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Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 2002 Week 9 Hansard (20 August) . . Page.. 2451..


MR WOOD (continuing):

I stress, are precautionary and are not an acknowledgment that there is any immediate danger for tenants. I think it is worth pointing out that a couple of the fires I have seen reported in the last couple of years tended to be contained to the units concerned, which was great, and not spread through the building.

In terms of what you want to know, Mr Cornwell, the government is continuing a program that began in May 2001, and I give credit for that, to install hardwired smoke alarms in all properties. That is now 80 per cent complete. I do not need to spell out the advantage of having hardwired alarms. Appropriate alternative alarms are provided for hearing impaired tenants. They will require annual testing, which will be done, and we expect that program to be substantially complete by the end of September this year.

Education-religious study

MR PRATT: Mr Speaker, my question is to the minister for education. Minister, in the draft exposure education bill tabled recently you floated the concept of removing religious study from the daily school routine. You have proposed relegating spiritual instruction to the second-best division, a clear message to the community of the contempt with which you hold religious and spiritual activity in schools. As we saw, there was a totally justified uproar within the community attacking your stated intentions. Minister, why did you eventually do a backflip? Did you realise that your ideologically-driven ideas or perhaps your socialist left colleagues had put you seriously at odds with the very serious business of running our school system? Minister, for God's sake, what the devil got into you?

MR CORBELL: Mr Pratt has too much time on his hands, Mr Speaker. The government is always serious in responding to community comment. The government is not going to simply stand by and ignore comments when they are forthcoming. In relation to the exposure draft of the new education bill, clearly there was a very strong view, and I should stress both ways, on the provisions proposed in that bill in relation to religious education. Certainly, there were very strong views expressed by people with strong support for religious education in schools during school hours, during normal class time. Equally, my office received many comments from people who felt very strongly that the proposal was the appropriate one.

What concerned me, and the reason that I took the decision I took, was the very inflammatory and very sectarian approach adopted by Mr Pratt. He deliberately inflamed the provision in such a way as to suggest that we were seeking to ban God. Far be it from me to seek to ban God. I have a very strong respect for anyone who holds any particular religious belief or philosophical belief. I respect their right to do so. But I also respect the right of public education to be secular and to cater for everyone in our community, regardless of their religious or philosophical belief. That was what the government was seeking to do through its bill.

We will continue to seek to do that, Mr Speaker. In the interests of ensuring that there is not an inflammatory debate on this matter, which I do not believe would be in anyone's interests, the government took the view that it would indicate that it would not be proceeding with those provisions, but instead would speak further with all interested parties as part of the exposure bill process.


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