HOUSE OF ASSEMBLY Wednesday, 25 September 2019 Page 7547 & 7548
The Hon. G.G. BROCK (Frome) (14:59): My question is to the Minister for Education. Can the minister please update the house on the progress of the review of the regional school bus policy, which I am led to believe was completed in February this year. Also this is in addition to my previous questions in September last year and also June this year.
The Hon. J.A.W. GARDNER (Morialta—Minister for Education) (14:59): I thank the member for the question. It is a matter that we’ve discussed. I think the member is probably accurate in that we were hoping it would be completed by February this year, but my understanding is that our optimism was ill founded. There were in fact many, many more people who wanted to make submissions and come and talk to the reviewers than we had anticipated. We had anticipated a good level of interest; in fact, we had an enormous level of interest from people around regional South Australia.
I appreciate the frustration of not just the member for Frome but potentially more particularly families of school communities across South Australia who are looking forward to seeing not just the review but any potential policy implications that might be drawn from the review. I can certainly advise the member for Frome that there are a good number of members on this side of the house, too, who have been asking about this question, some of whom asked about it this morning when there were some briefings in relation to the regional consultation on year 7 to high school.
This is certainly something where I appreciate people’s frustrations. The member for Frome would be well aware: he waited a long time as a member of cabinet, where he asked for a former government to do this review. He waited a long time for that review, and that did not propose any changes. It didn’t take into it the presupposition that there was in fact a public policy benefit of considering the needs of students in non-government schools. So they did a review that didn’t presuppose that being an idea—that they needed to be looked after, that their needs might be considered from a transport point of view, not just the needs of the public school system.
The other thing this review is doing—and we look forward to its considerations being completed—is considering the opportunities for regional communities that come from the school bus infrastructure potentially being available for broader community use in those communities, rather than sitting dormant in a schoolyard while the community has certain transport needs and opportunities that might be developed. We have asked the reviewers to consider whether there is a public policy benefit—potentially an economic benefit, certainly a social benefit—that is affordable within the scope of what that offering is.
It is a complex area, to be sure, and there are complex financial considerations that go beyond just the needs of bus routes and regional communities. Some other issues that have been raised revolve around the application of the current policy, which is obviously for public school students to have a right of access to their local public school.
Currently, students from non-government schools who are approximately on the route can get on the bus; potentially students in preschool or kindergarten services can get on the bus as well, but they don’t have a right to that access. So, as I understand it, there are a number of people who made submissions—I haven’t been provided the submissions by the reviewer, but I’ve certainly been given copies of, or advice from people who have made submissions about, what was in their submissions.
I know this is an issue that has been raised as well. It is a significant review. I am looking forward to seeing what it recommends and how it proposes to handle those complex sets of interrelated issues, between the transport department, the education department and Treasury funding it. When that review comes, I think it will be going to the Treasurer first, as Treasury is leading the review; I imagine that the Minister for Transport and I will hopefully get briefed on it very, very soon thereafter, and it will obviously go to cabinet for further consideration. Once we’re in a position to make any announcements, I look forward to doing so, and I have absolutely no doubt that the member for Frome and I will have a good chat, potentially over a piece of pizza, while we’re having that chat.