Page 3224 - Week 10 - Thursday, 17 September 2015

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I know parents and teachers alike remain concerned about whether there are adequate cooling systems—and by “adequate”, I do not regard ceiling fans in classrooms or rotating classrooms particularly appropriate or acceptable solutions, as were offered by the minister in an earlier debate. If weather forecasters are to be believed, we face higher than average temperatures this summer. It will be interesting to see whether classes will need to be suspended.

We also continue to see an unprecedented amount of equipment failures in schools. In the last two years we have had an electrical fault that put a teacher in hospital; schools had to be evacuated while emergency services dealt with the problem; this year we have had gas leaks at Hawker Primary School; and Belconnen high seems to be always battling equipment failures. Is it any wonder that a $28 million upgrade was identified before the 2012 election as essential for that school?

We have had the debate and the claims and counterclaims about whether a reduction in funding for the upgrade and refurbishment means a reduction in the deliverables. I note a local parent of a student attending Belconnen high—who coincidentally is seeking preselection for ACT Labor and has worked in Minister Burch’s office—is on record as expressing disappointment at the cut. She obviously believes it is not simply a re-costing of the original plan but a reduction in what was promised. The proof will be in the execution. I guess pupils or teachers at the school who have heard these promises for years that the upgrade would be finished by now will just be pleased to get something started. Lucky for Belconnen High the election is next year or the start would have been delayed still further, I suspect.

Before I close, I put in my usual counterclaim to the minister who, any time I as shadow education minister dare to draw attention to school needs, suggests I am not supportive of ACT schools. That line is getting somewhat worn and flies in the face of reality. I get a very positive response every time I visit a school, and I get a sense of the issues they are facing. I say, as I do every time, that if I was not supportive of ACT public schools, why would I continue to press the government to do more and to do it better?

We can always do better, and Ms Fitzharris’s motion suggests that. It is important that in building new schools to meet new demand in new suburbs that we do not forget about the established schools in the established suburbs that have been doing the hard yards educating students for many years, often in facilities that have outgrown their usefulness and are not best practice for today’s needs and expectations. I thank Ms Fitzharris for her matter of public importance—the importance of modernising and strengthening schools in Canberra’s established suburbs.

MR RATTENBURY (Molonglo) (4.05): I welcome Ms Fitzharris bringing this topic on today. It is an interesting and important matter of public importance in that it can cover a range of issues. On first reading it perhaps does not do justice to the complexity of the policy issues that it raises. As we all know, the ACT government is soon to open its newest school in the new and developing area of Coombs. The Charles Weston school will be the 87th public school in Canberra. It is expected to cost in the order of $47 million and its construction reflects the growth of Canberra.

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