Page 169 - Week 01 - Wednesday, 10 December 2008

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prepared to embark on. This bill also specifies an independent cost-benefit analysis to look at the educational, social, environmental and economic impacts of any mooted closure.

Schools perform a number of roles in our community and, while the educational outcome of our students is a paramount focus for the school system, that is a complex, socially and culturally embedded thing. While the government at different times suggested it looked at the broader impacts of its school closure decisions, the Greens are not convinced that the economic, cultural and social impact of the schools closures in Tharwa and Hall, for example, were considered against the saving that the closure of these schools was claimed to deliver.

This bill also introduces a number of time lines. The Education Act, as it exists, provides for a bare six months notification. A number of the many problems of 2006 relate to that timing. It is also worth remembering that, when the 2004 act was introduced, the issue of those time lines was raised with the then Labor government by the P&C, which was advised that the six months was only indicative and any closures, if they were to happen, would have a much longer time frame than that. This was far from the reality. And the rush at both the front and the end of the consultation process was all about using the six-month minimum time frame in order to control the process.

This bill also requires the government to demonstrate to the school community how its views have been taken into account in making the relevant decision. That, of course, is an element in all good, respectful consultation processes. It is perhaps the most offensive aspect to those communities who have worked so hard to feed in or engage with and respond intelligently to government decision making when their input appears to be ignored.

In this case, school community groups were left bewildered and bitter that the important and researched evidence they presented about demographic change, community support, alternative administration models and so on was seemingly dismissed out of hand. It is not always possible to take on board everything that those people might offer. But it is vitally important to consider that contradiction seriously and to demonstrate that consideration in your response. The Greens are serious about using the Assembly and its processes to engage constructively with them.

This bill has been drafted with some guidance from our colleagues in the community, and it is now, in effect, open for more feedback and engagement. I think I need to make it clear that this is a forward-looking amendment that is important for the whole Canberra community.

Badly handled and inappropriate decisions to shut or amalgamate schools have flow-on impacts for the whole community. Community fabric is something that has been somewhat disregarded during the past 20 years of individualised, unsustainable economic growth. In the next few years, in response to the twin pressures of climate change adjustment and economic slowdown, I believe we will find ourselves once again looking for local connections, more highly valued social and community engagement and activity and the value of local schools, particularly government schools, to support the social infrastructure that we need. And that will become more

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