Senator REYNOLDS (Western Australia) (19:35): I rise tonight to place on record my utter dismay at the Western Australian state government’s forced and completely unnecessary closure of Moora Residential College. It is a shocking and completely inexcusable decision. I believe, as I know everybody in this chamber believes, that all children deserve to have the same educational opportunities, no matter where they live. All children should have the opportunity to live for as long as possible with their parents or as close as we can make it to their parents. For 35 years, Moora Residential College has provided for children who live too far away from an appropriate senior high school a school where they can access good-quality education as near as possible to their homes and families. This college and similar colleges have allowed these children and their families to keep living and working in regional Australia. The college also is a vital part of the Moora township, supporting local businesses and other community activities.
Very sadly—and I think the only way I can describe it is as an act of complete ideological bastardry—the Western Australian Labor government have decided to close the college by the end of this year, supposedly as a cost-cutting measure. They claim it will save the budget $8.7 million because the school would need an upgrade were it to remain open. That is the only reason. Granted the school does need some further upgrades to its facilities, but it would cost absolutely nowhere near the estimated $8.7 million that the Labor state government have claimed. In fact, Moora college said that they can access the work in the local community at a cost of $500,000. So I don’t think there is any reason to seek to close the college, particularly if it can be done for $500,000. So $500,000 is all that is needed for the state Labor government to keep Moora college open, a figure that comes from the last costed maintenance report in 2012 plus one year’s operational deficit funding. It is inconceivable it could have gone up so much from 2012 to 2017, particularly when the cost of construction in Western Australia has declined significantly.
Moora were presented with their cheque for the upgrades in August 2016, with works expected to commence in March this year. But, in December last year, completely inexcusably and inexplicably, the WA Minister for Education, Sue Ellery, declared Moora college would be closed. She cancelled the cheque. She did not consult with the community and nor has she, Premier Mark McGowan, Treasurer Ben Wyatt or the Minister for Regional department, Alannah MacTiernan, even bothered to visit the facility they are arbitrarily closing. They have ignored the community protests. They have ignored the impassioned pleas that they want to stay at the college from students who are currently doing their ATARs. The students want to stay near their families and they want the college to stay open. Those members have not even had the courage to go and look those children and their families in the eye and say why they are closing it and to listen to their stories.
The Moora community, to their enduring credit, have fought very hard against this decision, and they have been very well supported by my state and federal Liberal colleagues. In particular, I would like to note and pay tribute to the federal member for Durack, Melissa Price, who has been tireless in her advocacy for these children and their families. It is a decision that has utterly devastated a community and, again, for $500,000, it is entirely unnecessary.
Contrast that to the former WA education minister, Peter Collier, who had the exact same proposal from the department for education cuts in 2013 when he was the then minister. He was then faced with axing the jobs of 4,000 teachers, but he said no to the department. Sadly, the current minister has said yes and, again, hasn’t even had the courage to go and talk to those children and families and explain this decision.
One of the hallmarks, I think, of good leadership for politicians is the ability to recognise your mistakes and have the courage, personality and leadership qualities to say, ‘I was wrong,’ and to fix it.
The WA state government have indicated they were capable of correcting their mistakes when they backed down from their equally disastrous decision to axe the School of the Air. It is time to do the same again. Closing Moora college is a terrible mistake that is having far-reaching consequences for the students, their families and the community. I call on the state government Labor government to fix their mistake and reinstate and keep Moora college.