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EDUCATION, EMPLOYMENT AND WORKPLACE RELATIONS REFERENCES COMMITTEE - 19/05/2010 - Primary Schools for the 21st Century program

Senator Hanson Young -Senator Marshall asked about whether that would be one of the types of cases that would be on your list, but my question goes a little further than that. This question is for the department. Ms Paul, in the cases where regardless of the reason a classroom or a canteen was built without, for example, the ramp that it was meant to have-so some of the kids could get in there-or cupboard doors on the cupboards, you can point your fingers all over the place, but who is actually going to cover that gap? Who is going to ensure that that is a workable space? Is it now up to that individual school or that individual state education department or is there a role for the federal government? Do you then get back that money to make sure that the builder puts the cupboard doors on and includes the air conditioning or whatever? My question is about more than just the investigation side. I am asking, from a federal level, what our role is to ensure that the product is usable.

Ms Paul -My colleagues may wish to comment, too. Of course everyone has a role at various levels. The contractor has an obligation to meet building standards and to meet the terms of the contract. The education authority has obligations to meet occupational health and safety standards, building standards, whatever their own quality standards are and so on. We have had a role in some instances. Among the 59 complaints that we mentioned before, some of them, to my recollection, were about schools complaining that they had not got their ramp so disabled access was not possible. I would have to go back to get the precise case, but I remember one where we basically ended up negotiating with an education authority. There had been an oversight and the ramp was put in, so that sort of negotiation can occur.

Senator Hanson Young -Are they the types of things that you will be looking at as well, Mr Orgill? There are recommendations that we cannot have kids in a hotbox without air conditioning in a place where the average temperature in summer is over 38 degrees. We cannot be building modern buildings for the future if we do not deal with those things. Is that the stuff that you will be making recommendations to government about?

Mr Orgill -Yes it will be. We are looking at the complaints and they tend to fall into four categories. The first category is how many students did we have and how much funding did we get? The second category is what product was delivered and what was the consultation process for product? The third category relates to policy type issues and the fourth category, which is really our focus, is value for money. Often cases where a walkway has been forgotten or it is too hot, as you have mentioned Senator «Hanson»-«Young», are the result of de-scoping. So it is a value-for-money issue and, therefore, clearly falls within our purview.

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Senator Hanson Young -Aside from the questions around the dollar value for money, one of the things that kept coming up, regardless of how many complaints you say there are or how people are feeling, whether they have officially complained or not, is that those within the government school sector are asking, 'Why did our school get offered a demountable building while the school down the road got this nice permanent fixture with bells and whistles, and it happens to be in the non-government sector?' They obviously project managed that themselves, and that is the way it has happened. Regardless of the dollar figures, surely that sends a mixed message to those within the public school system. They wonder why they are getting packages of demountable buildings when, down the road, these schools in the non-government sector are getting nice permanent constructions. How do you explain that, when it was meant to be a project that was investing in all schools equally?

Ms Paul -Once again, the answer is the same. You have to look at what is actually going on inside your school. It depends: maybe that school was eligible for a $3 million project; maybe this school already had a hall and a library and was doing something smaller; maybe the costs have not been compared correctly. It is really important to look at this on a case-by-case basis.

Senator Hanson Young -It keeps coming up, though. In Victoria a lot of the schools do not know how much their constructions cost, because they have not been allowed to really get into the nitty-gritty of those details. They do not have access to that information, but they do have access to the view of the physical building on their school premises versus the physical building at a school down the road that happens to be in the non-government sector. If you look at a demountable building versus a permanent structure-a nice, glorious school hall-what is the communication that is going back to those schools and those communities? It comes back to what Senator Marshall was saying: it is the process that has fallen down. What I am concerned about is that this was a lot of money to invest in schools-a really important investment. The Greens supported it. I know the coalition did not, but we supported it. We saw it as an opportunity to really invest in schools and to give something back. I went to a public school, and I do not think we had had any capital works since long before I was born. It was like a scene out of Summer Heights High. So I thought, thank God we have some investment in infrastructure. But if it is paling in comparison with the infrastructure of those independent non-government schools, those school communities do not feel very good.

Mr Orgill -Perhaps I can answer that. I also went to a public school, and I dare say I am a lot older than you.

Senator Hanson Young -Maybe they looked newer back then!

Mr Orgill -Maybe they did. I think the elapsed time in terms of investment in public schools has been lengthy. Certainly that is what we on the implementation task force will be looking for. The data that has come out of the independent Catholic schools has been incredibly useful for us in benchmarking individual school costs as well as the processes at the state public level compared with independent Catholic schools. Certainly it is within our remit to make recommendations on policy and implementation for the part of the program that continues until the end of 2011.

On costs, in terms of the task force, I have been delighted at the cooperation I have received from the states in giving me cost data. I get access to the cost data so I can drill down and compare, and I am conscious that at least in New South Wales-which I am looking at initially-they are putting a lot of that information out publicly.

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