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Tuesday, 22 February 2011
Page: 1077


Mr HAWKE (9:21 PM) —Tonight I want to put on the record a compelling case within my electorate of the success of the group of parents who took on the education system in New South Wales and won. This is a story of six families who have kids with special needs. In our society today I think their story is so relevant because we pay so much tax and we are prepared to put so much into government because we believe government will do the right thing by those who have a desperate need and a special need. When government does not do that, when it does fail, I think we all have the right as taxpayers and citizens to question why we send so much money into government. It is a story of great community enterprise and initiative in the face of bureaucratic inaction.

The What About Me Foundation was formed by a group of parents I want to name today to record their important achievement: Robert Addie, Rachael Addie, Darren Dietz, Natalie Dietz, Jenny Craig, Rob Craig, Jae Eun Kim, Scott Berry, Julia Berry, Tanya Brennan, Michael Brennan and Munesh Khan. The premise of this organisation was simple: children who require a place in either autism or IO classes should be given the opportunity they deserve for access to quality education in their local school community.

Their children were the initial special needs class at Sherwood Ridge Primary School in my electorate of Mitchell. It is a great school. It is a great development from education departments that we now cater for all kids with special needs, including autism and other disabilities, and that they are catered for through school. But, of course, when they start in kindergarten and advance towards high school years you would expect that the army of bureaucrats we pay for and fund within state bureaucracies would think, ‘Here is a class of kids going through from K to 6, so we now need to think about their transition from 6 to 7.’ To the shock of these parents, to the shock of these kids, to the shock of my community and to my shock as a local member, nobody had catered for these children to transition to their local high school, which does have special needs places available. Instead, the department of education in New South Wales suggested that these parents and these kids, this community of children, break themselves up and spread themselves across Sydney in a way that would be completely unsatisfactory for the needs of those kids, the families and my community.

The value of keeping a class of kids with special needs together cannot be overestimated or overstated, nor can the value of having places in local schools. I want to record here again, as I have so many times, that I have the highest number of couples with dependent children of any electorate in this country. I have the highest concentration of kids and families in any electorate in Australia. It is so important to recognise that local schooling of kids with special needs makes a great difference to the community and the parents.

To the great credit of this group of parents, What About Me was formed to fight the state government and to take them on where it counted. They went and saw the minister. With great initiative and enterprise they got a legal team and put up a great set of arguments. They actually read the Principals Handbook. They went through all the department paperwork, all of the bureaucracy, all of the red tape, and they ended up knowing more about the department’s policies than the department’s own officers. They were able to say to the department, ‘This is your policy, that you must plan and provide for the transition of these children.’ Again I question why we fund so much bureaucracy and so many people in government today at all levels. Why do we do that if we do not look after kids with special needs? Why do we have such a high taxation burden on the ordinary Australian if we are not there to look after the most vulnerable in our society today? That is the justification for the entire foundation of our taxation system. If we do not do those things well then, in my book, we are not doing anything well. The initiative and enterprise of these parents in forming this group was able to achieve a commonsense outcome, and I praise them for it. But it had nothing to do with government. It was a forced outcome—forced by the determination of a group of parents to understand and explain to the education department in New South Wales that their kids had needs and that they deserved local schooling.

I want to highlight this case today in the House because one of the parents, Jenny Craig, unfortunately, passed away during this period. She was a very courageous woman. I had the privilege of knowing her for some time. She fought very hard for these kids. It was such a wonderful thing to attend the celebration party for the awarding of their positions at their local school. Unfortunately, Jenny was unable to be with us but the materials that she put together were there. The initiative that she put into those children and this group to ensure that they got the right outcome from the department in New South Wales was something amazing to watch and something that I was privileged to be involved in. I want to highlight this case to the House today because this is a model for students and parents across New South Wales. We do have to seek better for kids with special needs in our society, and it ought to be the prime function of government to look after those who cannot look after themselves. (Time expired)