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Tuesday, 28 May 2002
Page: 2523


Mr KING (10:30 PM) —I rise this evening to express my concern and anger about the undemocratic actions of teachers at Woollahra Public School, which is located in my electorate. Earlier this month, by arrangement between the Department of Immigration and Multicultural Affairs and the Woollahra school principal, the Minister for Immigration and Multicultural Affairs was to visit Woollahra Public School to present an award to one of the students. The student was receiving second prize in a statewide school art competition run by his department to promote cultural tolerance. This obviously should have been a matter of considerable pride for the school community, teachers and, most importantly, for the winning school student and their family. Approximately three days before the event, the minister's office was advised that teachers at the school had voted to black ban the visit and that he was no longer welcome. This was despite written approval for the visit being given by the state education minister, John Watkins.

With some generosity of spirit, I might say, the minister's office, still keen to ensure the student's efforts were appropriately acknowledged, asked the department to see whether the school would allow me, as the local member of parliament, to present the award on his behalf. I too was black banned, as were subsequent suggestions that the award be presented by senior officers from the immigration department. Immigration staff have informed me that they were advised by the school principal that the teachers at his school were opposed to a visit by anyone who officially supported the government stance on the mandatory detention of asylum seekers and refugees.

This is not an issue about the government's policies on asylum seekers and mandatory detention. It is an issue about teachers saying that they are not prepared to allow into a school anyone who has a view different from theirs, even though in this case the minister was simply visiting to present an award to a bright young student, not to present a speech on government policy.

I respect the right of teachers, as individuals, to have views—indeed, strong views— about contemporary social and political issues. What I absolutely reject is the notion that teachers should take those personal views into the classroom in what should be an objective learning environment. It is clear that, inspired by the New South Wales Teachers Federation, teachers at Woollahra Public School acted like they were running some kind of ideological training centre. Our children are entitled to a broadly based education, not a rigid one-world view.

The fact that teachers now believe they can also determine who steps foot in schoolgrounds is disturbing. Teachers must remember that they do not run our schools. That job, as much as the Teachers Federation may not like it, actually falls to a democratically elected government. What those teachers have done is to push their personal views ahead of the interests of one of the students who was to receive some acknowledgment of their efforts by a senior minister. They have also brought the time-honoured traditions of their profession into disrepute. I call on state government and Minister Watkins to bring those teachers to heel. The very basis of our public education system is at threat when students can be exposed to this type of ideological partisanship and unethical behaviour.