Release type: Speech

Date:

Building the Education Revolution Program

Ministers:

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

QUESTIONS WITHOUT NOTICEBUILDING THE EDUCATION REVOLUTION PROGRAM18 MARCH 2010

Mrs HULL (2.57 pm)—My question is to the Minister for Education. I refer the minister to the case of the Berridale Public School, which received a prefabricated, transportable library under the school halls program with the basic cost being $385,000; yet the total cost of the project is $895,000—an additional $510,000 to deliver and install. How can the minister justify such expense when a standard four-bedroom, two-bathroom Timberline homestead delivered and installed to site within 100 kilometres from Lisarow, New South Wales, costs only $143,000?

Ms GILLARD—I very much thank the member for her question because it will enable me to clarify some claims made about the Building the Education Revolution Program. On the claim made by the member about Berridale Public School, I am very happy to answer that claim—very happy to answer it. The details of this are actually very obvious and could have been obvious to anybody who made some basic inquiries.

There has been a comparison published about construction at the Berridale Public School of a toilet block and there have been some suggestions that the construction costs for this mean that the construction costs for the new library there are somehow not right.

I inform the House that the toilet block there is 36 square metres and the new library facility is 162 square metres. They are not comparable buildings. When you go down to the square metre cost, on the square metre cost you find that one comes in at $4,766 and the other comes in at $5,500—not significantly different.

Then on the question of comparison with residential construction, I inform the honourable member that there are different building codes and different standards for school construction than for residential construction—different glass, different safety standards. All of the things about the building are different and more costly because it will be there for children.

Ms GILLARD—On the question of the Building the Education Revolution—

The SPEAKER—The Deputy Prime Minister will resume her seat. The members for Wakefield and Canning will leave the chamber under 94(a).The members for Wakefield and Canning then left the chamber.

The SPEAKER— It would be very nice to think that you would be the last Mohican here, but I am not sure. I call the Manager of Opposition Business on a point of order.

Mr Pyne—Can’t get rid of me.

The SPEAKER—Don’t test me.

Mr Pyne—I am very hard to kill with an axe, as someone once said.

Mr Pyne—Order! Whilst I know that this is good-natured, there is still the general warning. The Manager of Opposition Business has the call for a point of order.

Mr Pyne—Mr Speaker, the minister was not asked a question about what she is answering. She was asked how she could explain the $510,000 to install a prefabricated library in country New South Wales.

The SPEAKER—The member for Sturt will resume his seat. The Deputy Prime Minister has the call.

Ms GILLARD—Thank you very much, Mr Speaker. Of course, I have just been dealing with the question of costs at the Berridale Public School—exactly what I was asked. On the question of the Building the Education Revolution, I say to the House the following: a question was raised with me yesterday by the member for Bradfield about costs and construction at the Gordon East Public School. So serious was this matter—I would have thought they would have wanted an answer but obviously not; you do not really care, do you?

The SPEAKER—The Deputy Prime Minister will resume her seat.

Ms Julie Bishop—Mr Speaker, on a point of order: there is a process if the minister wants to add to an answer. She should answer the question she has been asked now, which is the $510,000—

The SPEAKER—The Deputy Leader of the Opposition will resume her seat. The Deputy Prime Minister will relate her material to the question.

Ms GILLARD—I was asked about the question of costs and the Building the Education Revolution program. I have been dealing with the matter involving Berridale and I am very keen to deal with the matter involving Gordon East Public School, a matter about which the member was so concerned that he personally delivered a letter to my office requiring me to attend—

Ms Julie Bishop—Mr Speaker, on a point of order: if the minister wishes to add to an answer from yesterday she can do it at the end of question time. There is a question now about Berridale Primary School and $510,000 in additional costs to install a prefab building. She should answer that question or sit down.

The SPEAKER—Whilst it is not something that is to be encouraged, this is not the first time that an answer has been added to directly in this manner. It becomes in my mind, when it is clearly indicated that that is what happening, six of one and half a dozen of the other about the timing. I am happy to allow the Deputy Prime Minister to continue, but I would urge her in the circumstances to do it briefly.

