Macarthur Electorate: Education

Macarthur Electorate: Education Main Image

16 June 2021

I rise today as a firm believer in our public education system. As a paediatrician and a lover of science, I understand and appreciate the critical role that education and intervention in the early years plays in shaping the lives of young Australians.


Throughout my years working in the community, whether it be as a local paediatrician or now as a federal representative, I have had the distinct honour and privilege of working closely with a number of local schools—in fact, all our local schools. Upon being elected as the member for Macarthur in 2016, one of the best experiences I frequently encountered—and still encounter—was visiting local schools for meetings and ceremonies which I'd frequently come to attend for case conferences regarding various patients of mine.


Throughout my years, one thing has remained constant, and that's my admiration for the wonderful men and women who teach in our local schools. Of course, there are too many wonderful individuals working across Macarthur to name them all, but I would like to mention a few and express, through them, my appreciation and gratitude for what they do for the young people of Macarthur and, indeed, for the young people of Australia.


Firstly, I would like to mention Tammy Anderson, who appeared on the ABC's 7.30 with her fantastic Indigenous education initiatives. She is an Indigenous woman herself. She's the remarkable principal of Briar Road Public School in Airds in Campbelltown. Tammy is one of my region's real shining stars. She is actually a former pupil of Briar Road Public School, and now she runs the school. She ought to be credited for her fantastic work in starting a preschool and making sure all the children in the school, Indigenous or not, are aware of our Indigenous heritage, our Indigenous languages and our Indigenous population. She is really fostering a positive school culture, and that shows in the wonderful results the students are showing.


Secondly, I mention Paul Hughes, the longstanding principal of Rosemeadow Public School. When I moved to Campbelltown almost 40 years ago, Rosemeadow Public School was a pretty tough place, and many of the kids that went to that school faced a lot of difficulties. Throughout Paul's tenure at the school, however, it has become a remarkable beacon of education in our area. He has turned the school around, and he ought to be commended for ensuring that some kids who started school with a number of problems are now flourishing and doing very well educationally and socially. He provides the highest quality education for our kids.


Thirdly, I would like to mention Karen Endicott. She's a former principal of Sarah Redfern High School in Minto in Campbelltown, and she is now a director with the Department of Education. Karen has remarkably transformed Sarah Redfern High into a wonderful educational institution. It's now thriving, with people wanting to go to the school, which is getting great Higher School Certificate results. Karen is doing her best in the Department of Education to make sure all kids get access to the best education that Australia can provide.


Lastly, I would like to mention Linda Green, the longstanding principal of over 15 years of Robert Townson Public School. Mrs Green presides over a truly incredible school with a wonderful cohort of students. Her selfless dedication, and the dedication of the previous principal, Brian Chudleigh, to our future generations is just inspirational. I recently visited the school to let them know what I do as a federal member, following their visit to Canberra. Unfortunately it was in a sitting week, so I couldn't meet them here. The knowledge of the kids about our political system and how it works was amazing, and the questions that they asked me were really intelligent and really testing. I had a wonderful time at the school. Again, it's a real credit to our public education system. Our community owes each of these individuals, all the other teachers and so many other people—the school support staff, the special education teachers, the gardeners, the lollipop men and women—a debt of gratitude for making sure that our future is secure because of the education of our children.


As a parent and a grandparent, I know what it feels like to want the best for one's children and grandchildren. Our local teachers and support staff have made it their life's work to deliver the very best for our future generations. Our public education system has some truly remarkable people working within it, and I pay tribute to each and every one of them today for their service to the community. I know more than most the value that education adds to a person's life. I've seen that over many years with thousands of my patients. If we can deliver our kids a good education, we set them up for the future and set them up to provide for our future.


If I can be forgiven for changing the tone of my speech, I now want to talk about the resourcing in some of our local schools. Education, as I've said, is everything. The wonderful men and women who work in our schools and help guide our children's development can't do it all without the appropriate support. It should not be an uphill battle for our community every time one of our local schools is falling behind or is in need of better resourcing.


They shouldn't have to fight for it publicly. However, from my experience, that's what's happening. I've seen the very best schools in Australia, and they are indeed remarkable, but I've also seen some of the schools with the worst resources, probably like some Third World countries.


I've often spoken in this place about Passfield Park School, a school for children with the most severe disabilities, severe intellectual handicaps, cerebral palsy, epilepsy, visual impairment, deafness, hydrocephalus—multiple disabilities. The teachers in that school do a wonderful job maximising the potential of kids with these severe difficulties. However, the school itself was falling down around their ears. The roof was leaking, it was full of mould and the classrooms weren't wheelchair accessible, even though they had close to one-third of the school in wheelchairs. They couldn't get into many of the classrooms. The toilets were absolutely overflowing because of blocked drains from tree roots. The school was, by any standard, dilapidated.


It took a fight by the school community to get any change at all. In the end, they had to go to the media to get television coverage of what the terrible surroundings were like before anything was done. I pay tribute to the, at that stage, newly minted minister for education in New South Wales, Sarah Mitchell. She took one look at the school and realised what terrible condition it was in and demanded that the school be torn down and rebuilt, and that is what is happening at this present time.


But we had written to New South Wales education ministers trying to get some change before that happened. We had to go to the media to get that changed for these most disadvantaged kids. It was really terrible. I thank Channel 7 and Robert Ovadia, the reporter, for really instituting that change through public pressure on the New South Wales government. It was a win, but it was a fight that I really shouldn't have had to have.


These fights of course continue across my electorate of Macarthur. We're let down by the Liberal government on a state and federal level. There has been massive development and multiple new suburbs, but some of the schools in these new suburbs, even though the number of houses being built and the population are well known in advance, have over 30 demountable classrooms. At Gledswood Hills there's a school being built of relatively small size. It's completely overcrowded.


The parents have to stagger their pick-up times at the school because the road's not big enough to take the traffic. We have the nearby suburb of Gregory Hills, which was built fully populated without a school being put in it. The New South Wales government and the New South Wales Premier have come out today, after urging from the parents and, again, media coverage over the years, and said they're going to build a school. But it's going to take years to build, and the footprint of the school that they're suggesting is far too small for the population. So this is again a school that will have demountable classrooms and won't have enough playing fields, and the kids' education will suffer.


Education, of course, is a silver bullet for the future of the children I look after as a paediatrician. The New South Wales government, through its inaction, and the federal government, through its failure to understand the need to provide funding for education, as well as infrastructure, in rapidly growing outer metropolitan areas, are neglecting the needs of children in some of the most disadvantaged electorates in Australia. It's a tragedy, and it's time that state and federal Liberal governments were held to account for their failures in education as well as in many other things.