The Australian Labor Party likes to portray itself as the champions of public education. Yet over the past 10 months, it has demonstrated time and again the exact opposite. The Premier and Minister Ellery seem intent on making decisions that they are ultimately forced to reverse but which cause immense hurt and anxiety across the length and breadth of Western Australia.
First it was the McGowan Government’s failed attempt to move Perth Modern School to a high rise building in Northbridge. Through this election commitment they created a problem when there was not one, and from day one caused unnecessary angst and anxiety across the Perth Modernian community and beyond.
Ultimately the flawed policy was reversed but only after weeks of campaigning and negative media attention. Not content, however, the government has continued to press ahead with a $68 million school development in Subiaco dismissing for no good reason a school site in City Beach which was already budgeted for and shovel ready for redevelopment.
Fast forward to December last year. Again, without consultation, understanding or consideration of the students and families who would be most affected, the McGowan Government made another massive misjudgement.
How could Minister Ellery think that abolishing the iconic Schools of the Air and cutting funding to gifted and talented programs was the right decision? Yet, Minister Ellery, Premier McGowan, a former Education Minister with a poor report card, Treasurer Wyatt and the rest of the Labor Cabinet obviously all approved not only these cuts but a host of others. These cuts were never about budget repair but about helping pay for the $3.7 billion dollars of Labor unfunded election commitments.
Make no mistake. The decision by the McGowan Government to cut invaluable education services to fund their election commitments was made in full knowledge of their inevitable negative impact. They were cuts that went to the heart of our education system.
Minister Ellery now says that the decisions had been ‘rushed’. Yet the cuts were not due to come into full effect until 2019. The government had time before making such ill-thought out decisions to consult those who would be most affected but the government simply chose not to consult and not to listen. It was Perth Modern School all over again.
Instead the decisions were ‘rushed’ out the Minister’s door after Parliament went into summer recess, when the school year had less than two days to go, the last of the school graduations were underway and Christmas was only a few days away. All in the hope of avoiding parliamentary and media scrutiny.
While the Liberal Opposition absolutely welcomes the backflip on some of these cuts, we believe the Government needs to go back to the drawing board. It needs to reverse the other unnecessary cuts which might have received less media attention but are nonetheless as important to the students and families who are now impacted.
Indeed if the cuts that have now been reversed were ‘rushed’, then it can be equally argued that the decisions to cease funding to Landsdale Farm School and the Herdsman Lake Wildlife Centre, repurposing Tuart College, closing Canning College to local students and closing residential accommodation in Moora as well as the other remaining cuts were also rushed.
Let’s also not forget that under Labor over 180 staff positions in the Department’s central and regional offices have already been abolished including all 36 Aboriginal education regional consultants, managers and coordinators within Aboriginal Education Teams – staff that provide direct on-ground support to schools, teachers and families across the State. The Minister is also making unnecessary policy changes to the highly successful independent public schools initiative.
The former Liberal Government left the McGowan Government with a significantly reformed education system. Record funding, the establishment of independent public schools, student-centred funding, no teacher shortages and child and parent centres to name just a few.
The McGowan Government needs to stand up for our public education system. This pattern of poor decision making due to a lack of consultation must stop.
Our children’s education is too important to not get right.
Donna Faragher is the Shadow Minister for Education
January 22, 2018