Mr COULTON (Parkes) (12.40 pm)-What a wonderful parallel universe some of our representatives in this place must live in! I rise today to speak about the incompetence of this government and the effect that its failures are having on the people of my electorate. This budget has confirmed what many Australians already suspected: that this is the most hapless maladministration since the days of Gough Whitlam. At the heart of the government’s incompetence is Building the Education Revolution and the myriad problems that have plagued this ill-named and ill-conceived scheme. This is a textbook example of this government’s ineptitude and it has set the standard as the most corruptible, rorted and bungled program in this country’s history. There are reminders of the folly of this program in schoolyards right across my electorate. There are canteens that have cost $27,000 per square metre to build but are so small that they are virtually useless. Mr Deputy Speaker Scott, on the boundary between our two electorates is the village of Toomelah, which is possibly the most disadvantaged community in New South Wales. For $650,000 they got a tuckshop that you could not put a large sized dog in-the RSPCA would have you arrested for putting the dog in a confined space. It is a disgrace. Another school had its funding for a COLA revoked after the contractor pocketed nearly $140,000 for management fees, and we have seen schools receiving funding for a second science lab or a second canteen-and the list goes on.
However, today I specifically wish to speak about the callous indifference of the government and, in particular, the Minister for Education, Julia Gillard, to the dozens of local businesses in Dubbo that have been left out of pocket for the work they have carried out under the minister’s Building the Education Revolution. Following the collapse of a major company subcontracted to oversee BER projects in my electorate, there are currently dozens of small businesses that are collectively owed more than $1.7 million. Most of these businesses are now suffering severe cash-flow problems and a couple of them are facing bankruptcy. These businesses agreed to undertake this work on the understanding that because it was being overseen by the Rudd government there would be no problems. That was a big mistake. One of the businesses, Jarrod Kennedy Welding, was put in such a perilous financial position by the collapse that it had to remove a structure it had erected at a school in the north-west of my electorate because it could not afford to lose the materials it had used on this project. Another victim, Chris McMaster from Haynes Farm Supplies, is owed tens of thousands of dollars for work he did at a school in Coolah. Like all the other subcontractors, he has been told that he could not expect to get paid but, if he does, it will be as little as 10c in the dollar. I believe the quote from Mr McMaster in the Daily Telegraph sums up the failures of this program perfectly:
This was meant to be a stimulus for rural towns but it’s resulted in further hardship. The amount we are owed is considerable to a business like ours, particularly after dealing with the drought it is causing extreme emotional and financial stress.
The blame for this lies directly at the feet of Minister Gillard. She rushed out a $16 billion program without implementing the required checks and balances. It was designed to fail and, now that it has, Minister Gillard has blamed everybody but herself. These contractors have publicly and privately appealed to Minister Gillard for assistance. However, instead of acknowledging the problem, all we have heard from the minister is endless rhetoric about how successful the program has been. When finally pushed, she said that the matter would be referred to the BER implementation task force. How long will this take? It is not good enough. There are businesses in my electorate that are staring down the barrel of bankruptcy, and all the minister is concerned about is protecting her image. It is time the minister swallowed her pride and helped these rural businesses-or the lasting legacy of the BER in my electorate will be a trail of bankrupt businesses and tradesmen out of work.