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Monday, 22 June 2009
Page: 3889

Senator CASH (4:29 PM) —One would be justified in thinking that schools who were receiving grants from the Commonwealth government might actually be over the moon. But it really must say something about the atrocious implementation of this program that schools are coming out every single day of the week—in fact, if you listen to talkback radio, they are coming out phone call after phone call—calling on the government to revise the way this program is being delivered. It is shameful. Listening to those on the other side trying to justify this atrocious spending demonstrates beyond a doubt the depth to which this government will stoop to put a good spin over what they know is a very bad spend. But, then again, it is only public money, and they do not really have to care about how they spend public money. That is for us on this side to hold them accountable for, and that is what we will continue to do.

Indeed, as my colleague Senator Mason has so eloquently put it, despite all of its spin, the government simply cannot reassure the Australian community that $14.7 billion of taxpayers’ money is being spent appropriately. Let me give the Senate an example from my home state of Western Australia—and you are really going to like this one. The headline in the Australian on 20 June read:

$250,000 hall for remote Yulga Jinna Remote Community School ‘a waste’

The article went on to report that the Yulga Jinna Remote Community School has only 24 students amongst three classrooms. Apparently, with funding it received from the Building the Education Revolution program, it must build a multipurpose hall which will give it, in effect, a fourth classroom. And this is where the problem lies, because the school does not need a fourth classroom for its 24 students.

Senator Williams —One each!

Senator CASH —One each. But the school does desperately need something. They have identified what they need and it is better accommodation for their teachers. The article goes on to report that the two teachers who work at this school are living in mining dongas, or transportable huts, which lack telephones or even, in one case, an indoor shower and toilet. One might say that those are harsh conditions which most Australians would find it a challenge to live in. What does the Rudd Labor government say to this remote community school? ‘You need another classroom.’ I think not. If supporting these teachers with accommodation is not a better use of the $250,000 that the school will receive, it is hard to imagine what is.

But it saddens me to say that my home state of Western Australia does not appear to be alone in dealing with the bungling, the inflexibility and the poor spend of this $14.7 billion fiasco. It would seem that yet again, as with most Labor policy, ideology wins over practicality or common sense, and once again it is the Australian taxpayer who will be footing the bill. Another media report in today’s Australian, entitled ‘Schools merger threat’, details how the Tasmanian State School Parents and Friends President, Jenny Branch, has expressed her concerns that Building the Education Revolution program funds ‘were used to exert undue pressure on parents and schools to quickly accept a major rationalisation of schools in Hobart’s north’. Here is another example, this time reported in the Brisbane Courier-Mail: an undercover playground with concrete floors and no doors was to cost $1.8 million under the Rudd government’s program. The list goes on.

I was listening to a radio program today which claimed to have received 24 complaints from schools regarding their projects. One has to wonder how many more schools are too afraid to speak up for fear of having this funding ripped from them. To quote Alan Jones from his radio program:

So this is a so-called revolution which is hopelessly lacking in detail and throwing money around willy-nilly for gymnasiums and halls, without asking whether the school where they are to be built may just happen to need—

for example—

more maths teachers instead.

That is not effective spending. That is ineffective spending of taxpayers’ money, and it is because of this litany of complaints that the coalition has called for an urgent review of the program. But even from the United States the Deputy Prime Minister could still be heard keeping the Labor spin machine in overdrive, claiming that the education revolution has a focus on transparency. Well, it must be a very murky form of transparency! While the Labor Party’s spin machine rolls on, the people who are losing out are Australian students and Australian schools. This is bureaucracy gone mad. It is quite clear that the nation’s chief bureaucrat, the Prime Minister, is extremely comfortable with how things are proceeding. I can tell you that the coalition are not. (Time expired)

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT (Senator Hutchins)—The time for this debate has expired.