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Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 1998 Week 8 Hansard (28 October) . . Page.. 2333 ..

MS TUCKER (continuing):

That is why I am particularly disappointed at this process. It has become very political. I hope that this motion will be successful, that Downer Preschool will stay open and that we can then move on with the recommendations of our report and work together to address the long-term issues around preschool education in the ACT.

MR RUGENDYKE (11.34): Mr Speaker, the words I offer this morning are for my colleague Mr Osborne as well. We both support the motion to return Downer Preschool to its community. My feeling is that Downer deserves a second chance to prove that it really is able to retain a preschool in its suburb. I concede that this preschool is a borderline case, but there are other preschools such as Deakin and Rivett which also stand as borderline cases, based on enrolment figures for 1999. They have been given the benefit of the doubt. I believe that Downer should also be given the benefit of the doubt.

As Mr Berry mentioned in moving this motion, the news of suspension came out of nowhere for the community of Downer. When the future of ACT preschools became topical after the release of the Auditor-General's report earlier this year, Downer was not identified as being under threat. The suburb of Downer has had setbacks before, such as the closure of its primary school, but in this case I would like to see the community given the chance to fight for the future of its preschool. In fact, I have seen many up-and-coming pre-preschool students in the Downer area, as evidenced by some of the youngsters in the gallery here today. Through this motion the Assembly can give the community a chance to take action and prove that it does have a long-term future for its preschoolers.

On the issue of preschools generally, I have said that if it is clear that there are not enough enrolments to be viable there is perhaps a case for closing them. Certainly no-one could justify the keeping of a preschool open for a handful of children. But in the case of Downer they have shown, through representations to my office and attendance at meetings, that they do have more enrolments than the 17 baseline. Mr Speaker, along with my colleague, I support continuation of the existence of Downer Preschool. We will both be supporting this motion.

MR SMYTH (Minister for Urban Services) (11.37): I want to start my speech on Mr Berry's motion by emphasising the Government's commitment to the importance of preschool. The ACT preschool system has an outstanding reputation, both for its quality and for its accessibility. The Government is committed to maintaining that quality and is also committed to maintaining equity of access to preschool education for every four-year-old in the ACT. But at the same time reality must be faced. I believe that the Canberra community realises that services must be provided in a way that reflects responsible use of resources. As well, the demographic make-up of the ACT must be looked at realistically in making decisions about providing services, including preschool education services, which are very important to the community and to the future of the ACT.

Mr Berry's call for a reversal of the suspension of Downer Preschool asks this Assembly to ignore the reality of changes to the needs for preschool education. The decision to suspend Downer Preschool's operations for 1999 was one of the many adjustments made to preschool operations for next year. Those adjustments were made after taking a long

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