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Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 2008 Week 03 Hansard (Wednesday, 2 April 2008) . . Page.. 858 ..

MR BARR: I am trying very hard, Mr Speaker. (Time expired.)

MR SPEAKER: Is there a supplementary question?

MR STEFANIAK: Minister, why has the Towards 2020 program failed to meet its objective of attracting students back to public education?

MR BARR: In response to that question, I can indicate that the government always stated, from the commencement of this four-year renewal program, that it would take some time to turn around a 30-year drift. But, as I indicated in this morning’s debate, when you look at the long-run trend of enrolments between the non-government and government sectors and look at who is in power federally and where resources are directed by the commonwealth government, it is interesting—it is no surprise—that when there is a federal Liberal government and massive public subsidies flow into the non-government system, enrolments follow those subsidies. Equally, it is interesting to note that that drift slows considerably—in fact it even turns around—for the public sector when there is a federal Labor government that is investing appropriately in public education.

I go to no higher source than the Australian Education Union; the Australian council of parents and citizens; and ACSO, the government schools council across Australia. Even Trevor Cobbold agrees on this. Over the last 11 years, the federal government has short-changed public education to the tune of nearly $3 billion. I am very confident that, following significant investment by the ACT government, coupled with a renewed interest in public education at a commonwealth level, we will see a return to public education.

The key to that is investing in quality—assuring parents that the public education system offers quality equal to or better than what is available in non-government schools. Part of that is addressing a perception that that does not currently occur, which I believe is an incorrect perception. But it requires resources, energy and effort. It also requires political leadership. That is where I come to the point: what we say in this place and the sort of campaigns that we have seen run by Mrs Dunne that have been so comprehensively repudiated by the president of the parents and citizens council of the school—to go to the point that that parents and citizens committee have expressed such disappointment that Mrs Dunne would seek to advance her political career at the expense of their children.

Mr Stefaniak: Point of order, Mr Speaker. It is the same point I made earlier: relevance.

MR SPEAKER: Come back to the supplementary question.

MR BARR: Mr Speaker, I think it is entirely relevant—what we say as politicians, the leadership role that we take, and what we say in the public arena about public education.

MR SPEAKER: Mr Barr, the question was about the 2020 program.

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