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Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 1998 Week 8 Hansard (28 October) . . Page.. 2329 ..

MR KAINE (continuing):

I do not believe that an approach along those lines is fair or equitable when we know, as I have outlined, that government changes its priorities daily in the course of the year, and those changes very often involve very large sums of money. We are not just talking about the relatively small amount of money that is riding on whether this preschool stays open or closes. Decisions are made daily to reallocate and to reprioritise. Those decisions often involve very large sums of money.

I think this is a case where flexibility is called for and fairness is called for. I am not interested in all the rhetoric about what the Government might or might not have done, whether it consulted or whether it did not or what sort of a process it went through. The end product, to me, is unfair and inequitable, and it is within the power of the Government to change it. That is why I support Mr Berry's motion.

MR CORBELL (11.17): Mr Speaker, I rise today to support my colleague Mr Berry in this motion, as do all other Labor members in this place. I want to start by highlighting what I believe is a central issue in this debate, one which the Government, in all of its bureaucratese and all of its attempts at justification which we heard from the Minister, seems to have overlooked, and that is that Downer is a community. Downer is a very significant part of the community of the inner north. Like all suburbs, all communities in our city, it has a focus. It would be fair to say that one of its most important focuses is Downer Preschool. The Government, I believe, has overlooked this fact. The Government, I believe, has not understood that in closing Downer, which is what they are effectively doing by default, they are closing one of the centres for the focus of the community of people who live in Downer. That is the sort of approach which I thought we had got past when we were talking about the closure of schools or preschools, but we do not seem to have got past that point. That is very disappointing.

Mr Speaker, in the early days of self-government there was a very heated debate about the closures of primary schools and high schools in Canberra. It was a very politically sensitive debate. At the end of the day there was a consensus about how that issue should be handled. The consensus was that the community should be the ones who make the decision about whether or not a facility such as a primary school or indeed a high school should remain open, because they were the ones who most directly benefited from it and who took the greatest interest in it. That approach has been completely missing in the recent debate about preschools. That is a sad approach from this Government.

Why are preschools any different from primary schools in how we handle their closures or openings? Why is the involvement of parents and children in a preschool less significant than the involvement of parents and their children in a primary school? Why is that distinction drawn? I believe it is an unacceptable approach, Mr Speaker, and I hope that most members in this place believe so as well.

I attended the first rally which the parents of Downer Preschool conducted. That was about a month ago now. I was very impressed by the strength of commitment that the community clearly had to their preschool. They clearly wanted to see this important community facility remain open. I was surprised that the Government was prepared to make such an arbitrary, uncaring and irresponsible decision in relation to the provision of community facilities in Downer. As my colleague Mr Berry has highlighted, nowhere is Downer Preschool listed in the Auditor-General's report as a school which is operating

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