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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 -It seems to be clear from your submission, your verbal presentation and your answers to questions that you feel frustrated that you have been left on your own, so to speak, to manage this web of bureaucracy. Is there anybody that you have spoken to aside from the federal education department, the minister's office and anyone in the state education department? Is there anybody else that you been able to have dealings with that has been able to help you through this process?

Mrs Eichstadt -No.

Senator Hanson Young -In the beginning, were you assigned any one point of contact? Did anyone say, for example, 'These are the people looking after schools in your area'?

Mrs Eichstadt -No.

Senator Hanson Young -Do you think having somebody like that would have been a bit more helpful for you?

Mrs Eichstadt -It would have been fantastic.

Senator Hanson Young -I am not sure if you were here earlier when the Catholic grants association were presenting, but it seems that there is a stark contrast. The way they managed it, schools knew who to contact and who to speak to-that is, the buck stopped with them on communication. So it was a bit easier. Have you spoken to the education unions or anybody like that for help?

Mrs Eichstadt -The southern region is the one that we report to and that could be where some of the confusion arose. The gentleman who was in charge of the BER at the outset, Peter Greenwell, left that position and it went on to someone else. He has since returned to that position. Any letters we sent only had his name as a contact and, since he was not there, there was no contact.

Senator Hanson Young -That seems to be one of the clearer points. In terms of what it is that you will now end up with-I take note that you have said you are still awaiting its installation so you are not quite sure-have you been given a point of contact now to deal with if there are problems or if the time frames blow out?

Mrs Eichstadt -Judy Beckworth, our school principal, has been and it is my understanding that she has been liaising with someone to take delivery of the initial part of the installation. I think it is going to come through at the end of July.

Senator Hanson Young -My concern on your behalf would be that you have had all these problems with communication and correspondence in the application process and when building a big project, regardless of how template specific it is, there are surely going to be sticking points and ups and downs throughout the installation process. You would want to make sure you had somebody you knew you could go to who knew what was going on. I would be concerned if the principal had not been given that direct information. Have you spoken to other schools in your area about this?

Mrs Eichstadt -Yes.

Senator Hanson Young -In conversations that you have had is there a similar frustration about the communication?

Mrs Eichstadt -It is very similar, especially with that other older school I was talking about. The communication has been one of the hardest things to manage in the whole project.

Senator Hanson Young -I do not want to make assumptions and I do not want to put words in your mouth, so tell me if this is right or wrong. From your submission and from everything that you have said today, it seems that the main concern that you have is the lack of consultation, the lack of communication and the frustration of not understanding what is going on, as opposed to the issue, which some people are grabbing onto, of whether schools are being ripped off in terms of value for money. It sounds as though the process is of more concern.

Mrs Eichstadt -It definitely is. The process for us has been hindered from the word go. We cannot comment on the value for money until we actually get the modules delivered to our school. As a school councillor, I cannot explain to our community why what has happened has happened because nobody has explained to us why the steps taken have resulted in us getting the $850,000 module.

Senator Hanson Young -Having some type of area coordinator on behalf of the state or federal departments would have been helpful, wouldn't it?

Mrs Eichstadt -All you got was an email address. You sent an email through to the BER and you would get an automated response to say it had been logged and would be attended to, but there was no particular person's name assigned to it. You were just emailing a system.

Senator Hanson Young -You made a comment in your opening statement about the lack of transparency in the whole process. You commented just then about emailing the system as opposed to having somebody you could to talk to where the buck stopped and you knew that your concerns, questions or queries where being heard, let alone actioned. Who do you think needs to take responsibility for that? You said that you have emailed Julia Gillard's office. There is the minister, then there is the department and the way this project has worked is that it has then been rolled out to the state government departments. Have you had any direct conservations or communication with the state government department?

Mrs Eichstadt -I emailed and wrote to the state government departments and to Bronwyn Pike's office. Once again, there was no direct response. Melinda Hatton of Julia Gillard's office is the one who told me that Mount Martha was offered $3 million and that they said no. Then she said, 'Well, it then came down to the state government level.' Then when you speak to someone from southern region, it is almost like an us-and-them situation-one blames the other-and we are the meat in the sandwich. There is no reconciliation anywhere. There is no result.

Senator Hanson Young -Just more of this state-versus-national buck-passing right across the board.

Mrs Eichstadt -I think so.

Senator Hanson Young -Let us hope it does not happen with hospitals. To me, that seems to be the crux of the submission. It would be nice if we could tell you who you should speak to as well. I guess 'no-one really knows' seems to be the crux of it. It would have been nice to have the Victorian state education department perhaps present today-

Mrs Eichstadt -It would have been.

Senator Hanson Young -because I could have asked those questions directly of them, but they declined, so I apologise for that. Overall, though, once this project is up and running in your school, that is better than nothing.

Mrs Eichstadt -It is better than nothing.

Senator Hanson Young -But it seems as though the process could have been better.

Ms O'Brien -And it could have been so much better. Just coming back to what we did apply for. It was for a six-classroom block. So, in all of this, there is a lack of support for the principal as well in terms of-

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Senator Hanson Young -What does the 850-module package look like? What is that? You are saying you applied for six, you were told no. You were then told you could have four. 'Oh, actually, we have changed our mind.' So what is the 850 package?

Ms O'Brien -It is nothing like the original one which would have been a solid construction, not a portable. A permanent construction. So it is like two mod-fives-two classrooms with a sort of middle joining section then another two classrooms with a gallery area in between-nothing special.

Senator Hanson Young -So what you had originally applied for was the permanent structure?

Ms O'Brien -Yes.

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