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Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 1998 Week 8 Hansard (28 October) . . Page.. 2322 ..

MR BERRY (continuing):

like to see the development of their children in a preschool environment flow over into the primary school environment where they will come across a few faces that they have been associated with in the past. That will make their entry into the school environment much more relaxed and help their education.

But no. The Minister decided to stand by his guns for a moment, then said, "Okay, I will reconsider the position". So for a fortnight the Minister went through the process of informing the community that he was taking it back to Cabinet and that there was some hope. The community rose to the occasion and I suspect many had some hope about the future of their preschool. They knew that their argument was a good one and they expected a positive result, but they never got it. The Minister, of course, blamed Cabinet for the decision but it was after all, one suspects, made on the recommendation of the Minister's department and was therefore the responsibility of the Minister.

Mr Speaker, at this point I think it is important to reflect again on the recommendation of the Education Committee. The theme is consultation. It would not have taken much for the Minister to have consulted with the community in respect of the future of their preschool, particularly in the knowledge that there had never been any threat to Downer Preschool whatsoever. But then what do we hear? We hear about instructions being issued preventing information about enrolling parents being given to the parents association so they could contact them. I hope the Minister can demonstrate that this did not occur, but that was the very strong message that I was receiving.

Other disturbing information has come to me over the course of time. For example, when I attended the Downer Preschool meeting a couple of evenings ago, some fairly disturbing things were said about contacts with the Minister's office. One of those was that if we let Downer get away with this, what are we going to do about the other 14 preschools that we have in mind? If that is what is planned behind the scenes, Minister, you should come out with it and be very straight with the community and consult with them about the future of the preschool system in the ACT.

We know that the economic rationalist approach which emerged in your first public announcements in relation to the Auditor-General's report is probably part of the hidden agenda, but at the end of the day you, as the Minister for Education, owe the community a proper explanation of why you have not consulted with them in relation to this matter, why it is that you would not accept that they had adequate numbers to make their preschool viable, why it is you had a closed mind on consultation in relation to the cut-off date, why it is you are so inflexible in relation to these matters, why it is that now that there are possibly 22 enrolments for next year you cannot guarantee the future of that preschool.

Minister, this motion is about this Assembly requiring you to guarantee the future of Downer Preschool and requiring you, if you like, to suspend the suspension - that is, withdraw the closure notice - and guarantee that the preschool will be open next year. At the same time you can read into this motion that this Assembly expects a better performance from you and the Government in the future. We expect you to be more consultative with the preschool community, who after all are concerned about the future of their children. We expect you to be more consultative with members of this Assembly.

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