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Question Time: Penny asks the Abbott Government why they won't sack Kevin Donnelly

Penny Wright 16 Jul 2014

Senator WRIGHT (South Australia) (14:19): My question is to the Minister representing the Minister for Education, Senator Payne, regarding comments made by Dr Kevin Donnelly, co-chair of the government's national curriculum review. Dr Donnelly told 2UE yesterday afternoon that corporal punishment had been very effective when he was at school and he had no problem with it, if supported by the school community. My question is simple: does the federal government agree that corporal punishment is a very effective method of discipline for school children? Does the federal government think there is ever a place for violence as a form of discipline in Australian schools?

Senator PAYNE (New South Wales-Minister for Human Services) (14:19): I thank Senator Wright for her question. The Australian government does not support corporal punishment as an approach to student behaviour management in schools.

Senator WRIGHT (South Australia) (14:20): Mr President, I ask a supplementary question. Given that answer, which is unequivocal, and I am pleased to hear it, will the Abbott government now acknowledge that education minister Christopher Pyne made a serious error of judgement in appointing Dr Donnelly to the Curriculum Review Panel and terminate his employment?

Senator PAYNE (New South Wales-Minister for Human Services) (14:20): I absolutely do not accept the premise in Senator Wright's question in relation to the matter that she has raised about Dr Donnelly. I have made the government's position on corporal punishment very clear. I can also add that the issue of corporal punishment is not and would not be part of the terms of reference for any Commonwealth inquiry. The government is absolutely resolute in indicating that all students should have access to high-quality education that is delivered in a safe, supportive and respectful environment. All ministers for education have endorsed the National Safe Schools Framework, which advocates positive, whole-of-school approaches to student wellbeing and behaviour management.

Senator WRIGHT (South Australia) (14:21): Mr President, I ask a further supplementary question. In spite of the minister's answer, the fact is that the federal government has given Dr Donnelly a very powerful platform and a degree of legitimacy to advance his many unorthodox views and to shape the Australian Curriculum. If there is clearly no place for assault in Australian schools, why will Minister Pyne not sack Dr Donnelly?

Senator PAYNE (New South Wales-Minister for Human Services) (14:21): I think it is fair to say that a perspective on unorthodox views is possibly in the eye of the beholder and I would say that to Senator Wright as a member of the Australian Greens. I simply wish to reinforce my initial response to Senator Wright, which was that the Australian government does not support corporal punishment as an approach to student behaviour management in schools-full stop.




Senator Wright's speech in response to the Minister's answers

Senator WRIGHT: The Australian Greens have always said that Dr Donnelly's radical views have made him completely inappropriate to be reviewing what Australian kids will be taught in modern Australia. Everyone is entitled to their views, but it does not mean you are entitled to be prosecuting those particular views when you are in a position of responsibility and authority and overseeing a curriculum which will be rolled out to children across Australia.

Dr Kevin Donnelly was hand-picked by Education Minister Pyne to oversee the review of the Australian curriculum. His lack of independence; his singular and intemperate views on, for instance, the role of 'politically correct' teaching of multiculturalism in the violence at the riots at Cronulla; his disparaging comments about the teaching of sex education and the way that students with same-sex attraction are dealt with in schools and the fact that sex education might acknowledge the humanity and equality of same-sex attracted students; and his suggestion that the current Australian curriculum, compiled after years of work and consultation from experts across Australia, can be described as left-wing, Marxist and 'politically correct' were all on the record before his appointment and pointed to what a completely inappropriate person he is to be independently and dispassionately overseeing the Australian curriculum. That is why the Australian Senate, in February, agreed to call for Dr Donnelly and his co-reviewer, Mr Ken Wiltshire, to be replaced by independent experts, as has been the practice previously in these kinds of appointments.

Now we have Dr Donnelly reflecting, somewhat fondly, on the very effective role of corporal punishment when he was at school. I imagine that he was at school in the years when I was at school, in the 1960s and perhaps the 1970s. In his comments yesterday, he endorsed the use of corporal punishment if a school community is in favour of it and it is done properly-whatever that means. One wonders if in fact that might mean: so that you do not see the bruises. These comments belong to another century. They are so outdated that they are actually radical. Firstly, I think we need to make it very clear that it is absolutely not okay to assault children in Australian schools. Thank goodness we have moved beyond those values and those ideas. Secondly, there is no evidence that threatening or hurting children will actually work to make them behave better.

As much as Minister Pyne may want to distance himself as far as possible from Dr Donnelly's comments, the fact is that the government appointed this man. They carefully hand-picked him for a prominent review and thus have given him legitimacy and an opportunity to broadcast his repugnant views and shape what children will be taught across Australia. They have claimed he is an education expert fit to review what our children learn. They have looked for his opinions on how schools should teach. They cannot make the excuse that they do not accept his views on school discipline.

The answers that the Senate has received today from the minister representing the Minister for Education are clearly inadequate. This government has given Dr Donnelly his status, his credibility. They should remove him from his position because there is no place for violence in our schools. Every Australian child has a right to be safe at school. Indeed, as someone commented to me today, any adult in Australia who advocates or endorses violence against children is not only not fit to hold their job but not fit to oversee a review of education practice and the curriculum. Appointing Dr Donnelly shows a serious lack of judgement on the part of Minister Pyne. Right from the start it was clear that it was a partisan ideological appointment, but it is now very clear just what an inappropriate appointment it was. Minister Pyne should take responsibility for this mistake and end Dr Donnelly's contract immediately.

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