House of Assembly: Wednesday, April 10, 2024



Regional School Maintenance

Mr BELL (Mount Gambier) (11:34): I move:

That this house—

(a) recognises that regional schools are disadvantaged by the current Across Government Facilities Management Arrangements (AGFMA), which require Ventia-approved contractors to carry out all maintenance;

(b) acknowledges there is a shortage of Ventia-approved contractors in regional areas, which leads to increased project expenses for country schools and increased stress in principals; and

(c) calls on the state government to allow principals to manage maintenance projects up to $100,000 and engage local contractors.

I would encourage every regional MP to get out and talk to the principals of their schools. A couple of weeks ago, I booked meetings with every principal of the public schools in my electorate, and I went around and talked to them about issues that they are facing.

What became very apparent to me was that a lot of our public schools are looking tired. Principals were explaining to me the huge cost of basic maintenance in regional areas, and I will explain some of the outrageous costs in a minute. We have to have a better system. We have to have a better way. I really do encourage every regional MP to make sure that they get out and talk to principals. Do it in a two-week block so you get real examples of current themes coming through your schools.

Every student deserves to learn in an environment that is safe, well maintained and equipped with the necessary resources to support their education. The school environment plays a crucial role in fostering academic achievement, student engagement and overall wellbeing. For students, having access to essential school facilities can significantly improve their educational journey. Their physical environment fosters motivation, engagement and a sense of belonging, which not only enhances their academic achievement, it also contributes greatly to their emotional wellbeing and fosters a sense of pride amongst students and their school.

As parents, we want to be confident that our children are attending schools that meet the necessary standards and provide a safe and suitable learning environment. We want to ensure our children have equal access to resources and facilities, regardless of where they go to school. For educators, having well-equipped facilities is essential for effective teaching and learning. Adequate resources such as modern classrooms, libraries and technology empower teachers to deliver high-quality instruction and engage students in interactive and meaningful learning experiences. Accessible facilities, including ramps and bathrooms, are also essential to ensure inclusivity, enabling all students, including those with disabilities, to actively participate in their educational pursuits.

With all this in mind, I recently spent three days visiting public schools in my electorate and speaking with their principals. I wanted to see firsthand what the conditions are like in the buildings that house and educate our regional students and how the system is working for principals in completing maintenance issues once they are identified. What was very evident is that our public schools need a facelift.

My electorate has a fantastic number of small schools providing a wonderful education experience for country students. A majority of those principals spoke to me about the issues they were having losing students to our local private schools. As one principal said:

We can't compete with the shiny new buildings down the road. I have parents tour the private school, then come here and see the windows painted shut, paint peeling off the walls and they go straight back to the private school. It has nothing to do with the education that we can provide them.

At one of the 11 schools I visited, there was a vast array of maintenance and facilities issues, ranging from fresh coats of paint to a new gymnasium. A consistent theme throughout discussions was that current Across Government Facilities Management Arrangements, which require Ventia-approved contractors to carry out all maintenance and building works, are not serving our regional schools.

The system may be effective in Adelaide with multiple contractors competing for jobs. However, it presents huge challenges for our local schools in the region. For many cases, schools have limited options, often needing to hire tradespeople or building companies from Adelaide and being forced to do this. This results in huge additional project costs, as schools are required to cover travel and accommodation expenses for contractors, as well as extensive time delays in completing projects as contractors are travelling to and from Adelaide and the job each week.

I was given multiple examples throughout my visits of how these additional unnecessary costs were putting essential maintenance projects out of reach for schools. One example was from a primary school that had a new young student start with a tendency for jumping the fence. This school is adjacent to a main road, so it was very concerning and very stressful for the principal. It was deemed as a matter of urgency that the fence height needed to be lifted.

Going through the government system, there were no local contractors available and a quote was provided by an Adelaide company. The quote was $65,000, and the fence was no longer than you to me in distance, Mr Speaker. A local contractor who is not Ventia approved contacted the school and provided a quote of $2,000—$65,000 versus $2,000 by a local contractor.

