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Estimates Reply – Deputy Premier Rockliff

Cassy O'Connor MP  -  Wednesday, 2 December 2020

Tags: China, Trade, Education

Ms O'CONNOR - I rise to make a few brief comments about the Estimates for the Minister for Education and Skills and Minister for Trade in this instance.

I will start with some observations of the trading situation of Tasmania and at risk of again being falsely accused of malign motives, I will simply point out to the House that to rely overly heavily on a vindictive regime like the Chinese Government is not in Tasmania's best interests. It is very clear from the information that the minister and his departmental advisers provided to Dr Woodruff's questions at the Estimates table that the impact on Tasmanian exporters of the current punitive measures being inflicted on Australian exporters by the Chinese Government is significant right now and is likely to become more so, which makes the argument for a very accelerated diversification program compelling.

From beef to barley to seafood to wine and now to wood, we find out at the Estimates table, Australia's and Tasmania's exports are being blocked by an arguably irrational and childish regime. To the greatest extent possible we should be strengthening our trading relationships with democracies, with trading partners where it does not feel like an abusive relationship. All members of this House will be aware of the tweet that put out by the Chinese minister for foreign affairs over the past 48 hours, which was disgusting, in relation to evidence of some Australian Defence Force personnel's murderous conduct in Afghanistan.

I strongly urge the minister to accelerate the trading relationships with small to medium states that are democracies, to send a trade delegation to Taiwan and to focus on trading relationships with Malaysia, Japan, the United States and Singapore. Of course it will not happen overnight but it is arguably the most important work in the Trade portfolio that the minister can undertake in order to protect Tasmania's world-class exporters.

I also want to echo the concern raised by my colleague, Dr Woodruff, in relation to the rollout of years 11 and 12 in Greater Hobart. Of course the extension of high school to college in a number of schools is a positive, but we cannot allow ourselves to sacrifice the outstanding colleges we have, and I will talk about this as a member for Clark at this point, in Elizabeth College and Hobart College. The richness of the educational experience, the quality of the teaching staff at the colleges in and around Hobart - and I must include Claremont College in that - cannot be overstated. We need to be a bit cautious in urban areas where we have high-quality colleges that we are not trying as Dr Woodruff says to make a one-size-fits-all program that comes at the expense of the outstanding educational standard and programs of quality education that are provided by our colleges.

I will also briefly touch on one of my favourite little local schools - South Hobart Primary School. As we know, it is such a great school and it is in a growing area - the school population is growing by about 50 students a year. This is a great testimony to South Hobart Primary School's reputation and its culture. However, it has created significant space and infrastructure challenges - to the extent that now they feel that they have no choice but to close the school library to provide for two extra classrooms, and to relocate the library in some form to a shed at the end of the car park.

There is no question that reading is essential to literacy and books open up a magical world of the imagination for children. They are an essential nutrient for brain development and they strengthen literacy, critical thinking, knowledge and empathy. We must do everything we can do to encourage children and young people to read.

I encourage the minister to visit the South Hobart Primary School and talk to the members of the South Hobart Primary School Association. They are really worried about the impact the closure of the library will have on their school. I am hopeful, minister, that you will be able to provide some sort of support to that school to ensure that they can retain their library in some form.

I do not have all the answers, but putting a library in a shed does not seem like much of an answer for that school. If there is any capacity, for example, for a temporary library through a terrapin or something like that, it must be considered. I know there has been significant capital investment in South Hobart Primary School in recent years, but we have to acknowledge that this school is growing by an extra student every week. It is not sustainable to keep trying to jam children into the spaces that are available. I note, for example, that South Hobart Primary School leases some space to Lady Gowrie which is a fantastic childcare centre; but perhaps it is time to reconsider that relationship, given the needs of the School. A petition has been established - Save South Hobart Primary School Library.

Last time I looked, 1075 signatures had been garnered for that petition and I encourage all my colleagues, as members for Clark, to engage with that school community. Perhaps we can work constructively on this, to make sure the kids at that beautiful school still have access to a quality library. They should not be made to go to a library which is in a shed at the end of the car park with double roller doors and, for a library, it has all the appeal of a dog house.

I do hope the minister recognises that it is not South Hobart Primary School's fault that its school population is growing; it is actually testament to the quality of the education that it provides, its culture, and its reputation across the wider Hobart community. Because this school is growing so rapidly, infrastructure money will need to be invested into that school as a matter of urgency -because those children love that library. The teachers, the educators at that school want the library to be retained and certainly the parents do as well.

I gently but firmly encourage the minister for Education to contact the South Hobart Primary School Association and work with them to make sure that the literacy that is available through a school library that is well-resourced and comfortable for children, and so that a place to spend lunch hours on rainy days reading is still available to them in the new year.