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Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 1998 Week 4 Hansard (24 June) . . Page.. 860 ..

Mr Hird: We have not trashed it. That is only your idea.

Mr Smyth: You ought to be ashamed for defending a party political stunt that is debasing the debate.

MR SPEAKER: The house will come to order! Mr Stanhope has the floor.

MR STANHOPE: There is little more for me to add, Mr Speaker, other than to say that this motion stands quite clearly on its own. There are three very distinct parts to it. There is absolutely no reason why we should question or quibble over any part of it. The Assembly is being asked to accept unequivocally that the preschool system is a fundamental part of the ACT education system. I know that the Government has shown some disinclination to show any passion in its support for that view, but it certainly would not have the nerve to oppose it. One would wish that it could show some genuine commitment to the sentiment.

We are asking this Assembly to endorse an inquiry by the Education Committee into a review of preschool systems. This Assembly, particularly the other side, does need to show that it genuinely supports the committee system of this place, because by its actions it seems to me that it does not. This motion asks the Government to take no action on the closure or restructure of any preschools until that committee has reported, and that is an undertaking that this Government should have made. It is one that they should have articulated. It is one that they should have made willingly, without the need for it to be forced on them through a motion in this place.

MR RUGENDYKE (11.44): Mr Speaker, I also support the motion because I feel very strongly about the role that preschools play in our community. It goes without saying that preschool is an important period in educating our children. It prepares our youngsters for primary school, and it is a beneficial stepping stone in preparing them to adjust from being at home with mum before venturing into the world. Preschools are more than a place of learning. They are part of the social fabric of our suburbs. They bring our communities together. It is the families who are putting their hands in their pockets to ensure that the essential resources are provided for teachers to stimulate their children on an upward learning curve. It is the community spirit which is keeping the preschools alive. It is evident from the reaction of parents and teachers alike to the recent Auditor-General's report that the community spirit generated by preschools is alive and well. They know how important preschools are to the development of their children, and they know that, if the Auditor-General's recommendations are implemented, this source of community spirit and cooperation could be taken away from them.

Preschools are a focal point in our suburbs and they should not be hastily cut. By the same token, I have a rational approach to the issue of cuts. If there are preschools with only a handful of children enrolled, perhaps they should not be kept open for the sake of it; but I would have to be convinced that this is happening, and I do not believe that the Auditor-General's report proves that. It is only commonsense to hold an inquiry and to make any decisions on the future of preschools based on the committee's findings.

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