—‘A dream come true. Our school wasn’t crumbling but this brings us into the 21st century in terms of how we can teach our students.’ Those are the words of Blackmans Bay Primary School Principal, Mr Anthony Burrows, from May 2009 when the then Minister for Education, Julia Gillard, visited the school to announce $14.7 billion in funding for Australia’s schools. Mr Burrow’s quote sums up the importance of providing our children with modern facilities so that they can achieve the best possible results. I was fortunate enough to be at Blackmans Bay Primary School as the announcement was made. It was a school which was very close to where I lived when I lived in Blackmans Bay, and both my children attended Blackmans Bay Primary School for their primary school education. The school, which is in southern Tasmania, received a combined $2,644,664 under the National School Pride, NSP, and Primary Schools for the 21st Century, P21, programs. The school had new classrooms built, the hall transformed and purchased new IT equipment. I was also able to attend the official opening on 5 November last year.The Building the Education Revolution, or BER, as it is known, has been a huge success, and the BER in my home state of Tasmania is no exception. It is the single largest element of the Australian government’s $42 billion Nation Building Economic Stimulus Plan. The government implemented the stimulus plan to support jobs in the short term and to invest in economic growth for the future. It was a decisive step which, combined with other measures already implemented, was required to tackle the global financial crisis. The $16.2 billion BER program was destined to modernise schools throughout the delivery of necessary infrastructure and in doing so support local jobs and stimulate investment.
The Labor government is committed to providing a world-class education system to all Australians. This is vital, especially for our children, and I spoke earlier about that with regard to very early education. If we want them to have the best chance in life, to have as many options as possible, then they have to have a world-class education system. I believe our children are entitled to modern facilities in which to learn. Our teachers deserve to have the best facilities to support them in educating their students, and parents want to know that their children are attending schools that are well equipped for their learning.
Across Australia, around 24,000 projects have been developed as part of the initiative, which also includes the $821.8 million Science and Language Centres for 21st Century Secondary Schools program, the SLC program. Under the P21 element, funding has been approved for 10,509 projects in 7,938 schools. Projects undertaken include new libraries, multipurpose halls, classrooms and the refurbishment of existing facilities. Under the SLC element, funding has been approved for 537 schools to refurbish or construct new science laboratories or language learning centres, while the NSP program has provided funding for 12,668 projects in 9,479 schools. The NSP has funded the refurbishment of buildings and the construction or upgrade of fixed shade structures, covered outdoor learning areas, sporting grounds and facilities and green upgrades. In my home state of Tasmania, the government has spent approximately $439 million on 594 projects. This has included 290 projects under the P21, 273 projects under the NSP and 30 science and language centres under the 21st Century Secondary Schools program.
At the end of 2010, more than 424 Tasmanian schools had completed construction on individual projects, and students have already had the benefit of using modern, state-of-the-art learning facilities. Another 170 schools have facilities that are under construction and their students will soon have room to learn in a more effective environment or be able to enjoy multipurpose facilities that can host a range of activities. Across Tasmania more than $327 million will have been spent on improvements to government schools, more than $73 million on Catholic schools and $38 million on independent schools. The BER has been an enormous success across the nation and Tasmania is no exception. I have had the opportunity to visit a number of schools to see the results of the BER money. Every school I have visited has been thrilled with the results—every school.
Teachers, students and parents are all benefiting from the new facilities. The broader community is also benefiting from the BER, as one of the requirements of the program was that facilities are made available for use at low or no cost. The Tasmanian government is supporting this initiative by covering not-for-profit community groups with public liability through the summer. Some of the schools I visited include Blackmans Bay Primary School and Channel Christian School, both in the electorate of Franklin; Goodwood and Timsbury Road primary schools in the electorate of Denison; and Dodges Ferry Primary School in the electorate of Lyons. And there are quite a few more still to come.
In October last year I represented the federal government at the opening of the Goodwood and Timsbury Road primary schools BER project when Senator Carol Brown was unavailable. The schools, which are co-located, received $1,225,000 under the NSP and P21 elements of the BER. Goodwood Primary received a new library and had outdoor facilities upgraded. A library is not only a vital source of information for children but also a place for collaborative learning. On 29 November 2010 I was honoured to be able to attend two BER openings. The first one was another school in the electorate of Franklin, quite close to my office, Channel Christian school, and the project was officially opened by the federal member for Franklin, Julie Collins MP. The school received a total of $1.6 million under the BER and welcomed a new library as a result. The school now has more space for school productions and other events.
Later in the day I was delighted to officially open the Dodges Ferry Primary School project on behalf of the federal member for Lyons, Dick Adams MP. Some of the students spoke about their experiences with the new facilities and it was also pleasing to see people who had been involved in earlier stages of the project return to celebrate the completion. The school received a total of $2,650,000 under the NSP and P21 elements of the BER. The money was used to build new classrooms, a refurbished library and some new play equipment. The school has also improved access for people with disability. The Dodges Ferry Primary project supported the employment of 20 people.
Another school that received funding under the BER was Woodbridge School, in the Franklin electorate. This school now has a new hall, refurbished playgrounds and car park, as well as new student lockers. The project at Woodbridge employed 18 people. While on the subject of employment opportunities, recently a tradesperson came to my office and told me that he had been to many schools as a result of the BER. He is just one of many people who have found employment or seen an increase in trade because of the BER. As a result of the BER, builders, carpenters, architects, landscapers, electricians and plumbers have all been in high demand. Suppliers of school resources, such as smart boards and lockers, have also benefited as have companies that manufacture and sell floor coverings and other products.
Another school in my local area that received funds under the BER was the Glen Huon Primary School. The school community were very excited about the new multipurpose hall that they received as a result of the BER. Prior to the construction of the hall, the school had to have separate assemblies because there was not a room big enough to cater for all the students. They had to rearrange classrooms so there was room. Obviously, this was difficult for the children. On wet days it meant that they had to play in the classroom, which was already set up for the assembly. I was really pleased to be able to attend the opening of the hall and to see the school community gathered as a whole. They were just so excited about their new facility.
It is important to emphasise the excitement and pride felt in school communities as they use their new facilities. At official openings, staff and students have spoken about their new facilities and the impact they are having, as well as giving visitors a tour. I am very much looking forward to attending the opening of a number of other schools. As a politician, you do jobs that you do not necessarily like to do, but going to these schools, seeing the excitement of the kids and the parents and teachers being so thankful for these new facilities is really amazing. I am really pleased to be part of a Labor government that is providing our children with the best facilities possible for their education. I am pleased to be part of a Labor government that is supporting schools, regardless of whether they are government, Catholic or independent schools. I am pleased to be part of a Labor government that is supporting schools, regardless of whether they are in our big cities or our small country towns. The Labor government is proud of what it has achieved with the BER. We have moved education into the 21st century, we have protected Australia’s economy during the global financial crisis and we have strengthened our economic future.