Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 2006 Week 12 Hansard (22 November) . . Page.. 3756..
MRS DUNNE (continuing):
That raises significant concerns about the model of preschool education being used. It also raises some particular concerns. The issue I want to deal with first and foremost is the impact that this has on families. The people who are sending their children to preschool are by and large young people with young children. I am particularly concerned about the situation when it is someone's first child going into preschool. What we are seeing, more often than not, are single income families in the suburbs struggling to make ends meet—usually with one car, because more than one car is not economically viable for them. What the Stanhope government proposes to do is take away the preschool within walking distance of their home. The social cohesion of the suburb that arises from the interaction of preschools and the playgroups that operate in preschools will substantially disappear.
For a long time now we have had a policy in the ACT—which has been supported by successive governments—that we had a sort of cut-off point for the viability of preschools. That was about 17. We have never had a discussion in the context of this policy or any other policy as to whether that is an appropriate number. There has been general acceptance that a preschool with about 17 people was viable. If you fell below that, you were at risk of closing. There was a process for doing that. You suspended the preschool for a year or so; if you could not get the numbers up, there was a possibility of the school closing and being divested of its property.
We have had a complete turnaround without any consultation. Suddenly preschools with up to 50 children are being considered to be no longer viable and are going to close. For instance, this year Gilmore preschool has 47 children in it, but this minister wants to close it. We have been given no reason why a preschool that runs two units—a full-time preschool with close to 50 children in it—should close. Then there is Weston Creek preschool. Again, a preschool with enrolments approaching 50 children is closing. And there is no explanation for this.
There are other preschools that are very low in numbers, Causeway being the most obvious one. I do not think the community would have a problem with a discussion about whether some preschools should close, but we are talking about the wholesale closure of the Causeway, Chifley, Cook, Flynn, Gilmore, Giralang, Hall, Higgins, Holt, Isabella Plains, Macarthur, McKellar—both Macarthur and McKellar being freestanding—Melba, Mount Neighbour, Page, Rivett, Tharwa, Village Creek and Weston preschools. Why are all of these preschools, some of them quite large, to close?
In addition to the preschool programs, some schools have quite viable and community-developing playgroups that run with them. Sometimes they have spare capacity that has been turned into childcare. Take, for example, Evatt preschool. It runs about 50 children through the preschool. Half of the preschool has been divided off and is an extension of the local community-based childcare centre. If the children in the community-based childcare centre attached to Evatt preschool are dispossessed because this minister wants to consolidate preschools, we will have a real problem. Firstly, there is a problem with the viability of the community-based childcare centre. Secondly, where are parents who have children there going to find appropriate childcare? These are some of the unintended consequences of the ill-thought-out Towards 2020 proposal.