Media Release 17 September 2006 – Chief Minister Should Apologise to Indigenous Families on School Closures

Save Our Schools today called on the Chief Minister to apologise for denying that his school closure plan will severely impact on Indigenous students and families and for his failure to consult with Indigenous communities on school closures.

SOS spokesperson, Trevor Cobbold, said that the Chief Minister has put school closures first and the needs of Indigenous students and parents second.

“The Chief Minister should apologise for denying the disadvantage of Indigenous students and their families in schools listed for full or partial closure. He should apologise for denigrating Indigenous parents opposing school closures by implying that they were involved in a political ‘stunt’.

“He should also apologise for not consulting properly with Indigenous parents on school closures. And, he should correct his under-estimate of the number of Indigenous families affected by the school closure plan.”

Mr. Cobbold said that the Chief Minister is in denial over the impact of his school closure plan on Canberra’s Indigenous community.

“Indigenous parents at Melrose and Narrabundah primary schools have said that Indigenous students will be disadvantaged by school closures and mergers. One Indigenous parent said that the school closure plans are a set-back for Indigenous education.

“The Chief Minister says that calls for the ACT Government to recognise the disadvantage incurred by Indigenous families affected by school closures are a ‘gratuitous or ill-founded insult’ to those families. This is extraordinary political behaviour for a Labor leader.

“SOS has a simple question for the Chief Minister: If Indigenous students are not highly disadvantaged, why does the Government have special support programs for Indigenous students? SOS endorses these programs. But, by denying the disadvantage of Indigenous students affected by school closures, the Chief Minister is effectively arguing that special support is not really needed.

“The Chief Minister’s denial of these needs contrasts with his own previous statements. For example:

The long standing need to address the cycle of poverty, poor health and limited education resulting in disadvantage still experienced by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people has become a mainstream concern….My Government is committed to continuing to work with the Aboriginal and Torres St. Islander people in our community to address this disadvantage. [Foreword to A Social and Cultural Profile of Aboriginal and Torres St. Islander People in Canberra]

Mr. Cobbold said that the Chief Minister should apologise to the Indigenous community for saying that the participation its representatives in a press conference last week to highlight Indigenous disadvantage was a “stunt” and that Indigenous children were being used as “pawns”.

“This is highly insulting to the many Indigenous parents who are opposing the Towards 2020 Plan. Indigenous parents from Melrose and Narrabundah primary schools are actively trying to stop their schools being closed or merged with other schools. SOS has received messages of support from Indigenous parents for highlighting the impact of the closures on their communities.”

Mr. Cobbold said that the Chief Minister should also apologise for his failure to adequately consult with the Indigenous community on school closures.

“Last week, Indigenous parents criticised the Government for its failure to consult with the Indigenous community prior to the formulation of the plan. The Minister for Education still has not consulted separately with Indigenous communities on the plan.”

Mr. Cobbold said that the Chief Minister should also correct his under-estimate of the number of Indigenous students directly caught up in the school closure plan.

“The Chief Minister has under-estimated the number of Indigenous students affected by his school closure plan by at least 55%. He says that only 90 out of some 900 Indigenous students will be affected. The SOS estimate is 139 and this is for only 8 schools listed for full or partial closure. There are another 15 schools listed for full or partial closure for which the Minister for Education has refused to provide data on Indigenous enrolments.

“The Chief Minister’s figure ignores the question mark over the future of Narrabundah primary school, which has the largest Indigenous enrolment in the ACT. Possible futures for that school include amalgamation with another primary school with a very different ethos and student profile, with the loss of the school’s principal who has taken a particular responsibility for the school’s special Indigenous support programs. Another possible future is as a P-3 school, depriving older Indigenous primary school students of special support programs currently operating in the school.

Mr. Cobbold called on the Chief Minister to step back and re-examine the social justice implications of the Towards 2020 plan through an independent and open inquiry.

“The Stanhope Government.should step back from its intransigence and listen to the community. An independent inquiry offers a more objective and open process for assessing the impact of school closures, including the impact on Canberra’s Indigenous community.”

Contact: Trevor Cobbold 0410 121 640 (m)

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