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Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 2010 Week 09 Hansard (Wednesday, 25 August 2010) . . Page.. 3837 ..

Mr Speaker, just as you should not have to apologise for your Canberra Grammar School education, nor for your mother wishing you to have the best education possible, this motion today is very much about ensuring that future generations of children should have the same opportunities that you had. If we are to seriously protect the values of diversity in our country then it would seem that parents are free to reasonably choose to send their child to the school that fits their criteria of a formal education model or one that is congruent with the values they are aspiring to bring their child up in.

With approximately 40 per cent of ACT students attending non-government schools, it is safe to say that parents, when given the chance, will support choice. This is perhaps the rationale for the minister’s recent discussion paper to add variety to the public school system, but that is for another debate. The truth is that demand for non-government education is higher and it is perhaps indicative of a perceived merit of such an education.

The ABS reports that nationwide between 1998 and 2008, the percentage of students attending non-government schools grew by 21.9 per cent. In the ACT, the Department of Education and Training census figures show that over the last five years student enrolments at non-government schools have consistently increased. In fact, demand is strong and schools with room for growth like Burgmann Anglican School have had a 31 per cent increase in enrolments over the last two years. With the government in the ACT contributing only 17.2 per cent of the per capita costs of a public school student, parents pay the bulk of the school fees for the privilege of educating their children in chosen preferred schools. They pay this in addition to contributing to the public school system through their hard-earned tax dollars.

Many on the left of the political spectrum would like to ascribe the success of non-government schools to socioeconomics and the further left one ventures, this becomes an issue of class where the pearly gates of non-government schools are rife with social inequalities and injustice.

Contrary to this, the Canberra Liberals take a more realistic view, that a contributing factor to why parents value non-government school education for their children is because such schools have greater autonomy over such matters as staffing, budgets, school culture and the like. This allows them to better reflect the goals of the communities they serve and the aspirations of parents. As such, we believe the government plays a vital role in education, but it is not the cure-all to education.

Equally, in order to maintain a stable democratic society, adequate government support to both our public and private school systems is justified. Again, this issue has made for a tumultuous several weeks for some families leading up to the elections. The Greens’ policy in education has left relevant segments of the ACT community somewhat rattled and apprehensive. I think this matter has also caught the ACT Greens off guard, as in their education policy they do not seem to take the same rabid and controversial stance on non-government schools as their federal and New South Wales counterparts. But nor have they categorically distanced themselves from these policies.

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