Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 1998 Week 6 Hansard (2 September) . . Page.. 1797 ..
MR KAINE (4.35): It has been a long time since I heard a Minister in this place so blatantly try to avoid his responsibilities as the Minister for Urban Services just did. He said, "The schools will not tell me how their students are affected". So it is the schools' fault for not giving him the information that he thinks he might need to change his mind. But then he said that if the schools will not provide it perhaps Mr Osborne will. My understanding of ministerial responsibility is that if you are going to make decisions affecting very large numbers in this community the Minister has the responsibility to resolve the issues before he makes the decisions, not make the decisions and then say to the stakeholders involved, "You produce the evidence that shows that my position is wrong". That is a cop-out of the ultimate degree.
I support Mr Osborne's amendments because of the evidence coming to me from a very large number of parents. I do not believe that they have not been to the Minister just as they have come to me. Perhaps he has his door closed and his telephone switched off. The parents who have come to me have produced conclusive evidence that very large numbers of students are affected by the present policy implemented by the Minister. The three-zone system, while it might be quite appropriate for people who use the public transportation system to commute to work, is in no way compatible with the needs of children who travel to school. The three-zone system virtually puts all of the major schools into the central system. It stands to reason, therefore, that very large numbers of students who live in the northern region or the southern region, in order to travel to the major schools, are going to have to pay more than they paid before. I do not see that as being a reasonable or an equitable proposition at all.
It is totally inconsistent with the Liberal Party's philosophy on education, which is supposed to be based on excellence and allowing choice. Parents can exercise choice as to which school they send their children to. How can that be compatible with a transportation system that penalises them if they choose to send their children to a school that is outside the zone in which they live? It is totally inconsistent, and this Minister seems not to understand. Maybe he has not been around long enough even to read the Liberal Party policy on education. Perhaps he should. If he did, he might listen to parents who come to him and say, "This disadvantages my children, particularly when I have two, three or more children who are obliged to use your transportation system to get to school".
Mr Speaker, the system being imposed by the Government, as I said before, may well suit people who commute to work. I have no argument with that at all, but I have been pretty much convinced by the evidence put to me by a very large number of parents over recent weeks that their children are disadvantaged by this system. There is no reason why they should be. The success or failure of the new system of fares and the new network is not going to depend on the use of that system by schoolchildren. If it does not stand or fail on the basis of the people who use it to commute to and from work, then it is not a workable system.
The Minister is simply brushing off the problems of parents by saying, "The schools will not tell me". Rubbish! All he has to do is open up his telephone line and let the parents talk to him, not lock himself up in his office with the telephone cut off. He will get plenty of input from the parents, as the rest of us in this place have over the last few weeks, about the impact of this decision that he has made. If you are going to close your mind,