Another school I visited required a permanent outdoor shelter to provide a safe, undercover outdoor play area. It does often rain in Mount Gambier. The school had managed to save $70,000 towards the project, and this was just a single outdoor basketball court, again no longer than from me standing here to you sitting there, Mr Speaker, putting it undercover. As I said, the school had managed to save $70,000. A local contractor had quoted the job at $100,000. The principal was required to go through the Ventia system and was given an official quote of $300,000. Needless to say, that project is not going ahead, and there is still no undercover outdoor play area for students.

The same issues are also occurring with smaller maintenance requirements. A local primary school has always had the same local company clean their gutters, once a year in July just after the leaves have finished falling and the gutters need clearing before the main winter rainfall in the South-East. In December last year, they received a phone call from the new provider confirming that they were Ventia approved and would be arriving the following week to conduct gutter cleaning as instructed by Ventia. The school had not requested the clean and was unaware the request had been issued, particularly in December only five months after the gutters had previously been cleaned.

They requested the work order to be cancelled only to discover that another work order was raised, and the contractor carried out the work a week later, none of which was communicated to the school. To make things worse, the invoice for the unrequested gutter clean was sent to the school for a total of $5,437.39—$4,438 for labour, $902 in travel expenses from Adelaide. The local contractor who had performed the clean five months prior did it for a cost of $493.57—so $500 versus $5,500 to clean gutters. I am pretty sure what my next company is going to be if these prices are allowed to go on around our schools.

Another example I was presented with was from a small school that was advised in October last year that a student would be joining the school in February this year who was high needs and would require a disabled toilet, something they currently do not have. The school immediately sent through the request for what they required to accommodate this student. They are still waiting for a response, and staff are having to help in their usual, small, cramped facilities that are not disabled approved.

One school that had managed to fund upgrades to their classrooms spoke to me about the long time frame taken for projects to be completed, during which time students were being taught in makeshift classrooms. The building company that was awarded the contract was from Adelaide. The workers begin their day on a Monday, travelling down from Adelaide, being paid. Then they rock up on site, on Tuesday, work through until Thursday and on Friday travel back to Adelaide, being paid.

Now, I certainly don't begrudge workers being paid to travel. What I do take issue with is that of five days when people should be on site they are effectively on site for three days, because they are travelling on the Monday and the Friday and getting paid the rates that they would also get paid if they were on site for those two days.

There has to be a more efficient way of spending our taxpayer dollars to maintain our government-owned schools. A solution I am proposing is to tackle this issue by giving principals the authority and the tools they need to manage some of these maintenance issues themselves and engage local contractors; normally you will find parents or grandparents of students who go to that school.

In Victoria, all schools are required to develop and maintain a five-year maintenance plan to help budget, schedule and manage the maintenance of their buildings and grounds. Principals are responsible for this maintenance with their student resource allocation funding. The school maintenance plan supports the schools to address maintenance issues identified through the Rolling Facilities Evaluation, which is a five-yearly assessment of the condition of the school's buildings and other infrastructure that is carried out by the Victorian School Building Authority.

This evaluation is followed by a condition assessment report. The report identifies school defects; the priority and recommended timing to address the defects; actions needed to address the defects; the types of tradespeople required to address the issue; and issues that may require further investigation. The school is then able to tailor their school maintenance plan to their unique school environment while being guided by the Rolling Facilities Evaluation recommendations and available maintenance budget delivered by the Victorian government.

Schools are then responsible for implementing the endorsed school maintenance plan, including completing scheduled maintenance activities and ensuring the plan is constantly updated to reflect changes.

The key parts of the Victorian system that I am proposing we adopt are the government taking responsibility for assessing the maintenance required for its schools and then empowering school principals to manage non-major infrastructure decisions for their schools without them being required to use Ventia.

This could be achieved by the education department visiting our schools and identifying their maintenance needs, most of which would already be identified. Major projects would still have to be dealt with via the current Ventia system; however, smaller projects and maintenance with an estimated cost of $100,000 or less can be managed by the principal. They would be required to obtain three quotes—this is the Victorian system. Those quotes are then presented to and approved by the school's governing council.

