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Wednesday, 19 August 2009
Page: 5400

Senator MASON (2:28 PM) —My question is to the Minister representing the Minister for Education, Senator Carr. Will the minister explain why the government’s education infrastructure program has allowed seven South Australian schools to double dip and be given up to $2½ million more than they should simply because they are technically split into an upper and lower primary school, even though they are situated on the same piece of land?

Senator CARR (Minister for Innovation, Industry, Science and Research) —The Rudd government’s commitment to boost jobs in investment in Australia’s long-term future will see every school receive funding for the maintenance of new buildings as part of the $14.7 billion Building the Education Revolution.

This is a historic commitment of building investment in the Australian education system. It is a historic commitment which the Liberal Party have never supported. They, of course, support the local announcements and support turning up, but they do not support the program. They will seek to draw attention to particular matters in South Australia, but I have no doubt there will be no shortage of Liberal Party members actually turning up to the opening. I am aware that there has been a claim made in some South Australian government primary schools about double dipping and, as with every other issue that has been raised in the media by the opposition, the Department of Education, Employment and Workplace Relations is looking into these claims. However the department has received advice from the South Australian Department of Education and Children’s Services that the schools mentioned in the article are, in fact, separate schools and therefore entitled to separate funding.

Senator MASON —Mr President, I was wondering if the minister could table the advice he just referred to, and I ask a supplementary question. I refer the minister to an article in the Sydney Morning Herald of 13 August by Maralyn Parker which claims:

A $150,000 electrical substation is being forced onto one school. The school has already updated its electrical systems and has extra scope to deal with new buildings. It is selling electricity back into the grid through its extensive solar power network. The principal asked for more solar panels instead of a substation and was refused.

Does this demonstrate that the consultation provisions of the Building the Education Revolution guidelines have failed and that school requests are being routinely ignored in favour of narrow templates?

Senator CARR (Minister for Innovation, Industry, Science and Research) —The claims that are made in regard to newspaper reports—in this case in Sydney, and I am familiar with that report—have been predicated, I presume, on claims made by people in New South Wales. I am not aware of the particular details of the New South Wales government’s response to the claim as to whether or not schools are able to hook up to the New South Wales grid. But I do think it is important to highlight the fact that the conditions for state and territory governments to continue to spend moneys that have been appropriated require the states and territories to meet commitments under the guidelines, and that is the basis on which the Commonwealth extends moneys to those schools.

Senator MASON —Mr President, I ask a further supplementary question. Will the minister explain why in his home state of Victoria $1 million is being given to each of the following schools, Jacana Primary School, Meadowfair North Primary School and Broadmeadows West Primary School—three schools in Premier John Brumby’s electorate—despite the fact that those three schools are merging into one? When will the government stop wasting taxpayers’ money with such reckless spending?

Senator CARR (Minister for Innovation, Industry, Science and Research) —I am familiar with those schools. They are very close to where I live. Those schools are in one of the poorest parts of Melbourne, and in terms of the needs of students in that region of Broadmeadows there can be no question whatsoever of the level of disadvantage faced by students in the Broadmeadows area and at those particular schools. These program initiatives are based on a series of guidelines which have been issued and which will be honoured. I note the point that has been made by a number of people, including the president of the Australian Primary Principals Association, who said that despite the negative press that has occurred this is still the best initiative that has ever happened for primary schools at the federal level. (Time expired)