QTU President
Kevin Bates

President’s comment 10 July 2013

How not to make an announcement

Today, Premier Campbell Newman and Education Minister John-Paul Langbroek made announcements that will be welcomed by school communities. It is a pity they were made in such a cynical way.

Government MPs will predictably accuse the QTU of twisting good news into bad news, or some similar twist of their own devising. The QTU acknowledges and welcomes any government decision that helps schools and their communities – we just like to see those communities treated with honesty, openness and respect.

The announcements were that the Government had scrapped plans to sell land at Earnshaw State College, Balmoral State High School and Whites Hill College, and had dropped plans to amalgamate Coorparoo State College and Brisbane State High School.

The media statement issued jointly by the Premier and Minister about the land sales is an outstanding example of political spin. The first line reads: “The Newman Government has moved to save three pieces of inner-city land from future development, ensuring they are retained as green space for the Brisbane community well into the future.”

Who did the Government “save” the land from? Itself. 

The statement then delivers a broadside to Prime Minister Kevin Rudd for his “politically motivated scare campaigns”; presumably that is referring to his work with the local community as their federal representative to protect the land from the Queensland Government’s proposal to sell those education assets.

The Minister then goes on to say: “After consultation with the local community it was clear that while the schools did not need the land, all parties wanted to retain it as green space.” Why did the schools not “need” the land? Is it not more the case that the Government didn’t want to give the schools the resources they needed to maintain it? The Minister admitted as much in his interview on Spencer Howson’s 612ABC breakfast program on 19 July, where he said: “Look, we don’t want to keep maintaining them, it’s going to save us on maintenance at those particular schools.”

While it is good news that Earnshaw State College will keep its oval, the solution of handing over land at Balmoral State High School and Whites Hill College to Brisbane City Council will present challenges to ensure students’ access is not limited, and to ensure that their use of the facilities will be safe.

Further comments by the Minister on the 612ABC breakfast program about the abandoned amalgamation plan and proposals to close eight schools are illuminating.

After claiming that he had listened to the community, was genuinely consulting and acknowledging that the “vast majority” were opposed to amalgamation, the Minister curiously said: “While there were people when I was out and about in Coorparoo and that area there, there were lots of people who would say to me anecdotally that they were quite happy to have the potential choice of going to a Brisbane State High School entity at Coorparoo State College, they weren’t prepared, or they didn’t write that down. And I think there’s no doubt that when you’re talking about issues – daylight saving, fluoridation, anything nowadays – look, it’s just so much easier for people who are opposed to things to get out there and be motivated to write it down and send that information in.”

Yes, Minister – people who feel threatened, who fear that they are about to lose something valuable to them and to their communities probably are “motivated”. 

Equally curiously, the Minister went on to defend the “genuine consultation” happening in the eight schools slated for closure by saying: “So, in all of those school communities, we’ve said give us some alternatives, should we consider closure and give us a plan that you might have to improve the things that we were concerned about in those schools such as falling enrolments, the subject choices there, all of the issues that they might raise could give us some options to continue them as going concerns and that’s why it is a genuine consultation.”

If that truly was the case, why did these communities have to find out that their schools were targeted via the media? Why wasn’t “genuine consultation” undertaken well before that? Isn’t the threat of permanent closure a very large and blunt stick to be used to engage with parents, students, staff and the local community?

The QTU will continue to support the communities still fighting to save their local schools.

Kevin Bates