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Monday, 8 February 2010
Page: 748


Mr WOOD (5:07 PM) —I also wish to speak on Appropriation Bill (No. 3) 2009-2010 and Appropriation Bill (No. 4) 2009-2010. I am not sure if you have seen the movie Groundhog Day with Bill Murray. It is a fantastic movie in which no matter what he does every morning he wakes up and nothing has changed from the day before. What that reminds me of is Building the Education Revolution because at my schools in Berwick, whatever they do, every day the principals, the staff, the students and the teachers get up in the morning and they go to school and nothing changes.

I want to speak first of all in particular about Berwick Primary School. This school has a great team led by Principal Kaye Seton, who has been doing a fantastic job, and school president Jason Barlow. It is interesting that they were very conservative when they sought money from Building the Education Revolution. Rather than go for $3 million, they thought that they would just ask for $2 million.


Mr Ripoll interjecting


Mr WOOD —The Labor members opposite—Bernie Ripoll in particular—think it is funny that one of my schools is getting ripped off by the state government. I think it is a disgrace and the Labor members should take this very seriously.

The school only asked for $2 million and they thought they were being very fair and very generous. With that, they wanted a multipurpose room; it sounded like a great idea and everyone thought it was worth while. They then realised that the amount of money they would be seeking would not be $2 million. The quotes they had from architects were in the vicinity of $650,000. Because they thought the government would be flexible they said, ‘Can we use the remaining money to upgrade our gymnasium?’ The school has now got 800-plus students and they thought that if they upgraded the gymnasium with the remaining funding it would be of great benefit to the school. They did the right thing. They did not come straight to me and seek support and nor did they go to the media. They worked quietly behind the back door trying to get the government to see common sense and make sure that they would get a decision based on common sense and flexibility. What we have seen with Building the Education Revolution is quite the opposite. When they said, ‘Can we actually see the figures for this multipurpose building?’—which had been quoted at $2 million—they were never shown any respect at all. They were never told or shown any quotes. They were just told it cost $2 million, and when they said, ‘Hang on; our quotes are saying it is $650,000’, that meant absolutely nothing.

So we wrote to the Minister for Education on 24 June last year saying that Berwick Primary School—and they were doing the right thing; they were doing it all behind closed doors without going to the media—wanted to use the remaining funding. They deserved the funding. The commitment was $2 million. Remember that they did not go for the full amount of $3 million. They wanted to use the remaining funding for a secondary project. Sadly, they have had no good news from the minister. We wrote again on 1 December and again we have had no good news on Berwick Primary School.

I congratulate Jade Lawton from the Pakenham-Berwick Gazette for her article on 18 November 2009. This is not a happy photo. You can see the president of the school council, Jason Barlow, standing in front of the half-sized gymnasium they have at the moment, and also Emily Lidgerwood and the principal, Kaye Seton. It is not a happy photo; it is not a happy story. This should have been a great story to tell in my electorate, but what has been proved many, many times is that the Rudd government is very good at speaking the rhetoric but not very good at actually delivering. The students at Berwick Primary School are missing out. It is outrageous that they are missing out on the additional funding. It is very unfair that when the school have assemblies, for example, not all the students can fit in the gymnasium. When they first undertook the building works, it was designed so that the gymnasium could expand, and it is just a disgrace that the government is not offering the school the flexibility to use the additional money which they were promised. It is very sad to see that take place.

It is not the only school in the area that has been affected. In fact, I seem to have a number of schools in my electorate facing the same dilemma. I do not know how many times I have spoken in the House about Berwick Lodge Primary School—another school, of course, in the suburb of Berwick. The principal, Henry Grossek, is doing an amazing job out there with the students and has been an ambassador in keeping the government to account on its Building the Education Revolution. Remember that this has cost $14 billion, so you want to make sure the money is wisely spent. Henry was promised $3 million, and he thought, ‘That’s fantastic!’ He thought they would use that money wisely. What they wanted to do was build a library and six classrooms. Any member would think it would be a great idea to use the money for actual education. But, instead, the school was told that they would have to use one of four or five templates and that they must build a gymnasium. Henry Grossek said: ‘Hang on, the school already has a gymnasium. Why can’t we have a classroom—or six classrooms—and a library?’ He was told, ‘No, that cannot happen.’

