Barr’s divide and conquer strategy

Minister for Education Andrew Barr has this week announced that a Canberra Liberals’ plan to reopen empty schools “will take money away from all school renovations and the building of new schools such as the Harrison High School, Gungahlin College, West Belconnen High School and the new Kambah High School”.

Thinly disguised as an attack on the budgeting skills of the Canberra Liberals, the real motives appear to be a more sinister attempt to repeat the divisive tactics he succesfully used in the 2006 shcool closure campaign.

The message from his statements are that, in Belconnen for example, if Cook and Flynn were to re-open then the future of West Belconnen High School, school upgrades, teacher’s wages and a host of other schools funding programs in the district would all be threatened.

There is no other reasonable explanation for an attempt by an education minister to try to inject fear of schools re-opening into school communities fortunate enough to survive Towards 2020.

It gets worse, though. To keep with the Belconnen example, the basic facts are wrong – as West Belconnen High School is actually a P-10 school. The suggestion is, then, that re-opening two primary schools (Cook and Flynn) could affect the viability of a high school. In fact, the alleged savings from closed schools – which have never been accepted as fact by SOS – have been spent several times over if Mr Barr’s press releases are to be believed. It is a logical etension that this press release has spent the same savings again.

In addition, both West Belconnen and Harrison were announced well before the 2006 closures. There is no way that closing schools, or re-opening them, should affect this capital expenditure, unless the government had relied on a predetermined decision to close schools and sell off the land to provide the funds.

Closing Cook and Flynn primary Schools, for example, are proposed to be saving about half a million a year each, and the actual savings are probably lower. How this could fund the multi-million capital works investment Mr Barr referred to, as well as the long list of ongoing programs in Belconnen – in line with the claimed regional basis for educational provision – can be understood only with a massive leap of faith.

The ACT Government is facing a massive budget surplus, again, and the clear message from this latest statement reveals the government’s priorities. If Mr Barr was truly concerned about the Liberal’s capacity to budget, he could have asked whether re-opening schools combined with cutting taxes might affect their capacity to spend on million dollar artworks, statues, single-lane roads or other progams. Instead, he has chosen to reveal his continued disdain for school communities, trying to rekindle the division he so successfully used to his own ends back in 2006.

The only question is, who will fall for it this time around?

Sarah James

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