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Education standards, Victorian protests, adjournment speech

I rise to address the serious issue of indoctrination in our schools. As shadow minister for education, I have said repeatedly that the classroom is for education, not indoctrination or activism. There is a real and very real proper basis to be concerned about the extreme-left ideologues who think it’s okay to prosecute their own agendas in our schools. It is not okay. The job of our schools is to teach and to ensure children reach their very best potential.

With one in three Australian students failing NAPLAN, Australian parents and teachers deserve to know whether the government has any plan to combat declining school standards. A report released today by Learning First details major gaps in the Australian science curriculum. Australia is 70th worst when it comes to managing classroom disruption. This is no reflection on our great teachers. Our teachers are fundamentally being let down by universities, which are leaving student teachers woefully unprepared to teach in the classroom. Only a handful of schools have adopted best-practice teaching methods in literacy and numeracy.

So I ask: what is the government’s plan to fix our schools? Regrettably, all we have heard about from this government is talk of reviews, and not much more. The review to support the next National School Reform Agreement was handed to the government on 31 October, but why is this being kept secret? We attempted to secure an order for the production of this document here in the Senate, which very disappointingly was not supported by the Greens—so much for their focus on transparency! So I say to schools around this country: please focus on the fundamentals.

It is regrettable that we have seen the activists encourage so many students to participate in these School Strike 4 Palestine events. This is deeply regrettable and only causes further division in our community. Last week on the streets of Melbourne and Sydney we saw students who skipped class to attend rallies, where they were exposed to antisemitic chants and hateful signs, which confirmed the worst fears of Jewish community leaders. School students may not even be aware that chants like ‘from the river to the sea, Palestine will be free’ call for the destruction of Israel. Students should be in school and should not be used as political pawns by activists, including the Greens and the Australian Education Union.

Like Senator O’Neill, I expressed my deep, deep concerns about Senator Faruqi standing next to that student protester holding that deeply offensive antisemitic sign, which was then posted on Senator Faruqi’s social media account. While she took the photograph down from Instagram, I have called on her to unconditionally apologise for the deep hurt and offence that she has caused to the Jewish community. It’s deeply regrettable that Senator Faruqi has not provided that apology.

I also condemned the AEU’s Victorian branch for its teachers and school staff for Palestine week of action, which began today, encouraging government schools to invite activists into the classroom. Even the Department of Education called this out and warned that, while staff have the right to freedom of expression, this is subject to lawful restrictions such as protecting public order and respecting the rights and reputations of other persons. A wonderful Jewish school principal from Mount Scopus, Rabbi James Kennard, said: ‘This campaign crosses the line into antisemitism. It is grossly irresponsible. It puts the wellbeing of students at risk. And, because teachers must comply with the Victorian Institute of Teaching’s code of conduct, which requires teachers to maintain objectivity and prohibits them from displaying bias, it also puts the jobs of teachers at risk.’ This is another highly irresponsible campaign, and I call for the Minister for Education, Jason Clare, to do everything to shut it down.

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