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Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 1999 Week 2 Hansard (11 March) . . Page.. 553 ..



Government already gives to developing more cohesive strategies for providing early childhood services is demonstrated in the moves we have already made. For instance, forming the Children's Services Branch and including the Child Health and Development Service within the Department of Education and Community Services are indicative of more cohesive strategies for providing early childhood services.

I am pleased to say, Mr Speaker, on the question of preschool enrolments in 1999, that all ACT and New South Wales families who have applied for a place in ACT government preschools have been given a place. Most significantly, 97 per cent of families who registered by the census date got their first choice of a preschool place. I think that is an exceptional result there. It is evidence of a high level of accessibility to preschool education and an example of great service to ACT families. It contrasts starkly with what we see in other States, especially in New South Wales across the border. There, I think, only about 30 per cent of preschool age children actually go to preschool. There is little wonder in that, when the average cost to parents in Canberra is about $4 a week. I must say, in terms of the contributions parents make, nearly all of them do make that contribution to the education of their children.

So, the average ACT family with a child in preschool will probably contribute about $200 a year to the preschool, plus in many instances a lot of time and effort. In New South Wales, it is quite different. It is a very costly exercise there. I was reminded of it the other day. My eldest stepdaughter, in Wollongong, who has a four-year-old, is probably going to take her child out of preschool because the amount she pays is something like $30 for a full day's session. It is a different set-up there. That has been increased now to $47 a week. Quite clearly, that makes accessibility very difficult for many parents.

In the case of my stepdaughter, her partner is an itinerant taxidriver and they have between them three children, one by his first marriage. Obviously, there is not much money in the family, and it is very difficult. A lot of people are in that boat. The increase there to $47 a week for that preschool education is in stark contrast to here, where it is $4 and is affordable. That is exactly why I think that we have 90 per cent of preschool age children in the ACT accessing our system.

I would also remind members that the Government is finalising the process for conducting two very important projects concerning preschool education. Those projects will investigate both the future provision of professional support to preschool teachers and assistants, and the adequacy of support to children with special needs in accessing government preschools. Both those projects will be completed by August 1999 and will provide valuable information on the services we provide in these important areas.

There are a number of other issues on which we look forward to continuing to work with the committee in relation to further improving the delivery of preschool services. I noted during the debate last year in terms of just where preschool education should go that there was a realisation in the community that numbers certainly are not likely to increase. We do certainly have a lot of space in many of our preschools, and there is a real need to look at that issue.

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