Liberals’ secret schools deal claim backfires

Ian Bushnell 30 April 2020 77
Alistair Coe

Opposition Leader Alistair Coe claimed the ACT Government had a secret deal with the teachers union. Photo: Ian Bushnell.

The Canberra Liberals’ bid to open up a local front in the Prime Minister’s offensive to get teachers and students back into the classroom blew up in their faces after the Barr Government’s so-called ”secret deal” with the teachers union was released to media outlets today (30 April).

Opposition Leader Alistair Coe had alleged the government had negotiated a deal in secret with the Australian Education Union on the introduction of remote learning for ACT public school students in Term 2 as part of the COVID-19 response.

Last week the Opposition called for the ACT Government to keep all schools open. They said the evidence showed that children were unlikely to contract the virus or be strong transmitters of the disease, in line with Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s stance.

But today Mr Coe claimed that the government had a political motivation for keeping the union on side. He demanded the government publish the details of its agreement with the AEU and the health advice on which the decision to close all but nine hub schools was based.

“It should be scientific evidence that is guiding the decisions but, unfortunately, due to a lack of transparency with the ACT Government, there is a growing suspicion that it is the union that is dictating the government’s response,” he said.

Last night Liberal Senator Zed Seselja robo-called Canberrans, polling them on the schools issue, which Mr Coe said he was unaware of.

The ACT Government duly sent journalists a letter dated 8 April from Acting Deputy Director-General of the Education Directorate David Matthews to AEU ACT branch secretary Glenn Fowler outlining plans for remote learning. It also proposed temporary changes to the enterprise agreement during this period.

Education Minister Yvette Berry said in a statement that there was no secret deal.

“The ACT Government has worked with teachers to support them to continue to facilitate learning in this unprecedented time. We will continue to work with them, their union, parents and schools on how and when face-to-face learning can restart,” she said.

”I have already committed to methodically do this work over the next four weeks, and unlike the Canberra Liberals won’t be jumping to changes that teachers know are unworkable.”

Ms Berry said she was disappointed by the Canberra Liberals’ behaviour.

“This isn’t a time for scoring political points,” she said.

Chief Minister Andrew Barr said the Liberals’ claim was another one of their mad conspiracy theories that tend to have an element of anti-union hysteria.

“I’m not sure if the Opposition Leader has taken off his tin foil hat or put it back on again,” Mr Barr said.

He rejected the assertion that the government had raised the union’s needs above the medical advice, saying the government had a responsibility as an employer to ensure the safety of staff.

He said all jurisdictions were making their own decisions and no school system on the eastern seaboard was operating normally yet.

NSW’s one day a week trial for some students was still two weeks away, and Queensland and Victoria were making their decisions in the middle of their Term 2, he said.

”Even the Federal Government bribes to the Catholic and Independent systems talk about a return of 50 per cent of students by June,” Mr Barr said.

But he suggested the broader loosening of restrictions expected in coming weeks would flow through to schools.

”People are rightly asking why is a general playground OK but not a school playground,” he said.

He urged Canberrans to continue to work together, which was how the ACT had got to where it is with COVID-19 – the first Australian jurisdiction with no active COVID-19 cases.

”Let’s not make this a divisive party political issue or an issue that’s going to pit parents against teachers,” Mr Barr said.

“We are living through an unprecedented public health emergency, what we need now is encouragement, support and collaboration, and we take steps forward together.”

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77 Responses to Liberals’ secret schools deal claim backfires
Acton Acton 6:52 am 02 May 20

The ACT shows little concern for kids. Remote learning is two hours in the morning and then do your own thing for the rest of the day. Some teachers must enjoy being paid to sit in a classroom with no kids.

    JC JC 7:08 pm 02 May 20

    Remote learning (I have two primary aged kids doing it) is about what you put into it, not how much “formal” class work is set.

    And frankly school itself is much the same. Kids are set work to do and then, to use your words do their own thing. It is all part of learning.

chewy14 chewy14 12:43 pm 01 May 20

Hpw could anyone think that this issue has blown up in the Liberals faces is beyond me.

Either Barr is ignoring the clear and consistent expert medical advice that face to face learning should be transitioning back to be the main teaching method (never should have actually stopped) or he’s capitulating to outside pressure, the obvious place it would be coming from is teachers and the teacher’s union.

Neither look good for him, particularly considering that the ACT have always had a very low number of cases and the risks were far lower than in Sydney or Melbourne.

    JC JC 3:46 am 02 May 20

    Canberra’s numbers may have been “low” as a raw number but per capita it was the second highest in the country for the first month of restrictions. Even now we are 4th right behind SA. Number 1 is Tasmania of all places where again raw numbers are low.

    As for outside pressure I presume the same pressure it being applied to the other states that have not gone back to business as usual? The ACT isn’t the only one you know, including liberal run states. Are the unions putting on pressure there too?

    chewy14 chewy14 10:52 am 02 May 20

    Per capita numbers are meaningless seeing as almost every single case we had was related to overseas travel or a close contact of that overseas traveller. We’ve had 1-2 cases of confirmed community transmission.