While this is not a fix-all solution, what it does is empower the principals to make the best decisions for their schools, utilising local tradespeople and securing the most cost-effective quotes, enabling more projects to be completed within allocated funding. It also fosters community support, investment and connection to our local public schools. Let's empower our regional schools to provide the best environment and also, importantly, value for money and quality education to our country students, parents and the taxpayers of South Australia.

Mr HUGHES (Giles) (11:48): I thank the member for Mount Gambier for bringing this important motion to the house. However, we do have an amendment to the motion, as follows:

Delete paragraph (c) and insert new paragraph (c):

(c) calls on the state government to review the AGFMA contract to determine if it can allow principals to manage maintenance projects up to $100,000 and engage local contractors, and any potential unintended consequences of that course of action.

It is clear on this side of the house that the former government's privatisation agenda has failed the people of South Australia again and again. ETSA, trains and trams, backup generators—you name it, they privatise it. One of those many privatisations was the management of critical maintenance across government facilities—schools, government buildings and hospitals, to name just a few.

Indeed, when that privatisation was going on, I had a range of people who were involved in this particular area telling me that this will not end well. Once again, we are outsourcing, we are complicating and we are taking away some of the capacity that government has to do the things that are necessary and instead placing a for-profit company as the intermediate force that you go to. It is not just this example but there is a range of examples like this that need to be seriously looked at.

The contract known as the Across Government Facilities Management Arrangements (AGFMA) was contracted to a company known as Ventia. The member for Mount Gambier is certainly not alone in expressing these concerns to the government on behalf of his community. The complaints about Ventia's management of maintenance under this contract have been numerous, and, in some cases, quite serious.

Some of the examples that the member has given are perfect examples. There is cost inflation associated with some of these contracts. When you go around and have a look at some of the schools and at some of the jobs that have been done, you say, 'How much did it cost?' and it is hard to believe.

It must be said—and I am sure that all in this place will agree—that proper maintenance of government facilities is important. When maintenance goes wrong, there can be serious repercussions. We must remember that safety systems are part of this contract. The government needs to review the contract to ensure the action requested by the member is possible.

Secondly, we need to ensure that there would be no unintended consequences. I will provide a few potential examples. One of Ventia's responsibilities is the maintenance of asset registers that tell us, for example, when a sprinkler system part is due for maintenance or replacement, or when a fire extinguisher should be pressure checked, or when a boiler valve needs to be replaced. Failure to do this on time can have serious safety consequences. So the accuracy of these registers is critical.

Thirdly, Ventia is required to ensure that all service providers hold all the appropriate tickets and checks to do the work. Schools would, in the absence of using the current contract, be forced to do these checks and they may not have the expertise to do so.

Lastly is the issue of liability. Imagine that a school principal arranges for mulch to be placed on the school playground and it turns out that, like in New South Wales recently, it is contaminated with asbestos. I trust that this makes clear the need to review the contract to ensure this is possible, to check for unintended consequences and see what mitigations, if any, can be put in place to minimise or eliminate them.

The arguments put by the member for Mount Gambier I think are very sound arguments and hopefully we can find a way through this so that those of us in regional communities have a more sensible set of options. I commend the amended motion to the house.

The Hon. J.A.W. GARDNER (Morialta—Deputy Leader of the Opposition) (11:54): I thank the member for Mount Gambier for bringing this important motion to the house, and I thank the member for Giles for his contribution and the amendment that the government is offering to improve this motion. The opposition will support the amendment; the opposition will support the motion. This is an issue with which I grappled on many occasions in the four years that I was the Minister for Education.

To be clear, the Ventia contract is, as the member for Giles identified, an Across Government Facilities Management Arrangement. It deals with much more than the Department for Education; it deals with government facilities across the state. But as the basis of the motion is in relation to schools, I will maintain the focus of my contribution in relation to its effect on schools. I think it will become clear why I think the government's amendment improves the motion and gets it to what the member for Mount Gambier is seeking to achieve, which is indeed what the opposition supports. I think the amendment gives us the best chance of having these improvements.

