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Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 1998 Week 8 Hansard (28 October) . . Page.. 2324 ..

MR STEFANIAK (continuing):

of the September sittings. I did not notice too much concern from you then. Indeed, I think the committee was probably pleasantly surprised at the decisions taken by the Government in relation to preschools. You might like to check Hansard on that, Mr Berry.

Mr Berry, you also mentioned that the Government has shown inflexibility. You indicated that there was a sham reconsideration. Mr Berry, I can assure you that that was not the case. The Government looked very closely at the points raised by the Downer Preschool committee, and at the end of the day it accepted the criteria that had been set in place in 1997, the criteria that your committee seems to want us to apply for the 1999 school year - that is, the usual process of adjustment of the preschool system. I am a pretty flexible person, probably considerably more flexible than you are, Mr Berry. The Government certainly did give very much reconsideration to this matter. I think it will be obvious at the end of the day why the Government has maintained its decision.

Mr Berry, you said that instructions were given to prevent parents from being given enrolment information. I am not quite sure what you were getting at. The department was doing its best to ensure that the needs of parents were taken into consideration until the time of this particular debate so that, whatever occurs here, matters can be set in train and parents can be advised of what will occur next year. If you are successful, it may be that some parents do not need to be advised. If you are not, the department has to take certain steps with all parents.

Mr Berry also mentioned another 14. You might have your figures wrong, Mr Berry. This decision was taken in the context of the whole of Canberra and making normal adjustments to the preschool system in accordance with the set of criteria set down after lengthy consultation with the preschool community in 1997. Last year there were a number of adjustments - 16 or 17 decreases and a few increases. This year you talk about another 14. I think you will find that there are probably another 22. Including Downer, there were 19 reductions. There were three adjustments upwards. That is in accordance with the criteria. If you try to read in any hidden things about further closures, you are way off beam, Mr Berry. I think the Government's response to at least recommendation 1 of the committee's report, as indicated a month ago, is quite clear about that. One closure, Stokes Street, whilst regrettable, was obvious and is even accepted by members opposite. Of course, Downer is a suspension.

Let us look at a few facts and let us look at some of the things that the Government has to consider. We have seen in recent years declining numbers of young children. ACT population forecasts project an annual decline of 1.5 per cent, or a total of 400 students, from 1999 to 2005. This year we have seen a further decline in the number of students enrolling across the preschool sector. I think there is wide recognition, Mr Speaker, that this means adjustments to the provision of preschools. I have indicated already what the Government has planned and announced for next year. Each year the department makes adjustments to staffing in preschools, as it does in schools. Those decisions are taken in accordance with the preschool enrolment policy which was developed in 1997 following very wide consultation with the preschool community.

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