Government must deal with maintenance backlog in our schools


Lidia Thorpe - Speech in parliament: My adjournment matter is for the Minister for Education. The action I am seeking is for the government to urgently provide funding for repairs and upgrades that are so desperately needed in schools across Victoria and my electorate of Northcote, including at Wales Street Primary School, and to provide adequate school maintenance funding into the future.

There has been a backlog of school maintenance for many years over successive governments. In 2017 the Auditor-General’s report entitled Managing School Infrastructure found that approximately $143.4 million of the estimated $420 million maintenance backlog identified in the 2011 department audit had still not been met.

The report found that school maintenance continues to be underfunded and that many school buildings remain below industry standards. The Auditor-General recommended that the Department of Education and Training develop an investment strategy for the maintenance of government school assets over the entire life of the asset and that an annual maintenance investment of 2 per cent of the total asset value be set to preserve school buildings at a suitable standard. It is not acceptable to expect our public school students, teachers and other staff to learn and work in substandard facilities.

Our government schools are valuable public assets that should not be allowed to deteriorate. Wales Street Primary School in Thornbury is one of those schools with a maintenance backlog. Parents and the wider community are concerned about overcrowding at Wales Street as well as serious infrastructure issues. These include a regularly leaking roof in the historic grade 1-2 building causing significant disruption to classes due to the water damage and drying requirements; an inadequate school hall without any functioning toilets and so small that only half the school can meet in it; and decking that is severely weathered and worn, with protruding nails and screws. It has poor toilet facilities that are not compliant with the National Construction Code. Since the new cleaning contracts began on 1 July this year, the cleanliness of the school has been compromised severely.

Wales Street Primary is already underfunded, receiving only 64 per cent of the schooling resource standard. This hardly suffices to operate the school and allows no maintenance works of this scale to take place. This situation is inacceptable.

Unfortunately it is not the only school in my electorate that is neglected. I have visited several schools, and again and again I am hearing the same issue arising. Our children deserve to learn and play in a safe and clean place, and our teachers to work in one. If this government is serious about its commitment to education, it must provide funding for repairs.