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Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 1999 Week 4 Hansard (21 April) . . Page.. 1090 ..

MR STEFANIAK (continuing):

Mr Hird raised some very real issues. There are things we need to look at. I do not think we can get away from such issues as the potential for school amalgamations. We have seen over the years a number of things happen. We have seen planning that once provided a school in every suburb. We have now seen a number of suburbs - McKellar and Dunlop are examples - where schools were not provided. Unfortunately, we have seen a reduced rate of growth in the ACT, and that does provide us with challenges. In 1978 we had about 40,000 students in the government system, in about 84 schools. Mr Wood raised that in an Estimates Committee meeting. He was quite right. Despite some closures and amalgamations since then, 20 years on, last year, we had 95 schools and 750 fewer students.

A demographer has forecast further declines in the next five years of 0.6 per cent per annum. The forecast was pretty well spot on for this year because between February 1998 and February 1999 we saw a decline of some 272, or 0.7 per cent, in the government sector. That indicates the accuracy of the forecast. Over the last 10 years the accuracy and demographic projections have been confirmed by the real figures. It is stupid to stick our heads in the sand and try to ignore this very important issue.

In five years' time, on current trends, we will have about 1,200 fewer students than we do now. At the same time, the demand for new facilities, and rightly so, in the new areas of Gungahlin is expected to grow by about 47 per cent. In other words, we are going to need to build at least one new primary school and perhaps one new high school over this period if those projections are right - and there is nothing to indicate that they are not. Schools are a huge investment. As Mr Hird said, we do have a lot of unused space, and demographic predictions, backed up by actual figures, indicate that in many parts of Canberra the population will continue to decline. We cannot stick our head in the sand. I am not going to repeat what Mr Hird said in relation to the comments made by the persons he quoted. We have to do something. As Mr Warren Lee said, the debate has to be had; doing nothing is not an option. That is quite so.

I turn now to comments made by other members. Mr Berry mentioned Flynn school. I would have to scratch my head on that one. I do not know whether that was one of the schools about which there was a lot of contention in 1991. My recollection of Flynn school is more recent. When the library burnt down in 1995, this Government acted very quickly to ensure it was replaced. It is an example of a school without a suburb.

Several people mentioned Griffith. That is a case of a school which withered on the vine. I think it is important to do things before that happens.

Mr Berry criticised the Government for the closure of Charnwood High School. Charnwood had only a little over 200 students in 1995, and the projections were that the next year it would have 190. Clearly, that was of great concern to a number of people in the community. When the figures went down from about 650 to less than 200 as they would have been in 1996, I do not think it was terribly viable to continue. I think a lot of people realise that. We do need to look at quality education. That is especially important when you get to the high school years. I do not know that Mr Berry is right about there

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