The Andrews Labor Government headlines scream ‘$730 Million To Fix Our Schools And Keep Our Kids Safe’
(source: http://www.premier.vic.gov.au/730-million-to-fix-our-schools-and-keep-our-kids-safe) and then puts them directly in the line of fire.

The Victorian Government is falling way behind other states, when it comes to supporting Australian manufacturing, providing taxpayers with the best possible value, but most importantly ensuring the health and safety of school students.

There is no requirement for Victorian schools to take into consideration risk assessments in regard to Volatile Organic Compounds (VOC’s) or other known carcinogens or irritants such as formaldehyde.

Both the Queensland Government’s DETE SOA-100749 Provision of School Furniture contract and Western Australia’s CUAFRN-Supply Arrangement 3 (Part 1) contract have created a mandate that products going into government schools be manufactured to meet Australian Standards. Another requirement of these contracts is the independent testing and certification (such as by GECA) to ensure products do not contain hazardous substances and materials. Despite there being an Australian Standard, AS/NZS 4610 School Furniture: Strength, Stability and Durability, there is no current requirement to meet this standard in Victoria.

‘The most disappointing aspect of all this is the way the *PPP’s are being handled in Victoria,’ says Tony Rogers, Director of Woods Furniture, one of Australia’s largest education furniture manufacturers.

*(source : http://www.dtf.vic.gov.au/Infrastructure-Delivery/Public-private-partnerships/Projects/New-Schools-PPP)

PPP is a public–private partnership. The private sector will be responsible for the finance, design, construction, and maintenance of the new schools in Victoria over a 25 year period. The State will retain school ownership and responsibility for delivering educational services.)

‘Woods, and other Australian manufacturers, contributed significant time and expertise working with the consortium selected by the Andrews Labor Government to build and furnish local schools for the first roll out of the PPP. This consortium then opted for the cheapest possible options, taking our designs and specification to importers and having replications produced in China,’ he said.

‘Under the PPP scheme the selected consortium is responsible for the maintenance of these Victorian schools for a 25 year period,’ explains Patrizia Torelli, CEO of the Australian Furniture Association. ‘The AFA has repeatedly requested meetings with the relevant Ministers to discuss the risks associated with recent purchasing decisions, both from an economic and health & safety perspective, but we have been handballed from one Department to another for many months. The lack of access to Government by a major industry sector is unacceptable.’

AFA Members spend significant time and money each year further educating and training staff, designing new products, testing to standards, and committing to business growth and employment within Victoria.

Due to the flood of cheap imports that do not meet standards entering the market the real risk for the furniture industry in the demise of yet another sector of manufacturing that in sheer numbers mirrors that of the automotive industry.

The lack of the Victorian Governments commitment to Australian Furniture Standards and Environmental Standards being met in Victorian schools has seen Victorian sales drop from approximately 65% of overall national sales to below 35% over the past 10 years.

‘To add insult to injury schools are contacting our Members regarding warranty claims when the products fail, only to realise they have been provided with an inferior copy which is failing within the classroom environment instead of the quality product that meets Australian standards,’ says Ms Torelli. ‘They then have to dip into their discretionary funds to replace the items, often in large quantities. This can’t possibly be considered a good use of taxpayers’ money, whichever way you do the maths.’

The next round of PPP’s are currently being rolled out, and it appears the same decision making process is being applied. While a different consortium has been selected, first indications are the furniture procurement will be purely based on price and that the cheapest quote will be accepted. In addition the organisation responsible for specifying the furniture for Victorian schools is based in NSW further increasing costs for Victorian companies to do business.

Queensland and Western Australia now make up 45% of education furniture sales for Victorian companies. This is no coincidence given that these State Governments require products to meet the relevant standards.

‘Detailed information was supplied to Ministers of the previous Victorian Liberal Government to no avail,’ says Ms Torelli. ‘We believe this is the perfect opportunity for the current government to take control of the situation and implement procedures that not only support local manufacturers, but also ensure the health and safety of our children. What we ask is that all suppliers of educational furniture to Victorian schools be required to meet the same strict criteria adhered to by Australian manufacturers. Not just for the benefit of the industry and the economy, but for the benefit and well-being of Victorian school children,’ she concludes.