Saturday 20October 2012 was an exciting day for any fan of politics. It marked a culmination of a hard fought campaign between the Canberra Liberals and ACT Labor. During the campaign all parties came out with a variety of policies and commitments addressing issues around public education.
A closer look at the commitments from ACT Labor and the ACT Greens reveal general agreement between those parties on education. As the new government takes shape a look back at the commitments made serves as a useful insight into what we can expect over the next four years.
Upgrading existing and building new ACT school infrastructure has been one of ACT Labor’s more costly, yet badly needed, commitments made during the election.
ACT Labor promised some big numbers. Seventy million dollars to upgrade existing school infrastructure through the School Infrastructure for the Future programs, $45 million to build a new primary school in Coombs, $28 million to upgrade Belconnen High School, $2.3 million to plan for a new primary school in Moncrief. This represents an investment of more than $145 million over 4 years in upgrading and building new school infrastructure in the ACT.
Council warmly welcomed these announcements as they were made during the election campaign. Poor infrastructure in our schools has been a major concern amongst P&Cs and is an issue discussed at our general meetings.
In their policy announcements ACT Labor identified a number of areas where existing school infrastructure could be improved including classrooms, play areas and toilet blocks. Council looks forward to working with the incoming Labor-Greens government to ensure they deliver on these commitments and improve public schools throughout Canberra.
The canteen conundrum
Over the last 12 months Council has approached the issues facing canteens with increased vigour and it appears the parties took notice. Earlier this year the then Education Minister Chris Bourke formed a High level taskforce to look into the issues facing Canteens.
In September both the ACT Greens and ACT Labor announced plans to tackle the issues facing canteens that had come out of the taskforce. The ACT Greens launched the Healthy Food for Children election initiative. As part of this initiative the ACT Greens committed to providing $100,000 per anum to the High level Taskforce on canteens and would increase $500,000 worth of new funding to the Health Promotion Grants that would allow canteens to apply for funding to upgrade facilities.
ACT Labor, as part of their election commitments, announced that if re-elected they would invest $1 million into school canteens over four years. This money would be used to upgrade existing canteen infrastructure and fund an online ordering system that parents can use to order healthy meals for their children.
Given the mutual agreement between the two parties on this point, Council looks forward to working with both of them to ensure the development of a comprehensive plan to tackle the issues facing canteens.
Both ACT Labor and the ACT Greens stepped up to the plate when it came to supporting students in their election commitments. ACT Labor committed $10 million over four years to support students with learning disabilities. The ACT Greens committed to working with federally funded disability education co-coordinators to help students with disabilities transition into post school options.
In addition to supporting students with a disability, ACT Labor have committed to helping all ACT students in the area of literacy and numeracy. ACT Labor committed $8.7 million over the next two years to build and staff a numeracy centre at Caroline Chisholm School in an effort to improve numeracy skills for students and residents in the Tuggeranong region.
Likewise, ACT Labor has committed to spending up to $12 million to expand the current school literacy and numeracy field officer program. This program places literacy and numeracy specialists in ACT schools to help struggling students improve their literacy and numeracy skills.
The ACT government has committed $1.7 million to build a student focused Science Centre and Planetarium at Mt Stromlo. This will engage students in science from a young age and stimulate their interest in the subject.
Travelling to school
The safety of students does not start and end at the school gate. Providing a safe environment to travel to and from school is an important role the government plays. In aiming to provide a safer environment for students travelling to and from school ACT Labor committed $4 million over 4 years as part of their ‘Active Transport’ program that aims to make cycling and walking to schools safer.
Likewise, the ACT Greens committed $3 million over 3 years to improve bus routes around Canberra. Importantly, the ACT Greens committed to conducting an ACT wide school survey into travel patterns of students to ensure adequate bus routes and services are available to them.
Over the past year Council has been raising the issue of safety around schools and lobbying for improved bus services to students. Council is therefore pleased to see that both the ACT Greens and Labor have responded to our concerns and we will work with both parties to ensure they deliver on their commitments.
On 3 November 2012, Chief Minister Katy Gallagher announced several changes to the ACT cabinet.
Since November 2011, the Education and Training portfolio has been under Dr Chris Bourke MLA. The new Minister for Education and Training is now Joy Burch MLA, who also holds responsibility for the Disability, Children and Young People, Arts, Women, Multicultural Affairs and the Racing and Gaming portfolios.
Looking to the future
The fact that the above commitments were made during the course of a hotly contested election campaign should not diminish their importance. It is a sad truth that election commitments are often left by the road side in the race to deliver budget surpluses.
However, Council firmly believes that by delivering on these commitments the new ACT Government will be positioning Canberra for a bright future. It is because of this that Council will work to keep these issues and commitments in the spotlight, highlighting where the government delivers on these commitments and, importantly, where it neglects them.
By Tim Lawley
Council's Policy Officer
This article was published in ParentACTion 4.2012, November 2012.