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EDUCATION, EMPLOYMENT AND WORKPLACE RELATIONS REFERENCES COMMITTEE - 17/05/2010 - Primary Schools for the 21st Century program

Estimates & Committees
Sarah Hanson-Young 17 May 2010

 Senator Hanson Young -In the terms of reference of the government taskforce that was announced a couple of weeks ago to look into some of these issues there is no mention of the issue of poor targeting. There is no mention of how we deal with the issues of schools getting buildings that perhaps they did not necessarily need when what they needed was upgrades to something else, let alone the idea of huge amounts of money going to infrastructure for perhaps some of those independent schools who really did not need much help at all at the expense, you would assume, of schools getting more infrastructure for those needs that exist. The reason I say 'at the expense of' is that it was a specified amount of money. If you are going to spend all that money and you want all of those jobs out there to be created, building those new libraries or new halls for King's School or wherever else was obviously at the expense of buildings for some of the more independent schools that were in need or of course government schools. Are you disappointed that that has not been looked at as one of the terms of reference?

Mr Gavrielatos -I think it would have been an important term of reference. These are opportunities that are once in a lifetime opportunities. I hope we will, but it is unlikely that we will see such sorts of investments ever again in school infrastructure. The point of the exercise is to maximise that potential both in economic stimulus terms, we accept that, and also in terms of educational outcomes. We believe you can do both.

 Senator Hanson Young -You said in your submission that you would like to see some type of review mechanism to ensure that state governments do not start scrimping on their maintenance budgets because of the money that is being put through the stimulus package. Where do you see that type of review fitting best? Are you already concerned that this is happening, or are you just trying to ensure that it will not happen?

Mr Gavrielatos -It may be pre-emptive, but the fact is that the Prime Minister himself said in February 2009 when announcing this program that it should not be seen as a green light for any state or territory government to reduce any effort. We would hope that evidence is brought to bear that that is in fact the case. At this stage, we cannot say categorically whether or not that is the case. We will be investigating and scrutinising state budgets when they become available. Given that the federal government made that very clear upon announcement, we hope that the federal government, through its relationship with the state governments, can provide clarity around that and confirm that that is in fact the case.

 Senator Hanson Young -The federal government should make sure in its quarterly reports perhaps that that has happened and that they are keeping a watching eye-

Mr Gavrielatos -I am sure that there will be plenty of opportunities and that a variety of reports will be available whereby these matters can be brought to the attention of the public.

 Senator Hanson Young -But you believe it is the role of the federal government to ensure that those reviews happen?

Mr Gavrielatos -I would hope so, because it was the Prime Minister himself who made that very clear in announcing the program.

 Senator Hanson Young -What would you like to see happen now? You have identified that there have been missed opportunities. I totally agree with you about infrastructure investment in the education sector. Why the Greens supported the stimulus package in the first place was that a lot of that money was going towards the education sector. In terms of the issues that you have identified, such as poor targeting and missed opportunities, where would you like to see it go from here? Is this just something for us to learn from and so, therefore, we will make sure that in the future we do not see it happen again, or does this mean that we now need to re-look at the other types of investment across the school sector and ensure that we have a more needs based approach?

Mr Gavrielatos -The first thing that we would hope is that there is no reduction in the total effort with respect to the BER. I have to make that point because we were quite concerned on Friday that, in an interview on the AM program, the Leader of the Opposition, Tony Abbott, was not prepared to give an absolute commitment that the program would continue. So we hope that the program continues in terms of the effort being made in this area and also in terms of the full financial and monetary commitment there. That is the first thing we would hope for.

The other thing we would say is that there should be an exploration of exactly what contractual arrangements have been made thus far in the expenditure of all moneys, because we are not sure what they have been. Where moneys can be better targeted, they should be. But this program should also serve as an important lesson in funding in general and schools funding in general. As you would be aware, a review of schools funding has been announced and these matters would all inform such a discussion for the country, given the significance of the schools funding review over the course of the next little while. I say that because there are some other examples I could give you of missed opportunities and a lack of targeting involved in funding. For example, a school at Swan Hill-a campus of the Brethren schools-received $800,000 for a school that runs two primary classes with 11 students. Another Brethren school at Kangaroo Flat in Bendigo received $1.2 million to rebuild a library. The school had only 11 students. They were able to do that, and their ability to do that is symptomatic of the schools funding regime introduced by the previous government in 2001. This has allowed schools to declare themselves as campuses of another facility and therefore to redirect moneys in that way. These things are symptomatic of the crook nature, the sick nature, of schools funding in Australia, and we would hope that all these things would inform the future funding review.

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