Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 1998 Week 4 Hansard (24 June) . . Page.. 853 ..
MR MOORE (continuing):
education sector. We see it as incredibly important. To involve other members of the Assembly in looking at the future of preschools is an incredibly positive way to deal with controversial issues that have been raised by the Auditor-General. But let us at least get our act together and do it in a sensible way.
MR STEFANIAK (Minister for Education) (11.17): Mr Speaker, I might say at the outset that the Government will be supporting Mr Osborne's amendment. Accordingly, we will also be supporting the first two parts of Mr Berry's motion. Firstly, let me counter a couple of points Mr Berry made. Mr Berry, I think I am well aware of the value of preschools, as I have a child in one at present and one going next year.
I think it is very important not to completely disregard the Auditor-General's report. It does highlight a number of things. It highlights the value and effectiveness of preschool education. It has reported that preschool education services are very effective, which is something the Government is very pleased with and very proud of. It did, however, find that preschool education was inefficient and uneconomic due to the underutilisation of teachers and the poor utilisation of buildings. It indicated that approximately a third of individual teachers' services are being utilised below 85 per cent, with some being as low as 44 per cent. It raised some serious issues for the people of the ACT and, indeed, for the whole of the ACT Assembly - not just the Government - in terms of the number of places. There were 7,000 places available for 4,000 youngsters and a significant underutilisation of staff.
I would like to make a number of points here, Mr Speaker. I have made the point already on a number of occasions that the Auditor-General's list is not a target list for closures. That is the Auditor-General's list; it is not the Government's list. The Government makes an unequivocal commitment that the real estate value will not be used as a criterion for any adjustments. Consideration of any changes must include a very wide set of factors; for example, past enrolment patterns, location and accessibility of preschools, special needs of parents and minimum group size to ensure a viable group.
Mr Speaker, preschool enrolments are subject to considerable variation. Enrolments fall in older suburbs and rise in newer suburbs. This is a pattern that I think we are all very familiar with. There have been a large number of adjustments to the numbers of places at different preschools in the last few years. We have seen the opening of three new preschools in Gungahlin since 1995. However, overall enrolments have declined significantly in the last few years. This year, the budget documentation recognises this. As Mr Moore has pointed out, this year expenditure per preschool enrolment has been maintained; but the overall budget has declined because of the decline in numbers of preschoolers in Canberra - not an unreasonable proposition, I would have thought. The issue is not new, Mr Speaker. Every year, there are adjustments to the preschool provision.
Now I come to Mr Berry's points. The first part of his motion is that preschools are part of the education system. Mr Berry, the point I was making was that preschools are in Children's, Youth and Family Services. That is where they sit in Education and Community Services. Of course, preschool education is a fundamental part of a child's learning. Preschools are incredibly important. They are part of the mainstream continuum of education. They lay the foundations for learning. They provide quality