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Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 2006 Week 10 (19 October) . . Page.. 3303..


MR BARR (continuing):

the renewal in some suburbs, school populations are unlikely to approach past enrolment levels, resulting in substantial spare capacity in schools, and that "the long-term educational and financial viability of some schools in established areas is doubtful".

Our public education system is under pressure as a result of this demographic shift and of changing expectations. Not only are there fewer children; 41 per cent of students now attend private schools and this trend is continuing. Our system is now about 30 per cent underutilised, equating to about 18,000 empty desks, and at the same time education costs are rising. Many of our schools have ageing infrastructure and, when combined with declining student numbers, they simply cannot be sustained.

These are significant and undeniable challenges and they are challenges the government has sought to address in proposing the largest reform of public education since self-government, backed up with a record injection of funding. In developing our proposal, the government has considered the needs of current students in our schools as well as the needs of future students, because the majority of children entering preschool next year will be in our school system until 2020. Our proposal is designed to ensure the sustainability of public education, both now and into the future, and we are determined to keep our system amongst the best in the world.

Emergency services—communications

MRS DUNNE: Mr Speaker, my question is to the minister for emergency services. Minister, you have assured this Assembly and members of the public that the emergency services primary communications systems are working properly—and you have just given similar assurances to Mr Stefaniak. In that case, why during the bushfire in the south of Namadgi last week did the bushfire brigades and SES units working there have significant difficulties in communicating with each other and with the rural fire service headquarters when using the TRN radio network and when using the FireLink digital data system?

MR CORBELL: Mr Speaker, I am not aware of the details of the communications in the fire in the south of the ACT in Namadgi national park around Mount Clear, but I would not be surprised to hear that the TRN did not provide full coverage. I am on the record already as saying that, in some of the more remote parts of the ACT, TRN is not able to give effective coverage at this time. Indeed, I was asked, I think, a couple of months ago whether the TRN would not be used as the primary communication channel for the RFS, and it was for exactly this reason: it does not give adequate coverage in some remote parts of Namadgi National Park. For that reason, VHF is used as the primary communication channel.

My understanding is that the channel designated for operations in the fire at Mount Clear was the VHF channel. VHF was the primary communication channel, and that is what was put in place for the management of that fire. So it is no surprise to me at all, if it is indeed the case as Mrs Dunne highlights, that TRN was not effective. It was not effective because we know, and have known for a number of months, that TRN does not yet give adequate coverage in that part of Namadgi National Park. That is one of the reasons why TRN is not designated as the primary communication channel and why the RFS continues to use VHF for this fire season as the primary channel.


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