Across our public schools and preschools we have 500 public schools and 400 public preschools. While I think slightly fewer than 200 of those public preschools are co-located with schools, we are still talking about in the order of 700 or 800 separate entities. We are talking about 500 principals and 400 preschool directors, and nearly 200 of those preschool directors are in fact the principal, who has many things to do. Across those 900 schools and preschools we have tens of thousands of buildings.

The historical legacy tracking system within the Department for Education is not capable of providing accurate advice to the minister, to me as the former minister, or to any of the former ministers about the status of any of those individual buildings at any one time. The principal of a school does not necessarily always have the technical expertise to identify the particular legislated requirements as to whether it is up to the fire safety code or the disability safety code or whether it is at the end of life and needing replacement, at various times.

From a legal point of view, to ensure that our legislative requirements regarding fire safety, disability regulations and everything else are met to a certain code, there has to be some level of specific assistance provided through facilities management. Prior to the Ventia contract in place, that was provided through the Department for Infrastructure and Transport, but in regard to schools about half of the schools and preschools were managed by facilities managers who were public servants for DIT and about half of them were done by a private provider, being Spotless as it was then.

The Across Government Facilities Management Arrangements were put in place to try to have one source of expert advice, one source of responsibility for ensuring that all of those legislative requirements were met and also, obviously, provision of further facilities management services. Is it working perfectly? It certainly is not and, I would further say, that it never was before that either.

I recall being Minister for Education, when I would go to schools. I visited several hundred schools and a couple of hundred preschools during my time as minister. I have had more time as shadow minister, unfortunately in a way, before and after that time, so let's assume that I have visited probably half of South Australia's schools and preschools, if not more. I have had hundreds of conversations. In every one of them I tend to ask, 'How is your facilities management going?' Often it will be volunteered that this is an issue beforehand; sometimes it is not. I ask. The truth is that before the contract change and now, the number of people who say they are happy or the number of people who say that they would like a better service has been about the same proportion. Certainly, during the transition there was a peak of challenge, and there always is.

How do we best resolve the situation? What are we trying to achieve? We want schools to get excellent facilities, have maintenance dealt with in the best possible way, and, indeed, when APAs need to be put in to improve facilities, we want that to be timely and responsive to the school's need.

The example given by the member for Mount Gambier was a disability accessible toilet for a student with a disability coming to a school. It requires an APA. That would be above the $100,000 threshold identified by the member for Mount Gambier, but it does not undermine his point, which is that we need this to be done in a timely fashion. The student is arriving at the beginning of this year, so we need the toilet to be in place by the beginning of this year. Ultimately, we will want these toilets everywhere, but certainly when we know a student is arriving.

So the particular solution here would not help that problem but the underlying issue raised by the member for Mount Gambier would. I think that the solution of having a review of how the contracts can be managed, if it means that we can speed up the approval for some of the simple ones—speed up and enable the company that is doing the guttering—would be for the good and would be of benefit.

Certainly, we accept the premise that we want to do better, but underlying this there must be some sort of person with expertise who is able to catch the legislated responsibilities and ensure that we are delivering the services that our school students require. They require them in Mount Gambier, they require them in Milang, they require them in Moorook and they require them in Marleston. Wherever you are in the state, if we have regulations requiring disability access, or fire safety, or the end of life of certain things that need to be replaced, we want consistency and service to be provided.

Why does that not happen? I think the member for Mount Gambier and the member for Giles identified some of the reasons. If I go to the member for Flinders' electorate, or the member for Chaffey's, or the member for Frome's, or the member for Schubert's, or the member for Finniss's, or to the electorates of any of the members of the opposition front bench representing regional seats—and I also include the member for Heysen, whom I particularly point out, and the Speaker, with those Hills small community schools—one of the things they will often say is that they feel like they are not getting the same level of attention and service as some of the larger schools.

A facilities manager might be responsible for a number of schools, and some of the larger schools might have as many buildings combined or as many issues combined as half a dozen smaller schools put together, but the pressure on the principal in the smaller school is still significant. They do not have the backup within their administrative team that the largest school might have to share some of that load, so I am very empathetic to the issue that they raise.

