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Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 1999 Week 7 Hansard (2 July) . . Page.. 2229 ..

MS TUCKER (continuing):

In fact, in estimates I asked one of the officials whether he could guarantee that the use of chemicals was being minimised or, as the Commissioner for the Environment said should happen, whether chemicals were being used in a socially responsible way. The official said, "Of course not. We do not have the expertise". So, there it was in black and white in the estimates transcript. Of course they do not have the expertise. Why should the Department of Education have the expertise?

If this Government is serious about claiming to have good environment credentials, it should be taking an interest in ensuring that chemicals are being used in a socially responsible way. It should be taking a very keen interest in how they are being used in schools and ensuring that there is minimal use. It is particularly important in schools because, as we know, children are more likely to be affected by chemicals because of their smaller body mass. There is also an issue with cleaning because, obviously, chemicals are being used by the cleaners as well. There are some quite serious occupational health and safety issues around cleaning these days. Some very harsh chemicals are being used by cleaners and I think that the schools and the department or the Government should be ensuring that they are being used correctly in our schools not only for the sake of the workers but also for the sake of the children who are in those environments during the day.

I believe that the Government should be looking closely at school-based management, particularly the impact of school-based management on these sorts of areas of activity. Also, I think that the Government should be doing an evaluation of the educational outcomes of school-based management. The concerns that are being expressed to me now are much broader. In fact, it might be a job that the Education Committee will take on in the future, because I think that we need to look at what school-based management has actually meant for schools.

In conclusion, I am strongly of the belief that the type of education system we have is absolutely critical to making the ground as level as possible for the people growing up in our community. We are seeing an increasing polarity or gap developing between the haves and the have-nots in our community. It is incredibly important to have a high standard public school system if we want to even up in some way the inequalities that exist in our society and are increasing. I am concerned that the user-pays elements of our public school system are not decreasing; in fact, they can be seen to be increasing in some areas.

I am concerned that we are still not seeing a serious commitment from this Government to keeping an eye on those students who are disadvantaged and those schools or communities which are disadvantaged to ensure that they have exactly the same opportunities in our public education system as others. I believe that it is clear that they do not. I am sure that other members have been alerted to examples of students not being able to take on particular electives because of the costs of those electives. I think that is something that we should be very concerned and ashamed about as we should have in Australia a public education system which is of a high standard and which is accessible to all children, regardless of their parents' income.

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