Senator Hanson Young -Let me know if you have already answered any of the questions I ask. I apologise: I am jumping between two committees today. I have gone from paid parental leave to Building the Education Revolution. Usually you would assume that they should seamlessly mould into each other!
The first question I have is around the audit you have done and the investigations you looked at. Did you find any discrepancy in the effectiveness in the ways the program was taken up and run with between the public schools-managed through the state departments-and the independent and Catholic school systems? We have heard consistently through this inquiry that it is being handled by the individual schools and their representative bodies quite differently.
Dr Clarke -While you were out of the room we had a bit of a discussion around the focus of the audit and the role of the Auditor-General in forming opinions about the administration of Commonwealth government agencies and their administration of Commonwealth government programs. There is a limitation on the role of the Auditor-General in drawing conclusions about the performance of, say, individual state government entities such as state government education departments and the like.
Senator Hanson Young -But surely, from the perspective of the federal government and the federal agencies, you would be able to tell how quickly people had their applications in and how quickly approvals were made. Or, are you saying that on a state-by-state basis there was no link there? How would we assume that the stimulus was out working if we did not know how quickly people were getting their projects underway, regardless of whether they were in the private independent school sector or the public sector?
Dr Clarke -Sorry; I am struggling a little bit.
Senator Hanson Young -What I am asking is, are you suggesting that you cannot answer that question because there was really no feedback to the federal agencies once the money was out to the states to manage the programs in their state schools?
Dr Clarke -No, we are not saying that. One of the other things that we discussed earlier on was the timing with which the audit was conducted. This was very early on in the establishment of the program-it is a multiyear program, and we were auditing at the stage of six months in. Fieldwork was conducted in August, September and October of last year. I think it would be fair to say-and Dr Rowlands will correct me if I am wrong; he was out in the field-that there was a huge amount of willingness and goodwill amongst all education authorities to implement this program. I do not know whether Dr Rowlands has anything to add to that, but we saw enormous goodwill across the board.
Dr Rowlands -If you are asking whether there are any differences amongst the different education authorities, we did not detect any anecdotally from being in the field. They were all very helpful to us, very enthusiastic about the project and keen to get on with it.
Senator Hanson Young -Okay.
Mr Cahill -If it helps you the design of the policy framework and the rules were talked about to a degree. Round 1 schools had to have decisions made and to have started up by a certain date. They had certain designs and they did not discriminate between government or non-government schools. So each of the education authorities was given the rules, and it was then very much a case of having to act as strongly as you can within those rules. Our ability to form opinions as to the performance of those individual education authorities is limited by the extent to which we can form an opinion on those but, more importantly, by what data was held by the Commonwealth department to show how they were performing. Would it be correct to say that?
Dr Clarke -Yes.
Senator Hanson Young -I totally take the point that the assessment has been done at the early stages. Yes, it is three years, and I guess in the next 18 months it will be much easier to be able to tell where we are at. But even when the audit was completed, or towards the end of the completion, were you concerned or was there any evidence that you looked at that indicated that the delay in commencements of certain projects affected the stimulus that it was meant to achieve in those particular communities? We have heard it from some schools that are still waiting for soil to be turned despite the fact that they were given approval months and months ago.
Dr Clarke -We are not economists, so I would be loath to make any claims about a stimulatory impact in a precise sense. A couple of points do need to be borne in mind. Stimulus can occur before money has been spent, particularly in this case where the builders can see that money is coming and make decisions based on that. They may decide not to lay off a worker or workers and instead retain them on the workforce because they can understand that activity is coming down the pipeline. We do have some discussion in chapter 7 about the amount of money that had been spent up to the end of December 2009. The department may well be able to provide you with more up-to-date figures on the amount of actual cash that has entered the economy.
Senator Hanson Young -Did you make any direct assessment of concerns from people in their local communities? We have heard from schools that were really excited that they were going to be able to get a new canteen or hall or whatever. Also, as schools are the hub of the community, they were really excited, about having a project that was going to be about stimulating and employing local people-particularly young people-in their local community. Some of the submissions from school communities indicate that they feel a little disappointed that that does not seem to have happened in some areas because of the way the various agencies have contracted the work out. Was there any real assessment in terms of the localisation of employment?
Dr Clarke -The short answer is no. Again, this may reflect the timing of the audit. When we undertook fieldwork, not a great deal of construction would yet have commenced.
Senator Hanson Young -Okay. That will be interesting to look at.