    Any review of the data shows that we’ve been almost completely spared at present through our naturally isolated nature and the good early action the government took.

    From this, it shows that we should be on the front foot in relaxing restrictions, particularly for essential services like face to face schooling.

    And yes, the teachers union have been pressuring other governments as well, it just seems that our government (and Victoria’s) are being the most overly conservative and capitulating to that pressure.

    At least in Victoria, they can point to clear and significant community transmission. Us? Nada.

    And nowhere did I mention “business as usual”, this is clearly about getting kids back to face to face learning with additional controls in place.

rsm1105 rsm1105 11:53 am 01 May 20

School work finished at 11am today.

rsm1105 rsm1105 8:40 am 01 May 20

COVID-19 appears to affect children less often, and with less severity, including frequent asymptomatic or subclinical infection. There is evidence of critical illness, but it is rare. The role of children in transmission is unclear, but it seems likely they do not play a significant role. Changes in laboratory or radiographic parameters are slightly different to adults, and changes usually mild. There is no direct evidence of vertical transmission, and early evidence suggests both infected mothers and infants are no more severely affected than other groups. Early evidence suggests no significant increased risk for children with immunosuppression, but further data is needed.

Per DFTB Covid 19 Evidence Review (22 April 2020)

rsm1105 rsm1105 8:38 am 01 May 20

Is the metric now that if there is any risk above 0, activity should cease?

Sorry kids. No more horse riding, surfing, skiing, skate boarding, mountain biking etc.

Peter Curtis Peter Curtis 8:15 am 01 May 20

Is left - being to the left of Coe that is a big field ? Or should I say mass-murdoch

Adam Richard Herbst Adam Richard Herbst 7:42 am 01 May 20

Not fit to lead

Russell Hadley Russell Hadley 5:31 am 01 May 20

There are now no positive cases of Covid-19 in the ACT, so why not go back to school. Open pubs and clubs. Let's get back to normal.

    Gerry Satrapa Gerry Satrapa 8:03 am 01 May 20

    Russell Hadley the restrictions are exactly why there are no new cases 🤦🏼‍♂️

    Robyn Holder Robyn Holder 8:14 am 01 May 20

    Russell Hadley Germany and Japan are now experiencing a big surge in cases after reducing restrictions. You only have to one or two infected people come into Canberra with restrictions eased and we go fully into community transmission.

    Children DO get COVID-19, yhey do get sick, they do die and now thrre sre indications of serious life ling health problems. Google it. And children will never stick to social distancing when they are at school even if there was space for it.

    Jackie White Jackie White 8:20 am 01 May 20

    You do realise, Russell, that there are stills several hundred active cases in NSW, and that we in the ACT cannot close our border to that state?

    Perhaps you should look at what is happening to children in the UK and elsewhere before making such rash statements.

    Amy LD Amy LD 6:47 am 04 May 20

    Russell Hadley You’re either retired or don’t come into contact with many people during your day to come out with such a stupid comment. Normality, Dah! That’s what everyone wants but ripping a bandaid off too quickly isn’t going to help the issue here.

Robyn Holder Robyn Holder 2:16 am 01 May 20

No proof at all. It keeps being bandied about for some reason that they don't. Children do contract COVID-19, they do get sick, they do die and many are starting to have terrible after effects.

    Gerry Satrapa Gerry Satrapa 3:46 am 01 May 20

    yes - I just saw an article saying New York schools list over 60 staff before they closed

    Kate Bisshop-Witting Kate Bisshop-Witting 6:04 pm 02 May 20

    Robyn Holder

Gerry Satrapa Gerry Satrapa 1:10 am 01 May 20

Is there even any proof that children cannot carry COVID19 or that they cannot pass on COVID19?

As far as I am aware asymptotic people (ie children, who seem to be able to carry COVID19 whilst being asymptotic) are simply not being tested here. And in regions of the world were children have been widely tested, they are finding the same number of children carrying COVID19 as in the rest of the general population.

Meanwhile, in the last weeks of school classes, some students were coughing on others as a joke and even coughing on door handles etc thinking it was funny.

It will be interesting to observe results from places where children have returned to classrooms.

Robyn Holder Robyn Holder 12:59 am 01 May 20

Germany and Japan are seeing a heavy rise in new cases after easing restrictions. But the Liberals don't care, they just want their point scoring. No plan is too sick for ACT Liberals

Kerrod Gream Kerrod Gream 9:48 pm 30 Apr 20

Ben Puckett do you reckon this is a Manu special?

Susan Loring Susan Loring 9:26 pm 30 Apr 20

I would prefer to keep my Gkids, their teachers and their families all safe. The teachers are all doing a wonderful job with the on line lessons, kids are resilient, they will catch up.

