Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 2004 Week 10 Hansard (26 August) . . Page.. 4334..
MR STANHOPE (continuing):
interest disclosure process, I have no evidence to substantiate that. I am prepared to stand by our public service. It is a public service of significant quality. We should be proud of it. We should support them and nurture them in the work that they do. I do.
MS DUNDAS: Mr Speaker, through you, my question is to the Minister for Education and Training. Following recent discussions that were had in the media and a flurry of press releases that abounded on the subject, is it the minister's intention to close schools, if re-elected? If so, which schools are being looked at in relation to closure?
MS GALLAGHER: I thank Ms Dundas for the question. I have to say that I think there was a bit of overzealous reporting of this issue in the Canberra Times. The interview was about small schools and the number of small schools in the ACT. The subject was brought up through this interview, which was about the decline in enrolments through transfers from government to non-government schools. Quite a big deal was made about that.
In actual fact, the most important part of that interview I gave to the journalist was missing. It actually talked about the very serious and significant decline in the student population that we are going to see every year for the next 20 to 30 years; we are going to go from a situation of around 40 per cent of our population being of school age down to about 16 per cent. That is going to have an impact on overall enrolments at every school, both non-government and government. That was the reason that enrolments in the government sector were projected to decline by around one per cent a year for the next five years.
We do have a number of very small schools-and they are listed in that census document-and projections by the government. It is not as simple as that. I guess the issue I put out there was that I thought there needed to be a conversation at some point about our schools and the role they play-not only the educational impact but the role they have in their community; we need to have that broad discussion with the community. The Education Act sets out a very clear process for the closure or amalgamation of any schools, which we have all signed up to this year.
The government has no plans to close any schools. In fact, the only situation I have dealt with in terms of closing schools was, as members would know, to do with the suspension or closure of some preschools, which I put off until the strategic plan is put out and we have some more community consultation.
There are some small schools out there. I think of Narrabundah school as an example of a small school. It would never be a viable candidate for closure. There is a whole range of other services coming into that school. It runs Kootara Well; it has a GP coming there; it has a breakfast program; it has families in great need of the support that that school provides; it has its library let out as a community access point for adults during the day. I was trying to say that you just cannot say that, because a school is small, that would automatically mean it is best to close it.
What needs to happen is that, as Canberra grows and ages, our demographics shift around Canberra. As we see now, Gungahlin is exploding; we are going to have a school