Page 851 - Week 03 - Wednesday, 2 April 2008

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socioeconomic advantage and disadvantage. The majority of the schools you have chosen to close are, in fact, in the most socioeconomically disadvantaged areas of the ACT as identified by the ABS. Minister, why have you chosen to pick on the most socioeconomically disadvantaged families in the ACT by closing more schools in these suburbs rather than in other suburbs?

MR BARR: I thank Mrs Burke for the question and for the opportunity to put on record once again this government’s commitment to investing in public education and to providing world-class education institutions for those communities that Mrs Burke has identified. To turn this question around, it would be: why is it that the Liberal Party is prepared to see the public education infrastructure stagnate and rot and let successive governments ignore this problem? Why did they do nothing during their time in government to address these issues?

Investment in public education in these areas and renewal in education infrastructure is a core belief of the Labor Party. We want to ensure that students across the ACT, and most particularly those who are in areas of socioeconomic disadvantage, are provided with the best public education facilities. That is why we are investing record amounts of money in infrastructure renewal.

I would draw to the attention of Mrs Burke that, in two of the particular areas that the ABS identified, west Belconnen and north Tuggeranong, the government is investing more than $100 million in new education infrastructure. We are renewing the public education infrastructure and providing the best schools in Canberra in those suburbs that suffer from some socioeconomic disadvantage compared with other Canberra suburbs.

It is also worth noting, for the 200th time in this chamber, the range of factors that the government considered when making the difficult decisions we did in 2006 to renew public education infrastructure encompassed economic, social, financial and education outcomes and factors in making our determinations following six months of extensive consultation.

But the question I would pose to those opposite is: do they believe it is fair and reasonable to let the public education infrastructure to continue to decay? Do they believe that it is fair and reasonable to say that higher socioeconomic communities should be getting a massive subsidy straight out of the education budget simply because of the size of the school, not its socioeconomic status?

You can name a couple of schools right away where there was certainly not an issue of socioeconomic disadvantage; it was simply the fact that the school was small that it was attracting a massive public subsidy. If you want to be fair to all schools across an education system and you want to direct resources to where they are most needed, that means making difficult decisions. But it also means backing those difficult decisions with significant investment.

The opposition would have a legitimate point if the government were not reinvesting all of the money saved, plus hundreds of millions of dollars more, into public education. It comes down, fundamentally, to whether you believe in quality. Is it

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