Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 2006 Week 12 Hansard (22 November) . . Page.. 3784..
MS GALLAGHER (continuing):
tell us while we are in this consultation period."That is the discussion that is under way and it is a discussion that needs to happen. If all of you really honestly took a close look at this and put political differences aside, you would say, "Yes, that is a conversation that needs to happen."And that is what is happening.
This government has invested in preschool education at a much greater level than has any other government since self-government, and I cannot sit here and listen to some of the comments today without responding to them. None of you have raised, including the Greens, the investment that has occurred in preschools, including the investment that occurred in Koori preschools. Of all things that the Greens would be interested in, we have had not one acknowledgment from them of the work that this government has put in to address the early learning needs of Canberra's youngest citizens.
We have the most generous free preschool system in the country. I cannot think of another jurisdiction—there may be one other—that offers the level of free non-compulsory education in preschools that we do, and it is something that we are very proud of and that we want to keep hold of. But it has to move with the times and respond to Canberra's changing needs, and we have to be able to offer every four-year-old the opportunities that they deserve through the preschool system. The only way to do that is to have a long, hard look at the way the system operates and where the preschools are, have that conversation with the community so we can respond to that and make sure we have, and continue to have, the best preschool system in the country.
MR STEFANIAK (Ginninderra—Leader of the Opposition) (4.02): I normally do not worry when I hear nonsense being spoken in the chamber, but there was just one point the minister spoke of which I feel is relevant to this debate and needs clarification and, indeed, some rectification. I heard her say that the previous government, when I was minister, gave no warning; that it was just an arbitrary figure. She needs to check her facts. Yes, the figure was, I think, 17, which I think is still the figure used for a viable preschool. It was not a hard and fast rule—and there was significant consultation; indeed significant savings of some preschools to give them another chance.
You can correct me on this one if I am wrong, but I believe those figures come out about September. I recall one instance where one of the preschools that I think you are going to close in north Canberra—I think it was Downer—had about 14 or 15 kids. There were impassioned pleas by Kerrie Tucker to keep that one open, and I think we did, even though it was below the number. It then got a few more young students and went to about 20, I think, so that was good.
Some of the other ones, yes, were suspended and some of them came back. Lyons was suspended—I think it was down to 10 or eight kids or something like that—but a big effort by the community saw that rise. I do not think it was to the full 17, but it was enough to make you think, "That is going to be viable."It was 17, 16 or something like that, so that got the tick the next year. The little preschool behind the Manuka shops was down to about five or six kids. Logically, you would close that. But no, we suspended it; we gave it a chance. The following year I think either three or four