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Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 1995 Week 11 Hansard (13 December) . . Page.. 2968 ..

MR WOOD: No; you are missing the point. You are making this school more expensive. By making it more expensive, you inevitably make it more difficult for students to go to that school. You are making it more difficult. You have put a higher price on environmental education and on a quality environmental education: "Kids, you have to pay more to get this education". It is as simple as that. A moment ago Mr Stefaniak indicated that he could not rule out staff reductions. He said, "We have bursars, we have teacher assistants, all sorts of things, and, folks, they might have to go. Yes, we will save on administration, and programs and what happens there will not suffer".

The Minister has promised a very difficult time ahead for Birrigai. He has done it, as he has always done - as he did a little while ago with students on integration, and as he did with his PE program - without talking to anybody. Mr Stefaniak does not know the concept of getting out there and talking to the people involved. He just makes these snap announcements, and that is it. Birrigai will continue; I do not dispute that. But will it continue with the capacity to attract the same number of students, because of that extra cost? I doubt it. At some stage in the future, if those numbers decline, the Minister will then turn up in this Assembly and say, "It is not doing too well; numbers are not going there any more. We will have to close it". I want to repeat the main point of what I am saying, because the Minister showed that he totally misunderstands it. Birrigai is a school like any other school in this system and should be treated as such.

MR HUMPHRIES (Attorney-General) (12.27): Mr Wood disclaims any knowledge of a move by the first Follett Government to close Birrigai. I have to say that the public record is very different from that. I think you will even find Mr Whalan on the public record indicating his preparedness to consider that option. The Government did not get very far down the track because it did not stay in office for more than seven months. The fact is that Mr Whalan proposed to close a number of preschools, and I think he succeeded in doing so. Similarly, he proposed to close a number of other institutions in order to meet budgetary targets, including the program at Birrigai.

This Government is not talking about doing anything of the kind. It is talking about making sure that such programs retain a relevance within the system and a capacity to meet the needs of people in our system, which an approach like that exhibited in this motion could leave to one side. In other words, we are prepared to say that we will look at the way the services are provided. We do not treat any educational service anywhere within our system as being sacrosanct in its present mode. There are ways of improving anything over a period of time, and Birrigai is no exception to that. In Birrigai's case, there is a need for us to ensure that we are able to achieve what we need to achieve, possibly within a tighter budgetary framework, certainly in such a way as to provide for an ongoing program there. That does not mean that we can treat any teaching position within that program - Mr Wood calls it a school; it is technically a program, and that is the way it was described when he was Minister as well - as being sacrosanct for the short term, or the long term either.

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