the local Member here for the seat of Mitchell, to formally announce that an incoming Coalition government will not spend a further cent of Building the Education Revolution money through the education department bureaucracies. All money will be spent through the school P&Cs. The $5.5 billion that is still left in this programme, or at least as much of it as we can recover, will henceforth be spent through the school communities and I think that will be a great relief to school communities right around Australia that an incoming Coalition government trusts them to do a better job than the bureaucracies and will count of them to ensure that our kids get value for money and that tax payers’ dollars are respected.

Now, I’ve got to say that incompetence has been a hallmark of the Rudd/Gillard government. They think that they can get around that by scapegoating the former Prime Minister, but as the Building the Education Revolution programme shows, the current Prime Minister has been right at the heart of the waste and mismanagement under this government. So, I’ll now ask Christopher Pyne, the Shadow Minister, to say a few words then Alex and then, if Donna wants, we’ll ask her to give a school perspective.

CHRISTOPHER PYNE: Thanks, Tony, and there’s another couple of aspects of our policy that I’d like to flesh out. Number one is that in paying the BER money directly to school communities there will be savings to those communities because they’ll achieve value for money. What we’re seeing every day is examples of where schools that have self-managed their BER projects have had savings, typically they’ve come in at two thirds of the estimated cost. Now, the New South Wales department and all other state departments take that money back and use it in their bureaucracy. The Coalition will allow schools to keep any savings they make through achieving value for money and spend that money in their own schools on school priorities that they decide. So, the Coalition will empower the school principal and the school community. If they make any savings they’ll be able to keep it and spend it in their community. That builds an incentive immediately into the programme to make savings.

Basically, the Coalition would like to treat principals and P&Cs like adults rather than like infant children, the way they’ve been treated by this Labor government. We actually trust principals and we believe they can make sensible decisions. One of the hideous aspects of the BER programme has been that non-government schools have been able to self-manage their projects and achieve value for money and government schools have not. So, rather than narrowing the gap between government and non-government schools with this enormous infrastructure spend, the Labor Party has ironically widened the gap between government and non-government schools. Now, for many schools it’s too late, but for those for whom it’s not too late the Coalition will give them a life raft of being able to self-manage their own projects, keep their savings and spend it in their schools, and the great waste, the almost $8 billion of waste and mismanagement in this programme will hang around Julia Gillard’s neck like the decomposing chook that it is right up to election day.

TONY ABBOTT: Alex, would you like to say something?

ALEX HAWKE: Thanks, Tony. Look, ladies and gentlemen, I want to thank Tony and Christopher for coming out here and seeing first hand the waste that is occurring on the ground in many public schools, particularly in my electorate here in Mitchell. I do want to say that the school community here in Annangrove has tried to raise these matters with Julia Gillard as the Minister on many occasions over the last year. I’ve raised the matters in Parliament; the school community has written to the Minister as Education Minister and has received no response to the very serious concerns that are here on the ground. Now we have a situation where we have two libraries here for 90 pupils when we could have got a fantastic outcome for this great local public school. And I want to thank Donna and the school community here in Annangrove for raising these matters and bringing this to our attention.

TONY ABBOTT: Thank you.

DONNA HUNTER: I’d like to thank you for coming and looking at our wonderful little school, and the whole basis of this, if we had have had this money and we’d self-managed it ourselves, we would have been in a lot better situation than we are in today. Unfortunately, we are one of the ones that do have no air conditioning and the money has been mismanaged dramatically, and it’s absolutely scandalous, the end result if what we have. But if you’re suggesting to put this money into and make

the principals be able to use this money in the way that they know is best for the schools, it’s absolutely fantastic.

TONY ABBOTT: Thank you, Donna. Ok, well, look, are there any questions that people have? We’ll deal with BER issues first and then if there are others, well, we’ll deal with them.

QUESTION: Can you just touch on how much money was spent around the school?