Any review that the Department for Infrastructure and Transport can do, prompted by this motion that feels like it might get the support of the whole house, can only go to supporting good outcomes for principals of small schools, principals of remote schools and principals of any school that does not feel like they are getting enough flexibility to meet their school's needs. It is very frustrating when you have an inability to get a service that you know can be done cheaper, better and quicker by a local provider, rather than by another one. I highlight again that, if we just moved to a Victorian model—and I know the member for Mount Gambier did not say, 'This is the model we have.'

As an example of some of the problems, having a provider selected from a panel that is approved can be the quickest and most efficient way to do it, when it is done right. The member for Mount Gambier has provided some examples of where it has been done wrong, but certainly it can be the quickest way. It can be quicker than a principal having to go off and select three quotes and then having to manage a process themselves to ensure that they are meeting all the other legislative requirements. There are a lot of principals who I think would rather be focused on their staff, their instructional leadership, what is going on in classrooms and engaging with the community, over and above managing small contracts and their legislative requirement.

I think the member for Giles has suggested a sensible way forward. The Liberal Party is very supportive of giving schools flexibility and autonomy as much as possible and as much as will benefit those schools to manage their projects.

We had $1.5 billion worth of work commissioned during the time of the Marshall Liberal government. I am very proud of the infrastructure opportunities that we provided for schools. There is an enormous amount more to do because of course the fleet of buildings across the education department, across those 900 schools and preschools, is worth many more billions than that.

Many of the schools are older: the average age is, I think, in the order of 40 or 45 years. Some of them are in spectacularly good condition and some are not. The replacement budget is always a scarcity environment where there are more projects available to the Minister for Education to suggest to cabinet than there is funding to fund them. I am sure the new minister finds this to be so, as previous ministers did as well.

The good thing about a lot of the new buildings is that their maintenance requirements will be much reduced and much less. The new infrastructure at Riverbanks or at Aldinga or at Rostrevor is going to have some of the older building challenges reduced, which will make things easier. But there is a long way to go. Principals are seeking to deal with this as local schools, and local communities are seeking to get the best outcomes for their students.

I commend the motion, and particularly the amendment, to the house. The Liberal Party will continue to stand up for small schools, for remote schools, for regional communities and for all schools that want to get better maintenance opportunities and infrastructure for their schools.

Mr ELLIS (Narungga) (12:04): I rise in support of the motion. I have not yet quite read the amendment, but I suspect I will support that, too, once I have had a chance to properly interrogate it. I congratulate the member for Mount Gambier on bringing this motion. It is an important issue and, I have to admit, as members of this parliament who are members of a party would be well aware, there are times during which the party you are a member of does not take the course of action that you would like for them to take, and this is one of those instances that caused me a great deal of consternation when it was in train and in the process of being implemented.

I have some letters in front of me that were addressed to the former minister, Corey Wingard, that came about as a result of a multitude of contact that I had from many different contractors around the place who had voiced to me their concerns about what the outcomes from this change would be way before it commenced, way before it happened.

I recall vividly having a meeting with near on 20 different contractors who were working in collaboration with the facilities manager at the time, Mr Simon Harley, who had a wonderful rapport with many local tradespeople who had shared with me their concerns. It was not without precedent. They put forward the example that the community housing process had been privatised previously and that had resulted in the outcomes that we are currently seeing with the Across Government Facilities Management Arrangements.

The previous outsourcing of that community housing arrangement some five years prior had resulted in an increased cost, more bureaucracy and tradespeople coming from out of area to do the job. On behalf of those 17 contractors, we had a catch-up, we had a big chinwag about the different problems that might arise as a result of that. We managed to get the then minister, Corey Wingard, to come to the Copper Coast to host a forum with those people, to hear from them about the concerns that they had forthcoming, and unfortunately I have to report that it did not necessarily have a positive outcome.

The plan was progressed, and Corey heard from those people—and I like to think he took their views on board at least—but it certainly did not motivate him to change his course of action. As a result, the issues that were forewarned by those people at that meeting have come to fruition. They have come to fruition, and whilst this motion focuses on schools, and it is a wonderful initiative that the member has put forward to improve the school facilities, I would contend that it could be rolled out further across government.

