Building the Education Revolution – Private Member’s Bill

Nation Building - Economic Stimulus Plan - Building the Education Revolution
The Opposition has introduced a Private Member’s Bill to establish a judicial Commission of Inquiry into the Building the Education Revolution (BER). The Bill is the result of ongoing complaints and concerns about the BER’s administration and implementation. It also comes amidst a number of other BER inquiries and reports into various aspects of the BER’s operation, the chief focus of which has been the Primary Schools for the 21st Century (P21) element of the BER. If the Bill is passed, the Commission of Inquiry would become the fifth BER inquiry or report at the national level.

In effect, if the Bill is passed, it would enact a recommendation of the interim report of the Senate committee inquiry into the P21 program. By establishing a judicial commission of inquiry the Opposition hopes to overcome what it regards as shortcomings of other BER inquiries and reports. The proposed Commission would have powers to summon witnesses and subpoena documents, the Parliament would be empowered to appoint the Commissioner and the staff would ‘be made available to the Commission by the President and Speaker’. As stated in the EM, the Opposition envisages that with these arrangements the Commission will have the ability to make ‘genuine recommendations truly independent of Government’.

Although neither the Bill nor the Explanatory Memorandum (EM) specifically mention the P21 program, it is likely, as with the other BER inquiries and reports, that this element of the BER will be the chief focus of the proposed Commission.

The Bill also raises a question about the future of the Senate’s current committee inquiry into the P21 program and the Government’s BER Implementation Taskforce, headed by Brad Orgill. The EM states that the Taskforce would be dissolved, but there is no explanation as to how this would occur nor does the Bill contain a specific provision on this matter.

Although the EM states that the Bill would have no financial impact and would be funded from annual appropriations, the reality is that the Commission would likely come at a significant cost. These costs would include, for example, the Commissioner’s remuneration and allowances and legal costs. As the Australian Law Reform Commission's report, Making Inquiries: A New Statutory Framework (2009), notes, ‘an inquiry’s legal costs can be a significant expense’, citing the case of the Royal Commission into the Building and Construction Industry, the legal costs of which amounted to 30 per cent of the Royal Commission’s total costs.

BER inquiries and reports


• Australian National Audit Office (ANAO): following preliminary investigations it was reported in July 2009 that the ANAO would conduct an audit of the BER’s P21 program. The performance audit report was released in May 2010.

• BER National Coordinator: the National Coordinator’s implementation report for the period February to September 2009 was released on 16 October 2009.

• Senate committee inquiry: in September 2009 the inquiry into the P21 element of the BER was referred to the Senate Education, Employment and Workplace Relations Committee. The Committee released its interim report in June 2010 and its final report is due 17 March 2011.

• BER Implementation Taskforce: then Education Minister, Julia Gillard, announced the establishment of the independent BER Implementation Taskforce on 12 April 2010. The Taskforce presented its interim report to the then Minister for Education, Simon Crean, on 6 August 2010. The Taskforce is due to present its first full report in November 2010.

• NSW:

• Queensland: the Department of Education and Training commissioned PriceWaterhouseCoopers to undertake a review of the BER’s implementation in Queensland government schools. The first review report was released in September 2009 and the second review report was released in September 2010.

• Victoria: on 14 April 2010 the Legislative Council referred to the Education and Training Committee an inquiry into the administration of the BER in Victoria. The Committee released its interim report on 1 September 2010 and its final report is due by 31 December 2010.

See also previous BER FlagPost.

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Flagpost is a blog on current issues of interest to members of the Australian Parliament

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