The ACT’s Opposition Leader Elizabeth Lee is calling for ACT Government ministers to take some accountability and responsibility after revelations of widespread violence in schools and in health facilities were made public last week.
Ms Lee accused the government of essentially “gaslighting” Canberrans as it lurches from “one crisis to another” from issues of teachers being abused and feeling unsafe at work to nurses at the ACT’s mental health unit Dhulwa feeling the same way. Gaslighting is a form of manipulation which forces another person to question their reality and lived experience.
She’s called for someone to step up and take responsibility and for the government to start listening to the unions that represent its workers, including teachers and nurses.
Ms Lee was unimpressed with Education Minister Yvette Berry’s response to a damning prohibition notice issued to Calwell High School by WorkSafe ACT.
She last week moved a no-confidence motion against Ms Berry in the ACT Legislative Assembly and called for her resignation after the regulator banned a cohort of Calwell High School students from attending campus after it was deemed to be unsafe.
Ms Lee described the situation at Calwell High School as “every parent’s worst nightmare” that had occurred on the minister’s watch. The prohibition notice told of teachers being abused, a gang-like culture and one teacher locking themselves in a cupboard and “uncontrollably crying”.
Following this, Ms Berry sought to paint violent incidents at schools as rare, despite claims from the union that violent incidents are in fact widespread.
The ACT Education Directorate also confirmed it had received 2100 reports of workplace incidents across all public schools this year.
“This is is a government which is essentially gaslighting the community to say, ‘there’s nothing we can do here … and nothing to see here’,” Ms Lee said.
Ms Lee said the buck essentially stopped with the minister in charge – in this case Ms Berry – and she, and her government must take responsibility for the problems.
“If she’s not responsible, then who is?”
Ms Lee’s motion to have Ms Berry removed from her position was defeated and labelled a “stunt” by manager of government business Mick Gentleman.
Voting against the motion, Ms Lee said, was essentially declaring “there is nothing to see here”.
Ms Lee pointed out it was not just her political party calling out issues, pointing to other concerns such as the prison’s poor culture and inadequate staffing levels and a “serious lack of probity in its procurement processes” as well as the management of a public housing relocation program.
“It is not just the Canberra Liberals saying this. Last week ACTCOSS, the Education Union and Nursing Federation all publicly criticised the actions of this government,” Ms Lee said.
Chief Minister Andrew Barr yesterday would not make further comment on the issues raised in schools last week, despite Region Media being aware that WorkSafe ACT has been called to at least one additional ACT public school since then.
“For the Chief Minister to not even say something about it and continue to shirk responsibility … when you have nurses and teachers crying out for help… speaks volumes about this government.
“The fact they continue to deny responsibility is absolutely delusional at best and culpable at worst,” Ms Lee said.