IT MIGHT have been only an election promise last Friday, when the Premier Daniel Andrews came to Phillip Island to announce $24.7 million for a brand-new state junior secondary campus on the Island and a competition-grade gymnasium at the Cowes Primary School.
In so doing, he paid tribute to Labor candidate for Bass, Jordan Crugnale, for her “constant advocacy”.
But thanks to the efforts of the sitting Member for Bass, the Liberals’ Brian Paynter, Phillip Island will get its new junior secondary college and gym regardless of the outcome of the November 24 poll.
Over the weekend, Mr Paynter moved quickly to secure a matching election promise from the Coalition and he put out an announcement about it on Monday this week.
So, it’s happy days for the people of Phillip Island and surrounding areas!
But last Friday, it was certainly kudos to Labor, to the Premier and his Education Minister James Merlino and also to Ms Crugnale.
It was their initiative to put the project on the agenda and the announcement has been warmly welcomed by all.
They were inseparable all morning last Friday during a walk around the school with acting principal Rodney McKenzie, at visits to numerous classrooms and when serenaded by the school’s accomplished choir.
And they stood together before the assembled media, including city press, radio and TV, for the school and gymnasium announcement.
No doubt the city media were there after it had been revealed overnight that among the documents released the previous Monday, relating to the botched rezoning of land at Ventnor by the former Planning Minister Matthew Guy back in 2011, were the personal details among others of Island resident, Leonie Hemsworth, mother of Hollywood stars Chris and Liam.
After the Premier’s set-piece, announcing the $24.7 million promise for education on the island, the city press grilled Mr Andrews on the alleged privacy breach.
He batted away their questions saying: “We’re investing in the schools and services this local community desperately needs, while the Liberals plan to turn the Bass Coast into the Gold Coast.”
But for Phillip Island residents and the electors of Bass, it was all about education.
“I’m delighted to be here today at the Cowes Primary School and thank you to Rod (McKenzie) and all of your team. What an outstanding welcome,” Mr Andrews began.
“Firstly, let me say this is such a special school. It’s a great place, a centre of learning, a centre of love and caring; a real school community that’s so tightly knit and it’s great to be welcomed so beautifully here this morning and to see the great work that’s being done,” he said after hearing from the choir and meeting many of the students and teachers.
“Over the past four years we’ve invested consistently in additional classrooms, in additional spaces, more support for students, for teachers, and for learning communities right across our state and we’re proud of that. There’s something like 1300 different projects that are underway at the moment, 70 brand new schools that have been built or are being built. That’s about making sure that every child gets the chance in this the Education State.
“But we know and understand that there is more that has to be done. And that’s what’s brought us here to Cowes Primary School today. I’m really pleased to be able to make two really important announcements. Firstly, a re-elected Labor Government will build a competition-grade gymnasium here at Cowes Primary School which we know will be of significant benefit to students, but also to the broader Phillip Island community who will use that facility for all sorts of different sporting activities.
“That new gymnasium comes in the context of a broader commitment that I am very pleased to be able to make today. If we are re-elected we will invest $24.7 million to deliver that gymnasium and to deliver a years 7, 8 and 9 secondary school here on Phillip Island. This will deal with the fact that too many kids are having to travel too far each and every day.
“This junior secondary school will be everything that the community has sought and the exact location of that school, on the island or in neighbouring communities, but servicing this broader community, that will be determined by local residents. The local community will have their say, and there’ll be a proper process of engagement to find a location for that extra facility in the local education mix. And that will be something that is led and driven by the local community and that is how we will get the very best outcome.
“I just want to make a couple of points before I throw to James to talk about our announcement and the context that it comes into a little more broadly.
“Obviously when you’ve got 500 kids travelling out of their local community every day to attend Wonthaggi, another school that we are upgrading by the way, that has an impact on families, it has an impact on time, and I think it probably has an impact on overall educational outcomes as well.
“We want to be able to give every family the best education offering as close as possible to where they live, as close to the community that they have built as we possibly can.
