Ms PATTEN (Northern Metropolitan) (14:40): I rise to speak to the Liberal Democrats motion on opening schools for term 4. And as Dr Cumming said, put it on its merit. Yes, I will—it has no merit. Seriously, for anyone playing at home today, just remember: this does nothing. This has zero effect whether it passes or not. This has nothing. It may get a few more Facebook likes—
Ms Mikakos: I’m going to quote you in future.
Ms PATTEN: Taking that up, Ms Mikakos, Minister, when I put something forward—I will put forward a bill, I will put forward a referral for an inquiry—I will do my research, I will do my work and I will campaign in my constituency to get the support. That has not happened here. In fact the first I heard of this motion was actually on the Reignite Democracy Facebook page saying ‘Support our campaign to open schools’.
So I can see that Mr Limbrick has brought this motion to the chamber. I have not seen what support he has got. Has he, I do not know, spoken to the teachers? Has he spoken to the principals? I rang the education union last night and he had not spoken to them, and the 2000 principals that they support and represent, had not spoken to them. The Victorian Principals Association? Had not spoken to them. The schools? Well, the schools I have spoken to he certainly had not spoken to. And it is certainly not reflected in the opening statement that he made calling for us to support this—calling for us to support, what, that every single school opens on the first day of term 4? Every single school? Now, I can tell you, in speaking to Meredith Peace this morning she said, ‘Fiona, that’s not possible. It’s just impossible. We need to assess the vulnerability of children. We need to assess where they are academically, we need to assess where they are socially, so what we want is a staggered approach. We want small groups of kids coming into the schools so we can do this’.
Dr Cumming: You could still open all the schools but do that.
Ms PATTEN: This is saying ‘all students back to school term 4’. This is not—
Dr Cumming interjected.
Ms PATTEN: Dr Cumming, you had your chance. I would like to speak now. What I do not understand is as a crossbencher—you know, they said, to quote Mr Keating, ‘If you want friends in politics, get a dog’. But you certainly need allies. If you want to move a motion—you know the numbers in here—you would certainly be trying to advocate for people to support it. You would be arguing your point. You would be saying why this was important: ‘calls on the Government to open schools to all students at the start of Term 4’. How? How are we going to do that? I mean, some schools are going to be opening now. Some schools are already open. Some schools are already operating. But what I do know is that the schools want the flexibility to make those decisions. They do not want—
A member interjected.
Ms PATTEN: Well, I am not sure whether Mr Limbrick is an expert in education. I have not seen it on his resume. However, maybe he is. But it is certainly not reflected in his contribution on this motion, nor is it reflected in here.
I am taking this on its merit. I could have been very angry about this, and I could have been very angry that the Liberal Democrats accused me of being linked to police brutality. I could have been very angry about that, because in this house I have been one of the outspoken people about police brutality, whether that was Inflation nightclub or whether that was Hares & Hyenas. I have actually been one of the more vocal people in this house about that. However, I am not so much angry; I am just kind of disappointed. We have just debated Mr Grimley’s bill around the work that he wants to see the Victorian Law Reform Commission do—how he wants to see greater community input into the lawmaking process. He wrote a bill and he consulted and he went out there.
As far as I can see, this is something that came off somebody else’s website—’Open all schools’. I want schools to open as soon as possible, but I want them to do it safely, and I want them to open in line with how the experts want them opened—that is the teachers and that is the principals. That is not us sitting around here saying, ‘They should all open. What is it—8 October. Let’s open them all’.
They are not prepared for it. They are not prepared for all their students to go back. They want a staggered approach. Schools want the flexibility to make those decisions about this, because there is the teachers’ health we have to consider, there is the students’ health we have to consider and there are ancillary staff we have to consider. And, yes, let us get these kids back to school as soon as possible, but let us to do it in a coordinated fashion. Let us do it in a way that is supported by schools and that is supported by teachers, not ‘Open all schools at the beginning of term 4’.
I know that we get two precious shots a year to lead debate in this house, so I take them very seriously. In fact at the beginning of the year I know what I am going to be debating in this house for the two times I have. I am really disappointed that this motion seems to be some afterthought on something that they read on a Facebook page. I know saying this will get the bots going. I know that I will be trolled again on this—that I do not want to open schools. Can I state on the record I want schools to open as soon as possible; I just want them to open safely.
Fiona Patten MP
Leader of Reason
Member for Northern Metropolitan Region
Motion by Mr Limbrick 16/9/20
COVID-19(1) during the Public Accounts and Estimates Committee hearing on 25 August 2020 the Minister for Education and Training, the Honourable James Merlino, MP, stated, ‘In moving to stage 4 restrictions, probably the most difficult decision was remote and flexible learning for our youngest learners in early childhood education … As with schools, this is not because services are unsafe, but we simply could not have so many families moving around the community’;
Mr LIMBRICK (South Eastern Metropolitan) (11:30): I move:
That this house notes that:
(2) the move to remote learning was not undertaken to protect the wellbeing of children;
(3) closing schools has caused significant harm to children, including long-term harm;
(4) the government has not explicitly quantified these harms;
and calls on the government to open schools to all students at the start of term 4.