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Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 2010 Week 12 Hansard (Thursday, 28 October 2010) . . Page.. 5309 ..

dividend. We know that Minister Barr initially accepted the cuts that were being proposed to teachers who deal with students with a disability. We know that, having been caught out by my colleague Mr Doszpot—well done, Mr Doszpot—with this completely unacceptable proposal, Mr Barr then agreed to consultation on the proposed cuts being extended to December 2010. We know that, following sustained pressure—again from Steve Doszpot, in association with concerns from other groups and people, including the parents and citizens association—this proposal has now been abandoned.

This fiasco reveals serious flaws in the decision-making process, if you could call it that, followed by this minister and this government. Indeed in this matter, the only satisfactory description that I can find for Mr Barr is that he is a coward in the way that he refuses to face people. We all know the proposal from the department would have been vetted by the minister and his office. Mr Barr was a coward in not stopping this proposal at that point. The promulgation of the decision—

MR SPEAKER: Order, Mr Smyth! I do not think “coward” is parliamentary language, and I would ask you to find another term.

MR SMYTH: I will find other words—poltroon, sissy—there are numerous words one can use here. The promulgation of this decision was clearly too hot for the minister to make, and Mr Barr left it to his department to front the media and answer questions about the backflip.

The pressure from the community—particularly from the parents of these children, the education fraternity and the Liberal Party—became too severe, and Mr Barr then failed to answer why the decision was made in the first place. The proposal has now become completely discredited, and the minister has moved away from it.

One wants to turn to the credentials of Mr Barr in this whole mess. Minister Barr takes every opportunity to proclaim his economic credentials. We all recall that earlier this week he described himself as an economic rationalist. Members will also recall that Minister Barr professes to know all about micro-economic reform. Unfortunately, all the evidence from this fiasco is that Minister Barr really has no understanding at all of micro-economic reform. He simply does not understand that what he was attempting to do by cutting teachers who work with students with a disability was very simply cost shifting.

This proposal was to shift downstream the costs of working with and caring for students with a disability when they were very young to teachers in the mainstream education system. We would have ended up having to devote even more resources at a much higher cost to working with those students at a later point in life and with a greater personal cost to those students who, for a much longer period of time, may not have been fully able to participate and realise their potential. Even Mr Barr would—or should—realise that it is much more cost effective to work with students with a disability at the earliest possible age. That provides those students with the best possible start to their lives, particularly in responding to some disabilities where early intervention can achieve good outcomes.

Indeed, I refer again to the article regarding the Shepherd Centre:

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