30 April 2020

Liberals' secret schools deal claim backfires

| Ian Bushnell
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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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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.

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.

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.

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?

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.

School work finished at 11am today.

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)

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.

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.

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

Stephen Saunders6:42 pm 30 Apr 20

What we should be asking, how come the Federal Education Minister can be using the church schools, to wedge the state schools?

We won’t be asking that, because LibLab policy is, church schools are the preferred provider. Thanks, John Howard and Julia Gillard.

This goes to show the contempt Zed Seselja holds for Canberrans and the Canberra Liberals. Woe betide if Katy Gallagher carried out a robo poll without telling Andrew Barr on an issue as important as this. Dan Jervis-Bardy & Kirsten Lawson from The Canberra Times would be baying for blood.

HiddenDragon6:26 pm 30 Apr 20

“He (Andrew Barr) said all jurisdictions were making their own decisions and no school system on the eastern seaboard was operating normally yet.”

Amidst all the huffing and puffing, and accusations of politicking by people who are themselves politicking, it would be interesting to have an explanation of what’s wrong with the decision of the WA Government –


particularly in light of today’s news about known cases of the virus in the ACT.

If the real answer is that some things won’t re-open until there is a vaccine and/or proven treatments, that needs to be made plain.

I can see geography wasn’t your strong point at school. WA is clearly not on the eastern seaboard.

That aside there are 8 government school systems plus all the non government schools in this country and everyone of them is doing something different. Who is to say what WA is doing is right, or for that matter what the ACT is doing or any state for that matter is right?

I recognise there is no black and white answer, at the end of the day it and the whole covid19 response is a matter of risk management on a scale never seen before, me personally I would rather the government take the time to fully work this through rather than do something just because someone else is doing it or there is vocal opposition.

This despite me having two young kids who are well and truely driving me nuts day in day our, who I am trying to guide through their remote learning journey whilst myself and my wife are also trying to remote work. I would rather they be at school for my sanity but hey it isn’t about me.

I would think that the government would take the advice of the chief medical officer in determining the risk mitigation necessary, particularly considering we have zero active cases and have always had extremely low numbers.

There’s being cautious and being extraordinarily risk averse in a way they never are for other issues.

Correct there is being cautious and being extra sanity ticks adverse in a way they never are for other issues.

That pretty much sums up the whole worlds reaction to COVID19. And I think those who’s lives may have otherwise been lost are externally thankful that the ACT, the states, the federal government and the world have reacted they way they have.

Oh and advice is just that. Advice. When doing a risk assessment the person doing the assessment considered the advice and makes their own conclusion considering all factors and much risk they are prepared to take on.

Me personally I would love to send my kids back to school but I accept that to move back to full time face to face will take time. I also suspect the government and the teachers have a plan to do that which hasn’t been announced. Which I prefer to the half baked and confusing plans states like NSW have.

My point is exactly that. Individuals have made their own conclusions with regards to the risk assessment.

Conclusions that are clearly not supported by the expert advice and evidence.

And It’s not like this is an issue between saving lives or not either. There are massive, real world health consequences that are occurring from being in lockdown. The longer it goes on, the worse the outcome for other factors will be.

Schools are part of the first areas that should be opened up and we can then review our position if transmission rates jump. The government should listen to the experts rather than the teachers union.

I don’t disagree that schools should be the first places to open. But I respect that those that are doing the risk assessments and balancing all factors (including political pressure) are making what they believe is the right decision.

The fact that the 8 states and territories all have different plans is testimony to the fact that there is no right or wrong.

One thing I am certain about is there is a plan to go back to full time education, but I think it is not being socialised so as to not create confusion like we have seen in NSW in particular.

Note to Canberra Liberals. Not too late to change the leader.

Who do they have? They are all cut from the same cloth.

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