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Dec 16, 2010

The BER outcome: time to correct the record

The latest report on the BER program again demolishes the campaign waged against it by the media.


Here, in a nutshell, is the result of months of expensive work by the Orgill review team examining the government’s Building the Education Revolution component of its stimulus packages:

  • It will support, all up, about 120,000 jobs directly and indirectly, “filling a gap left in demand from the private sector and playing an important role in supporting apprentices and skill retention in the building and construction industry”.
  • The program’s impact was “most pronounced” in its first year, when it was needed most.
  • The new infrastructure is, in the review team’s opinion, “sorely needed, particularly in government schools”.
  • The review received complaints from 294 schools across the entire program — 3% of the 10,000-odd school projects.
  • The review team closely examined 57 projects, nearly all of which were drawn from “the most egregious complaints received by the Taskforce or were selected from our reading of media reports”. Seventeen of those 57 projects were found to fail the value-for-money criteria established by the review team.
  • Extrapolating that 17/57 figure across all complaints (even though the selected projects were “the most egregious”) suggests the rate of valid complaints about value for money is 0.9% of all projects.
  • The review has lowered its estimate of how much more the NSW government paid in order to deliver its projects quickly, from 5-6% to “at the bottom of that range, around 5 per cent”.
  • The total complaint rate even for NSW government school projects, which attracted more than half of all complaints, was 7%.

In short, the report is a comprehensive demolition of the campaign that has been run against the program by the opposition — which having missed out with two independent reports now wants a third — and The Australian. That campaign has consisted of claims that the BER was providing poor value for money, that it was useless because it wouldn’t provide any stimulus until after the economy recovered, that the infrastructure was entirely unnecessary, that it was all a “debacle”.

In fact, the BER has been a gold standard stimulus program, delivering tens of thousands of jobs, when they were needed, building needed infrastructure, across a vast number of locations, with an almost derisory complaint rate even in NSW, where the government rushed the program as quickly as possible.

And what of The Australian and journalists like Matthew Franklin, who has sat in the press gallery bureau and waged a campaign against the program? Or the ABC journalists happy to follow the News Limited line and parrot that the program was a “debacle” on par with the insulation program?

Perhaps those journalists should ask the tens of thousands of men and women in the construction industry who still have jobs despite the collapse in private construction since the GFC, who are still in work despite the commercial construction sector grinding to a halt, despite new housing construction going into a precipitate decline this year. Ask the apprentices still learning on the job.

Ask their families, their partners and kids. Ask the retailers where they shop. Ask their banks. Check with them if they think it was a “debacle”.

That’s not likely to happen either. The media doesn’t like the construction industry, despite it being one of our biggest employers. Maybe it’s journalistic snobbery about manual labour. Or maybe it’s because the only yarn from the construction industry that the media is interested in is about union thuggery. Particularly at The Australian, which led the charge in favour of the Howard government’s assault on the CFMEU — an assault that led to a systematic abrogation of basic civil rights, in the form of the ABCC, and a big rise in workplace deaths.

Is it any wonder the Coalition and the media despise a program that has been critical in keeping the industry going since the GFC?


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