DONNA HUNTER: We were allocated $850,000. We asked for a hall, we got a second library which we didn’t need, we had a functional library. We don’t have a hall and as you see the lay of the land, when it rains the children are wet and miserable, there’s nowhere for them to go unless they have to go and move 50 or 60 chairs themselves three times a week for even assemblies, so that $850,000, we could have if we managed it ourselves we could have done the entire school and renovated the entire school. Unfortunately we got a second library and definitely not value for money. Definitely not. And no air conditioning which will make this, this building will become redundant come summer.

QUESTION: Mr Abbott, if the schools are allowed to sit on the money then spending it some time down the track, how will the government ensure that it’s actually spent appropriately?

TONY ABBOTT: Well, you see, I trust the school communities. I’m not one of those politicians who doesn’t trust people to do the right thing. I am confident that the school communities of Australia and the principals of Australia will do the right thing by their kids and I don’t think you need to have a whole posse of bureaucrats second-guessing the parents and the principals of Australia.

QUESTION: It’s a lot of trust you’re putting into principals, though. Can you guarantee that they’ll spend the money [inaudible]?

TONY ABBOTT: Well, we trust the principals with our kids’ futures. Why can’t we trust them to manage tax payers dollars? And as Christopher reminds me, the former government trusted the principals and the school communities with Investing in Our Schools money. There are hundreds if not thousands of schools right around Australia that are very proud of what they did with Investing in Our Schools money. There are hundreds if not thousands of schools right around Australia that embarrassed, embarrassed and ashamed about what’s happened with this so-called Education Revolution money.

QUESTION: Mr Abbott, you said there should be a full judicial inquiry, what about Brad Orgill . He said things were ticking along quite well. What’s your reaction to that?

TONY ABBOTT: Look, Brad Orgill is all very well but he can’t compel evidence, he can’t summon witnesses, he doesn’t have the power to get to the bottom of this scandal and given that the Government is proposing to release more money even before his report is published, given that the Government now looks like it’s going to rush to an election before the waste and mismanagement in Julia Gillard’s programme has been confirmed, the suspicion has got to be that the Orgill inquiry was always a whitewash rather than a serious attempt to get to the bottom of value for money problems in this programme.

QUESTION: There’s at least six other inquiries across the state and federal levels. Is it overkill to have another one?

TONY ABBOTT: Look, the thing about a judicial inquiry is that it is the only way to compel witnesses and to collect evidence. All of the other inquiries run up against the problem of witnesses refusing to appear and Governments refusing to surrender documents.

QUESTION: Mr Abbott, aren’t 98 per cent of the projects already funded and won’t there be legal contract issues?

TONY ABBOTT: No; $5.5 billion is yet to be committed and if Julia Gillard has any respect for the taxpayer she will not spend an extra cent of that money until after at the very least the Orgill report has been presented. As I said, an incoming Coalition government will not spend any eduction revolution money other than through school communities.

QUESTION: John Faulkner [inaudible]. What’s your reaction.

TONY ABBOTT: Look, I listened to the opening words of the Minister’s press conference and there’s no doubt that he is doing his best to say the right thing but clearly this is an implicit vote of no confidence in the Government. John Faulkner was a highly principled and highly capable minister, like Lindsay Tanner, and the two best ministers in the Government are leaving it and we now have a Government with a lame duck Finance Minister and a lame duck Defence Minister. Now, these positions are too important, particularly with our troops committed overseas, particularly with the kind of international economic uncertainty that we have now for the Prime Minister not to be able to tell us who will be the Defence Minister and who will be the Finance Minister after the election.

QUESTION: Are they showing confidence in Mr Rudd do you think?