The scheme, the Across Government Facilities Management Arrangements, is just that; it is across government. It is not limited to the education department. A lot of those contractors that I had at that forum were working in a multitude of different government buildings. They were not limiting themselves to just schools. They would benefit, I think, from having this scheme that the member for Mount Gambier is proposing rolled out further.

I would like really quickly to acknowledge those people who were at that forum some 2½ years ago. We had a full room, and they were quite passionate at times. At the heart of the problem was the fact that, in their view, this would centralise the process. I think Simon Harley was based in Clare, based locally, and he had a wonderful rapport with local contractors who he could call up on short notice. We were now going into a system with Ventia that was centralised in Adelaide. You lose that local connection, you lose that local knowledge about who can do what job, and that has resulted in a step backwards for those people.

Recently I contacted all those people who I had at that forum and asked for their feedback 2½ years on. I just thought I would read a couple onto the record, which is direct feedback from the tradies. Steve McDonald Electrical, a wonderful local provider, thankfully have not noticed a great deal of difference working for Ventia and are more than happy to keep contracting for them at this stage. Unfortunately, the feedback goes down from there.

Dayna Zanker, who was a tremendous advocate at the time—she spent some time on the steps of Parliament House opposing these changes on behalf of local contractors but also on behalf of the company that she works for, Lamshed Electrical—reports, unfortunately, that:

The model is not great, never has been and hasn't got much better for us as contractors and those on the sites.

Under the DIT model we would see the Facilities Manager fortnightly if not weekly, he would also attend and liaise with sites, there would always seem to be some project or new work in the pipeline. We have not seen this happen under Ventia.

Majority of the work we receive is preventative maintenance and their system is a nightmare, there are also breakdown works here and there.

The administrative work has increased, a major concern we raised in the beginning, and most of the time the system does not work for the guys to use on site so all processing within their system falls back to me.

She is the admin officer. So it is not positive feedback. Similarly, we heard from Kelly Cuthill from Landscape Logix at Wallaroo. In her view:

DIT was a far better system for small business in the country. The work is now being done by bigger companies that can afford a secretary or administrative staff to do all the extra [expletive] paperwork that is required. We are signed up and appreciate the work, but the system is so much more time-consuming. You have to employ another 10 people, with it in Ventia, to do what one person was doing well before. Now we are dealing with people who do not know the area, do not know which businesses are good and who don't have that local knowledge. As far as getting paid, that is another drama in itself. I know we have added to our jobs just to get the money back that is spent on the extra paperwork involved.

So some great small businesses with one or two staff are now not signed up because it is too busy for them to deal with. We had feedback from Van Schaik Carpentry along a similar line, where they are grateful for the work but concerned about the extra paperwork that has come about because of the change in the system that Ventia are operating. I have rather comprehensive feedback from Tom.

Concerningly, as well, I had feedback from Neil Dutschke who was, again, one of the leading advocates at the time for concerns about the impact that this would have. He is one who has decided not to register their business with Ventia because of the extra paperwork and the extra hurdles they have to jump over to secure work as a result of it. Here is a local business that has decided not to undertake all of that extra work just to get the little bit of facilities management work they had prior, and that is more local contractors who are missing out as a result of the change.

At the heart of the problem is the centralisation of this process. Before, Simon Harley would be localised and able to call a local builder or tradesperson to do the job, but we now have a system where Ventia are trying to do it from Adelaide. Again, I am repeating myself a little bit, but while this motion is centred on schools, it is across government where we see this problem arise.

I was having a coffee with Rowley Woods in Kadina only the other day at his house. Looking out over his front yard is a Housing SA property—no complaints about tenants, they have all been wonderful and he has had a great deal of time for all of them, but he did have a complaint, which was the reason I was there, and that was the time it took for repairs to get done between tenants. It was months and months that house was sitting empty.

