Public Accounts and Estimates Committee: budget estimates 2013-14 (part 1)

Ms GRALEY (Narre Warren South) — As a former member of the committee, I take an interest in the activities of the important Public Accounts and Estimates Committee (PAEC). I rise today to speak on committee’s latest report — indeed its 120th report to the Parliament — on the 2014-15 budget estimates, part 1.

As members are probably aware, PAEC exists in the main to scrutinise without fear or favour the government’s fiscal and economic plans. It does this primarily through a series of public hearings. From my cursory perusal of the transcripts of this year’s hearings, which are, as the member for Mornington said, readily accessible on the internet, I advise
that my favourite moment occurred when the deputy chair held up a picture of Arnold Schwarzenegger as the Terminator for a response from the Minister for Local Government.

The deputy chair is reported at page 5 of the transcript as saying:

This is a photo of two Liberal Party candidates with an Arnold Schwarzenegger impersonator paid for by the ratepayers of the City of Casey, and minister, is that the kind of autonomy you are talking about when you are say it is appropriate for government to just stand by and take your foot off?

Like most people, and certainly like the many constituents who contacted my office about this self-indulgent folly, I note that the minister was stretched to provide an answer. Indeed it sounded like he was embarrassed.

Mr Angus interjected.

Ms GRALEY— Was it ruled out of order? Thank you. But I digress, because my main interest is chapter 4 of the report, where we can read about the performance of another impersonator, the Minister for Education. When reading the transcripts one would think it comedic if the issues were not so serious. Some very good questions were raised by opposition MPs, and thankfully they were raised at this committee because they are the same questions being asked of this government by principals, teachers, students and parents.

I note that 699 questions were asked during the hearings, and one of the most important ones was asked of the Minister for Education over and over again — namely, ‘Where is the money?’. Page 44 of the report lists this issue as one of the key matters raised at the budget estimates hearings.

In my local area the Minister for Education has form. He failed to provide money he said he would provide in terms of the national partnerships funding. Teachers and students at schools worked hard to get that money.

They improved their academic results, but the funding is still a no-show. To understand why that has happened I refer to an exchange between committee members reported on page 8 of the transcript:

Mr DIXON — I will say it again: there are not two buckets of money. The school funding that we — —

Mr PAKULA — There is no Gonski money. It is $2.8 billion. There is no Gonski money in this budget.

Mr DIXON — There is no Gonski money and no non-Gonski money; it is school funding that we provide to schools in Victoria.

Mr PAKULA — There is no extra money.

Mr DIXON — Both of those sources of funding are combined …

Mr PAKULA — You have just pocketed it.

Mr DIXON — It is not in my pocket.

Schools will be very glad to know that the money given by the federal government and the state government is not in the minister’s pocket, but then where is the money? The best answer was provided by a Labor member of the committee, the member for Brunswick. On page 10 of the transcript she is reported as saying:

… I have never met a government that is purporting to deliver such a huge transformative project but apparently it is all in the one big sloshy bucket, and nothing can be pointed to in terms of specific output.

I think she had it there. As a former member of the committee, I was very disturbed to read such shoddy answers from the minister. While all this goes on, schools are waiting to see what they will get, because the Gonski money or the money in the sloshy bucket or wherever the money is was providing great hope to schools in my electorate. They wanted to run programs and provide extra programs so that teachers could upskill to cut down on educational disadvantage and chip away at gaps in the education sphere.

People who read the transcript would be galled to see that at the end of the exchange the Minister for Education is reported to have said, ‘I think I am doing a great job’. I do not think so, and people in my electorate do not think so. I recommend that other members read the report because one does not know whether to laugh or cry.