Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 1999 Week 7 Hansard (2 July) . . Page.. 2228 ..
MS TUCKER (9.36): I would like to echo some of the concerns raised by Mr Berry. As members are aware, I have taken a keen interest over the last few years in issues around children at risk in the education system. There is clearly a need for such children to be identified and for services to be slotted in to assist them so that they do not become further at risk or drop out of the system. Once they have dropped out of the system it is, obviously, harder to keep track of what is happening to them. That came up in a number of committees that I worked on in the last Assembly. Therefore, I was very concerned to see the reduction in the number of positions in colleges.
I think it is particularly ironic that that happened at the same time as the Government was asking the Federal Government for money to supplement what they had put into the colleges to deal with possible impacts of the common youth allowance because of the possibility that a larger number of students will feel that they have to stay at college even if they do not want to be there, otherwise they will not get any income support at all. Therefore, it is very disappointing that this Government, whilst getting funding for five positions from the Federal Government, has reduced significantly other positions in the college system.
I am also concerned with the way the Government has treated the teachers, as Mr Berry has already outlined. The process applied seems rather unfair, particularly in relation to the payments that will go to those teachers who choose to leave. As I mentioned in relation to the appropriation for the Health portfolio, I am concerned that this Government has not managed successfully to integrate the various departments which have an involvement with our children. As I have raised it previously, I will not go into detail, but I want to raise it in relation to education. There is talk about having full service schools. I think that the Education Department would have a key role to play in facilitating to a much greater extent the concept of intersectoral or interdisciplinary approaches to dealing with these young people in our community.
I would like to express concern about what came out of the Estimates Committee in relation to using pesticides and chemicals in our schools and what is happening with the cleaning of our schools. The committee was very disturbed to get submissions from the unions on both issues, particularly the cleaning issue. It is clear that school-based management has turned principals into asset managers and that, as asset managers, some principals are so keen to make their budget look good that they are sacrificing some fairly important and basic standards. It is just not good enough that we are told that children are cleaning our schools with their parents because that is the only way their parents can successfully complete the work for the price that they charge. It is just not good enough for this Government to say that it is nothing to do with the Government. It is quite shocking, in fact, that the Government thinks that it can stand at arm's length from what public school principals are doing.
I have raised concerns about the coordination and monitoring of the use of chemicals in schools since the subject was highlighted by the Commissioner for the Environment some time ago. He was very concerned that the purchaser-provider model had led to fragmentation of these sorts of activities in schools and that central control monitoring and assurance of standards by the relevant government department - in this case Environment ACT - was lacking. We are still seeing that the Government does not have any clear view of whether principals are meeting the guidelines that are in place and whether they have the expertise.