Chief amongst his concerns was that the contractors that were seen to be coming to fix those houses and to do the repairs and upgrades for the next tenant were coming from all over the place. I cannot remember the specific trade, sorry, but he reports having seen a trade from Blackwood come there to do that task. That is an extraordinary drive, and you have to wonder at the costs that would be involved in transporting a person from Blackwood to do that task and back again, as opposed to getting a local person to do it.

That is just one example. Thank you, Rowley, for having me at your house for coffee and pointing out that problem. Hopefully, that house is filled by now and we have people in there, because Lord knows we need it. But people coming from Blackwood is the exact problem that was foreshadowed by the tradespeople at that meeting with the minister, and it has come to fruition.

This motion is based on schools, but the idea of local institutions having autonomy is the part that I am endorsing. I think it could be rolled out further. I cannot see any reason why a hospital board or hospital admin staff could not identify maintenance projects under a certain threshold, as long as they followed the same process of getting a number of quotes and checking the proper boxes so that they are not compromising themselves.

I cannot see any reason why the Wallaroo Hospital could not undertake the same process. I know for a fact that they are fed up with Ventia as well. I think they might have even withdrawn from Ventia's services because of the difficulties they were having in getting the most basic of tasks done. I am sure that it could be rolled out more fulsomely across a number of different institutions to ensure that we get that really localised decision-making, local contractors are being rewarded with tasks on local buildings and we make sure that that money stays in our local economy and circulates and grows from there.

As I said at the start, this is one of the things that caused me a great deal of consternation when the previous government were implementing it. We did our best as a community to forewarn of the problems that would arise as a result of it being implemented. Unfortunately, some or most of those have come true. There is now a significantly more difficult computer system that people have to engage with, as evidenced by the submissions made by local contractors. There are now significantly more outside contractors coming in to do local jobs, as evidenced by people like Rowley Woods who lives across the road from Housing SA properties.

I think it would be tremendously beneficial if autonomy was returned to local people to undertake basic maintenance tasks with builders they know and trust, and we can keep that local decision-making going. I endorse the motion. I hope that it can be rolled out more fulsomely when the contract is reviewed and I will be writing to the minister to make that suggestion in due course.

Mr TELFER (Flinders) (12:14): I rise to speak on this motion from the member for Mount Gambier and, in particular, as a regional member recognising and acknowledging, as has been said, the challenges that our regional communities are facing because of a shortage of Ventia-approved contractors in regional areas. That is leading to an increased project expense for country schools, as this motion puts, but, as has already been mentioned, for projects right across the different aspects of regional life, and the challenges that small businesses are facing when dealing with a system which is not suited to what the reality is on the ground in regional areas.

We have budget allocations being made by schools that end up delivering value to the school community that is a lot less than what the dollar figure should actually deliver. I have heard from school leaders right across my electorate, up and down the coast and through the middle, their frustration with having a limited budget which they are hoping to put back into investing into buildings and facilities within their school grounds and, unfortunately, the only option for them is to look for a contractor to deliver that who ends up coming from many hundreds of kilometres away. With that comes a much higher cost and thus the dollar does not stretch as far and the projects delivered by that budget allocation are a lot fewer.

The challenges that are faced within regional communities to be able to access these Ventia-approved contractors are not just within education but are also reflected across other aspects as has been mentioned, such as housing and health, because the arrangements that are put in place may well suit the metropolitan area where there is a wide choice of contractors, builders, subcontractors and other tradespeople who can come and do the work, but in regional areas it is a limited pool. There are high-quality small business owners and tradespeople but there is not as great a choice in regional areas.

The frustration that I have heard from school leaders right across my electorate is around what in the end does not get delivered for our communities and that is the aspect I am wholeheartedly in support of when it comes to looking at opportunities to do things differently within the arrangements that we have in regional areas.

Also, the structures that are in place are not suitable for small businesses, small business tradespeople who may be an owner-operator or have a small number of employees who now are having to put significant time and effort into the reporting structures which are necessary. So you end up having extra costs within a business that is unnecessary and that extra cost gets passed on to the end user, and that end user is usually working within a very limited budget line and, in the end, smaller regional communities are getting lesser outcomes because of these arrangements.

