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Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 2008 Week 03 Hansard (Wednesday, 2 April 2008) . . Page.. 833 ..

MR SMYTH (Brindabella) (11.30): The fundamentals of education used to be the three Rs—reading, writing and arithmetic. The Stanhope education system has given us a new version of the three Rs: reduce, remove and rebuff. It has reduced services and support for families, especially those most in need. It has simply removed school buildings from the system. There are 23 slated to go; most have gone and another group goes at the end of this year. But more important than anything is the rebuff to the community—the rebuff of any attempt to involve the community, particularly parents, to try and make the government accountable for its underhanded underfunding of our most precious resource.

The minister’s defence is: “We have thrown more money at it. We have put $350 million into bricks and mortar.” The real questions are: what do the parents actually want and what is causing the drift out of the government system? “Drift” is a very weak word in regard to this. It is not a drift. This government has seen a massive movement of students out of a free system, a free product, into a system where you have to pay—where in some cases you pay significant fees to get what you want. That says that the government is not giving parents what they want.

Perhaps the minister should go to the ACT Department of Education and Training school movement survey on his website, from August 2007.

Mr Barr: I quoted from that in my speech.

MR SMYTH: Perhaps he should read it. The minister says, “Yes, I mentioned that in my speech.” He mentioned a lot of things in his speech that do not make sense. He says that what they want are new buildings, that what they want is this investment in infrastructure. Yes, buildings are important, but fundamentally what people want out of their system—52 per cent of those who responded—is quality of education. Why are they leaving the system?

Mr Barr: That is what I just said.

MR SMYTH: They are leaving the system because of quality of education. They are leaving it because of peer relationships—read there bullying—discipline and standards. They are leaving because of the lack of professional standards of staff. And they are leaving because of the school culture. They are not leaving because of the shape, size, colour or age of the buildings. They are leaving because the service is either inadequate or perceived to be inadequate and they are willing to pay for what they want for their young person—their student, their child.

We have a minister who constantly harps on the fact that they are spending $350 million on infrastructure. You have to question it. We will dissect the figures over time and we will keep coming back to this place to reveal the figures. The minister keeps saying, “We are spending 30 per cent more.” The budget is actually 50 per cent more than what was in the budget since 2001, so you could make an argument that in real terms growth has actually declined. The budget has grown by 50 per cent; the education budget has grown by 30 per cent. Make your own judgement on that.

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