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Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 1998 Week 4 Hansard (24 June) . . Page.. 871 ..

MS TUCKER (continuing):

talking 1999 - it is just getting ridiculous. This is a really important issue for the community. The Education Committee's work needs to be respected. We need to have reasonable time. I have compromised and I have accepted 14 September. There is an amendment, as I said, circulated in my name to that effect, and I look forward to getting support from members of the Assembly.

MR SMYTH (Minister for Urban Services) (12.19): Mr Speaker, I will be quite brief. Ms Tucker, the point I was making about political stunts was simply that the Auditor-General's report, which is independent, has been turned into Government intention and in that regard it gets people thinking that that is what the Government is going to do. The Government, I understand, is yet to respond to that report. I appreciate what you say about the budget coming down yesterday in terms of digesting that box of goodies that we all received yesterday. It is a big effort and people do deserve time. But, in regard to this whole issue, what the Auditor-General said is not what the Government has said.

I am sure everybody in this place - all 17 of us - supports preschools. I have no doubt about that. I think all 17 of us here understand that preschools provide a foundation that sets our children up for the rest of their lives. I am not sure how many of us here went to a preschool. I did not. I grew up in Sydney at the preschool age. But my kids, when they were an appropriate age, went to preschool. They did not go to our local preschool because it was full. Farrer was full. There were cut-off lists and all that and we were moved across to Mawson. I would say now to the staff at Mawson at that time, thank you very much for the wonderful things you did for my kids, simply because it does set a great foundation. I do not believe anybody here doubts the value of preschools.

This is where the issue of this being turned into a stunt comes in. Wayne - as Mr Osborne said, the anarchist of the Assembly - has had a good run for a couple of hours with this issue. This Government is not cutting funding to preschools, as the Chief Minister has said. The budget papers show a 3 per cent increase. The per capita funding per child is there. The fact that the student numbers are down will force us to look at the number of units that we have, and we will do that because there are other issues. It is not a question of keeping them open just for the sake of it. It is making sure that the children who attend preschools get the quality of education that they deserve.

Mr Hargreaves made the point that it is all about real estate. Well, it is not about real estate. He says that once you close one it is gone forever. If I remember rightly, and the then Minister for Education might correct me if I am wrong, Curtin, as a large suburb, had two primary schools, North Curtin and South Curtin. Initially, I believe that South Curtin school was closed because of declining student numbers and they were all moved to North Curtin school so that we could continue that quality of education. When it became apparent that the numbers would make it more acceptable to have all the students in South Curtin school, South Curtin school was reopened and the students from North were moved to South, and so the process goes on. It is a bit of a furphy to suggest that just because a school is closed, it is gone; that you cannot rebuild and you cannot reopen. What it is about is providing a preschool system that looks after our preschoolers in the best possible way. I have no doubt that everybody here today - all 17 of us - agrees that it is appropriate.

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