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Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 2008 Week 03 Hansard (Wednesday, 2 April 2008) . . Page.. 836 ..

What do parents want? They want quality education. They want teachers to be able to teach. At the forum that was recently organised by the Leader of the Opposition, a principal who heads up the principals association here in the ACT said that five per cent of ACT students are in some sort of trouble or cause some sort of disruption at school. We need to address that. That needs to be addressed far more urgently than putting so much money into—(Time expired.)

MR MULCAHY (Molonglo) (11.40): I am glad to be speaking on the motion and the proposed amendment, as I believe that education services provided by the government are an important subject which is worthy of serious attention in the Assembly.

I will take some time to address the points of Mr Seselja’s original motion, the first of which relates to the drift away from the government sector. In 2007, public schools in the ACT had 34,617 full-time students; this was 58.3 per cent of the total enrolment of full-time students in the ACT. Over the past decade or so, we have seen large growth in enrolments in private schools. This trend has been particularly pronounced in the ACT, and it is worth looking at the national data versus the territory data to get a better feel for it.

The 2007 report on schools by the Australian Bureau of Statistics sets out the number of enrolled students in different types of schools in the last decade. This report sets out figures for each of the states and territories in Australia as well as giving an overview of the nationwide trend. From 1997 to 2007 throughout Australia there was an increase in public school enrolments of 38,425 students, an increase of 1.7 per cent. At the same time, there was an increase in non-government school enrolments of 206,574 students, an increase of 21.9 per cent.

In the ACT, we have seen a more pronounced shift away from public schools towards non-government schools. From 1997 to 2007 there was a decrease in public school enrolments of 4,978 students, a reduction of 12.6 per cent, yet at the same time there was an increase in non-government school enrolments of 3,141 students, which represents an increase of 14.5 per cent. The current level of enrolments in public schools in the ACT is down from the enrolments in 1997. We currently have 58.3 per cent of all full-time students in the ACT enrolled in public schools; this is down from 64.7 of all full-time students in 1997. So the long-term picture is quite revealing. From these figures, we can see a large shift in the ACT away from public schools and towards non-government schools.

In these discussions, it is important that members be respectful of the school choices of parents. A drift towards private schools is not something to be frowned upon per se. It simply means that many parents are making different decisions from the ones they were making a decade ago. Recently in this place, I spoke about the fine job that the independent Catholic schools do for our community, and I reiterate these comments now. Independent schools should be congratulated for the work that they do. That parents choose to send their children to such schools is at least partially recognition of the work that these organisations do and the quality of services that is offered.

In this Assembly we need to focus on whether public schools are providing the best service that they can provide and whether there are any deficiencies that are

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