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Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 1998 Week 8 Hansard (28 October) . . Page.. 2327 ..

MR STEFANIAK (continuing):

Mr Speaker, as I indicated, in our system there are spaces at other preschools. I come now to the point of the suspension of Downer Preschool. The Government - and I make this quite plain - regards it as a suspension, not a closure. If Mr Berry's motion is defeated, the Government will do everything it reasonably can to assist the Downer Preschool community with steps to ensure that if the numbers are there for the following year that preschool will reopen. Mr Speaker, that is an unequivocal commitment. I have indicated that to the community. I have suggested certain ways in which that can occur.

Mr Berry rightly mentioned the Auditor-General's report. That report has engendered considerable debate in the preschool community. As a result of that, each preschool is probably well aware that this was perhaps a slightly different year. The matter was on the agenda and, if anything, that should have given a greater emphasis to enrolments. A number of advertisements were placed in newspapers encouraging people to enrol before 2 September. They appeared in the Canberra Times of Saturday, 15 August, and the Chronicle of 18 August. I table copies of those advertisements. An article by the education reporter for the Canberra Times, Emma Macdonald, on 13 August headed "Enrolment date nears for Canberra's pre-schoolers" stated quite clearly:

Enrolments for next year must be in by September 2.

There were a lot of indications to the community about the enrolment date. A large number of students, albeit fewer than last year, enrolled, which is what one would expect. I table those documents. I understand also that in the case of Downer, as with other preschools, there was a letterbox drop to encourage parents to enrol. That occurred as a result of the actions taken by that preschool community.

Mr Speaker, the Government is a government. Mr Berry talks about consultation. Quite clearly, this Government has consulted and has a history of consultation. That is probably why we were re-elected. Consulting is something we are keen to do.

MR SPEAKER: Order! The Minister's time has expired.

MR KAINE (11.10): Mr Speaker, I support Mr Berry's motion. I do so because I believe it is a matter of fairness and equity to do so. In Downer we have a community that had no reason to assume that anything at all was going to happen to their preschool, and they discovered that by some arbitrary decision-making process their preschool would close.

The Minister makes a distinction between suspension and closure, but I think the people in Downer are well aware that there is not much difference in practice. The evidence would suggest that once such a school is suspended that is the death knell. The Minister might have all the good intentions in the world about resurrecting it next year or the year after if the numbers justify it, but there are few factors that militate against that.

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