We have the ridiculous situation that Beaconsfield Upper Primary School want a gymnasium but have been told they cannot have a gymnasium but need to have classrooms. The schools are 30 minutes away from each other, and one school is getting told they have to have a gymnasium when they want classrooms and the other school is being told they must have classrooms when they want a gymnasium. There is no flexibility in this at all. What the state schools are putting up with is a disgrace. I quote Henry Grossek from 1 April 2009:

At a national level, the program is being implemented in a terrible way. Impossible time lines, apparent lack of any due diligence with respect to the tendering process and an inability of the federal government to at this point in time pull the Victorian government into line. Where is all the money being siphoned off to? And no idea on process for resolving disputes that schools may get into with the state authorities on what facilities they can have.

We actually thought Henry had had a win with the Deputy Prime Minister, Julia Gillard. I believe a meeting took place in May last year in which the Deputy Prime Minister acknowledged the concerns of Berwick Lodge Primary School and stated, ‘Yes, you can actually use the money and have the flexibility to build a library and six classrooms.’ The good news is that that issue has finally been resolved; but, as Principal Henry Grossek says, ‘Show us the money; there is still a lot of money out there which should be coming to the school for a secondary project.’ Sadly, that money is not forthcoming.

That is one thing about which Henry met with the Deputy Prime Minister, who as education minister he believed was running the show. He got a guarantee from her that the issue was going to be resolved when he specifically asked her, ‘Can the leftover money be used for a buddy project?’ In the conversation that followed, as it was repeated to me, the principals—I believe there were a number of principals there—were assured that they could have a buddy project. So at the moment there is the crazy situation where there is just no flexibility. There are all these schools in Berwick that are not getting looked after the way they deserve. It is an absolute disgrace.

In the Dandenong Ranges we are getting through the fire season this year. Luckily, so far there have been no major fires, though we did have a small fire up in Emerald the other day. But, with school going back, it seems absolutely crazy to me that not one school in my electorate in the Dandenong Ranges has a sprinkler on its roof. That is the most basic safety measure. If there is a fire and there is an ember attack, you would think you would need a sprinkler on the roof, but there are none.

I have personally great respect for the Attorney-General. He has listened closely to my concerns in my meetings with him. We need to ensure when it comes to schools on catastrophic and extreme fire days that they have a sister or buddy school so that if a school is closed down—for example, up in Ferny Creek or Olinda—the parents know the night before that the next day they need to take their children to a school off the hill. It is common sense.

One of the greatest concerns I have is if a school is closed down for the day and not all parents are as responsible as they should be. This would be especially likely if after two or three of these catastrophic and extreme days they thought to themselves: ‘There is no need to take my child to work or drop him off at nana’s place or leave him with a friend off the mountain. He should be right at home now by himself.’ That is a real concern of the CFA members, too. One thing about having a buddy school is that the principals could check to make sure that all students were accounted for and off the hills safely. The fire precautions for the schools up in the Dandenong Ranges are a disgrace because of the lack of effort that has been put in to make the schools more fire safe.

The No. 1 thing, though, for people to remember is that, if there is a day with catastrophic and extreme fire danger, they have to be off the hill. The concern I have is on one of those days when a fire comes out of the blue. For those who do not know the Dandenong Ranges, a fire can go from the basin to the top of Sassafras in 10 or 12 minutes, as happened in I think 1997 or 2000. It takes a car that long to get up there and that is how fast a fire can move up there. We do not want a situation where the schools are caught out and where the principals and staff have no training in fire management. At the moment, most of the schools do not have shutters and, as I said, there are no sprinklers. It is a recipe for disaster. I am a strong advocate for having underground bankers at schools. You never know—it could be once in a hundred years or once in 30 years that you have a fire come through and the students and teachers are trapped there. In that situation, you can at least have a bunker. But a lot of research is needed to work out the safest and best way to go forward.

