Page 801 - Week 03 - Wednesday, 6 April 2022

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I want to talk about the role that Minister Berry has played in the response to COVID-19, because I think this is really important. I talk a lot about the fantastic role that the public health team and our frontline healthcare workers have played in responding to COVID-19, and I get positive feedback from the community about all of that. But I think what is often not well understood is that the management of the COVID-19 response in our early childhood education and care, and particularly our school sector, has been one of the most challenging things in responding to the global pandemic.

Minister Berry ensured that the transition to online learning kept students and teachers safe and connected to learning through the ever-changing circumstances of the pandemic. Mr Acting Speaker, this is really important. You often hear those opposite saying that it has been two years, as if nothing has changed over those two years. This has been a constantly evolving situation and, as Minister Gentleman pointed out, Minister Berry has been front and centre of understanding those changes and ensuring that schools are in a strong position to adapt. That included ensuring that students and their families had access to appropriate rapid antigen testing during a time of significant access challenges for rapid antigen tests, allowing the safe return to school for the beginning of the 2020 school year.

I touched earlier on the Chromebooks program. Minister Berry’s commitment to equity and to that program allowed our schools to be the best set up in the country for that move to remote learning. It was there for equity, but it ensured that our schools were the best set up in the country to respond to the pandemic and to move to remote learning.

As Minister Gentleman also outlined, the opposition have never really known whether they are coming or going on the COVID response. They just seem to agree with whoever happens to be lobbying them that week, with no consideration of logic or consistency along the way. When schools are open, they want them closed; when schools are closed, they want them open. There is no consistency on that side of the table, on that side of the chamber, when it comes to responding to our schools. By contrast, the education minister, Minister Berry, has been deeply engaged in the detail, supporting our schools, our teachers, our students and their families, every step of the way in an incredibly complex environment.

As both Minister Berry and Minister Rattenbury have outlined, the issues related to Calwell High School are deeply troubling and concerning. We all, on this side of the chamber, have an absolute commitment to safe workplaces and to keeping our students, and the consumers of all of our services across government, safe. I will not repeat all of the details relating to Calwell High School, but I will make some broader points about how Minister Berry has taken a nation-leading approach in tackling the challenges of bullying and violence that we see not only across every school system in every jurisdiction but across our society.

This includes seeking expert advice from the School Education Advisory Committee on safe and supported schools. Key findings of that committee include the observation that bullying and violence is a whole-of-community issue, and the importance of

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