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Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 1999 Week 10 Hansard (12 October) . . Page.. 2981 ..

MR STEFANIAK (continuing):

Thirdly, the committee recommended that the Government present a policy paper to the Assembly outlining a strategy for dealing with ageing and underutilised school facilities. The Government agrees that the issue of surplus government school capacity and declining enrolments is a strategic one for the Territory. We also think that we have done a lot to raise public awareness of the issue. I think it is now time for all Assembly members to contribute.

Mr Speaker, our response to the committee's report acknowledges the increasing cost penalty in maintaining this surplus capacity at a time when new facilities will increasingly be required in the growth area of Gungahlin. Our response points to the fact that, while enrolments have gradually declined, the number of schools in the Territory has increased. This surplus capacity, which will continue to grow as the demographics of parts of Canberra change, will attract more and more resources in the future to provide for the maintenance of bricks and mortar, and that will be at the expense of quality programs for students.

Our response outlines the measures the Government has taken to increase community awareness of the issue - in particular, the discussion paper "Maximising opportunities for education" which was released earlier this year. At the same time, the Government announced an incentives package consisting of grants of $100,000 each year for two years to any two schools which decided to amalgamate on one site. Furthermore, the Ministerial Advisory Council on Government Schooling has been considering guidelines to assist schools considering amalgamation. I have accepted its advice and will shortly release those guidelines. That will provide another focus for considering strategies for schools with declining enrolments.

Mr Speaker, it is now time for members of the Assembly to make a constructive contribution. They could, for example, consider the discussion paper "Maximising opportunities for education" and provide me with their views. I would welcome such views.

The issue at hand is the public accounts committee's report on the Auditor-General's assessment of how school repairs and maintenance are being managed, but the issue is also about how available education resources can best be used in the future. It is a significant strategic issue for the Territory and I encourage all members to inform me of their views and suggestions.

Finally, I would like to thank the committee for its contribution to this important debate. I commend the Government's response to the committee's report to the Assembly. In doing so, I table a document entitled "Maximising opportunities in ACT Government schools - Information for schools considering amalgamation", which was meant to be included in the actual response.

MR QUINLAN (3.41): I do not suppose the debate allows for a question to be asked; but, as the chairman of the public accounts committee, I just did not pick up in the Minister's presentation whether he accepted the notion of regular inspections of schools to ensure that standards are at least maintained. We can do all the positive things in relation to the schools themselves. However, the Auditor-General did observe that there were varying levels of performance in the management of maintenance within schools.

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