TONY ABBOTT: Well, that’s interesting, they were happy to serve under the former Prime Minister but it seems they don’t want to serve under the current Prime Minister. The former Prime Minister’s last words to the caucus were, ‘don’t let the spirit of New South Wales infect Canberra’ and what he

was referring to is the New South Wales Labor mafia which has done so much damage in this state taking control of the federal Government. We all know what a disaster, what a basket case New South Wales has been for quite a few years now. We know that Senator Arbib has executed a series of Labor leaders. He executed Bob Carr, he executed Kim Beazley, he executed Morris Iemma, he executed Nathan Rees, now he’s executed Kevin Rudd. He’s very interested in winning elections, he’s very interested in political power but he’s hopeless at managing government and that’s what we get from Labor today. They’re experts at politics but they’re complete amateurs at government and that’s what Kevin Rudd was referring to when he warned his caucus not to let the New South Wales spirit infect Canberra, but sadly Rudd has gone, kingmaker Arbib is there and there is no place for a good government in Canberra right now as long as these factional warlords are in charge.

QUESTION: Mr Abbott, we’re getting closer to an election being called. What do you personally consider to be the three biggest issues that this election’s going to be fought on?

TONY ABBOTT: Well, the biggest issue of this election will be risk. The risk that a bad and incompetent Government might be given the second chance that it doesn’t deserve and Australia can’t afford. There is no doubt that the Labor powerbrokers want to scapegoat Kevin Rudd for the incompetence of this Government and yet as we see from the building the eduction revolution programme the incompetence of this Government is general and Julia Gillard, the new Prime Minister, has been at the heart of the waste and mismanagement of this Government.

QUESTION: Mr Abbott, just on asylum seekers, do you think that a regional processing centre will actually ever be built in East Timor.

TONY ABBOTT: It’s never going to be built by the current Government. The East Timorese won’t accept it and the current Government doesn’t really want to do it. This is a political fix for the election, it’s not a policy fix for the problem of border protection and the flow of boats. Sure, Julia Gillard has junked a decade of Labor rhetoric in effectively embracing an aspect of the solution that John Howard put in place. But, the solution that they demonised is not something that they’re ever put into practice.

QUESTION: But, the idea of a regional solution, is that a good one?

TONY ABBOTT: The solution’s lie essentially here in Australia and the key to resolving this problem is to deny the people smugglers a product to sell and the product that they’ve got to sell above all else is permanent residency in Australia for people who can get here. That’s why the re-introduction of

temporary protection visas is the most important single measure that the Government could take. Yes, it is very important to maintain rigorous offshore processing, including third country processing, but if

this is such a good idea why didn’t the Government maintain the Nauru processing centre, which it inherited, why didn’t the Government do something along these lines at some time in the past three years. If it’s such a good idea why has the Government spent so much time demonising the people who

support it?

QUESTION: Why are you [inaudible] processing centre in Nauru but not in East Timor?

TONY ABBOTT: Well, I’m simply pointing out that the Nauruan processing centre is there, it’s built and the Nauruan Government has said that it’s happy to re-open it. There is no processing centre in East Timor and the East Timorese Government is far from clear that it wants it and it’s typical of the incompetence of the new Prime Minister that she would announce a major Government policy that depends upon the permission of a foreign government that she has not actually got.

QUESTION: Have you costed your asylum policy?

TONY ABBOTT: We certainly believe that the cheapest policy in this area is to stop the boats and we’ve got in place policies that will stop the boats. What the Government has got is policies that created this new armada of boats and now they’re playing catch up politics in a state of panic before the election.

QUESTION: Are you doing any polling around Sydney west or around this area, what would be the main issues facing this area?

TONY ABBOTT: I think the issues facing this area - you don’t need polls to tell you - they are feeling cost of living pressures and they are dismayed by the waste and incompetence in government. They’ve seen it for years from the New South Wales Government and they now know that they’re getting the same waste and incompetence from the federal Labor Government.

QUESTION: Greenway and Lindsay, any closer to having candidates there?

TONY ABBOTT: Look, we will have good candidates for all our seats, candidates who will do a good job of exposing the problems with the Rudd/Gillard Government’s policies and presenting credible alternative policies.

Thank you.