Page 2970 - Week 08 - Wednesday, 6 August 2008
parents are puzzled as to why we had to go down that path and why we were threatened with the closure of 39 schools. We are about to see the eventual closure of 23 schools if Andrew Barr gets his way. Parents still ask me why.
We know that it was not about educational benefits; there were no educational benefits about it, and the minister himself said that it was about the savings. He admitted that the savings would be $34 million—that is, two per cent of the education budget. In order to achieve those $34 million in education savings, the government had to initially spend $185 million in capital investment. Since then, that number has grown. Now there are fewer closures and there will be fewer savings achieved by Mr Barr.
The principal reason that the Liberal opposition opposed the ham-fisted approach of Towards 2020 was that the small and meagre savings did not justify the amount of disruption that Andrew Barr was bringing upon the ACT schools community. As we know, the question of savings in Towards 2020 were based on highly questionable assumptions. Many of the costs touted by the minister were wrong, and most of the schools involved had their cost figures revised down by the minister.
The minister likes to talk about the fact that he is an economic rationalist, but he seems to have forgotten that economic rationalism is just not about cutting expenditure. He stands here, over and over again, saying that he is the only economic rationalist in this parliament. The point is that real economic rationalists are not just about cutting expenditure; they are about cutting unproductive expenditure. Does anyone in this place actually think that expenditure on education is unproductive? This minister has proved over and over again that he is not interested in having an education system that provides for the whole of the community.
We are now in a situation where, with all of the education policies of this minister and his predecessors, we are still seeing a decline in government school attendance. There has been no attempt by this government to understand the reasons why or to address the concerns. As I have said before, the government does not know the real reasons why people are abandoning the government school system. They call it a drift, but I think it has gone past being a drift when you have just on 40 per cent of all your school children not being educated in the government school system. In the high school system in particular, something like 49 per cent of children are educated in the non-government school system. There are a whole lot of reasons, but this government and this minister and his predecessors have never bothered to find out what is causing the drift.
I have posed this question on a number occasions: what do people do if they are running a business and they suddenly realise that they are losing market share? They can do one of two things: one, they can find out why they are losing market share and address the issue. They can find out why customers are suddenly not coming. Is it training? Do they need to retrain the staff? Do they need to refine their product? Do they need to advertise better? You have to find out why people are not coming. Two, you could do what a bad businessman does or what a bad government does and worry about the costs, and you cut costs and close down branch offices but you still do not know why people are moving away.