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Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 2008 Week 03 Hansard (Tuesday, 1 April 2008) . . Page.. 776 ..

Two or three years ago, that number was in decline. There were the same number of births but fewer students were engaging in early childhood education. There were 40 extra births in 2004 over 2003, going back four years to get to the preschool age; there are more than 360 extra students in preschool. So births do not account for this increase. There must be other factors. It is worth noting that, in spite of the fact that our population has increased significantly since the 1970s, the birth rate in the ACT is about 1.6 per cent or 1.7 per cent. There were more births in 1977 than there were in 2008, yet our city is at least 50 per cent if not 60 per cent larger. (Time expired.)

MR SESELJA (Ginninderra—Leader of the Opposition) (4.40): Mr Speaker, I thank the Deputy Leader of the Opposition for bringing this matter to the attention of the Assembly, because the management of public education in the ACT is an important matter. It is fair to say and it is absolutely true that there is only one side of politics that is actually committed to both public education and non-government education in the ACT, and we will come to that in a moment.

If we do go back to the genesis of many of the changes that have occurred in public education in the last few years it is, of course, the functional review. The Towards 2020 policy was a hurried and panicked response to the findings of the functional review, when the government was told it had to go out and close lots of schools real quick. Despite the fact that the minister has often said that this is the only way forward—which is, of course, a slight on the former Labor ministers who have preceded him in the portfolio—he is unable to provide us with the data and the evidence to actually demonstrate that this was necessary.

When Mrs Dunne has very doggedly tried to drill down to try and get the case for each of the school closures, the case to close Cook school, the case to close Flynn school, the case to close all of the other 23 schools, the minister and the department have been unable to provide that evidence, and they have been unable to provide that data. They talk in broad terms: they talk in broad terms about empty desks; they talk in broad terms about savings. In fact, we know that many of those savings are very small indeed in comparison to the disruption that has been caused as a result of this policy.

I do go back to the functional review, because if the minister is so sure of the veracity of what they are basing this program on then surely he and the government would not mind actually putting it out there for public view so that we can have a more informed debate about the rationale for ripping the heart out of the public education system in the ACT that has occurred under this government.

We go back prior to the 2004 election, when this government, when the Labor Party in government at the time, said that there would be no school closures in the next term of government. This Labor Party, this government, misled the people of the ACT. The minister has the hide to get up and proclaim how committed the Labor Party is to public education, yet this party and this government went to the last election promising not to close any schools and then turned around and closed 23 schools. There has never been a bigger betrayal of the community in the ACT on such a fundamental policy issue than this government’s betrayal in relation to its school closure plans and in relation to its school closure program.

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