Public Accounts and Estimates Committee: budget estimates 2015-16

Ms GRALEY (Narre Warren South) — It is a pleasure this morning to speak on the Public Accounts and Estimates Committee (PAEC) report of the inquiry into budget estimates 2015–16. I have been drawn back to this report because recently, as is my custom, I met with the CEO of one of the growth area councils. Of course, as most people in this house know, the growth areas are experiencing incredible growth. Many young families are moving to these areas and building their dream homes, and there is a great demand out there for all forms of infrastructure. It is critical that the government has a focus on delivering that infrastructure, and I am pleased to report that this government certainly does. Chief among the CEO’s concerns was the need to ensure sufficient land is being purchased to guarantee new schools can be built.

For reassurance I returned to the Minister for Education’s presentation at the PAEC hearings post budget. As he said at the outset:

Quality infrastructure is critical to delivering our vision for the education system. This budget will see the delivery of the majority of the school capital election commitments. This is the biggest single school infrastructure program in the history of Victoria — $730 million.

He went on to say:

There is $40 million for land for new schools, and there is $111 million to deliver 10 new schools in some of our fastest growing areas.

Whilst there were questions from PAEC members regarding school buildings in the PAEC hearings, there was really no further investigation of the critical issue of land procurement. But there was a hint, given the minister’s other comment, when he was talking about the comparison with the former government:

Think about that comparison: not one new school opening in 2016, 21 new schools are opening in 2017 and 2018.

One of the reasons that there are no new schools opening is that the former government badly planned for the future growth areas; and not only in the future growth areas — it actually did not even take a sideways look to see what was happening in the inner city as well. I noticed that this was brought to PAEC’s attention, and the minister was very keen to talk about some of the land that needed to be bought to build schools in the inner suburbs as well.

What we are talking about here — land acquisition — is a statewide problem. You can guarantee that every time we have a Liberal member as Minister for Education, they will underinvest and underperform. They do not have any plans for the future land that should be bought and they certainly do not resource that. They are very bad keepers of public education, and very bad planners for the future of our children and the state. We have had to wear this. It is a well-known fact that there is not one new school opening in 2016.

I have a few facts to finish my presentation this morning. School infrastructure funding fell under the former Liberal government to a mere $200 million a year. Contrast that with the $730 million in the 2015–16 budget and what the minister was proudly talking about at the PAEC hearings. As I said, not one new school will open in 2016. This minister is going to deliver 27 new schools; they are already on the way. Under the coalition the four-year average land acquisition budget was around $20 million. In Labor’s first budget it committed $39.7 million.

To finish off — a final act — when the Liberals were in power in 2013–14, in the now Leader of the Opposition’s schools fire sale, he sold off $203 million worth of education assets. Where did that money go? We would all like to know the answer.

But we know that in that same year the Liberals invested a pitiful $203 million in government schools, so they effectively invested nothing in education capital for an entire year. Is it any wonder no new schools are open. Is it any wonder that the CEOs in the growth areas are wondering whether the land is going to be bought for future schools. The Liberals had no plans to deliver for our state education needs. They were more focused on selling school assets than investing in new schools, and due to the Liberals’ wilful neglect we are now faced with the costly task of trying to find appropriate space to build primary and secondary schools right across the state.