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Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 1999 Week 4 Hansard (21 April) . . Page.. 1093 ..

MR HUMPHRIES (continuing):

is a hugely expensive item. Giving students access to computers is a major challenge for our education system. I would suggest to people in this place that, instead of focusing on the maintenance of a school within each suburb of the city because there has always been a school in each suburb and perhaps it has certain nostalgic resonances for members of the community, we should be looking at making sure that schools, wherever they may be, have the resources to be able to put their students fully onto the information highway and fully into a path of aptitude for, and conversance with, that information revolution. Is that not a more important consideration? Do we not have to make those choices now?

We have a generously funded school system. There is no debate about that. It is a very well-funded school system. It is the best funded school system per capita in the whole of Australia and must rate as one of the best funded in the entire world. But do we have schools where every student is equipped with a computer in front of him or her? No, we do not. We are working towards that and huge gains have been made in the last couple of years in moving towards that goal. But I would argue that that is one of the places we should be looking to put resources. Yet we are hung up about a debate about where schools are located in the Territory, as if the distance a person travels to their place of learning makes any difference whatsoever to the quality of the education they get when they get there. That is a highly irrelevant issue.

We have put this debate on the table because we believe it needs to happen. We need to get away from the idea that the education debate is purely about school closures. It should not be about school closures. It should be about asking where the areas of priority for our education dollar are. I have said it before in this place, and I will say it for as long as I am here, that education is not about bricks and mortar. It is not about making sure that at the end of your street in a suburb in Canberra you have a building calling itself a school. It is about how it operates, how it achieves its goals, how it interacts with its community, how it builds links and how it develops the necessary skills for the students who pass through it to cope with the world into which our society is changing. That necessitates a big shift in the debate we have had in this Assembly over the last few years about education resources. I hope that we do have a vision - if not the one that I have put forward today in this debate, then some other vision - which will take us to that next level of debate. If we do not move to that level, we do our community, who use those schools, a great disservice.

MR STANHOPE (Leader of the Opposition) (4.21): I support and agree with much of what the Deputy Chief Minister has just said. I think he spoke some sense, but in articulating a vision, as the Deputy Chief Minister did, just about the future of education there is of course a great potential for differentiation in the way you reach the ultimate aim. The vision that the Deputy Chief Minister has is one which I am sure we all share for an equitable public education system that is strong and that recognises the essential equality of all children and all people within the community and their right to the same level of resourcing, to the same level of education and to the same opportunities in life.

This was very much the theme of the contribution by my colleague, that by Ms Tucker in the context of the debate that we should be having and, to be fair, much of the contribution by the Deputy Chief Minister. The Deputy Chief Minister did concentrate to some extent on the need for us to ensure that children in our schools in the ACT -

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