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Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 2004 Week 3 Hansard (10 March) . . Page.. 941..

Wednesday, 10 March 2004

The Assembly met at 10.30 am.

(Quorum formed.)

MR SPEAKER (Mr Berry) took the chair and asked members to stand in silence and pray or reflect on their responsibilities to the people of the Australian Capital Territory.

Low income families and school expenses

MS DUNDAS (10.33): I move

That this Assembly:

(1) recognises that many public school students from low income families miss out on school excursions, school camps and school subjects with levies due to cost; and

(2) calls on the ACT Government to establish a central fund that parents can apply to for assistance with these costs.

An increasing number of parents from low income backgrounds have contacted my office to express their concern and distress about the increasing unaffordability of the ACT public school system. This is a system that is normally free. Children are missing out on school camps and important excursions, or are unable to take part in subjects because of associated costs for things like course materials, because the family does not have enough income to cover these extra costs.

There are many single parents in the ACT who rely wholly on government benefits which are not generous enough to cover expensive school excursions, even if payment over a period of time is permitted, and they cannot afford all of the material levies for subjects that their children want to take to further their education and knowledge. In some cases families on low incomes, including families with only one working parent, sometimes manage to find the money to pay subject levies and camp fees, but this comes at the expense of other essentials like food and medical bills. This is a choice no family should have to make.

We have heard reports this morning of new surveys that have shown that many workers are living on such low incomes that they are having to choose between food or heating their house. Think of how their children are coping in the public education system and how they are trying to work with all the other activities that are being offered in the school environment.

Most of the education fees in our public schools are, in theory, voluntary-that is enshrined in legislation-but in practice there are numerous cases where schools refuse to enrol students in a subject or allow them to participate in an activity unless the fee has been paid or a payment plan agreed upon. The stigma attached to a child who cannot afford to pay their course fees can be incredibly damaging when they are pointed out in class and shamed for not having paid that fee. Some teachers actually read out a list of all

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