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  Issue No 95 Official Organ of LaborNet 11 May 2001  




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The Soapbox

Sue Simpson on the Aquilina Affair

The head of the Teachers Federation writes about a sad episode in which a school incident was turned into a media opportunity for the Minister.


In early April 2001, midway in its second term of office, the Carr Labor Government was in trouble from the union movement, the medical and legal professions over its attempt to remove workers compensation entitlements by stealth. Large and vocal inner city communities in ALP electorates were protesting school closures, the selling off of yet more public land and at the same time wondering just what constitutes a "non-negotiable consultation".

After six years in power, the Carr Labor Government had major problems.

Could its formidable media machine and parliamentary dominance divert attention from these problems?

Why not a story of western Sydney public high school violence? And at the same time dress it up with a lecture on the dangers of adolescent depression and a few praiseworthy words on the school's handling of the matter.

This seems to be the context for a parliamentary performance of the most sordid and inhumane variety. What transpired was not some unfortunate off the cuff comment or trap set by a tricky journalist. A ministerial statement in the parliament is a rare event. The media had been briefed to expect something sensational and according to media reports advised to have their Columbine High School tapes ready.

On April 10 the Minister spoke from a prepared text.

The statement showed contempt for the public education system -- its students, teachers and communities. Trinity Grammar's real violence and abuse was the subject of no such statement.

The Minister manufactured an incident of school violence. He was naive to suggest the media would not identify the school.

What gave the story its sensationalism was found to be untrue. To give additional force to the story, the Government media machine provided further false embellishments via background briefings on the existence of a gun. The welfare of a public school student, the reputation of his family, the efforts of the school principal and staff in building a strong school community were sacrificed -- for an evening news headline. And the media did provide the traditional school violence headlines that evening.

Did the Minister not think the student would find out that he was the subject of the headlines? This constitutes psychological abuse -- a clear offence under the Government's own child protection legislation. What would happen to a teacher if they had gone to the local newspaper with such a story about one of their students?

And then there were the attempts at a cover up -- to blame the police, the Department and to further invade the student's privacy by reading out selected diary extracts.

The hard politicking of the bear pit of the NSW Parliament is the opposite of the compassion and energy that goes into school pastoral care programs. The two worlds are incompatible. Teaching is hard enough and real incidents of violence can be hard enough to handle without the overwhelming pressure of the media and political machinations. The staff deserve apologies for what has happened.

The public of NSW still does not have all the answers to why this happened and therefore how all this can be prevented from ever happening again. Federation is consequently supporting any investigations by the Independent Commission Against Corruption and the Privacy Commission.

Federation is calling on the Government to publicly outline to the teachers and community of NSW what measures it will take to ensure that incidents of this type will not happen again.

Teachers can have no confidence in a Minister who would stoop so low. The Minister deserves to go.

Public Education and the Media

The media, in particular the Telegraph, have been relentless in pursuing the Minister over his untruths. This has not always been the case. Their sensationalism continues, however, with "massacre boy" headlines.

During the salaries dispute, spin doctors easily discarded the facts in the pursuit of the tabloid headline and the upper hand. The media spin had the Federation having to sign certain documents before salaries negotiations could begin. Advertisements presented teachers as greedy and our claim was manipulated to bankrupt NSW if agreed to. The infamous "new award" was first revealed at a media conference. There was no concern for the impact on public education at a time of increasing competition with private education. There was no concern for public education teachers.

The media grab is too often the substitute for an informed education debate. And on funding, school principals know all about the front page stories that totally misrepresented their bank accounts. And it's not just happened once.

In the days preceding Public Education Day, Departmental officers were around the state talking up public education. From an examination of Media Monitors, the Minister was talking up the declining number of males in primary schools -- an issue but bit of a diversion from the heavy debate of school funding and the role of the public education system.

The Government's media strategies must be wholly consistent with its responsibility to public education.

Aquilina must go


*   View entire issue - print all of the articles!

*   Issue 95 contents

In this issue
*  Interview: Geek Guys
Two of the union movement�s pioneers in new technology, Peter Ross and Mark McGrath, chew the fat about wired unionism and virtual politics.
*  Compo: Costa�s Angels
Behind the spotlight of the workers comp campaign four women trade union officials have been burning the midnight oil to protect injured workers.
*  Legal: View from the Bench
Compensation Court judge and former Attorney-General, Frank Walker, argues the Della Bosca workers comp reforms are a threat to judicial independence.
*  International: Timor: Time for the Truth
HT Lee was in Dili when the militas ran rampage. Now he wants the truth to come out.
*  History: True Believers
Frank Bongiorno looks at the origins of the Australian Labor Party, which celebrated its centenary of Caucus this week.
*  Corporate: Trust Me, I�m a Multi-National!
BHP unions have united across the factions to urge �No� vote on the planned Billiton merger.
*  Unions: AWAs � A Doomed Future?
ACTU Assistant Secretary Richard Marles plays clairvoyant and predicts a dismal future for AWAs.
*  Satire: Bush Defends One China Policy - Then Another China Policy, Then Another ....
President Bush today announced a major change to the United States� policy of �strategic ambiguity� towards the status of Taiwan and its One China policy.
*  Review: Surviving Survivor
Workers Online's Reality TV correspondent Mark Morey rakes over the coals of the Survivor II result.

»  Carr Government Avoids Own Safety Laws
»  Phantom Employers Face the Flush
»  Primus Suspect? Unions Seek Answers
»  Big Australian�s Merger Faces Rocky Road
»  Happy Hour for Heineken with a Half-Price Dollar
»  Arnotts Workers Call for Consumer Boycott
»  Asian Women at Work: Daring To Act
»  Academic Sacking Sparks Global Row
»  Labor Councillors Feel Childcare Heat
»  Rail Workers Win Maintenance Security
»  Knitwear Company Stitched Up Over AWAs
»  Three Stripes and You�re Out
»  Unions and Students Move on Harvard
»  IT Workers Alliance � Last Call for Comment
»  Our News Feed Hits 1000
»  Activist Notebook

»  The Soapbox
»  The Locker Room
»  Trades Hall
»  Tool Shed

Letters to the editor
»  The Great May Day Debate
»  Questions for Macca
»  Qantas on Impulse
»  Compo: The Great Tradition

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