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Basic Answers Needed About Big Budget Promises

One hundred and ninety upgraded and new schools. That’s the centrepiece education promise in the NSW Budget which includes a record $7.3 billion of capital investment.

But while the numbers are big, the details are small.

For more than half the school projects there’s no detail on when construction will start and finish and how much it will cost. Importantly, there’s no money specifically allocated in the 2019-20 budget. Instead, there are lines of ‘n.a.’

“117 of those projects, 60 percent of those projects have absolutely no detail,” Labor’s Shadow Education Minister Jihad Dib said.

“We’ve got families who move into communities expecting that a new school will be built in a certain time frame.”

New primary schools at Catherine Field (Oran Park) Leppington and Marsden Park, as well as a new high school at Sydney Olympic Park, have appeared in the past two state budgets with no detail.

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“There are many schools that have been announced over and over again,” Dib said.

Upgrades to Fort Street Public School at Millers Point first appeared in the 2016-17 budget. In the following year, an estimated price tag of $1.6m was listed but no money specifically allocated for the works. Over the past two years there’s been no more detail about the upgrades – just lines of ‘n.a’. That’s despite the government’s School Infrastructure website saying work is due to start mid-this year.

But the lack of detail can be explained NSW Education Minister Sarah Mitchell insists. Many of the projects are still in the planning stages and it’s not appropriate to put a price tag on work that’s yet to go out to tender.

“A lot of the planning work that is underway can take some time and once we’re going through a tendering process these projects also become commercial in confidence,” Mitchell told 10 News First.

The Fort Street works are apparently progressing more slowly than expected because of complications presented by the school’s location at Observatory Hill next to the Harbour Bridge.

“The fact that all of the 190 schools are listed in the budget is proof that the government is committed to delivering those schools upgrades.”

That then raises a question mark over one of the Berejiklian government’s most recent promises – a new selective school for Sydney’s south-west. It was announced less than three weeks ago on June 4. However, there’s no mention of it in the budget.

“Absolutely no detail and once again what we’re seeing is the government making announcements on the hop,” Dib said.

The government has told 10 News First it does remain committed to the project, however, it appears specific funding to make it happen won’t be coming for some time yet.

“We’ll start consultation with the community out there shortly," Minister Mitchell said.

“I’ve asked my department to come up with some opportunities around community consultation and once that process is underway the planning can begin and we can start to make some more announcements about funding for that project.”

The Treasurer has said his third budget marks the start of a ‘term of delivery’. Communities waiting on new or upgraded schools will no doubt be hoping there’ll be some details delivered soon as well.