Public Accounts and Estimates Committee: budget estimates 2015-16 (hearings alert)

Ms GRALEY (Narre Warren South) — It is a pleasure to rise to make a contribution. The committee report I am going to speak on is the Public Accounts and Estimates Committee (PAEC) report entitled, 2015–16 Budget Estimates Hearings Alert Report. The reason I am doing so is that I was prompted by a number of newspaper articles that appeared over the holidays, including one, an Age editorial, where the headline was ‘Victoria’s disgrace — no new schools as number of students surges’. I was also prompted by comments of the opposition’s education spokesperson in an article that also appeared in the Age, where that spokesperson said that the Premier ‘had no plans to build for Victoria’s future education needs’.

This sent me back to looking at the PAEC report, and a contribution of the Minister for Education. I will begin by quoting the minister, who said at the outset of his budget estimates hearing:

Every child deserves every chance to succeed in education, no matter what their background or the school they attend.

That is exactly why this government is committed to making Victoria the education state, and that is exactly why this government is undertaking the biggest investment in schools and education in Victoria’s history. The reason we have to do this is that we are committed to making sure that every child in every classroom in every school gets the best education, but as the minister also emphasised at the PAEC hearing, the previous government actually chronically underinvested in education. In fact he mentions it in his report. It is plain to see from the graph in his PAEC presentation that in the previous term of office the average spend was $278 million per year on school capital. It is no wonder we see headlines appearing in the Age that talk about underinvestment in schools, because that is exactly what the previous government did.

We have had to rectify that situation by providing record investment. We are up to about $568 million this year, which will make huge difference in the provision of infrastructure. As the newspaper articles also highlighted — and the minister was aware of this when he made his PAEC presentation — we have had an extraordinary 500 per cent increase in the movement of relocatable classrooms. There are probably members in this chamber who have been concerned by the fact that certain schools have lost their relocatable classrooms to other schools. The exact reason why this has happened is that despite the previous government having four years to get this right, not one new school has opened in this school year. That is a stunning statement, and it appears in all the newspaper articles. It is an amazing statistical fact.

Not even the Premier had the joy, as one would like at the start of an education year, of being able to say, ‘Look at this great new school’ and welcome new students into it. No, that has not happened. It puts us very much behind the eight ball when we have to invest big dollars over and over again to make sure that this catch-up can happen in the education sphere. I noticed in his presentation to PAEC that the minister articulated exactly what we are doing.

I am sending a clear message to those in the chamber and outside the chamber that this government is committed to making sure that the school budget will deliver $345 million for upgrades and modernisation of government schools; $120 million for capital works at non-government schools; $110 million to deliver new schools; $40 million to purchase land for new schools; $12 million for tech schools, including one in my own electorate of Casey; and $25 million for critical school maintenance. This is a major investment. It is much needed because of the neglect of the previous government. We have had to catch up, but I can assure the readers of the Age and those in the education community, especially the parents, that this government is committed to rectifying the situation and building the education state.