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

Senator Hanson Young -Did you know at this stage that your application had been successful?

Mr Mayne -I am not aware of many schools whose applications were not successful.

Senator Hanson Young -In the process, I am saying. Is the pre-meeting after you have been told, 'Yes, you are going to be allocated this'?

Mr Mayne -At the pre-meeting stage the money had been allocated, yes. In essence, the conversation is: 'School A has been allocated $3 million. The school by default has to build a library-go do it.' My experience of many, many years in the construction industry is that that is a recipe for rorting and price gouging. I assure you that in the majority of cases the cost of that building will be the allocated funds.

Senator Hanson Young -Surprise, surprise.

Mr Mayne -You may well say that. The interesting thing in New South Wales is that before the government will refuse to pay a builder the cost of the building has to exceed 105 per cent of the allocated funds. So if you were allocated $1 million the builder can, in effect, charge you $1,050,000 and the government will pay it.

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Senator Hanson Young  -Mr Mayne, why have you spent so much time putting this analysis together? We have heard directly from principals, presidents of school P&C groups, education unions, and representatives-or one representative thus far, we are yet to see more-from state and federal departments. They obviously are intrinsically linked to this whole process. Why would you do this?

Mr Mayne -At the start I was trying to look out for the best interests of Holland Park State School of whose P&C I was, at the time, president. I like to think that I took my role there as responsibly as I could. As Senator Marshall points out, it may be some years since I have actually worked in the construction industry but it is a bit like riding a bike: once you have learned how to do it you tend not to forget. I was very familiar with the process and as time has gone on even though my relationship with Holland Park has ceased-my children no longer go there-I would still like to see the school benefit from this process as much as it can. Beyond that-my wife would probably say that I have become obsessed. I have always followed a guy, in the US, a writer named Izzy Stone-you may not have heard of him. He was probably one of the most renowned investigative journalists in US history. This is sort of post war. All of the greatest scoops in his journalistic life came from looking through the volumes and volumes of data that came out of governments. I had been reading about Izzy Stone in the middle of last year and I thought, 'That is an interesting approach. I wonder what one can find by reading the documents that are published by governments?' Now, I have found that the New South Wales government, to their credit, say that they have an open book policy in publishing: everything about BER is on their website. That is not quite true, in that their website does not determine who the builder is or who the construction manager is. It also does not identify the type of building that is being built. The website will not say it is a 14-core library or a seven-core canteen; it will say library or canteen.

The New South Wales government do not identify the regions in which their schools sit, so to do an analysis of which builders have actually got what jobs is very difficult. I was actually able to achieve it only a few days back but only by finding data relating to school staffing and an Excel spreadsheet that the government provided as to where teachers were allocated where it mentioned the region so that it could all be cross-referenced back.

In Queensland, cost data for individual schools is not available but the allocation of projects to builders and the allocation of money to schools is available in two separate documents, but not in the same document. I was able to find a software programmer in Israel who had developed a program that enabled you to interrogate a PDF file-I am not sure if you are familiar with that type of file-and extract it into a spreadsheet. Once you had all of the data in a spreadsheet, by using the name of the school, which is the common denominator in all of this, you could cross-reference the data. That was what I did.

I often ask myself why I am doing it. I have been vilified by some politicians.

Senator Hanson Young -What are you referring to there?

Mr Mayne -They have had goes at me. Even bureaucrats have. They are not happy to hear from me, and I understand that and that is fine. I am really here to tell the story, as I see it, as everyone else has been availed the same opportunity. I have no axe to grind. This is just the information that is.

Senator Hanson Young -In the information you have given us in your submission there is really nothing specific about your old school; it is all based on other schools in other projects.

Mr Mayne -Correct.

Senator Hanson Young -What ended up happening to Holland Park State School? What type of project did they get and how did that work?

Mr Mayne -The project definition plan was probably accepted by the federal government in around July or August of last year, I believe. That was split into two lots of money. The school had an enrolment of 741 students. It was allocated $3 million under P21 and $200,000 under the NSP component. The $3 million was divided into two parts: one of $2.2 million for the construction of some classrooms and another amount of $800,000 that was allocated to the completion of the hall that the P&C had originally started. So that was the addition of a school tuckshop, landscaping, an audio/lighting fee out of the hall and various other components.

In late August 2009 we were allocated Baulderstone as a builder. At the premeeting we discussed how all of that would work. I understand at subsequent meetings that Baulderstone told the education department-and which was referred to the school-that the $2.2 million would not be enough to build the classrooms and they wanted to effectively second $300,000 from the hall refurbishment allocation across to the classroom work. The hall work has commenced in the last month-as in completing that-and to my knowledge there has been no activity in respect of the classrooms.

Senator Hanson Young -I just want to go back to this point that you made about irritating elected members-although I am not sure that was the word you used; I think you may have said 'frustrating'. Kevin Rudd is your local member.

Mr Mayne -Correct.

Senator Hanson Young -Had you had much to do with him prior to approaching him over this issue?

Mr Mayne -I had had meetings with him in the past, yes, but on completely non-related issues-even prior to my involvement in the P&C at the school.

Senator Hanson Young -Sure. So you are obviously an active member of your local community, then. It is not the most normal thing for people to do. Not everybody hassles their local MP. I wish they did-as somebody who believes in grassroots democracy-but not everyone does.

Mr Mayne -I would like to think that I have never hassled my local member. The opportunity never really avails itself, because we rarely ever see him in our electorate these days. As the Prime Minister, he obviously has a fairly important role, and we do not often see him.

Senator Hanson Young -But you obviously have an understanding of how government works, of how the process works. You had a concern, you went to your local member, you put in a submission to the Senate inquiry and you have done all this research, so you obviously have a good understanding of the workings of government.

Mr Mayne -I think that would be a very long bow to draw. I choose not to know. I would find it far too frustrating, I think, for me and my personality. I have to admit I do have personality flaws, as do we all.

Senator Hanson Young -As does Kevin Rudd, we hear.

Senator MASON -Very cruel!

Mr Mayne -In respect of this particular project, never in my life have I ever taken the steps that I have in respect of this. I found myself in a position where I had skills-even though they may be related to a previous life.

Senator Hanson Young -Have you been working or in consultation with people from other schools who are frustrated in terms of this?

Mr Mayne -I have had limited contact with other schools.

Senator Hanson Young -Or other parents? There is not a parent support group for BER disgruntled members of the community?

Mr Mayne -I wish there were. I have considered starting a Facebook group. There are a lot of people who are concerned. The ones that I speak to certainly convey that they feel it is way beyond their experience and ability to actually do something about it.

Senator Hanson Young -So your major concern is about the process that has been used; it is not necessarily about how much money the government put out there? Obviously-

Mr Mayne -In respect of the BER, I am happy to go on the record, right here and now, and say: fantastic. The concept of putting needed infrastructure into every school in the land, I could not speak more highly of. Some people from the independent Catholic schools gave evidence this morning-which you obviously missed. They have done an absolutely rip-roaring job and they should be applauded. What I personally find galling is that, when you have to deal with the public school system, it is not just in the BER where they are being overcharged; it is in everything they do in construction. At Holland Park State School, we needed to have the guttering changed on the administration building. I had a local roofing contractor who was doing the hall at the time give me a verbal quote of $1,800 to replace it. You look at the tax office comparative data, which is publicly available, and their guesstimate is about $2,000. From QBuild, which is part of the Department of Public Works in Queensland, the price was $11,000 plus materials.

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