The Education Committee of the ACT Legislative Assembly has delivered a weak-kneed report on school closures. It has failed to deliver a better process for considering school closure proposals in the future. It has dashed the hopes and expectations of many for a better approach.
Both the ACT Greens and the Liberals have failed the communities affected by school closures.
The report makes some scathing criticisms of the Towards 2020 process but fails to make any recommendations to change the legislation. Not one recommendation is made to strengthen the legislation. All we have got from the inquiry is some wishy-washy suggestions for better guidelines.
The report says that there were deep flaws in the consultation design and timing and that it did not meet the standard required for genuine consultation. It documents notable failures in the process such as the failure to conduct a social impact assessment.
However, the report’s only answer to the failures of Towards 2020 is more community consultation guidelines. These were shown to be virtually worthless in 2006 because the Government simply ignored the existing guidelines. More consultation guidelines are not enough.
The report should have recommended changes to strengthen the legislation with an independent public inquiry process mandated to consider a range of educational, financial and social impacts, including a full social impact assessment.
The recommendations to re-open Hall and Tharwa are very welcome. Those communities will be deservedly delighted by the support they have received from the report. The Minister’s immediate rejection of this recommendation exposes his disregard for evidence about the impact of school closures on those communities.
However, the report contains a stark inconsistency to re-opening schools. The reasons given to justify the re-opening of Hall and Tharwa apply as well to Cook and Flynn. This inconsistency is a major puzzle. The report simply opts out of making a serious recommendation on Flynn.