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Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 1999 Week 4 Hansard (21 April) . . Page.. 1082 ..

MR HIRD (continuing):

Mr Speaker, there are still many challenges facing the ACT education system. This Government has a proud record of achievement over the past four years. We have more than maintained our commitment to funding in real terms, with $26m over inflation in the ACT provided in the last four budgets. We have undertaken massive changes to vocational education, with vastly improved opportunities for our students. We have provided more than $20m extra for the information technology package announced before the last election.

We must ensure that this record is not eroded because of a blinkered approach taken by those opposite. If Mr Berry, the opposition spokesman, had his way, we would stick our heads in the sand like an ostrich and hope that the problem went away. I have bad news for Mr Berry. Not only will this problem not go away; it is going to get worse. Mr Grant Battersby, whom I have quoted earlier from an article in the Canberra Times, said on ABC radio that he thought it was "good that the Government is trying to actually work towards something positive on this".

All the planning indications are that the decline in student enrolments in the older suburbs is going to continue. We have a falling demand for places in the older suburbs. Conversely, we have a rapidly growing need for more schools in Gungahlin. If those opposite were in government - the Leader of the Opposition, I am sure, is interested in this - how would they tackle the issue? I would suggest that what they would do is in no way different to what we are doing, because there is no other solution. Wait until you are on the treasury bench and see how you tackle this problem.

Mr Wood: It will not be long.

MR HIRD: I have just heard an interjection from Mr Wood. He did the same thing when he was sitting on the treasury bench. We have to come to grips with the issue, and as quickly as possible. It is a pressing concern, not just for the students but for their families.

MR BERRY (3.43): This matter of public importance is titled "The importance of options for schooling into the next century", but we have heard nothing from Mr Hird other than about the need to close schools. It struck me that this MPI was an attempt to debate the justification for school closures. On the evidence the community has because of its experience, this Government's approach on school closures has been appalling, as has been that of this Government's predecessors.

Let me refer to Mr Hird's own electorate. I know two schools in his electorate that would have been closed if the Liberals had had their way. Flynn school, a very successful school, is still operating. Cook school, a very successful school, is still operating. They are not there just by accident. They are there because the local people and the students at those schools were active in defending their education system. Flynn school was one of the great chunk of schools that Mr Humphries was going to close back in his days as Education Minister. The Cook school was one of them as well.

Let us look at a couple of other examples of school closures by the Liberals, again in Mr Hird's electorate. The high school at Charnwood was closed by the Liberal Government. There is no question about that. They will say that the board

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