Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 2006 Week 6 Hansard (7 June) . . Page.. 1851..
DR FOSKEY (continuing):
For consultation to be real, we have to look at the context in which it is taking place. A close look at the suburbs where the government is mooting the closure and sometimes amalgamation of schools raises some alarm bells. Over half of the schools to be closed are in suburbs with high poverty rates, ranging between nine and 28 per cent. About one-third of the schools are in suburbs that have poverty rates between five and nine per cent, and none of the schools to be closed are located in suburbs with poverty rates under five per cent. Weston Creek, for example, will have both its preschool and its primary school closed, yet children living in this area face poverty rates around 8.1 per cent, and 40 per cent of people in this area live in single-parent households. Here we are going to the data. We all know data is not always right. This, though, is as good as we can get.
Kambah is the suburb with the highest number of people in poor households-an estimated 1,511 people are in poverty, and that is 823 adults and 688 children. Children here face a poverty rate of 12.2 per cent. Kambah also has some of the highest number of unemployed people, and 34.2 per cent of households are in public housing. If you couple their loss of schooling with what is happening at the moment with the dramatic cuts to public housing, you can see that this government, if it closes schools, will be increasing the disadvantages these families face.
I must say I was rather surprised and alarmed to see Dickson college on the list. It is slightly different in that it is located in a suburb that ranks highly on the disadvantaged score, yet it is not amongst those with the highest poverty rates. A startling 17.4 per cent of children here are likely to live in poverty. It is also the central location for a number of suburbs that face both high-poverty and disadvantage rates. It is well known for hosting youth programs that assist in achieving better social outcomes. Those of us who know about the School Without Walls and who regretted its closure, under a Liberal government, will be aware that Dickson college picked up some of those programs. It was a wholly different concept, but it worked. We must also consider the important introductory English centre that the college provides.
We are told that all these things will keep existing. But for disadvantaged students, change is threatening. We change programs. If we make it a bit harder to get there, the effort may not be made. That is how it is with students at risk of failure. So we need to think about who will be affected not just by the closure but by any move that the government offers as an alternative. Most importantly, really, is: where can students with poor motivation go to school easily? It has to be made as easy as possible for such students.
My concern is that the most disadvantaged communities are also the least likely to be able to speak up for themselves. What are the politics of this? Are we avoiding those communities like Yarralumla where parents are articulate and well resourced? I do not know. I hope that the government answers that question.
But my point is that, if we are talking about schools where communities are perhaps less engaged, then we have to have consultation processes that are not just handing out a sheet of paper which people need to read and asking them for responses. We have to engage in different ways, because those are the people that are going to be most hurt by any closures or other changes for schools. That is a whole thing in itself. It could be an exciting process; I do not deny that. This could be a way of making education better, but