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Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 2002 Week 4 Hansard (10 April) . . Page.. 945 ..

MS DUNDAS (continuing):

If the Assembly appointed a committee of reference to work with a private sector consultant on this issue, a consultancy that I assume has already commenced, it would be an overbearing impost from an overzealous shadow minister. Mr Pratt, your criticisms of this review are well documented, and I do not think this motion will help the outcome of the review at all.

MR CORBELL (Minister for Education, Youth and Family Services, Minister for Planning and Minister for Industrial Relations) (5.06): Mr Speaker, the government is committed to conducting an open inquiry into ACT education funding. This is not just another inquiry: it is an inquiry that has been called for by groups in both the public and the private school sectors. Organisations including the Australian Education Union, the Parents and Citizens Council and the Catholic Education Office have all publicly indicated their support for the inquiry, and have accepted the need for it and endorsed its appropriateness.

I will respond briefly to Ms Dundas' comments by saying that this does not mean that the government will simply not be providing any additional funding this year, before the inquiry reports. We will, of course, be responding in appropriate ways to areas of immediate need, and that work is currently being done in the context of the development of this year's budget.

This funding inquiry is going to be an open process, and we are committed to ensuring that education funding is provided equitably and on the basis of relative need. The issues involved are indeed substantial, and the views of the many stakeholders will be varied, and they will be many.

It is important, and it was important from my perspective as minister, that the government obtain expert advice before any changes to the current arrangements are made. It was also important for me to ensure and to be confident that stakeholders would be able to contribute to the inquiry effectively, and that their views would be made known to the government in the final report.

It is also important to emphasise that there is the potential for division among stakeholders, and it is therefore important that the inquiry be seen to be rigorous, robust and independent. My main concern with the motion proposed by Mr Pratt today is that it is simply a thinly veiled attempt to question the credibility of the inquiry head, and an attempt to interfere in the conduct of an independent inquiry.

I am confident that the arrangements that the government has put in place are appropriate. Ms Connors is a highly regarded and experienced educationalist. Her work in the education sector, for a number of Australian states and the Commonwealth government, is substantial. She has a comprehensive understanding of Commonwealth and state funding policies and practices, and this is an essential base for any serious investigation into the funding arrangements for the ACT school sector.

Ms Connors has also been provided with an appropriate budget to employ expert research, and analytical and modelling support services, as she deems necessary. There is no doubt that funding arrangements are complex, formulas are highly sensitive to change, and that expert support is required to assess them.

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