LABOR was a no-show at a forum organised by Perth Modern School parents to oppose the party’s plan to move gifted students to a new school in the CBD.
Under Labor’s Education Central plan the academically select student body would be moved next to the Perth train station, and the Perth Mod campus would become a normal high school.
Parents and students were furious, with hundreds packing out Perth Bowls Club and spilling out onto the footpath on Tuesday night.
All major political parties (and a few small ones) were invited. Labor’s Perth candidate John Carey, education shadow Sue Ellery, leader Mark McGowan and Mt Lawley candidate Simon Millman all declined.
The parents even reached out to former federal MP Alannah MacTiernan to at least get a Labor voice on the panel, but had no luck.
Emma Gregory from Save Perth Modern action group told the crowd “unfortunately the Labor party has declined our invitation to attend this evening,” sparking a rumble of disapproval from the hall.
“Scared!” one attendee called out.
Education minister Peter Collier attended, as did Liberal MPs Eleni Evangel (Perth) and Michael Sutherland (Mt Lawley).
Independent Julie Matheson was there, while Pauline Hanson sent a statement saying she thought the city was no place for a school and kids needed open space to play.
The ethnically-mixed crowd looked visibly uncomfortable to have her on side, but her statement was greeted with polite applause.
Mr Collier said the problem of growing school numbers had already been solved by the Barnett government’s plan to reopen a campus at City Beach.
Greens education spokesperson Alison Xamon told the crowd her party wasn’t opposed to an inner-city school in principle, but there were problems forcing academically select students into the CBD.
“The Greens are very concerned about the lack of consultation that has occurred, and the lack of planning that seemingly has occurred,” she said.
Ms Xamon said renting the building rather than owning a school site was a huge concern: “I’m quite confident Labor will backpedal on this once they hear the amount of opposition.”
Ms Xamon said Labor was using St Georges as a case study of how inner city schooling can work, but said it was a different kettle of fish to Labor’s proposal.
As a private school St George’s student numbers were capped at 440, and it had the money to ensure its students got to use city facilities.
Liberal Perth MP Eleni Evangel said “make no mistake, this Labor policy on education is all about winning the Perth seat and all about winning the Mount Lawley seat.
“You people do not matter to Labor, that’s why they have not one single representative here tonight.”
Ms Evangel said “information has circulated in my electorate that is completely incorrect.
My opponent [Labor’s John Carey] has written on his brochures that we need an inner city school to cater for the growing inner city student numbers”.
She said the Labor plan would only provide 1500 new spots (and an extra 200 at the Perth Mod site which will be turned into an ordinary high school) while the Liberals would be providing 3600.
She said “if we are to build an inner city school down the track … as the member for Perth I’d like to see green space adjacent”.
Ms Evangel said any plan had to be based on Education Department research, but suggested the department’s old building in East Perth could work as a school.
“You’ve got Wellington Square and Langley Park where children can actually have some green space to use and enjoy,” Ms Evangel said.
Mr Carey said he was unable to attend as he’d already committed to go to a Chamber of Commerce event on Tuesday night.
He told the Voice: “I can understand that parents of the school are apprehensive about change, but I genuinely believe we will be providing a state of the art educational facility in the heart of the city that caters for people across the state.
“We’re arguing that it makes sense to have the Perth school of excellence in the heart of the city, that has excellent public transport and has access to important learning facilities like the Alexander Library, like the art gallery. It’s not just about people living in the western suburbs, it’s about people across the state.”
It was no Liberal party rent-a-crowd at the meeting, with a few vocal Greens supporters peppered among the ranks and some parents who usually voted Labor saying they were struggling with their conscience over how to vote on Saturday.
Parent Alana Dowley, who started a petition opposing moving the academic select students to the CBD, said their fight would have to continue after Saturday if the Labor party were elected.
So far the petition has 1362 supporters.
“We’re not here to get the Liberal party elected,” she said.
“If the Labor party gets in, we are in for the long haul.
“We need everyone to put as much pressure as possible on any Labor government not to do this.”
by DAVID BELL