Release type: Speech


Building the Education Revolution


The Hon Julia Gillard MP
Minister for Education. Minister for Employment and Workplace Relations
Minister for Social Inclusion
Deputy Prime Minister

What we did not hear in 15 minutes of invective and allegation was anything approaching a fact. I think that is best demonstrated by the fact that the school that the Shadow Minister referred to in his address—indeed, it was one of the few schools he actually referred to by name in a generalised attack of invective without facts—was a school in the electorate of the member for Bradfield.

He sought to use the name of that school, and the project there, to say that there is something wrong with the Building the Education Revolution program.

I think it says all we need to know about the calibre of the Shadow Minister’s contributions to this place that the project he refers to at that school is not a Building the Education Revolution project. It is not within this program of Building the Education Revolution.

I am actually going to visit that school with the member for Bradfield. We have looked at the project the member for Bradfield raised in the Parliament with me some time back. It is not a Building the Education Revolution project, as the Shadow Minister has tried to make out. His was an address long on invective and short on facts.

In terms of the various things that the Shadow Minister said which are not accurate, and should not be allowed to stand unchallenged, let me make the following points.

He made an assertion about the Digital Education Revolution program and the provision of computers to students in years 9 to 12. He sought to assert that somehow that program had been halved.

That is completely untrue. The Government is honouring its election commitment to bring computers to students in years 9 to 12 with an effective one to one ratio.

What we promised is what we will deliver. Anything said to the contrary is simply not correct—an assertion that has been made by the Shadow Minister before; an assertion he either does not understand because he has not looked at the facts long enough or an assertion he makes while the facts are so startlingly different.

Then the Shadow Minister made an assertion about the trades training centre program of the Government. He has made this assertion before. He has sought to leave with people the impression that somehow this program has been reduced, that somehow what would have been a benefit for each secondary school in the country is now only a benefit if schools cluster into groups—and he made reference to a group of 10.

That assertion is completely untrue. The trades training centre program is being rolled out, as promised to the Australian people, on the basis that it can benefit every secondary school in the country. What has happened is schools have elected to work together to bring greater resources together and therefore build bigger facilities.

Sometimes schools have decided—I get commentary coming across the table now. But I think that if a principal in good faith works with principals in their region, and says the best thing they could do, rather than each school exercising its entitlement under the program, would be to come together and do something together, then I think that decision and that educational judgment should be respected.

For the Shadow Minister to try and contend that the fact that that is happening means that there is somehow less of an entitlement for each school is simply not correct. Each school could exercise its entitlement under the program—the program is there being delivered as promised, but they have made a different decision.

Once again, the Shadow Minister is long on invective, very keen to parade himself in front of his colleagues, no doubt taking out some insurance against future wheeling and dealing within the Liberal Party. But what never comes to his lips during the course of that is a fact.

On the questions raised about Building the Education Revolution, the Shadow Minister at the table has repeated things that he said in the Main Committee last night.

He says that this program is not targeted right. It does seem to me a moderately amusing assertion in circumstances where he opposes the whole program. Under his world view, and under the world view he voted for in this Parliament, not one school would get anything.

But even if we put aside the absolute irony that the apparent policy of the Liberal Party in education is they stand for better targeting of nothing—because that is what they would deliver if they were elected—let us just deal with the Shadow Minister’s criticism.

Let us say the Shadow Minister is serious about better targeting. I told him in the Main Committee last night, and I tell him again in this Parliament today: if he believes this program can be better targeted, and if he will provide me with a list of the schools that he thinks have infrastructure at a standard that they do not need Building the Education Revolution, then I will take the list of schools he says should get nothing under the program, I will publish it on the Government’s website and we will allow the matter to be debated in the community.

If he wants to do that, give me a list of schools that he says should get nothing, I will publish that list for him. I will make sure, through every communications channel available to the Government, that it is disseminated throughout the community and we will have the debate. I made that offer to him yesterday evening. I am yet to receive the list.

Then of course the Shadow Minister makes assertions about whether or not this is supporting local jobs.

I do not know whether the Shadow Minister spends much time talking to people in his electorate. He may not. But if he did speak to people in his electorate they would say the following to him. The Tagara Group, a construction company based in the member for Sturt’s electorate said:

“The additional (school) projects ... may mean about $48 million in sales for Tagara that would otherwise not have been achieved …”

Presumably, as a local member, as a Shadow Minister, as a member of the Liberal Party, as a supporter of the Leader of the Opposition, he does not think the Tagara Group should have that opportunity to support those jobs.

Another business in the member’s electorate, Bettio Building Contractors, have indicated that they are hoping to take on two large school projects, securing them $6 million. They said: ‘We’d like to think we’d employ a minimum of two extra staff.’

Presumably, the Shadow Minister, the member for Sturt, does not think those two people should have jobs. The story of Sturt is a story that is replicated right around this nation. And right around this nation the Building the Education Revolution program is rolling out to support jobs in local communities and rolling out so that it is giving our schools the infrastructure they need for the 21st century.

