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Wednesday, 9 September 2009
Page: 6110

Senator MASON (2:12 PM) —My question is also to the Minister representing the Minister for Education, Senator Carr. I refer to Abbotsford Primary School in New South Wales, which is refusing its $2.5 million grant under the Building the Education Revolution Program because they have been told to knock down an existing four-classroom building so that taxpayers’ money can build another four-classroom building to replace it. Will the minister explain to the Senate why the government ignored this school community to the point where they feel the only appropriate thing to do is to boycott the program? Does this show that individual schools are more fiscally responsible than the Rudd government?

Senator CARR (Minister for Innovation, Industry, Science and Research) —I thank Senator Mason for his question. As a matter of general principle, Senator Mason, I know as a result of the practices of the past, where you have been called upon either to do the outsourced work for the Australian or the outsourced work for the member for Sturt, to always check the facts. Senator Mason, I do suggest you check the facts. In regard to the particular school you have mentioned, the New South Wales Department of Education and Training has provided advice to the minister. The nomination was put forward by the New South Wales government on behalf of the school. It was accepted by the school community on 25 May. Subsequently, the school community indicated that it wished to have additional classrooms constructed. The department is unable to amend the construction plan at this stage. The project had already gone through to tender and has progressed through the statutory plan. I understand that Senator Mason has been put in this extraordinarily invidious position of being advised that certain events have occurred when, if you check the facts, it turns out that the claims being made are not correct. In this circumstance, we have a situation where the time frames for the implementation of Building the Education Revolution were in fact very tight. The proposal at Abbotsford Primary School involves demolishing a current building—

Senator Abetz —To build another one.

Senator CARR —Because of its age, Senator Abetz. It was built in the 1950s, not the 1970s as reported. The poor condition—

Opposition senators interjecting—

The PRESIDENT —Order! When we have order, we will proceed.

Senator CARR —As distinct from the media reports on this matter, the building was put together in the 1950s and is in poor condition. It would need to be greatly improved to meet the standards for school facilities today. (Time expired)

Senator MASON —Mr President, I ask a supplementary question. I refer to Evesham State School in Queensland, where the principal said that she was not going to spend a $250,000 grant because it would be, to use here word, silly to build a library for the one student enrolled in the school. Why does the Rudd government need schools to explain to them that it is silly to grant a school of one student $250,000 for a library instead of figuring that out for themselves?

Senator CARR (Minister for Innovation, Industry, Science and Research) —Senator Mason, I appreciate the dilemma that you are faced with. You have been given incorrect information.

The PRESIDENT —Senator Carr, address the chair.

Senator CARR —The facts in this matter are as follows. Evesham State School is located within the central western education district on a property called Evesham. The school was opened in 1967. The nearest schools are Longreach State School, 72 kilometres away; Muttaburra State School, 118 kilometres away; and Winton State School, 124 kilometres away. The Queensland department reports that the sudden drop in enrolments was unprecedented and related to the personal circumstances of some families at the school. (Time expired)

Senator MASON —Mr President, I ask a further supplementary question. I refer to the Tasman District School in Nubeena Tasmania, which has missed out on a new science laboratory that was promised by the Rudd government. Will the minister confirm to the Senate that the reason that schools like Tasman District School are missing out is that this poorly targeted vote-buying program has suffered a cost blow-out?

Senator Chris Evans —Mr President, I rise on a point of order. In this series of questions, the senator has sought to seek information on three different issues in three different states and pretended that they are supplementary to the major question. Clearly, they are not supplementary when he is seeking that sort of information. The idea of supplementary questions is to elicit further information on the topic of the primary question. I accept that they are legitimate questions, but they are not legitimate supplementary questions. If the opposition want to ask questions on issues in three different questions they should use three separate primary questions. This is a misuse of the supplementary question system.

The PRESIDENT —There is no point of order. I will allow the question to stand.

Senator CARR (Minister for Innovation, Industry, Science and Research) —Third time lucky—but you fail again, Senator. In regards to the situation of the Tasman District—

Senator Faulkner —That would make him third time unlucky, actually.

Senator CARR —Well, he did make an effort. I did indicate how invidious his position was, Senator Faulkner, in having to repeat these ridiculous claims without checking the facts.

The PRESIDENT —Senator Carr, address your comments to the chair.

Senator CARR —Mr President, the Tasman District School received $206,000 for the construction of a new kindergarten and $590,000 for the refurbishment of existing classrooms and amenities under the Primary Schools for the 21st Century element of the Building the Education Revolution program. Within Tasmanian schools generally, government schools received some 71 per cent, some $31 million; Catholic schools received $8.8 million, some 20 per cent of the funding; and independent schools received $3.6 million, or nine per cent of the funding. (Time expired)