Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 1999 Week 13 Hansard (7 December) . . Page.. 3838 ..
MR STEFANIAK (continuing):
750 students in the next five years alone. That is equivalent to approximately three normal primary schools. Based on current enrolments, that is equivalent to about six or seven of our smaller primary schools, because we do have a handful of schools with enrolments slipping under the 100 students mark, which by anyone's definition must be getting close to critical mass.
Mr Speaker, the issue of Canberra's changing demographics is one that cannot be ignored. Those opposite, especially Mr Berry, would like us to believe that it can be ignored. I do not think it can be. We do need to look at it and we do need to think outside the square, as the Wanniassa community has done. The problems with our declining enrolments will not just go away. They have to be addressed. Ideally, they have to be addressed with creative, flexible and constructive solutions. Our approach to education in the next millennium must not be dictated by outdated traditions of the past; it must be inspired by the demands of tomorrow. That is exactly what the parents and citizens in the Wanniassa community have done. They have looked into the future and developed a workable option today.
Mr Berry has accused this Government of trying to bribe school communities into considering amalgamations. For his benefit, let me quote again the words of the school board chairs of Wanniassa:
... this has not come about because of declining enrolments or pressure from government.
Let me reiterate, Mr Berry, that in the words of those two school board chairs there has been no pressure from government. Obviously, Mr Berry is so far out of touch with Canberra's school community that he has failed to notice that school boards generally are discussing these issues, and are doing it independently of government. They are certainly not subject to any bribes or pressure, as Mr Berry has suggested in the past. The school communities can see the facts for themselves and can make their own forecasts as to future viability and what is in the best interests of their students. Mr Berry is trapped in the halcyon days of old when every school community had a primary school and a high school, every school was full, the schooling was very traditional and there was no need to think outside the square. Unfortunately for him, times have changed.
Today's announcement makes a mockery of claims by the ACT Council of Parents and Citizens Associations that no Canberra school was seriously considering amalgamations and that the Government should drop the issue. How wrong that comment was. Today's announcement vindicates our efforts to foster community debate. It is something that is essential and it is terribly important, I say again, for people to look at solutions that best suit the educational needs of their children and to think outside the square.
The decision to create a single community kindergarten to Year 10 school at Wanniassa will not save buckets of money. But, Mr Berry, it is a community decision based on a quest for quality education rather than financial savings. Any savings will be returned to the new Wanniassa school for a transition period of two years. That is very much in