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Wednesday, 24 November 2010
Page: 2057

Senator FURNER (1:28 PM) —I rise today to commend the Labor government’s Building the Education Revolution and to highlight the profound impact its 24,000 projects are having on our nation’s schools. As a senator for Queensland I have had the opportunity to officially open a diverse range of BER projects, and the one thing which has stood out to me about these projects is their individuality. Each school which has been approved for a BER project has had their facilities built to their exact needs and specifications.

Chevallum State School on the Sunshine Coast had a kitchen incorporated into their multipurpose hall to enable the students to cook the food they grew in their Stephanie Alexander Kitchen Garden. Benowa State School on the Gold Coast had a dance studio with a full wall of mirrors and a ballet barre built into their new library, and community groups are able to hire out this facility. St Columban’s College in Caboolture has a new science and language centre, which has been named the Edmund Rice Centre. It has fully operational science labs and language classrooms with a kitchen to assist in preparing ethnic delights. Living Faith Lutheran Primary School at Murrumba Downs was able to expand its classrooms and become a triple-stream school. And the list goes on.

In fact, in the fortnight preceding this last period of sittings, I was fortunate to open six brand new halls or libraries from Bundaberg to the Gold Coast. These included Nambour Christian College, Emmanuel College, Northpine Christian College, Bundaberg Christian College, Saint Columbans and of course Narangba Valley High. As a Queensland government senator, these openings present a proud opportunity to officiate these events. Notwithstanding this privilege, I become quite confused when you see the members for Longman, Fairfax and Hinkler pushing their way to the front for any photo opportunities. When visiting these schools and inspecting these facilities, anyone would understand why I do not know how anyone, especially those opposite, can say these learning centres and multipurpose halls and libraries are a waste of money. Their hypocrisy is so stark. Any investment in education is an investment in our children and they are our future. By providing 21st century facilities under the Building the Education Revolution program, we are giving them the best start in life and the best learning environment.

One such school which has maximised its BER funding is Narangba Valley State High School. The Longman high school received $1.97 million under the Science and Language Centres for 21st Century Secondary Schools to build its new language centre and a Zen garden. Narangba Valley State High School has been enriching its students’ academic lives through the art of languages and currently includes Japanese and French as part of the curriculum. To accompany these studies, the school has a new building with interactive whiteboards, computers and classrooms and a fantastic new garden thanks to the BER program. When I first walked into the Zen garden, it was hard to imagine that I was still in a school. With wooden bridges, pebbled water features, exotic plants and paper lanterns, I felt as though I was in an Asian garden.

Not only is this new facility aesthetically pleasing but it will also serve the wider community through providing a link between the local primary schools and the University of Queensland through language studies. At the official opening on Monday, 1 November, Principal Ross Mackay said:

This facility is a catalyst for a wonderful alliance between the primary schools of Burpengary, Jinibara, Narangba Valley, Narangba and Burpengaiy Meadows. As a coalition of principals we will spearhead a seamless model of the learning of Japanese from mid Primary School right through to the end of year 12. This language learning centre, combined with immensely talented students, highly skilled teachers, supportive and involved parents, and the wonderful support of the University of Queensland and the Japanese consulate, we’ll ensure remarkable learning outcomes for our students.

The University of Queensland School of Languages and comparative culture studies will be working in partnership with Narangba Valley State High School to bridge the gap between learning languages in high school and tertiary institutions. Professor Mike Levy said at the opening:

Before visiting Narangba Valley State High School for the first time earlier this year, I really didn’t know what to expect. Coming from a well-resourced university environment like the University of Queensland, I had perhaps some of the pre-conceptions of a member of that institution, thinking perhaps that a Language Learning Centre in a high school environment would be somewhat low-key, without the benefits of truly state-of-the-art facilities, equipment and resources like a University. Well, did I have a surprise in store for me! As we can see all around us, the facilities and resources here are truly exceptional.

Truly exceptional is exactly how I would describe this facility and many others which have been built under the Labor government’s Building the Education Revolution program. Due to the prominence placed on the Japanese language at the school, the Consul General of Japan, Mr Makoto Hinei, also attended the official opening. Mr Hinei also praised the new language centre. He said:

It is my belief that this centre is so much more than a building with facilities. It is also an inspiration to the students to truly engage with Japanese, to immerse themselves in its culture and to discover our new passion for the language.

In the last three weeks I have opened six different BER projects and each has been completely different from the one before.

Just two weeks ago I opened the new junior library and refurbished classrooms at Emmanuel College on the Gold Coast. What was once a car park is now a brand new grade 7 building and two buildings were joined together to expand the library and enable the juniors to have a separate space from the seniors. Principal Graham Leo said the school received ‘outstandingly good value’ out of the BER, and head of library and information resources, Deanne Pienaar, said it was ‘a glorious opportunity to accommodate learning needs’. What caught my eye about this school was the great use of space and natural lighting. The new classrooms have glass bi-fold doors that enable the entire classroom to be opened up. This allows the students to do art work outside. The new library has a skylight tunnel and even a reading deck. This school received a lot out of their $3.2 million by working with their architects and getting as much out of the funding as possible.

