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Speech: Why we need independent experts managing the curriculum

Speeches in Parliament
Penny Wright 17 Mar 2014

Senator WRIGHT (South Australia) (18:25):  I seek leave to move a motion in relation to the response of the Minister for Education, Christopher Pyne, to the Senate resolution on the Australian curriculum agreed to on 12 February 2014.

Leave granted.

Senator WRIGHT:  I move:

That the Senate take note of the document.

The resolution agreed to called on the Abbott government to immediately restore an established system of appointing independent education experts to oversee the development and implementation of the Australian curriculum. The minister's response, which was tabled in this place today, is totally unacceptable. It does not address the motion itself and it does not address the widespread community concern about the nature of the Abbott government's rushed and ideological review of the national curriculum. The letter is merely a restatement of previous comments by the minister. It is not a response at all, in fact. If members in this place were interested in knowing more about the minister's evasions on this issue, they could have just watched one of his numerous media conferences that have occurred in the past.

What the members in this place and the Australian community at large want to know is that this minister will not be forcing his politics into the classroom. We want this minister, Mr Pyne, to say he will respect the independent process that delivered the national curriculum that is still being implemented. It is a national curriculum which was developed over several years and which takes into account the views of more than 17,000 submitters, including those of experts across a range of disciplines and fields. The curriculum was negotiated with each state and territory government. But the review announced by the education minister is nothing more than a manipulative, ideological exercise by the minister based on a paranoia about left-wing bias in schools.

We have seen the minister hand-pick Mr Ken Wiltshire and Dr Kevin Donnelly to run this hasty and premature review to overturn the work of many people and the thousands of submissions taken into account over a period of years. Essentially what Minister Pyne is doing is paying to hear what he wants to hear. He will push his ideological barrow at any cost. Several millions of dollars have already been spent to get us to where we are today-several millions of dollars that this education minister is happy to see made redundant, all for an ideological review of what our children will be learning in school.

The Australian Greens remain extremely concerned that this is a politically motivated review. It is being headed by Dr Kevin Donnelly, a person  who is underqualified and clearly driven by ideology, as is evident from his statements on the public record. We are concerned about Dr Donnelly's comments on Australia's Indigenous heritage and multiculturalism. We are concerned about his stance on LGBTI rights. We are concerned about his apathy about public education and the teachers who teach in government schools throughout Australia. And we are concerned about his clear bias towards elite non-government schools. Of course, Dr Donnelly is entitled to his views-although many Australians do not share them-but what he should not be entitled to do is to help engineer a curriculum that is designed to promulgate his own divisive ideology and one that is apparently shared by this government.

So, yes, we are very, very concerned-and we are not the only ones who are concerned-about appointing essentially men of the past to oversee what should be a curriculum of the future. So last month members of this house voted to return to the established system of appointing independent education experts to oversee the development and implementation of the Australian curriculum. On behalf of the Australian Greens, I restate our commitment to a world-class education for every child and our position that the current review is premature and lacking objectivity.

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