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Civics excursions rebates respond to COVID

Parliament House has been missing visits from students. Picture: Dion Georgopoulos.

Sally Whyte, Rebates for civics excursions to increase after COVID border closures limited student visits, The Canberra Times, 12 February 2021

It’s a rite of passage for many Australian students, trekking to the nation’s capital by bus or by plane, visiting Parliament House and other national institutions, maybe wondering why the politicians are more unruly in question time than their friends are in the playground.

But in 2020, the number of students who travelled to Canberra as part of their civics studies plunged by 93 percent, as lockdowns and interstate travel restrictions caused by the coronavirus pandemic took their toll.

Just 8800 students from 140 schools made the pilgrimage last year, visiting institutions including Parliament House, the Australian War Memorial, and Old Parliament House.

The year before, more than 114,000 students from 2000 schools visited the capital.

But as state borders open, and national institutions are again accepting visitors in larger numbers, there is hope the school groups will also return.

In a bid to increase the number of students heading back to Canberra in 2021, the federal government is increasing the rebate paid to schools through the PACER (Parliament and Civics Education Rebate) program.

The rebates will be boosted by 50 percent, an increase of up to $170 for students who come the furthest distance.

For students coming from Sydney, or other cities within 500 kilometres of Canberra, the rebate will go from $20 to $30 a student. For schools from Melbourne or other areas less than 1000 kilometres away, the rebate will go from $30 to $45 a student.

“We all have an interest in our children learning about our democracy so they have the skills and values they need to be active and informed citizens,” Education Minister Alan Tudge said.

“With this rebate, we are giving more students from right around Australia the chance to visit our nation’s capital and learn about our history and democracy.”

Minister for Regional Education Andrew Gee said the boost would be important for students from regional and rural Australia to be able to experience all Canberra has to offer.

“Australia’s parliamentary system, electoral processes, and democratic history have an important place in our curriculum,” Mr Gee said.

“Whether it’s walking through the corridors of Parliament House or discovering stories about our nation’s servicemen and women at the Australian War Memorial – a trip to Canberra is an experience that students will never forget.”

As well as the three compulsory institutions, schools often visit a number of other institutions, as well as staying motels and caravan parks.

ACT Liberal Senator Zed Seselja said school trips returning would be a much-needed economic boost for Canberra.

“Parliament House, the Museum of Australian Democracy, the National Electoral Education Centre, the Australian War Memorial and other national institutions are ready to once again share their programs with students from across the country in a COVID-safe way,” Senator Seselja said.

“Before COVID-19, school excursions were worth around $150 million to the ACT, so PACER will also be important to Canberra’s local economic recovery.”