Fundraising by school communities has allowed the Palaszczuk Government to finally embark on a program to air-condition all state schools and not blow the budget.
Having long insisted on a limited and staged rollout of air-conditioning, Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk and key ministers took to social media today to announce Labor’s major policy shift.
In a pre-election pledge, all state schools without air-conditioning – 349 more than already identified, mostly in the southeast – will now have cooling installed by mid-2022 at a cost to taxpayers of $407 million.
Schools will also be fitted with solar panels, reducing their power bills and creating more work for tradespeople in a difficult economy.
Only weeks after enduring criticism for its limited rollout, during another hot summer, the Labor government is now facing claims it has fast-tracked and re-costed a Liberal National Party policy it spent months ridiculing. The state election is due in October.
While the policy shift was welcomed by school groups, it also comes after about two-thirds of schools had already been fitted with air conditioning – “a large number of those paid for by parents,” according to Kevan Goodworth from P&Cs Queensland.
“It’s something we’ve been pounding the table about for at least the last six years,” Goodworth told ABC Radio.
Queensland Teachers’ Union president Kevin Bates acknowledged that fundraising had done what the government would not, but said the new policy came with a commitment to maintain and replace existing units when needed.
With research showing heat can impair learning, Bates said he expected Queensland students to now progress “in leaps and bounds” and have their classroom environment dependent on their location.
The Government had hoped to have 301 more schools fitted with air-conditioning by the start of the term but not even half were done. Asked by reporters how she could now promise all schools would be done by 2022, Palaszczuk said “because it will”.
“I’m absolutely positive because it will be done,” the Premier said.
Education Minister Grace Grace said an audit completed late last year had guided the decision to select those 301 schools and, through further consultation and costings, led to the decision to complete the rollout.
Grace had previously described the LNP’s policy to air-condition all schools by 2028 – which she and Palaszczuk said would cost upwards of $1.5 billion – as being “full of hot air and one big con”. Today she insisted Labor’s new policy was more considered.
Palaszcuk denied the policy shift was motivated by the upcoming state election and said the government had been considering more air-conditioning – and also more schools.
But Opposition Leader Deb Frecklington said Labor had long ignored the concerns of teachers, parents and communities that students faced discomfort and disadvantage.
“I am delighted that the Labor Party have decided to adopt the LNP’s plan,” Frecklington said, adding that the challenge for any Labor government was delivering projects “on time and on budget”.
“The devil is always in the detail when it comes to Labor.”
Frecklington questioned how the “secret audit report” could deliver such a policy shift and at lower cost than the LNP’s modelling, which was based on some estimates made under the former Newman government.
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