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Rockliff Avoids Tough Questions on Students Living With Disabilities

Andrea Dawkins

Andrea Dawkins  -  Thursday, 20 August 2015

Tags: Education, Disability, Students


Your party took to the election a promise to improve support for students living with disability yet you have sacked 251 Department of Education staff, including 158 teachers and aides.  Ninety one per cent of teachers are now saying the system is defective.  To add insult to injury you are not even prepared to commit to implementing the recommendations of the task force you established.  Are you now prepared to admit you have failed to deliver on your promise that the education of children, people with disability, has essentially reached crisis point?  Is this another example of your Government failing dismally at supporting the most vulnerable children in our community?



Madam Speaker, I expected and hoped for a more positive response from those opposite with respect to the release of the ministerial task force report just yesterday.  There would be no ministerial task force report had we not done it.  We promised it.  Parents and teachers said to us prior to the last election, and following the election, that governments can do better when it comes to students with disabilities in schools and I agree with them.  Previous governments, Labor-Greens governments, have completely failed in this area.  That is what the report highlights.  This Government is absolutely committed to ensuring every Tasmanian student can thrive in an inclusive environment.  Our state Budget delivers on that because already we have invested an additional $1 million to bring the total of disability funding in 2015 to $71.9 million.  We have established an autism-specific satellite unit at Lindisfarne North Primary School, as we said we would.

We made good on that promise and the ministerial task force.  I commend Cheryl Larkin, the chair of that task force, and all the people who participated in that.  From the Australian Education Union there was Kristen Desmond who was on the task force, the Tasmanian Association of State Schools Organisation and representatives across the disability sector.  It is a good report and already we have committed an additional $1 million.  In addition to the state Budget, $1 million extra, we have committed an additional $1 million to implement three recommendations immediately.  I have not ruled out implementing the other recommendations.  I have a very positive view of their implementation because the sad fact is we inherited a broken system. 

The Labor government and the Greens should be ashamed of themselves for failing to adequately support the education of students with disabilities in our schools.  For 16 years this mob had the opportunity to get their act together and, as highlighted by the report released yesterday, they have created a non-inclusive environment.  The report said that more work needs to be done, focusing on disability-ready and responsive schools.  In other words, maximising the inclusive environment.  That is exactly what I, as minister, and this Government are committed to doing.  We are not only talking about more resources.  We have put an extra $1 million in the state Budget and another $1 million, as announced yesterday. 

It is not only about resources for students with disabilities, it is about a cultural change in schools.  Ms Dawkins, I am sure you would be aware that culture cannot be changed overnight.  This has to be a process and we have already begun that process by ensuring we are funding our schools based on need.  In other words, the true Gonski principles, and that is another abject failure of the last government.  When they signed up to Gonski, as Ken Boston highlighted recently at an AEU forum, they failed to deliver on the true objectives and principles of Gonski.  We will turn that around when it comes to students in areas of disadvantage and we will turn it around when it comes to providing for families of students with disabilities.

We knew we needed to listen to families and those groups who have long been working to provide disability support to young people in this state.  It is why we committed to an independent review, which started in June last year.  Yesterday I released the report, improved support for students with disabilities.  It identifies barriers facing students with disability and their families and removing those barriers remains and will be a priority of this Government.  In other words, cleaning up the mess of 16 years of Labor and Labor and the Greens.