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Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 1995 Week 11 Hansard (13 December) . . Page.. 2960 ..

MS TUCKER (continuing):

closing down vaguely similar facilities in Victoria. Birrigai was established in 1980 and became an earth education centre in 1987 with the introduction of the Sunship Earth program. Birrigai's environmental programs are unique and it is affordable and accessible for our children, although we have become aware of increased charges.

Mr Humphries: On a point of order, Mr Speaker: It would be very helpful if members had this motion to look at while the debate was going on. I am disturbed that I do not have anything to look at as yet. Has it been circulated?

MR SPEAKER: Yes, it is being circulated now, Mr Humphries.

MS TUCKER: I apologise that this motion was not available. This was done very quickly.

Earth education approaches environmental education in a quite different way from our schools. It is very creative and stirs the imagination of children. It is structured so that with every activity the children explore the connections between the different ecological systems. Knowledge is acquired through experiencing and doing. One person I spoke to felt that perhaps we did not need such a facility here because Canberra is situated in an environment where there are bush and hills around us and children are exposed to these anyway. The reality, and this is certainly apparent to me through my work at the Environment Centre, is that many children in the ACT do not experience the bush or wilderness, and certainly not in the way they are exposed to it through a facility such as Birrigai. I recall one child coming into the centre and explaining to me that he often had great contact with the bush because he and his dad went bush-bashing every weekend on an unregistered motorbike. We really do need to understand that these sorts of facilities are necessary in the ACT. We cannot assume that, because we have the wilderness and natural areas quite close to us, children will have an opportunity to experience them in the way they do at Birrigai.

There is an enormous opportunity to expand the programs run by Birrigai, but not if we cut back on staffing positions in an attempt to rationalise the management. The economic rationalist approach to managing community resources such as this is not appropriate; yet this is another example of a dollar-driven approach to management. Birrigai is a clear example of how we cannot put dollar values on these sorts of programs. We cannot and should not expect to make a monetary profit out of Birrigai.

I should say that the Minister's office received notice of this motion earlier on.

Mr Humphries: But we still have not seen it.

MS TUCKER: No, I understand that and I apologise that it has not got around, but I did speak to Mr Stefaniak. I am disappointed by this information about the teaching staff being reduced, because, as I said, I have received consistently assurances from Mr Stefaniak that the programs would be as they always were. He claimed yesterday in question time that the educational programs would not be impacted upon in any way, but you cannot possibly do that if you are removing a level 2 teacher and the teachers assistant. It just makes a nonsense of the idea.

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