Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 1995 Week 8 Hansard (25 October) . . Page.. 1987 ..
MR KAINE: Mr Speaker, can you keep it quiet? Can you gag it or something, or stick it in with all the other battery hens?
MR SPEAKER: I will consider the matter, Mr Kaine.
MR KAINE: Thank you, Mr Speaker. There has been a problem in ACT schools for years, ever since the government of the day rightly decided that parents can opt to send their children to any school they like. They are not obliged to send their children to the local school. So you have these shifting enrolments. You cannot be precise on how many children are going to enrol from one year to the next, because parents and their children exercise their options. For example, I can remember in recent years the change at Narrabundah, which was on the verge of closing a few years ago; but it developed a reputation because of its excellence. Now nobody in his right mind would recommend closing Narrabundah, and children exercise their right to travel long distances to go there. So it is a question of where parents and children choose to go.
On top of that you have changes in growth patterns. The population growth in recent years has tended to be in Tuggeranong, and now Gungahlin, and the population is reducing in other areas. During all of that time, over the last five to six years, the number of children in our public schools has remained fairly constant at around 40,000 students. While the number has remained constant, we are still building schools. We are building schools all over the place. So, with the same population of students, we are getting more and more schools which we have to maintain. Nobody in his right mind, surely, is going to suggest that once you open a school you can never close it, or it can never be closed by the wish of its parent population and its student population when the student population drops below a reasonable number. If we had not closed any schools in recent years we would have 22 more schools in the system now than we had five years ago, with the same student population spread across them. In amongst those there have to be some schools that have gone below the point of being viable, and if the parents do not opt to do something about it the obligation is on the Government to do so because money is not an inexhaustible resource. We all know that.
So what is the solution? Does the Government simply put up taxes? I think that, if we did that in order to accommodate this strange requirement that no school can ever close, it would not be very long before the majority of the taxpayers out there would be complaining bitterly about the level of taxes that they were paying. They would be saying something like, "The Government has to bite the bullet and close some of these schools". It is a strange attitude that says that you may not allow any school to close.
I have some interesting statistics. I note in connection with this question of choice that 31 per cent of primary students attend schools out of their area; 36 per cent of students - over a third - attend out-of-area high schools; and 37 per cent of college students attend college out of area. This is the nightmare that Ms McRae does not want these few children to be put into. It is patently absurd, patently ridiculous. Specifically referring to Charnwood - Ms McRae might care to listen to this - enrolments at Charnwood High School have declined from about 680 in 1991 to 275 in 1995, and probably will be no more than 200 next year. There is clearly a problem. We cannot generate more