School capital works
21 February 2018
I absolutely relish the opportunity to contribute to this matter of public importance (MPI) debate today. The member for Carrum, interestingly enough, said that schools should not be used for political fodder. Well, that is exactly what this MPI is about. It is stunning that in one breath she talked about the coalition funding one of her schools and then in the other breath claimed that we had not provided any funding for schools, particularly when you consider that for 14 of the last 18 years those on the opposite side have been in government. So when we talk about decrepit and crumbling schools around the state, perhaps some self-reflection would be warranted, because they have been in power for 14 out of 18 years.
The Deputy Premier came in here and said, 'Judge us not on what we say but on what we do'. We do judge them on that, and regional Victoria judges them on that — and they judge harshly, because the results of the last three years have not been good for regional Victoria at all. I would like to do a little look-around of the state and some of the projects in my electorate and in my colleagues' electorates which are still, after three years, desperately seeking funding and which were ignored by Labor, not just in this term of Parliament but in previous terms as well.
If I start in my own electorate, we have Seymour College, which was established in 2010 through a merger between a number of different local schools. With that merger came the need to completely rebuild the school. We funded part of stage 1, but then we committed $15 million at the 2014 election to complete the regeneration of that school by doing stages 2 and 3. After wasting three years, Ms Symes, a member for Northern Victoria Region in the Council, finally delivered some funding in February this year, but it is less than half of what that school needs to be completed and less than half of what the coalition committed at the 2014 election. I might also add that when in opposition the now Premier was up there, lobbying and bellyaching and saying we were not investing in that school, despite the fact that we contributed funding to it and we committed $15 million to the school.
Benalla P–12 College has a very, very similar story. It is a school that is riddled with asbestos and mould and has 1950s classrooms. Let us keep in mind how long those opposite have sat on the government benches, how much of an opportunity they have been afforded to actually do something about those schools, but they have done nothing. Again we committed $15 million to completing that school. We provided $5 million in funding to begin the work. They have given $3 million, and that is it. They have been completely silent about the future of that school. In fact they have tied up for years the money that we allocated in the 2013–14 budget, not letting the school spend it but forcing them to go back and redesign the master plan because they were not willing to give them the funding that we had committed and allocated. That school still needs another $11.5 million to be completed, but Labor are nowhere to be seen.
Go around the state and you will find very similar issues in Kyabram in the electorate of Murray Plains, where the Leader of The Nationals has been lobbying to get the government to do something about white ants and outdated classrooms. Again we made an election commitment of $10 million for the construction works to do the regeneration at Kyabram P–12 College. Where are those opposite? They are nowhere to be found. Similarly, staying with Murray Plains, Echuca Specialist School has been pleading and pleading for their merger to be completed. Two schools have actually been combined in a merger, but the government has not funded the relocation of Echuca Specialist School. So we have now got a scenario where two schools have come together and a new culture has been created, but the Echuca Specialist School has been left out in the cold, unable to get the funding they need. In May last year, following the budget, the principal of that school came out and said he was 'totally devastated' that they missed out on funding.
My colleague the member for Ovens Valley has been pushing and pushing for funding for stage 3 of the Yarrawonga College P–12 redevelopment. Also Wangaratta High School is looking for $5 million — it has received nothing from the Labor Party. We have got Baimbridge College in Hamilton. I have visited that school, and it is an excellent school. It is co-located with the Hamilton District Skills Centre. Again the National Party and the Liberal Party made a 2014 commitment to that school. It is run-down. It is spread over two sites. It is the only public secondary college that actually services the Hamilton district, and Labor has shown no interest in it whatsoever.
The Warracknabeal education precinct was another commitment from us. Labor have actually done a little bit there — they have funded half of the special development school and half of the secondary college projects, but the whole project, my colleague the member for Lowan advises me, is turning into a complete and utter farce. They have got a situation there where neither school can actually relocate to the primary school site because there is not enough learning space. Whilst the principals and the school communities continue to do the best they can, the inept project management of those opposite and insufficient funding means that they cannot actually relocate. Those opposite are basically half-funding a project and leaving the rest to the community to try and figure out.
Dimboola Memorial Secondary College was another commitment from us, but Labor has not done anything to address the critical building issues there. They have got buildings falling apart, including their hall and their library. Their buildings are filled with asbestos. We all remember the commitment from the Deputy Premier before the last election that he was going to remove asbestos from all of our school buildings. Where has that gone? They have gone a bit silent on that one; there is not much progress happening on that.
We have got Bairnsdale Secondary College in Gippsland East. Let us talk about Gippsland East. Who remembers the budget where Gippsland East actually got nothing? They got the index in the budget paper because there was nothing there to put on the map. That is how much those opposite care about Gippsland East. The member for Gippsland East has been pushing for the Bairnsdale Secondary College. Labor promised it in 2010. We built it. We committed to stage 2; Labor did not. Actually three years ago the member for Gippsland East invited the minister down to visit Bairnsdale Secondary College. The minister said on air that he would do that when his diary permitted, but three years on it seems that his diary still has not permitted him to visit Bairnsdale Secondary College. This is the Minister for Education in the so-called Education State.
That was a quick look-around at some of the projects in some of our communities. Also I should not neglect Gippsland South, where Korumburra Secondary College was funded in 2014. We committed a further $9 million, but there has been zero from the Labor Party.
In all of this you also have to have a look at the Australian Early Development Census, which shows that 15 of the 20 local government areas (LGAs) with the lowest results for early childhood performance are in rural and regional areas — 15 out of 20. In that environment the index is a real indicator of performance in schools and of the ability for students to go on and prosper. When you look at that index, it is staggering that 15 out of 20 of the LGAs — on physical health and wellbeing, social competence, emotional maturity, language and cognitive skills, communication and general knowledge — the most disadvantaged LGAs, are in rural and regional Victoria. Despite that, this government has no rural education strategy. They have no dedicated strategy to address the fact that educational outcomes in rural and regional Victoria are lagging so far behind the rest of this state. It is an absolute indictment of those opposite that they do not care about regional Victoria. They do not care even to acknowledge those results and put a dedicated focus on that. Those 15 LGAs — and I have a list of them — have been going backwards, not forwards, with the exception of Benalla, where a fantastic philanthropic organisation is doing a lot of work on the ground.
In conclusion, I want to mention that the most telling thing about this matter of public importance is what is not included in it. What is not included in it is tertiary education, training and TAFE, because those opposite have failed so poorly on that front that they are too embarrassed to talk about it, and that is an indictment of them.