Primary Schools for the 21st Century Program

Jason Clare MP, Member for Blaxland

This matter of public importance debate is about three things: jobs, infrastructure and value for money. And one more thing:what would happen if the opposition was elected later this year? First to jobs. Tomorrow is 3 June. On 3 June last year we found out that Australia did not go into recession. We did not go into recession because of the stimulus. That is what Treasury says. Treasury’s advice is that the Australian economy grew by 1.4 per cent last year. Its modelling shows that, without the stimulus, the economy would have shrunk by 0.7 per cent last year. In other words, the Australian economy would have gone into recession. What is the retort from the other side? What is the retort from the Leader of the Opposition? The stimulus was not necessary. What this data shows is that if it was not for the stimulus Australia, like other economies, would have gone into recession and we would have lost over 200,000 jobs, thousands of them in the construction industry, which is at the moment working to build classrooms, libraries and halls in our primary schools.

I was talking last year to a builder from Sacred Heart Primary School in Cabramatta, which is in my electorate. They told me that earlier last year they were planning to lay 50 workers off. Instead, because of the BER, they put 100 workers on, including two blokes who had been unemployed for 12 months. I have heard the same story all around the country. According to the Master Builders Association, the stimulus is protecting 50,000 jobs in the building industry that would otherwise have been lost, but the Liberals in question time today called for a suspension to these projects, which inevitably means job losses.

However, it is not just jobs in the construction sector that the BER is protecting, because for every construction job in the BER program there are other jobs that are also being protected in other parts of the economy. The Australian newspaper reported the effects of this on the same school—Sacred Heart Primary School—in my electorate in September last year. The article tells the story of those builders: It’s not only Mr Zuma and his men— they are the builders— who benefit from the weekly wage; the crew buy their morning coffee from the Gloria Jeans up on John Street, the main drag in Cabramatta, buy their lunch every day at the milk bar around the corner, shop for basic groceries at the Cabramatta Woolworths, buy their paper from the local newsagent and their breakfast muffins from the McDonald’s.

That may not be the best breakfast in the world, or the perfect diet, but jobs are being protected. And it is not just that service industry that benefits, because the construction industry spends more than $2 billion every year on steel. They spend a lot more on IT and even more than that on accounting and legal services. This is what is called the multiplier effect—making sure that the benefits are felt all across the economy.

I was in Ballarat last month, and I was told by the local council that the BER was keeping local steelmakers and cabinet makers afloat. They have lost about 1,000 jobs in manufacturing in Ballarat over the last year, and they told me that they would have lost a lot more without the construction work that we are doing in schools. Cairns has one of the highest levels of unemployment in the country, but, in the Cairns Post of 11 May 2010—a couple of weeks ago—Mr Ron Bannah, the Master Builders Association’s Far North Queensland regional manager, said:
‘It’s been the survival of the industry, particularly in Far North Queensland, and it will continue to be in coming months.’

There is a reason for that: the BER program accounts for about a third of the total non-residential building approvals in the year to March 2010.

The next point is about infrastructure. We are building infrastructure that a lot of schools have waited decades for. Bass Hill Public School in my electorate has been waiting for a school hall for 80 years. In 12 years, the Howard government directly invested $4 million in schools in my electorate; in two years, this government has directly injected $114 million. Carramar Public School in my electorate has been waiting for a library for almost 90 years. Under the previous government, they got a flagpole; under this government, they get a library. But that is just one school.

Let’s look all around the country. Under the Howard government, 3,000 schools got flagpoles; under this government 3,000 schools get libraries. Let’s have a look at a few electorates. La Trobe got 39 flagpoles, but they are getting 26 libraries under us. Bowman got 11 flagpoles, but they are getting 19 libraries under us. The electorate of McEwen got 50 flagpoles, but they are getting 19 libraries under us. Stirling only got four flagpoles, but they get 16 libraries under us. Patterson got 18 flagpoles, but they get 13 libraries under us. In the former education minister Ms Julie Bishop’s electorate of Curtin they got 10 flagpoles, but they are getting 16 libraries under us. In Deputy Speaker Bevis’s electorate of Brisbane they got 14 flagpoles under the Howard government, but they get 19 libraries under us. In the electorate of Calare they got 31 flagpoles, but they get 33 libraries under the Rudd Labor government. In the electorate of Bradfield they got 14 flagpoles, but they get 14 libraries under us. In the electorate of Berowra, they got 11 flagpoles under the Howard government, but they get nine libraries under the Rudd government.

There is the record: flagpoles under the Liberal Party, libraries under the Labor Party. None of this means that the program is perfect—no program is—and where there are problems it is important that they are identified and fixed. That is why we have set up an independent task force. But let’s get to the next point. There are 3,000 schools where projects have not started yet, and, if you listen to the words of the Leader of the Opposition, there is a good chance that those 3,000 schools will not get libraries and classrooms if the Liberal Party is elected next year.

In the electorate of Bowman they could miss out on eight libraries and 11 halls, and one school could miss out on classrooms. In the electorate of McEwen they could miss out on seven libraries and eight halls, and 34 schools could miss out on classrooms. In the electorate of Paterson they could miss out on two libraries and three halls, and seven schools could miss out on classrooms. In the electorate of La Trobe they could miss out on 11 libraries and two halls, and seven schools could miss out on classrooms. In the electorate of Cowper they could miss out on six libraries and four halls, and 13 schools could miss out on classrooms. In the electorate of Cowan they could miss out on two libraries and one hall, and 15 schools could miss out on classrooms. In the electorate of Calare, they could miss out on five libraries, 12 halls and 13 classrooms.

Mr John Cobb – Let them build their own.

Mr Jason Clare – Let them build their own! That is the response from the opposition.

A government member—Let them eat cake!

Mr Jason Clare – Let them eat cake! That is the Liberal Party’s view. They can all get stuffed as far as you are concerned. That is not the Labor Party’s view. That is not the Rudd government’s view. If we are re-elected, I can assure you, member for Calare, that these infrastructure projects will go ahead. We have heard from you and your colleagues today. We have heard from the Leader of the Opposition, saying, ‘I can’t guarantee any of this’—no more halls, no more libraries; they can build them themselves; they can go and eat cake. That is the view of the Liberal Party. Rest assured, member for Calare, that we will be telling everyone who lives in your electorate all about it: we will be telling everybody in all those electorates about the halls, the libraries and the classrooms that they will miss out on.

The BER is just one part of what we are doing in education. More important is what is going on inside the classrooms and the libraries that we are building. These include national testing; a national curriculum; the My School website, which gives parents the basic information that they want; and extra money for schools that need it—things that were too hard for the Liberal Party to do in 12 years.

There is a program called the Smarter Schools program. It is all about giving extra money to schools so they can have extra classroom teachers and break kids into smaller groups to help them with reading, writing and maths. It also makes sure that you give the best teachers more money to go to the schools that need them the most—schools like those in Blaxland. Under this program my electorate gets $80 million for 42 schools. It is the equivalent of one dollar in 10 for New South Wales. This is money going not to pork-barrel marginal seats but to seats like Blaxland—not often considered a marginal seat—where the money is needed most. I tell you what: this is one of the programs that will be cut or will have some of its money cut under an Abbott Liberal government. So there you go. We have already done more in two years than the Liberals did in 12. We are building libraries where they built flagpoles. We are putting more money into literacy and numeracy in the schools that they ignored. And, if they get re-elected, you know what they are going to do.