I welcome the opportunity to be able to review this contract to try to see if there is the opportunity to nuance this to make it better for regional communities because at the moment we are being let down by a system that may be suitable for a metropolitan area but certainly is not suitable for regional communities that have significant distance in between. To have a situation where there is a tradesperson, a builder, a plumber, an electrician close by who could do the necessary work within a school, within a hospital, within the public housing space, to be not doing that work because of the structures that are in place is a poor outcome for our community and ends up being a poor outcome for government that is investing.

So I welcome that aspect that we can have the opportunity to review these Ventia contracts within regional areas in particular because what our regional communities work so hard to do is get value for money, value for their school community. At the moment, unfortunately, what I am hearing from my schools right across the electorate of Flinders is that is just not happening.

Ms PRATT (Frome) (12:19): Given that the member for Mount Gambier was probably ready to jump up, I am sure he will not mind me making a very brief contribution, firstly to thank him for bringing this motion and, secondly, in recognition of our shared professional experience in education.

I think this is an opportunity to bring attention to what many school principals would see as an important point to make about their duties as curriculum and education leaders in a school site. I reflect on my time as a primary school teacher, particularly through the Building the Education Revolution program, which uniquely brought hundreds of millions of dollars to the education infrastructure or capital infrastructure program and really put principals for the first time on a pathway to becoming project managers.

I think the motion that is before us today just gives me an opportunity to signal to principals across the state, those I have worked with and those I now represent, and recognise the additional burden that they carry as pastoral care workers of their site. They are responsible for the welfare of their staff, their students and the whole school community, but being loaded on top of principals these days is an increased expectation around running budgets, maintenance programs and dangerous worksites, all while needing to remain focused on the curriculum, on outcomes for students and on providing a fantastic education program.

The motion before us is calling for some review, some reform, some reflection on how school principals interact with these maintenance projects that they identify, the process and pathways by which the contracts are conducted, the barriers that regional principals and schools face in the absence of services, and the opposition's ongoing commitment and belief around the importance of autonomy and more flexibility and choice at the local school level.

This is an opportunity to enhance autonomy and support principals through their global school budget to know best what their site requires, particularly in the regions, recognising the barrier that all schools face when accessing a variety of contractors. I thank the member for Mount Gambier for bringing this motion. I support the motion, and I support the amendment.

Mr BELL (Mount Gambier) (12:22): I want to thank the members for Giles, Morialta, Narungga, Flinders and Frome. I also add that the member for MacKillop also supports the motion but is away because of another meeting that he had at the same time. He wanted me to mention that.

What is really disappointing is when people on the ground—and I think the member for Narungga said this the best—were forewarned of exactly what was going to happen and the difficulties, particularly for regional areas, where there are tradesmen there but they are not Ventia-approved. This is a very key point: people who perhaps live in the metropolitan area or another part do not have the same connection to a community.

There is an example of a preschool that was built for $1.8 million under a Ventia contract. Eighteen months later the roof leaks, and the contractor is refusing to come back to Mount Gambier to fix that type of maintenance issue. In fact, a local plumber has gone out and looked at it and believes the entire roof needs to be taken off and replaced, because it has not been done correctly.

So if we are going to pay these exorbitant prices you would expect that the care and backup support for a principal for a leaky roof on an 18-month old building would also be there, but unfortunately, again, this principal is feeling very much abandoned by Ventia and very much not supported in dealing with an issue that should be looked at.

I really want to thank all the speakers for making a contribution to this. I applaud the government for doing the review and looking for unintended consequences around this. We have to be able to do better. The amount of money that is being spent is not being spent wisely. I have been shown buildings that have cost a school $500,000 and quite literally it is a transportable rectangle that you could build for $35,000. There are no bathrooms in there. There are no bedrooms in there. They are a rectangular building, called a classroom, that is transported onto site. How they cost half a million dollars is absolutely beyond me.

Like I said, the intent behind this motion is to support our public schools, to make sure that we can deliver the best outcome for our kids who are in public schools, and support our principals who are, again, dealing with exorbitant costs, time delays and, quite honestly, a very unsatisfactory situation. With that, I commend the motion to the house.

Amendment carried; motion as amended carried.