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Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 1999 Week 1 Hansard (16 February) . . Page.. 139 ..

MR STEFANIAK: I thank the member for the question. The member obviously is referring to what initially raised this particular point, the Productivity Commission report that came down last week. The commission is an independent body. The report raised a number of points of concern to the Government in a number of areas. It showed something in education that I think we have been well aware of for some time. In fact, I recall your colleague Mr Wood, in the second round of estimates when we were going through the reports, asking about the numbers of the students in both the government and non-government sectors, commenting that they were both about the same as when he came to Canberra and noting that of course the number of schools had gone up. That is a fact. The commission report indicated that enrolments at government schools over the five years from 1992 to 1997 declined by 3.6 per cent and the number of schools rose by 4.2 per cent.

Mr Berry: Pardon me, Mr Speaker, but I do not think the Minister was listening to the question.

MR SPEAKER: I think the Minister is well aware of the question. It is in two parts and he is answering it, Mr Berry, as he sees fit.

Mr Berry: Is it on your agenda to close any schools? What is your estimate of the additional cost, or do you not know?

MR SPEAKER: Sit down. There is no point of order.

Mr Berry: The old Bill in the china shop.

MR STEFANIAK: That is a new one to me. Mr Berry talks about an agenda. The Government has a very simple agenda, and that is to generate community debate on this. Unlike you, Mr Berry, and unlike the previous Labor Government, we are very interested in hearing what the community has to say, taking the community along with us. I think this is an important issue. It is an issue that is not going to go away. Future demographic trends, Mr Berry, indicate that we are not suddenly going to get a huge influx of kids in the ACT. We have shifting enrolments because we have new areas of demand. South Tuggeranong and Gungahlin especially have expanded. In those areas there are demands for new schools to accommodate the increasing number of students. Maybe it is difficult, Mr Berry, for the Government to justify building new schools when there are increasing numbers of schools with surplus spaces due to declining enrolments.

We want to hear from the community. We want relevant sections of the community to debate this issue. Groups have raised it. For example, the primary school principals have a point of view. Naturally the P&C have a point of view. A lot of individual school communities have points of view, Mr Berry. Some of those have been discussed in recent times. School communities in Kambah looked at this issue. They decided not to take it any further. Fine. A school in Belconnen, Mount Rogers, looked at this issue and decided to consolidate on the one campus. I think it is important, Mr Berry, that we have the debate. To have the debate, to give people a say, is very much the agenda of this particular Government.

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