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Tuesday, 23 June 2009
Page: 3995

Senator MASON (2:11 PM) —My question is to the Minister representing the Minister for Education, Senator Carr. I ask whether the minister recalls, in answering a question from Senator Feeney last week, saying:

Construction is always a low-bid industry, and in the difficult economic times competition becomes even more intense.

Can the minister now guarantee that, for every project funded by the Building the Education Revolution, the Commonwealth government is ensuring a competitive tender process is undertaken and the most competitive quotes are being awarded contracts?

Senator CARR (Minister for Innovation, Industry, Science and Research) —The question of the Building the Education Revolution is a question that has preoccupied the opposition in recent times. In the context where they have actually opposed every single part of that program yet have sought to ingratiate themselves with local communities at every stage of that program, it is somewhat inconsistent for the opposition to be concerned about these matters in the manner in which they are. I have indicated on a previous occasion that there are 9½ thousand schools, Senator Mason, that are benefiting from this program. There are a quarter of a million teachers whose jobs will be able to be undertaken more effectively as a result of this program. There are 3½ million primary and secondary students across this nation who are getting direct benefits from this program. This program is funding over 20,000 infrastructure projects valued at over $10.45 billion.

When it comes to the arrangements for the actual funding of individual programs, a template is in place for the consideration of particular projects. There is very, very extensive consultation with school communities to ensure that appropriate arrangements are made and that the funds are used efficiently and effectively.

Senator Mason —Mr President, I rise on a point of order. I know Senator Carr is trying, but there is less than 30 seconds to go and the word ‘tender’ has not even emerged.

Senator Ludwig —Mr President, on the point of order: the issue of relevance was not raised. It seems to be that you can now jump to your feet, argue, raise matters of debate and then use the device—

Senator Ian Macdonald —What has this got to do with the point of order? Sit him down.

Senator Ludwig —I am talking on the point of order. In respect of this, all that was raised was the issue of the word ‘tender’. It might be a tender moment for Senator Mason, but it is not a point of order. It is not a matter that he should use to complain about. If he wants to raise something, Senator Mason should say what the ground or the point is and then argue that point.

The PRESIDENT —Senator Carr, I draw your attention to the question. You have 23 seconds remaining to answer the question.

Senator CARR —Each of the states and territories is responsible for the management of projects within their jurisdiction. Tenders are sought outside of the templates for managing contractors who will hire subcontractors in local areas to undertake the work. There will be project management of a number of projects across a particular region. Quotes or tenders are sought for individual projects. (Time expired)

Senator MASON —Mr President, I ask a supplementary question. I thank the minister for his answer. Will the minister assure the Senate that in every instance state governments are calling open, competitive tenders for projects funded under the BER?

Senator CARR (Minister for Innovation, Industry, Science and Research) —I have indicated to the Senate now on numerous occasions that there are templates established to provide initial estimates which are provided to the Commonwealth based on extensive experience of state and territory governments. This project aims to get work out of the door quickly as part of a stimulus arrangement to ensure that work is provided for contractors, builders and workers in a local area, that individual tenders are sought from managing contractors at individual firms and to ensure that there is an opportunity for local workers to be engaged at fair and reasonable prices, to ensure appropriate value for money for the Commonwealth and to protect public expenditures. Quotes or tenders are sought for individual projects. However, the approach varies from region to region within that broad administrative framework. Quotes will include some moneys allocated for contingencies, unforeseen problems with the site and so on and so forth. (Time expired)

Senator MASON —Mr President, I ask a further supplementary question. Are all schools participating in the BER provided with a full breakdown of costs for their projects? Are schools given the opportunity to negotiate variation claims by builders?

Senator CARR (Minister for Innovation, Industry, Science and Research) —Senator Mason, I trust that you are aware in any event—and if not you should get a further briefing from the education department about these management questions—that the principle, as I have outlined, is that the costs are allocated on the basis of a template, which is based on extensive experience. Individual contracts are taken at the local school level, but the individual schools are involved in extensive consultations with their state authorities and with the Commonwealth where necessary to ensure that local needs are being met.

The costs that I have seen in some of the press reports—erroneously, I suggest, put there by Liberal Party persons—have been predicated on assumptions about different stages of the development of a project. The cost of a fully completed project is different from a project that is run to a lockup stage, which has been one of the flaws in the thinking that we have seen in some of these costs. There are standards that have to be maintained. There are quality provisions that have to be maintained. The Commonwealth is insisting on appropriate value for money for Commonwealth expenditure. (Time expired)