Ms GILLARD—I was asked yesterday by the member for Bradfield about Gordon East Public School. So concerned was he about this matter that he brought a letter round to my office asking for an audit team to attend at the school at 8.30 on Friday morning. I can report to the House that I have investigated the matter. I rang the school principal. I would have thought he would have wanted to know what the school principal had to say.

Mr Pyne—Mr Speaker, on a point of order: this is actually an important point, because another aspect of the standing orders is that you do not allow the Leader of the Opposition to take a personal explanation whenever he is being defamed in the House; you make him wait until the end of question time. So why is there one rule for the government and another for the opposition?

The SPEAKER—That reflection on my actions is through the coloured glasses that the Manager of Opposition Business has. I am happy that what I am doing is consistent with past practice. Let us get it crystal clear about personal explanations. There is nothing in my actions that is in any way different to the way in which they have been handled for at least the last 24 years that I have been a member of this House. In respect of adding to answers, there is ample precedent by both sides of the chamber in that 24 years where this device has been used. The Deputy Prime Minister has the call. I have urged her to come quickly to a conclusion in her answer.

Ms GILLARD—Given I do have extensive information about this matter and that clearly the opposition is not interested in what a school principal has to say, I will deal with this matter separately in the House. Obviously, its desperation to cover it up will just mean than I will be continually interrupted if I try to do it now.

Mr NEUMANN(3.06 pm)—My question is the Minister for Education, the Minister for Employment and Workplace Relations and the Minister for Social Inclusion. Will the Deputy Prime Minister update the House on the rollout of the Building the Education Revolution and of responses to this?

Ms GILLARD—What a wonderfully perceptive question from the member for Blair. It enables me to inform the House about the circumstances at Gordon East Public School raised with me yesterday by the member for Bradfield—

Mr Fletcherinterjecting—

Ms GILLARD—who is yelling and screaming now, he may just want to listen. So concerned was he about this matter that he ran a letter around to my office—

Mr Fletcher interjecting—

The SPEAKER—The Deputy Prime Minister will resume her seat.

Mr Fletcherinterjecting—

The SPEAKER—The member for Bradfield will leave the chamber under 94(a) for one hour.

Mr Fletcherinterjecting—

The SPEAKER—The member for Bradfield is named.

Mr Broadbent—Mr Speaker, having regard for the newness of member!

The SPEAKER—I appreciate that, and it hurts me to actually do it, but I think that it has to be done.

Mr Albanese—Mr Speaker, I move that the member for Bradfield be suspended from the service of the House.

The SPEAKER—I am sorry that this has caused that type of disquiet but I can assure all members that—even under the general warning when they were interrupting me in my thought patterns—I have absolutely thought about this very carefully.

The SPEAKER—Order! The honourable member for Bradfield is suspended from the service of the House for 24 hours under standing order 94(b).

The member for Bradfield then left the chamber.

Mrs Bronwyn Bishop—On a point of order, Mr Speaker, I would refer you to footnote 264 on page 552 of the practice which sets out how a minister may add to an answer. She has the choice of seeking indulgence from you or alternatively giving a written answer to the Clerk. In either case, if she insists on trying to add to an answer you really must ask her to sit down and follow the proper procedures of the House.

The SPEAKER—Order! The member for Blair has asked a question relating to the update of the rollout of the Building the Education Revolution and the Deputy Prime Minister it is responding to this question.

Ms GILLARD—I continue with my response to the question from the member for Blair. The member for Bradfield has now left the chamber having been named and I will explain why he should also be ashamed.

Yesterday in this parliament he raised with me a question about the Gordon East Public School. He talked about buildings built there in 2005 and claimed they had a $920-per-square-metre cost. He compared this with the current Building the Education Revolution work and claimed that had a $4,870-per-square-metre cost. He said this matter was of the highest urgency. He demanded that I meet him on Friday at 8.30 a.m. at the school with an audit squad. He was so worked up about it I thought I would look into the matter directly myself, so I rang the principal of the school, Ms Gail Smith—and a lovely lady she is.

Of course, the member for Bradfield is unlikely to know that, because he has never spoken to her in his life about the Building the Education Revolution program. Never once has he spoken to her about the Building the Education Revolution program, but I did and I can inform the House exactly what she said because I noted it down.

