Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 1998 Week 7 Hansard (24 September) . . Page.. 2199 ..
MS TUCKER (continuing):
The other comment I would make, looking at the numbers, is that things are quite tight in Tuggeranong. I am a bit worried about that because there could, quite easily, be a number of preschools which people consider will be available but, in fact, they will not be because of the cut-off. There is flexibility of only two in one preschool, I notice, so only two more enrolments would be needed. That is in an area where numbers are increasing. This means the Government has been quite rigid in some of the numbering, although there is quite a lot of flexibility in other preschools. I acknowledge that the Government has actually been quite generous in some. I am interested to see that at Reid there is able to be a reduction this year for the first time. Maybe that is because the normal advocate for Reid is preoccupied with other issues at the moment.
The other important point to make is that the coming year presents an opportunity for government to work with the committee, the community, the Pre-School Society and all the other interested parties to develop a long-term plan which it has acknowledged is a necessity. Hopefully, what will come out of that planning process will be a system whereby we can determine earlier in the year what will be happening so that we do not have the stressful situation such as occurred today when, basically, teachers were given half an hour's notice of a change. There was probably a political element as well, because of the announcement and the response to the committee, but obviously it was very bad management in terms of the personnel involved.
I reject the assertion that has been made to the media that, because of the committee, there has been less time. The Government has only just received the figures, basically, and the announcement, I believe, could have been made last week. I understand you had the figures but, for political reasons, you did not do so. Be that as it may, what we hope we will be able to achieve next year is not having such a stressful situation but a situation where people have a sense of what is happening in advance. Certainly by the year 2000, we hope to have a plan in place so that we can understand how the Government responds to the changing demographics, where decisions will be based on the qualitative factors concerning access to preschools and the importance of that in providing a service.
I repeat that it came through to the committee quite clearly that the dollars spent in these early years will save us money later on. I think it was claimed that every dollar spent in the early years will save something like $7.80 per child per year until a person is 27. Basically, the point was that money is well spent in these early years and that if we do not acknowledge that - we might think we are saving money right now by reducing preschool services - we will be paying for it later. I am looking forward to having an opportunity to see that discussed so that future decisions made by this Government will not just be based on short-term economics - not that the Government did that this year. I acknowledge that. It took into account the broader issues and the recommendations of the committee so that we can have that discussion.
MR STEFANIAK (Minister for Education), by leave: I note the comments Ms Tucker made, and certainly the Government looks forward to working with the community in the long term. The report and the study that the committee undertook into preschool education highlighted a number of factors, not least the demographic problems we face, the need for us to look at ways in which those factors can be addressed and the need for some long-term planning which obviously would be in everyone's interest.