When Kevin Rudd announced the $42 billion stimulus package on February 3, he didn’t mince words about the logistical challenges of delivering a new building for every single one of Australia’s 7500 primary schools:
Our schools will be great beneficiaries from what will be the biggest school modernisation program in the nation’s history. Every primary school in Australia is going to become a centre of economic activity … And you know something, rolling this out is going to take a feat of national organisation and planning we haven’t seen since the ‘40’s.
Fast forward seven weeks and questions are starting to be asked about the implementation challenges and time-lines. Suddenly there is a feverish activity to get the first round of grants approved and construction finished by next January. Principals and school councils are nervous about pushing back against the process for fear of missing out altogether.
State government bureaucrats are foisting templates on schools for new class rooms, gyms and arts centres.
Kevin Rudd was also talking tough about any efforts to skimp on existing capital programs at his February 3 press conference:
This Government will adopt a zero tolerance approach to any State Government whatever its political complexion, to any substitution of effort, let’s be very clear about that.
This school modernisation program should be all about replacing state capital works programs. The states are financially stuffed and their Treasurers are in Canberra today begging Wayne Swan for a bailout – or at the very least a guarantee on state debt.
Why on earth would you tell a school with 200 kids to spend $2 million without doing all the works that were already planned? It means some of the money is deliberately not going where it is most needed. Why not let a school astro-turf their parched oval to save money? It might not be a building but it is needed and would save water.
Rather than voluntarily creating a logistical and bureaucratic nightmare, the Rudd Government should have created a giant $20 billion fund and then asked schools to bid for their most needed capital works programs over a two year period.
Meanwhile, the borrowing program to fund this indecently hasty spending splurge continues to gather pace. Never before has the Federal Government raised $2.4 billion in five different debt issues over just eight days but here is how it rolled out:
Wednesday, March 25: $600m in six year bonds.
Friday, March 20: $500m in 12 year bonds.
Thursday, March 19: $300m in 90 day treasury notes.
Thursday, March 19: $300m in 180 day treasury notes.
Wednesday, March 18: $700m in 2 year bonds.
The full list of Rudd Government bond issues is available here but surely if you’re going to break all previous records for new debt issues, the onus should be on spending the money as wisely as possible.
Stand by for an avalanche of local announcements by politicians on the new school projects, but it is time for the national media to start asking questions about the execution of a program that the PM himself admits is the biggest national logistical challenge since World War 2.