First and foremost, the first she had ever heard about an audit squad turning up on Friday was when I told her about it, the member for Bradfield having never seen fit to raise the matter with her. On the BER project at her school she said:

The school is so excited. The four new classrooms are just beautiful. The plans are on the Web. The classrooms are state-of-the-art with a sink, a withdrawal room, an environmentally friendly natural cooling system with a special roof cavity and water tanks. The classroom should be finished towards the end of the next term and will be home to the kindergarten class, two year 1 classes and a year 2 class. The kids can’t wait.The workers are working hard to deliver the new classrooms, even working on Saturday. Some concrete was poured yesterday and the kids were just so excited. From whoa to go the school community has been involved. The plans went to the P&C.

To compare these classrooms to the 2005 classrooms is just not right— the principal said, because—

The 2005 classrooms are modular. The new classrooms are brick. The 2005 classrooms do not have any of the facilities like the withdrawal room, the sink, the cooling system and the water tanks.

The BER money extended so far it went to refurbishing the administration building—which she described as: “stunning. It was a once-in-a-lifetime chance.”

If the member for Bradfield was one of the clapped-out old stagers from the Howard government who was on their way out to pasture, you might say one thing, but this is one of their new, quality candidates that produced this load of old cobblers.

The people they are putting in this parliament!—the member for Bradfield is one of the bright new hopes, a new, quality candidate and he cannot even pick up a phone and ring and a principal. That is too hard for him, too complicated. He is so out of touch with his local community. He has absolutely no idea what is going on.

Can I make a suggestion to the member for Bradfield, who is now out of this place for 24 hours? He had better spend it eating a lot of humble pie and the very first thing he should do is pick up the phone to this principal and explain he is an idiot and he is sorry.

On the question of moderately better performances by people in the opposition—and this is one moderately better performance out of the box, would you believe it, from the member for Bowman? Yes, I did say that and I cannot believe it.

A little bit of honesty once in a while seeps into the Liberal Party member. They try and fight it, but once in a while it makes its way in, and today the member for Bowman said:

Look I’m very grateful for every one of the projects in my electorate. They are all of high quality and the community appreciates them.

Given the campaign they have been running in this parliament, a journalist, with a slightly incredulous tone, said:

Just on school stimulus, though, in your opening statement you said you are happy with the projects in your electorate. Is that right?

And the member for Bowman said:

My projects in the electorate don’t have any of the problems that have been described by others of waste or mismanagement as far as I know. I also talked to all of the principals and they are delighted with them in my electorate. Correct.

The journalist was incredulous, given the nature of the campaign in this parliament, and said to the member for Bowman:

So you are delighted?

And the member for Bowman said:

Absolutely, yes. Yes, I’m happy.

Isn’t this telling us everything we need to know about the shallow, hypocritical, incorrect campaign being run by those opposite? There they are: the member for Bradfield cannot even be bothered speaking to a principal and when the member for Bowman does he finds out the truth which is that they are delighted with the Building the Education Revolution program.This morning I had more of an insight into the way that the opposition works when it comes to Building the Education Revolution. Let me conclude on this—it is about the member for Calare, and you will want to hear this.

Mr Hockey—Mr Speaker, I rise on a point of order. The point of order is relevance. I would ask her to be relevant—this has been going for how long?

The SPEAKER—Order! There is no point of order. The Deputy Prime Minister is responding to the question.

Ms GILLARD—I understand the member for North Sydney has to remind people that he is still here from time to time. But in conclusion, the member for Calare, obviously preparing for question time today, has put through a call to the Catholic Education Office in Bathurst, obviously hoping to chisel out an anti-BER statement. And what have they said? They said that they are happy; they have got absolutely no complaints.

All I can assume is that today, by the Leader of the Opposition, would have been ‘Biff a Bishop Day’ if they found out some problems from the Catholic Education Office. Obviously they are happy, principals around the country are happy, principals in the member for Bradfield’s electorate and in the member for Bowman’s electorate are happy, and the opposition stands revealed for the shallow pack of hypocrites they actually are.