“But there are also some other benefits. If you’re on the school bus for a long time travelling back to where you live in those precious after-school hours, you might not be involved in after-school sport for instance. So, there’s lots of different reasons why this investment is really, really important.”
Mr Andrews went on to say that the development of a junior campus, connected to the Wonthaggi Secondary College, was something the local community had been seeking for a long, long time.
“All of this comes as part of Jordan’s constant advocacy. She is always making sure that I understand what the Bass electorate needs both now and into the future and it comes in the context of the work that James is doing as Deputy Premier and Minister for Education for the past four years making sure every child, no matter where they live, gets every chance to reach the full and unique potential that belongs to them because if they can do that, then Victoria can reach its full potential as well.”
Mr Merlino also spoke, saying he had spoken to Jordan Crugnale and also to Darren Parker, the principal of the Wonthaggi Secondary College, on many occasions about the best model for state education locally, a key aspect of which was a new junior campus for the growing community of Phillip Island and the waterline towns.
He spoke about the brand new senior secondary college being built at Wonthaggi for the region, an investment of in excess of $30 million.
“But we’ve been talking about how to better support students and parents living on the island or around Phillip Island. And that’s why we announced today $24.7 million for a junior secondary campus and competition-grade gym.
“I can let Darren, Rod and everyone know that the Department of Education will engage immediately to talk about what’s the best provision, what is the best location. Is it co-location with one of the primary schools on or around the island? Or is it a stand-alone, 7-9 campus? We will be engaging with the schools and with the community for the very best result,” he said.
“We will be engaging with all of the schools and all of the parents. We have a wonderful secondary college at Wonthaggi and it is important that the students have the full range of subjects. But it means that students will be able to start school in their own area,” he said.
When asked when the new junior campus would be built, Mr Andrews said soon after the election.
He said he would have the school building authority begin the planning before the election so that the project would be ready to go “as soon as we possibly can” after the election.
“It’s not just important to do it quickly but also to get it right. Getting the siting right is very important,” he said.
He claimed the Labor government was having to invest so much in Bass because the Coalition had done nothing in the previous four years.
Notwithstanding the commitment to consult, Wonthaggi principal Darren Parker said the obvious place for the new school was San Remo, equidistant between the Western Port towns and Cowes.
San Remo best location, says Parker
“IT’S an amazing announcement, an amazing opportunity.”
So said Wonthaggi Secondary College Principal, Darren Parker last Friday about the promise of funding for a junior campus of the college on Phillip Island.
“It’s something we’ve been calling for, for a long time, and it will have a huge impact on our kids for decades to come.
“Looking around here (Cowes PS) today, it’s all these little kids who will reap the benefit.
“Our school is Bass Coast’s school, not necessarily in name but certainly in effect and the opportunity to support this community with a new junior campus is fantastic.”
Mr Parker said he envisaged a 500-500-500 split of students between the new Phillip Island junior campus, the Dudley junior campus in Wonthaggi and the new senior secondary college delivering a high-standard curriculum in state-of-the-art facilities.
“There’s a process to go through but from my point of view, the best place for it is San Remo where both Phillip Island families and those from the Waterline towns will be best suited.
“The VSBA (Victorian School Building Authority) becomes officially involved in the planning, now, is what James (Merlino, the Education Minister) said.
“It’s all lining up in such a way, with numbers increasing and the senior campus being built, that we’ll be able to handle the growth pressures at Wonthaggi and also on and around the Island.”
Cowes primary is ‘absolutely delighted’
ACTING Principal of the Cowes Primary School Rodney McKenzie was “absolutely delighted” with the day’s announcement of $24.7m funding for both the new junior campus and the gym.
He said the school had reached 580 students and was growing steadily.
“We strive to deliver education excellence for the community and this is going to help us so much,” Mr McKenzie said.
“We lack indoor facilities on the island and this will help us and the community,” he said.
“We’ve outgrown our gym and it will be great to have a new competition-standard gym.
“There are five primary schools and it will be great to have this option of a junior school campus on the island.
“If we can win the football and netball on Saturday, we’ll be completely satisfied,” he said.