Then the Shadow Minister comes in here and, perversely, makes claims on the one hand that this is a Versace program and that somehow too much money is being put into each school building, and then on other occasions he leaps on the other foot and says that not enough is being provided so that the school can build the facility that they are planning.

At some point, the Shadow Minister has to decide whether he is Arthur or Martha, whether what is being provided is too much to build the facility or too little. It is not logically consistent to maintain both positions.

He then quotes a figure that is a ‘per metre construct’ figure given by a construction company. I am sure that the constructor gave the figure in good faith. But what the Shadow Minister ought to know, if he knew anything about the Building the Education Revolution program, is that we are not just talking about the physical construct; we are talking about all of the fit-out inside the building so it is fit for purpose.

Anybody who has built a home, or who has done some renovations at home, knows that there is a substantial difference in the figure between lockup, as builders call it, and actually being back in a fully fitted facility.

A kitchen at lockup will be the walls; a kitchen that is a fully fitted facility will have the sink available, all of the plumbing available, all of the tiling done, the range hood and all of those sorts of things. We are talking about buildings that are acquitted so they are fit for purpose: interactive whiteboards, seating, amplification systems, cooling, heating—whatever is necessary to make sure that these buildings are fit for purpose. It is no mystery that a builder would give a per metre construction price and that that would be different from what it is actually going to cost to roll out this program. The difference is in the fit-out.

The Shadow Minister then makes some allegations about profiteering. The problem with that is that he has not got one fact. When he made those allegations, the picture he was trying to create was of a building and construction industry that had so much work to do and so many jobs to pick from that they could pick and choose, they could put their prices up and rip people off and it would not matter because people were so desperate to get the attentions of that builder.

Hasn’t the Shadow Minister heard of the global recession? The reason we are rolling this program out now, as anyone in building and construction will tell you, is that private sector investment in the building and construction industry is in retreat.

If we had not acted, then there would be builders around this country—and the people who worked for them: the plumbers, the tilers, the carpenters et cetera—who would not have jobs.

The only reason economic stimulus is necessary at this time is the global recession. With the private sector in retreat, to support economic development in this country, to support economic activity, we need to make sure that the surplus capacity in the economy is not left idle with people on unemployment queues, that they have things to do—things that are important for the future of this country; things that are vital, like making sure that we have good quality schools.

The picture the Shadow Minister creates of limitless opportunities for profiteering is obviously a completely false picture that could only be painted by someone who does not understand the global recession and its impact on hardworking Australians, who are very worried about their risk of unemployment—understandably so during such a global recession and globally synchronised economic downturn.

The Shadow Minister then makes assertions about interrelationships with state governments. We have been very clear, with very tough penalties for states that do not maintain effort in their forward estimates in school capital. We are very clear about that and we will be very vigorous with any state that does not acquit its obligations under the Building the Education Revolution guidelines.

Amazingly, the thing that the Shadow Minister started with was the question of plaques and recognition ceremonies.

[Mr Pyne interjecting]

No, you did start there. I am kind of glad that the Shadow Minister did because it gives me an opportunity to take the Parliament through some correspondence I think is important. I will table it piece by piece.

A letter of 15 May from the Hon. Julie Bishop, then the Minister for Education, Science and Training, to Lynne Kosky, then the Minister for Education and Training in Victoria. The letter, amongst other things, says:

“I would like to highlight some key aspects of the recognition requirements that apply to official announcements and publicity material about funding projects, opening ceremonies in schools, and construction signs and plaques. Broadly, all publicity material, media releases, public announcements, construction signs and plaques must acknowledge the Australian government’s financial contribution. The Australian Government Minister must be invited to attend all school opening ceremonies and at least two months notice of such ceremonies must be given to my office. The proposed date must not be an Australian Government Parliamentary sitting day. The text for plaques must be sent to the Schools Liaison Officer in my Parliamentary Secretary’s office for approval, prior to the school opening.”

She goes on to chide Lynne Kosky about the fact that a construction sign outside the Mount Erin Secondary College did not acknowledge the Australian Government’s contribution to the capital works project.

She goes on to chide Lynne Kosky about the fact that Jacinta Allan, a Victorian Member of Parliament, did not acknowledge the Australian Government’s financial contribution to the Mount Erin Secondary College in a press release.

She then goes on to chide Lynne Kosky that, although the member for Deakin, then a Liberal Member of Parliament, was invited to an opening ceremony, the then Minister for Education, Science and Training, Brendan Nelson, was not and that was a breach of the guidelines.

I table that correspondence. But it is the first in a series, because she sends a second letter of 3 October and she is quite angry by then. She says:

“I will only approve funding for projects that have not previously been announced by the Victorian government in the state budget, media statements, advices to schools or any other publicity material and where the Australian Government contribution has not been appropriately recognised.”

And then the piece de resistance: she had a letter about the lack of compliance with recognition requirements at the Flying Fruit Fly Circus School. She is very angry by now. She is very, very angry that she has not been appropriately recognised and that the Australian Government coat of arms was not displayed on the sign, while the Victorian Government logo was prominently placed at the top of the sign. She was very, very angry.

The Flying Fruit Fly Circus is a great circus, but the real circus in here is the Opposition.