Senator FIFIELD (Victoria) (Deputy Manager of Opposition Business in the Senate) (7:11 PM) -I rise to give voice to the disappointment and frustration of the school community at Hallam Valley Primary School in the electorate of Holt.
The Hallam Valley Primary School is an active and committed school community with over 400 students and some 18 full-time staff members. Sadly, this school community is another in a long list that has been short-changed as part of this government’s failed Building the Education Revolution scheme. The school was originally allocated $3 million, and the government’s national stimulus website confirms the school is to receive $3 million dollars. It is no surprise, however, that that is not what the school is getting.
In what has characterised this government, the spin is far removed from the reality. In this case, Julia Gillard’s hamburger with the lot is a little more like a stale ham sandwich. In fact the school has been advised that only $1.5 million is available, with the balance ‘seconded’ to meet cost overruns at other projects at other schools. It is a classic case of robbing Peter to pay Paul, only in this case it is at the expense of a school community that was seeking to run a companion project alongside its gymnasium project and all within the $3 million budget that the government’s website still tells the school that it has. Not only does Hallam Valley Primary School feel short-changed the school council are now extremely worried that they will need to find the money themselves to finish their project to ensure that it is in keeping with the rest of the school precinct and meets safety requirements. This is money that the school does not have and that parents will need to find.
In addition to its gymnasium building, the school was excited about the prospect of a library/resource centre to finally replace the temporary structure connecting two portable classrooms. An independent architect had confirmed to the school that this project could be completed with the balance of the funds promised to it. It is very hard for the school not to be disappointed and frustrated when non-government and Catholic schools in the area have been granted their full allocation. Not only has the non-government sector been able to complete their projects but they have been able to do so with much greater flexibility, much greater transparency of costs and much better value for money, and also with a greater say in the buildings and greater control over the project as a whole.
Hallam Valley Primary School want to know and deserve to know how much their gymnasium building has cost. At the moment they do not know and no-one can tell them. They want to know what money will be available to them to complete essential landscaping works around the building and what steps will be taken to make good the adjacent basketball court damaged as part of the construction process. The school council is also demanding that legitimate safety concerns be addressed. They want the project to deliver proper fencing to ensure the adjacent playground area is separated from the new gymnasium building. They also want the project to deliver proper car parking and access to the building so that it can meet the objectives of community use. These concerns need to be answered and the costs need to be covered, as promised by the government. There is no way that a decade of sausage sizzles and cake stalls can provide the funding to fill the gap.
I want to commend the president of the school council, Mark Ogden, for his perseverance on behalf of the school. He has refused to be bullied by the process. He has taken his concerns to the Senate inquiry. He has followed up with a complaint to the BER task force. One can only suspect that the task force has been inundated as, not quite three weeks since his submission of the complaint, the only response to date has been an email acknowledgment. To borrow one of the Prime Minister’s any overused lines, the bottom line is this: the government needs to fix this issue and it needs to provide certainty to the school.
I am someone who has always had grave misgivings about the Building the Education Revolution program. I have always had concerns about the quantum of the BER; $16.4 billion is too much. The package as a whole was not necessary. We have never argued against stimulus, but we thought that the stimulus should have been smaller and much better targeted. We have always argued that any spending of this nature should have followed the model of the coalition’s successful Investing in Our Schools Program, which gave schools the opportunity to nominate the projects that they needed. The funding bypassed the state governments and went to the schools, and schools had the capacity to manage their projects. They got to pick their projects, they got to manage them and they got better value for money. That has been the approach in the independent sector with the BER and, as Senator Mason pointed out in a contribution earlier today, the independent sector has not had the problems that the government school sector has had. When you give school communities choice and trust school communities to pick their projects and to manage them they do much better.
That is all that Hallam Valley Primary School is asking for-to have a say and an input and also to be given what they were promised and not be short-changed. The problems that Hallam Valley Primary School are experiencing could have been easily overcome if they had had greater control and greater capacity to manage their project. The school community is to be commended for not lying down, for complaining, for giving evidence to the Senate inquiry and for lodging a submission with the BER task force. This is a school community that deserves certainty so that they can plan for their future.