Speech - 4 February 2009 - Appropriation Bill

Appropriation (Nation Building and Jobs) Bill (No. 1) speech in the House of Representatives

Mr PYNE (Sturt) (5:33 PM) —I have a couple more questions. The Building the Education Revolution is not part of my responsibilities but I would be interested to hear the Deputy Prime Minister’s response as to what measure she has put in place or is going to put in place to deal with a number of issues that are arising in the so-called Building the Education Revolution. There are two which appear to be causing the most concern because they involve the use of Commonwealth taxpayers’ money in a wasteful and poor fashion. One is skimming by state governments: the removal of state government spending on school infrastructure in what they see as a bonanza of Commonwealth taxpayers’ money therefore giving them the capacity to remove their own funding. I know that the Prime Minister and the Deputy Prime Minister have said they will not tolerate skimming by state governments, but even in my own state of South Australia we saw in the budget handed down about 10 days ago that the state government reduced their spending on state infrastructure in schools by 12 per cent. In most years you would expect a state government to be increasing their spending on school infrastructure, not decreasing it, so 12 per cent is a very dramatic decline in state government commitment to their schools, which of course they are responsible for. I am sure that pattern in South Australia is being repeated around Australia. In fact, there has been anecdotal evidence of that in Victoria in particular and it would be surprising if the hopeless and rancid New South Wales state government was not attempting to do similar things. So skimming is a big issue in terms of the Building the Education Revolution.

Another great concern to people is profiteering by private enterprise. There is a great deal of anecdotal evidence that tenders and bids on school infrastructure are being inflated by up to 30 per cent because bureaucrats are telling builders and business generally that they have to get this money spent and out the door as quickly as possible. We have already had examples in the parliament, such Cleve Area School, of where profiteering appears to be occurring. I am sure that was not the intention of the Building the Education Revolution plan. I would hope that the minister would not, through vanity, refuse to accept that there is a failure in the delivery of these projects on the ground. I hope that she will in fact take the concerns raised by the opposition and others seriously and to heart. I hope she will adopt the call of the opposition to let the Auditor-General do a proper referral of the delivery of the Building the Education Revolution so that taxpayers’ money is properly spent and accounted for.

There is also the issue of targeting. There are schools that already have very substantial infrastructure, have everything that a school could really want for its pupils, but are being given $3 million grants. Meanwhile, there are other schools where the grants are much smaller but the needs are much greater. That is of great concern as well. No-one is suggesting that schools, especially non-government schools, should suddenly be discriminated against because they already have excellent infrastructure. A properly targeted $14.7 billion program would take into account what schools already have and would ensure that those schools in areas of low-socioeconomic background in particular are properly provided for.

There is also the issue of the provision of unwanted infrastructure. There is anecdotal evidence on the Education for Australia website, educationforaustralia.com.au, which I have begun, of many schools that already have the infrastructure that the state department and the federal government are insisting that they build. There are examples of schools that already have gymnasiums that have been told they have to have a gymnasium. There are schools that have perfectly adequate school infrastructure today in terms of classrooms and that want those classrooms to be air-conditioned but are being told only if they knock those buildings down and build new buildings will they be able to include air-conditioning.

Finally, just to clear up one matter that the Deputy Prime Minister seemed to misunderstand today: when I was talking about Hastings Public School, I was not confused between New South Wales and Victoria. I was talking about the Hastings Public School in northern New South Wales. The evidence that she needs to perhaps go back to is from 2003, when they were provided with $40,000 for a covered outdoor learning area. My question was entirely precise. They were provided with $40,000 in 2003 for a covered outdoor learning area. They are now being provided with $400,000 for a covered outdoor learning area. That, in anyone’s language, is a very large inflation rate. We will continue to ask questions because we are standing up for the Australian taxpayer. I hope that the Deputy Prime Minister will be big enough, woman enough, to accept that not everything she is doing is working and she needs to take another look at it.

RTop

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Written and authorised by Hon Christopher Pyne MP, 429 Magill Road, St Morris SA 5068

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