|About this Item||Speakers||Webb Mr Peter
||Business||Private Members Statements
Mr WEBB (Monaro) [6.05 p.m.]: I draw the attention of the House to a rather serious matter—unfortunately I am not as prepared as I would like as I became aware of this issue only in the past hour. I have received an urgent and worrying representation from the Queanbeyan and District Pre-school Association about an incident that occurred recently on one of its campuses. Association President Dave Lavers wrote to the Minister for Community Services about an incident on 28 October, when a child at Waratah Pre-school climbed over the boundary fence. This caused much distress to Waratah staff and may well have resulted in the death of a child in the care of the preschool association. The correspondence includes various incident reports for the Minister's reference. The letter concludes with a call from the president for emergency funding of some $19,000 to deal with this serious issue that could have resulted in injury or death and caused a raft of legal difficulties.
The director of Waratah Pre-school wrote to the Department of Community Services on 29 August seeking funding to resolve the fencing problem. The Acting Director of Partnerships and Planning in the Southern Highlands Network Office responded to the letter on 14 October, and advised that funding—which was stated incorrectly as being $35,111—was not available to assist with this matter. It is apparent that the department is either unable or unwilling to resolve this serious issue, and it is obviously beyond the means of the preschool to do so. I remind honourable members that I have previously called on the Government to address the problem of preschool waiting lists—some 450 children in the Queanbeyan area are awaiting preschool places.
I regard preschool education as one of society's most important services. Preschooling socialises children and gives them a proper start in life. If this service is to be provided formally and properly it seems obvious to me that preschools should be funded by the Department of Education and Training. The Department of Community Services does not seem able to fund this urgent work—I do not know whether it is intentional or is happening by default. Proper fences must be erected at Waratah Pre-school to stop young children slipping through the existing faulty fence and onto a busy thoroughfare—one does not want to imagine the likely consequences. The situation is so critical that I have brought it to the attention of the House today, and tomorrow I will send a letter to the Minister about this issue.
The President of the Queanbeyan and District Pre-school Association inadvertently addressed his letter to the former Minister for Community Services, the honourable member for Penrith, but that is no reason to ignore the situation or to make an unsatisfactory response. As that letter says, this issue could have serious ramifications for the department. One way or another this Government has a responsibility to fund existing preschools—either through the Department of Community Services or the Department of Education and Training, which I believe is the preferred option—to the benefit of their associations, committees, teachers, parents and children.
On 29 August the director of Waratah Pre-school in Queanbeyan wrote to the Minister seeking funds to resolve this urgent fencing problem. The response from the director of partnerships and planning did not satisfy the writer, nor has it gone any way towards resolving the matter. I call on the Minister and the Government to immediately take this matter on board. Indeed, tomorrow I will write to the Minister seeking urgent resolution of the matter.