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Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 2001 Week 1 Hansard (13 February) . . Page.. 81 ..

Mr Stefaniak: Actually, I said breakfast.

MR BERRY: Well, okay, a dog's breakfast, Mr Deputy Speaker. The fact is that the figures which were used by the Productivity Commission were figures provided by the ACT government. There is a particular section in the commissioner's report which allows for an ACT government response wherein you will find not one word criticising the figures because they are, after all, figures from the ACT government provided at a very senior level to the commission. So this report in fact is damaging in the context of public education, but the minister's response in light of the facts is just unacceptable.

Mr Deputy Speaker, education spending has fallen between 1997-98 and 1998-99. ACT education expenditure has fallen in absolute terms, and it has fallen relative to other states and territories. Spending per student has fallen from the top to the middle of the national rankings-there is no denying that, according to the figures provided by the Productivity Commission-from $6,906 in 1997-98 to $6,782 in 1998-99. For the first time we now spend less per secondary student than the national average of $7,150. We spend $7,135. This drop took us from second to sixth place, and this is in spite of our high retention rates in a community where successful completion of secondary school is considered essential.

Mr Deputy Speaker, sitting on one's hands for six years cannot be displayed as a badge of honour with "We have maintained school expenditure" written across it. The fact of the matter is that while you have been sitting on your hands other states have been getting on with the job. We have always prided ourselves on being ahead; we must stay ahead. There is no doubt about that.

For years Canberrans have been proud of the quality of our education system. We have prided ourselves that we have a high-quality system and a high retention rate. We know it is expensive but it is important for our children and for our future. We have in the ACT fewer jobs in the unskilled sector of the work force, and we know we have to give our kids the best chance. That means completion of college with the option for tertiary education. But now we see that the main cuts in education are in government secondary schools-cuts to the total budget, the capital budget, and the recurrent budget-and the response from the minister is: "Shoot the messenger."

Herein lies the difficulty. Repeatedly we hear this government moaning about the public system being too expensive, saying that teachers are paid too much and there is too much space in schools. An extraordinary amount of negative information comes out of this government about the government schooling system.

It is not surprising, therefore, to see a headline in the Canberra Times today in response to Australian Bureau of Statistics figures which emerged, I think, yesterday showing that more in the ACT opt for private schools. On the one hand private schools will say, I am sure, that they will have difficulty coping with the influx and will require more funding, and so on and so forth.

I acknowledge absolutely the contribution that the non-government sector makes to our territory. They make an important contribution. About 30 per cent of children go to the non-government sector and it is an extraordinarily important part of our system.

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