Ms TIERNEY (Western Victoria) — My question is to the Minister for Education. Can the minister highlight the importance of the strategic approach needed for investment in capital works for Victorian schools?
Mr LENDERS (Minister for Education) — I thank Ms Tierney for her question and her interest in capital works in schools. As Ms Tierney and the members of the house would know, the government is committed to spending more than $1.9 billion in the next four years to rebuild and modernise 500 schools in the state, which is almost one-third of our school stock. We have also rolled out a fair amount of maintenance for schools over the last couple of years to bring them into the 21st century, and have made a big overhaul of our portable classrooms program. That is something we are doing in a strategic sense. It is no good just pouring money into areas unless there is a target and it is strategic.
We certainly have a plan, and schools are aware of that plan. Now we have the Building Futures program, under which individual schools subscribe to be a part of that plan.
The commonwealth also puts approximately $100 million a year into capital works in schools in Victoria. I would be really pleased if we could get some of that money targeted far more strategically towards schools that need it. There are not many members of this house who have not raised issues with me about schools in their electorates. One of the things I have learnt in my 75 days in this portfolio is that people make contact with you about schools, so a strategic plan is very critical.
One of the first letters that came across my desk when I became minister had been sent to my predecessor when the government was in caretaker mode. It was from Julie Bishop, the federal Minister for Education, Science and Training. The letter is headed ‘Lack of compliance with recognition requirements at the Flying Fruit Fly Circus School’. The letter says, in part:
“… the Australian government coat of arms was not displayed on the sign, while the Victorian government logo was prominently placed at the top of the sign.”
I was trying to deal with strategic issues in schools, and I got a letter from Ms Bishop going on about where the commonwealth coat of arms was versus the Victorian government logo. The letter goes on further to say:
“I would appreciate an explanation for the omission of the required details relating to the construction sign erected at the school.”
So while trying to get a strategic plan in place I received my first letter from her. It is actually addressed ‘Dear Lynne’ because the government was in caretaker mode at the time, but it was for me. The letter goes on:
“In order to avoid similar omissions in the future, I will now require that all wording and layout for construction signage be sent to the … Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for Education, Science and Training for approval prior to being erected at the construction site.”
The final paragraph says that if that does not happen, the commonwealth government might take away the $100 million in funding.
Ms Tierney asked about our strategic direction.
I would like to have a strategic direction based on maintenance and capital works in schools where they are needed and not on a federal minister having to sign off on where a coat of arms should go. But not only that, before a school gets money, it must agree to have an opening ceremony.
Mr Koch interjected.
Mr LENDERS — If one of the schools in Mr Koch’s electorate suddenly gets a $150 000 grant for a toilet block, it must have an opening ceremony that the federal minister or her representative can attend or it will not get the money. But the federal minister is gracious, because there are exemptions. If you want an exemption from holding an opening ceremony at your school, what do you do? You apply in writing to the federal Minister for Education, Science and Training so you can avoid having an opening ceremony.
The first information I got on federal grants is on the federal department’s website, and the first one-third is all about putting up the signs and the logo. The next two-thirds goes on about the need and the critical areas for capital. What we need is a strategic approach to education. The commonwealth contributes a lot to education in this state. About 10 per cent of the recurrent funding for state schools comes from the commonwealth, as does a much larger proportion for non-government schools, and a large portion of capital comes from the commonwealth. What we need is an integrated strategic approach that is based on the needs of schools and strategic plans, and not about school communities filling in needless paperwork so that a federal minister can get her name on a building block and then come in and wander around. That is red tape gone mad. We need schools being built.