Another concern I have locally is with what is happening to Clyde Road. In the last federal election I announced half the funding to build Clyde Road. Then we had the Prime Minister—then opposition leader—come out. In an article of 21 November 2007, again in the Berwick-Packenham Gazette, by Jim Mynard, the heading is, ‘We’ll fix Clyde Road too, says ALP’. In that article my opponent at the time said that Kevin Rudd and Labor had listened to the concerns of the tens of thousands of residents who used the road every day and wanted it fixed. He said:

... only Kevin Rudd and Labor will work cooperatively with the State Government to do something about it.

They were obviously going to fix it. It all sounded fair and reasonable.

Then we go to Wednesday 9 April, 2008 and an article in the Berwick Leader which quotes Harry Hutchinson, who is one of the local traders. The heading is, ‘Keep your promise.’ It states:

Show me the money!

That’s the call to Prime Minister Kevin Rudd from Berwick Chamber of Commerce president Harry Hutchinson.

The article went on:

Mr Hutchinson said more than 200 businesses in Berwick were directly affected by the choked condition of Clyde Rd. And then there were the thousands of customers and the residents of connecting suburban streets to be considered.

…           …           …

A spokesman for Federal Regional Development Minister Anthony Albanese said the Rudd Government would honour its funding commitment for Clyde Rd.

Then there was a recent article by Jade Lawton in the Berwick-Packenham Gazette. It is a fine article by Jade; she has done a great job. This article says of Clyde Road:

The State Government allocated $1 million to investigate duplicating the bottleneck ...

And we have Harry Hutchins from the Berwick Village Chamber of Commerce calling on the government to do something. They are losing a lot of business down there.

This was a promise made in the last federal election. We heard today in question time the Prime Minister and others talking about keeping their promises but it seems mightily unfair that in the seat of Deakin at the Springvale Road intersection the traffic congestion has been fixed—I am a big supporter of fixing the Springvale Road—and yet at Clyde Road not one sod of soil has been turned.

This government is taking this country into billions and billions of dollars debt. They cannot get the local schools programs working. There is no flexibility there. They are trying to rush them out. The school principals are not happy; the students are not happy. We are supposed to have this beautiful loving relationship between state and federal Labor governments but very sadly there is not much love down in Victoria, especially in the suburb of Berwick.

Again, Clyde Road is a disgrace. We hear the Labor members talk about what a fantastic job they are doing but it is as if they have a huge credit card and all they are doing is spending, spending, spending. Guess what: one day it has to be paid back. Sadly, the day is going to come when residents in my community of Berwick and others have to pay that money back.

Finally, we had the community cabinet come down to the Emerald Secondary College. I had an election commitment—from memory it was for $2.5 million—to the Emerald Secondary College for a performing arts centre. My Labor opponent matched that during the campaign. He did not take the lead much; he always seemed to match my commitments. The only ones he did not match were the environment ones—a wildlife hospital and weed management. Kevin Rudd was quick to go out to Emerald Secondary College to have his community cabinet there and talk about the great job they are doing and all the money they are spending. The only problem is that now Emerald Secondary College are in the situation where they need $500,000 to get the job done but everything has taken too long and there is so much money being wasted by this government. For example, there are the exorbitant costs of the Building the Education Revolution. The school needs another $500,000. The Prime Minister is very keen to go down to Emerald and wave the flag and say what a fantastic job they have done but Emerald Secondary College comes back and says, ‘Hey, we need a helping hand because this has taken so long.’ Remember, they are entitled to $3 million. It just seems mightily unfair that the government has been kicking and screaming. Hopefully, this issue is resolved.

On that note I will leave it, but hopefully the government will come to its senses and look after the schools and students in Berwick. We hear how they are trying to do the right thing but sadly it is just not happening out in my electorate.