Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 1999 Week 4 Hansard (21 April) . . Page.. 1080..
MR HIRD (3.24): Mr Speaker, I rise this afternoon to raise a matter of public importance - the needs of the ACT education system as it moves forward into the twenty-first century. The ACT enjoys an enviable reputation within the Territory and outside for its education system. We have the highest levels of retention in the country for Year 12 students - and not just by a little bit, but by a whopping 30 per cent. Mr Speaker, I think I should repeat that very important statistic. The ACT is 30 per cent ahead of the next closest State or Territory for Year 12 retentions.
Mr Speaker, not only do we have these exceptionally high retention rates; we also have the unique system which splits education in the high school years into two. We have the only universal secondary college system for our Years 11 and 12. This system prepares our students for their tertiary activities, whether they might be in university, TAFE or the workplace. Our students have an enviable reputation at the tertiary levels for their success rates in comparison to their State counterparts.
However, these successes do come at a price. We also have one of the most expensive school systems in Australia today. The Commonwealth Grants Commission and the Productivity Commission have both recently reported that the ACT has the most expensive system in the country after the Northern Territory. Given that we have none of the isolation problems which face most of the States and Territories, this is a factor of some concern.
Of further concern is the report of the Auditor-General last year, tabled in this place, in respect of repairs and maintenance in government schools. The Auditor-General revealed that we currently have about 7,000 vacant places in our schools. The Government acknowledges that you cannot expect to run a school system at 100 per cent capacity. But even at a conservative level of usage there is no doubt that we have about 12,000 places too many in our system.
When we add to this the problem of an increase in school facilities at the same time as our school enrolments continue to decline, it is obvious that we must do something. In this environment it is important that governments take careful note of the concerns and interests of the major players in this type of debate. Let us therefore look at some of the comments made by the general secretary of the ACT branch of the Australian Education Union, Mr Warren Lee. In an article in the March edition of the ACT Teacher, he wrote on the question of access:
... there are several suburbs in the ACT which have never had a school. Is there any evidence that the children in these suburbs have suffered detriment? It seems they have been well served by nearby schools.
Mr Lee went on to say:
Interestingly some of the new areas do not have the same density of government school sites as in older parts of Canberra. So, whilst it is apparently too far to travel to the next suburb in Belconnen, should a school close, it is okay to travel a similar distance to the nearest school in say Tuggeranong or Gungahlin.