Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 1998 Week 7 Hansard (22 September) . . Page.. 1974 ..
MR BERRY (continuing):
I remember a few years ago - I guess this is a period that Mr Humphries might wish to block out of his mind - when there was some enthusiasm for closing primary schools, based on available spaces, under-utilisation of buildings and so on. That created a furore in the community, and quite properly so. If we had taken the approach that the then government was attracted to, then access to our schooling system would have been affected as a result. But it is more important when it comes to the preschool system, because preschool is not compulsory. The reason people go there is that it is attractive and it is seen to contribute to the development of their children. They are right.
Preschool produces a good result for the community, as those costs which I referred to earlier point out. If we do not send our children into these sorts of systems in the early years of their life, it could cost us $8.95 a year until the child reaches the age of 27. According to the American survey, we save $7.16 for every dollar spent on these programs. This presents a picture which should be attractive even to the economic rationalists, even to the most conservative of governments and even to governments who espouse the need for value for money as often as this one opposite does.
The preschool system in the ACT gives value for money. It should not be undermined because of some economic rationalist regime. It must be nurtured and treated with care. That is why I am an enthusiastic supporter of the recommendations which have been put in the committee's report, in particular the recommendation which makes it clear that there should be no major adjustments to the preschool system until a long-term plan has been developed. The closure of preschools is an adjustment, in my view. There needs to be very careful and clear consultation with the community in the development of this long-term plan. If we do not involve the community, we will not get support for any system that we may wish to develop in the future.
Our preschool system is something to be proud of. It is one that I am certainly proud of. It is one that the teachers who work within the system are proud of and are keen to improve where that is possible. But it can be done only with the widest consultation. I think it was proven in the course of this inquiry that there were some questions in the community about the level of consultation which was occurring in relation to education generally but the preschool system in particular. I urge the Government to adopt all of the recommendations to the letter and in the spirit, because we have in the ACT a preschool system which is worth protecting and worth nurturing. These recommendations set a baseline for the Government to embark on that course.
MR HIRD (10.57): Mr Speaker, as a member of the Education Committee, I would like to pay tribute to the many community organisations and groups that helped the committee in its deliberations by giving either verbal submissions or written submissions. They assisted the committee no end in coming up with this report. I concur with the two previous speakers that it is a good report. I particularly pay tribute to Ms Tucker, the chair of the committee, for her enthusiasm for the inquiry and the quickness with which she set about, with my other colleague Mr Berry, to prepare and deliver this report of our committee. I would like to pay tribute also to Judith Henderson, the secretary, and to Kim Blackburn from the administration area of the Committee Office.