    Annie Mills Annie Mills 2:32 pm 01 May 20

    Exactly - not to mention that there are thousands of children who have had perfectly good education through the School of the Air. You are right, the kids will catch up and won't pass on a deadly disease to their loved ones.

Kim Kim 8:23 pm 30 Apr 20

I do hope the letter is released. I don”t see anything sinister unless you have some other information Kim Fischer which you seem to be hinting at.

Kim Kim 8:12 pm 30 Apr 20

Mel Smith, I didn’t hear that. What a hoot!

Tom Porter Tom Porter 7:36 pm 30 Apr 20

Alistair, another fail. I remember when you first entered the Assembly and would run off at the mouth with some conspiracy and end up removing your foot each time.

    Kerri Hallas Kerri Hallas 8:20 pm 30 Apr 20

    Tom Porter agree he dribbles rubbish because he has no real policies. He just trash talks and makes himself look even more stupid.

Kim Fischer Kim Fischer 7:01 pm 30 Apr 20


The Canberra Times

The RiotACT

why are you not publishing the letter to the unions that the ACT government provided you?

Were you specifically asked not to release it and if so, why did you agree? Sounds pretty "secret" to me...

David Brown David Brown 7:00 pm 30 Apr 20

Perhaps the Liberals can explain to me why it is so urgent to get kids back in school. I suspect, as usual, it is principally about the economy and little to do with education.

Alex Burleigh Alex Burleigh 6:49 pm 30 Apr 20

Surely now we have eliminated the virus the teachers could possibly go back to work? My son will only get to do kindergarten once.

    Melissa Flis Melissa Flis 7:10 pm 30 Apr 20

    Alex Burleigh it's not just about YOUR son, it's about the community.

    Alice Pommer Alice Pommer 7:26 pm 30 Apr 20

    Alex Burleigh teachers would quite like to go back too. It’s not up to us 🤷‍♀️

    Kurt Halbauer Kurt Halbauer 7:33 pm 30 Apr 20

    Alex Burleigh teachers are at work, it's just done remotely.

    Tom Porter Tom Porter 7:37 pm 30 Apr 20

    Alex Burleigh der, who do you think is doing all the lessons. I know Alistair Coe.

    Alice Pommer Alice Pommer 7:38 pm 30 Apr 20

    Kurt Halbauer you’re absolutely right! I should have phrased that differently. We would like to return to the classroom.

    Kurt Halbauer Kurt Halbauer 7:39 pm 30 Apr 20

    Alice Pommer yes, we would. But we are still working contrary to some opinion.

    Tom Porter Tom Porter 7:40 pm 30 Apr 20

    Alex Burleigh you can always make him repeat. Who says we have eliminated the virus? I am still seeing stories of new cases and more deaths

    Alice Pommer Alice Pommer 7:41 pm 30 Apr 20

    Kurt Halbauer yes we are!

    Neenie Baines Neenie Baines 10:18 pm 30 Apr 20

    Alex Burleigh every kid will only get to do this year of their schooling once 🙄.

    This is not the end of the world. Especially for a 5yo.

    Tracy Gorman Tracy Gorman 11:38 pm 30 Apr 20

    Alex Burleigh if your child was doing year 10, 12 or other education in which they were graduating this year, then you’d have reason to be worried. Kindergarten is important, but in the scheme of things, your child won’t be missing a lot education wise.

    Jayne Denise Jayne Denise 10:01 am 01 May 20

    As disappointing as that is, people have sacrificed a lot more than Kindy.

    Jasper Roo Jasper Roo 10:55 pm 01 May 20

    Tom no child will need to repeat. It’s been 3 weeks for most kids, plus holidays. Seriously. Some parents take their kids out of school to go on holidays for weeks at a time- even an entire term or longer! Yet, none of those parents seem to think that time out of school would make them ‘fall behind’.

    Tom Porter Tom Porter 10:01 am 02 May 20

    Jasper Roo, so right. Our poster is just a bit painful.

    Alex Burleigh Alex Burleigh 10:27 am 02 May 20

    Lovely to hear the expertise of childless millennials. Not only are they medical experts but also parenting experts it seems.

    Chez Lee Chez Lee 8:45 pm 03 May 20

    Alex Burleigh I am far from a millennial and I have two children under 6 years of age. Teachers have children too.

    Tracy Gorman Tracy Gorman 8:47 pm 03 May 20

    “Childless millennials”?? My kids are long finished school, and my grandchild will be starting in a few years. Pull your head in, you’re acting entitled.

    Amy LD Amy LD 6:43 am 04 May 20

    Alex Burleigh I would much rather be in a classroom with my students teaching face to face. However on the flip side I don’t want to contract the virus and be off work with no leave or income due to community spread. It is a tough time for everyone to navigate online learning. There are students trying to do years 12 during this time and you’re worried about your son in Kindy. Come on it sounds so ridiculous.

Marilyn Roberts Marilyn Roberts 6:46 pm 30 Apr 20

I’d still rather have Coe and the liberals than the slimy green labor union party

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