Page 469 - Week 02 - Tuesday, 4 March 2008

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choice, many do and many make considerable sacrifices for their children to enjoy the benefits that independent and non-government schools can offer. I understand, from my meeting with the Independent Schools Association, that they represent approximately 12,000 students in independent schools in the ACT and that there are approximately 13,000 additional students in the Catholic system.

We are not talking about a privileged few but a rather significant section of the Canberra community. It is worth noting that the choice of the Canberra parents to send their children to non-government schools does save the territory government money. A figure that was mentioned in my meeting with the Independent Schools Association was that, for every student in a non-government school, the ACT government saves $10,000. I have not tested that figure—and I would be interested if the minister has a different view—but it seems believable. Independent and Catholic schools should be supported by government.

I understand that one item on the Independent Schools Association wish list is government funding for students with a disability to be equitable, regardless of what type of school the student attends. I support this position unequivocally and would hope that the ACT government and opposition approach this issue sensibly and are prepared to make what, in terms of cost, is a relatively minor concession but one that will have a profound impact on the lives of a number of students with a disability and their families.

I think there traditionally has been a perceived divide between the government sector and independent or Catholic schools. Certainly the Labor side of politics has, on occasions, spanned this divide. The position is, however, outdated. As I stated earlier, it is not a privileged few sending their children to non-government schools; it is now a significant section of society in our community. These schools deserve genuine support from government.

The Independent Schools Association has called on politicians to make clear their policy in this area well ahead of October’s election. I take this opportunity today to express my clear and unequivocal support of independent and Catholic schools and thank them for their contribution to the ACT community.

National Multicultural Festival—Sri Lankan dance group

MS PORTER (Ginninderra) (6.26): I take the opportunity in the brief time that is available to me to talk about an event I attended on 14 February as part of the National Multicultural Festival. I was fortunate to be able to attend a most entertaining and enlightening performance of the Sri Lankan traditional dance group, held in the theatre of the Belconnen Community Centre. As I said, it was most entertaining, and the audience of adults and children responded to the wonderful dancers, who were in colourful costumes and masks, performing very evocative and demonstrative traditional dances—some amusing, some serious. The traditional drums added to the atmosphere that was created. However, it is the statement that was read out on behalf of the company that I would like to read out this evening. It reads:

This company of dancers and musicians from Sri Lanka has made a statement at tonight’s presentation.

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