As a Queensland senator, I have been up and down the state opening these new facilities and I have heard nothing but praise for this federal government initiative. Many principals, P&C presidents and students have most genuinely asked that I bring back thanks to the Prime Minister, Julia Gillard, and Minister Chris Evans for this extraordinary program. To some people, this funding is just about bricks and mortar, but the BER goes deeper than that. While schools are getting new buildings, they are also receiving new opportunities—new opportunities to expand, new opportunities to learn and new opportunities to excel.

It is evident that the Labor government acted swiftly by implementing the $16.2 billion Building the Education Revolution program under the $42 billion Nation Building and Jobs Plan. The BER program provided $14.1 billion under the Primary Schools for the 21st Century—P21—element for 10,521 projects in 7,942 schools to build new libraries, multipurpose halls and classrooms and to refurbish existing facilities. Also, $821.8 million was allocated to the Science and Language Centres for 21st Secondary Schools element of the BER for 537 schools to refurbish or construct new science laboratories or language learning centres, and $1.28 billion was allocated to the National School Pride element to refurbish buildings, construct or upgrade fixed shade structures, covered outdoor learning areas and sporting facilities, as well as green upgrades, for 12,680 projects in 9,483 schools.

The Nation Building and Jobs Plan was implemented to stimulate our economy and ensure Australia did not go down the same path as the United States or other OECD nations. Without hesitation we implemented this plan and, without the support of the coalition, it was a success. We invested in infrastructure, roads, social housing, renewable energy, small business and defence housing. We even put stimulus payments into the hands of our working Australians. The coalition has done nothing but criticise the Nation Building and Jobs Plan from day one. I think they are envious because they were not able to come up with the idea themselves. They opposed this package, which kept our economy afloat and Australians in jobs. They have criticised our responsible spending daily, but they always forget to mention that our budget will be back in the black in 2012-13, three years ahead of schedule.

According to the 2010-11 Mid-Year Economic and Fiscal Outlook, which was released a few weeks ago, the financial future of this country looks extremely positive. It forecasts strong growth, falling unemployment and the fastest positive turnaround in the budget in more than 40 years. Our unemployment rate, which is currently 5.1 per cent, is expected to drop to 4.5 per cent by the June quarter in 2012. This shows our fiscal position is positive. Compared to the unemployment rate of the United States, which is 9.6 per cent, and the Euro area, where it is 10.1 per cent, our unemployment rate is low. If the Labor government had not taken swift action to stimulate our economy, our prospects would be dire. Unemployment would be high and 200,000 people would have lost their jobs. Instead, this year 360,400 jobs were created. With 55,800 created in September and 56,700 in August, this is the biggest two-month increase in employment in 22 years.

Our stimulus projects not only provided brand new or revitalised infrastructure but also kept our construction industry going. At a BER I went to a couple of weeks ago, I met with two representatives of a company which was saved by this initiative. They told me they were getting no work apart from BERs and that without these projects they would have had to close their business. This company employs about 30 full-time staff and, while that does not seem to be a huge number, that is 30 families who would have been affected had it not been for the Building the Education Revolution program.

If you do not want to accept my word on that, I have some quotes from some of the people at the openings. I will continue with my contributions on this matter in this chamber until this amazing project is exhausted. Ross Mackay, Principal of Narangba Valley State High School, said:

This is unbelievable. It provides an outstanding opportunity to further enhance high quality learning outcomes for our students.

Anne Rebgetz, Principal of St Columban’s College, said:

We wouldn’t have this building if it wasn’t for that money, so its like a dream becoming a reality.

Tracy Egan, Principal of Lawnton State School, said:

Investment in our schools is a wise investment for the present and the future of our nation. I’d like to acknowledge the $2.1 million from the Federal Government. We are immensely proud of the results and will see the difference in the way we learn and teach.

There were also comments from Maris Element, Principal of Pine Community School, who said:

None of this could have taken place without the support of the Commonwealth Government. The program ... was a lifeline for small schools and Pine Community School will always remember the support we received and that none of this would have been possible without that funding.

I was also fortunate enough to get some photographs. I mentioned this earlier in my comments. They were photographs of members from a variety of areas—in particular, there was a photograph from Longman, with the member standing with the principal and the school captains, indicating how proud he was to attend the opening of the Northpine Christian College. It clearly demonstrates that there are people whom the opposition contradicts. The opposition says it does not support the initiative, but there are members out there in our communities going to these events because they are obviously proud of them as well. I have a heap of photographs indicating that members support these openings. They will continue to attend these openings and will partake in photographic opportunities.

Senator Mason —By memo!

Senator FURNER —You should be in those photographs, Senator Mason. I think you are disappointed that you are not. I am really proud to stand here today as a senator in a government which acted swiftly on this initiative for the betterment of Australia. It is a government which will kept the nation out of recession; a government which will keep people in jobs; a government that has invested in infrastructure for our future generations; a government that has revitalised our schools; a government which did what it had to do in a global financial crisis; and its strict spending discipline will ensure our budget is back in the black in 2012-13.