President's comment | 21 August 2013

closed.gifWhen a school closure is not a school closure!

As Queensland Education Minister John-Paul Langbroek ponders the fate of the eight schools targeted for closure in 2013, and those schools sit and await his decision, he had time yesterday to engage in a little bit of theatre during question time in Parliament.

In responding to a ‘Dorothy Dixer’ question about the future of education in Queensland, the Minister went on the attack about the Prime Minister’s visit to Nyanda SHS by reading a list of schools closed during the period 1998 to 2011 (the era of the previous government). In a fine example of research done badly, the Minister indulged in the very hysteria he has accused unions of exhibiting throughout the school closure issue.

By way of context, the current Minister has regularly delivered contradictory messages on school closures. On the one hand he accuses the previous government of failing to have the fortitude to close schools and deal with the issue of school viability which he claims is in contrast with his government’s strong resolve to make the hard decisions about school closures. At the same time, the Minister regularly refers to various numbers of schools closed under that previous government as a defence against criticism by community groups of this year’s threatened school closures.

Let us look then at the truth about the list read by the Minister (Hansard, 20 August 2013, page 2585) and subsequently tabled in Parliament. A simple search of the DETE website delivers up this list  (Register of Recent School Openings, Closures and Name Changes). With a little bit of historical knowledge and reading the list tabled by the Minister the following holes in the Minister’s claims are blatantly obvious.

  • Peek-A-Doo State School – mothballed in April 2010 due to zero enrolments and then closed at the end of 2010 
  • Auburn River State School – mothballed February 2007 due to zero enrolments then closed August 2008
  • Wynnum Central/Wynnum North/Lindum State Schools –amalgamated to form a new school as part of the previous government’s State Schools of Tomorrow program. The consultation process undertaken in that program was vastly different from the one being conducted by the current government: the previous government undertook at least six months’ consultation, did so across clusters of schools, rather than with school communities in isolation, established community reference groups (including QTU representatives) which met regularly with departmental representatives and regularly and publicly reported on the progress of decision making on a dedicated website. Details of that consultation process are still available on the EQ website 
  • Mt Isa State High School and Kalkadoon State High School – closed at the end of 2002 and reopened in January 2003 as Spinifex State College
  • Calamvale State School – added secondary component to create Calamvale Community College: a brand new P-12 school that is now one of Queensland’s largest
  • Toowong College – became the Queensland Academy for Science, Mathematics and Technology in January 2007
  • Banyo State High School and Nudgee State School – joined to form the P-12 Earnshaw State College, which earlier this year nearly lost an oval to the government’s education asset sales, a move stopped only by community opposition.

These are but a few examples of the majority of cases of “school closures” quoted by the Minister. Oh and then there are the 29 “school closures” during the years 1996 and 1997, the era of the Borbidge Coalition government, crossed out by the Minister as obviously they didn’t suit his purposes. The closure of the Queensland School for Travelling Show Children and Palmerston East State School occurred in 2012 under the current government and they didn’t get a mention either.

Ultimately, the important point here is not that schools close, or don’t close as the case may be, from time to time. It is rather that the current government’s ham-fisted attempts to close schools are in sharp contrast to the measured and respectful consultation processes that surrounded both the State Schools of Tomorrow initiative of the previous Labor government and the school viability processes they implemented for more than a decade without the widespread community outrage that has been generated by the current government. Who should be learning from whom Minister?

Kevin Bates