Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 2018 Week 10 Hansard (Tuesday, 18 September 2018) . . Page.. 3729 ..
This is a practice which makes sense on an administrative front, as the paper is a document that the government wishes to make public and presumably the minister wants this update to reach as many Canberrans as possible. But it is also a matter of professional decency, a matter of common courtesy, to allow all members of this chamber to at least peruse the papers of a minister on important issues that impact many Canberrans. And, to rub even more salt into the wound, the statement was not even available to members to access until 2 pm this afternoon.
There is a reason why standing order 74 exists, and the minister has decided it simply does not apply to her. The minister may think that politics by stealth is a valid use of the time of this chamber and that the people of Canberra are well served by her tactics through this cheap political stunt. I respectfully disagree. On an issue as serious as the presence of asbestos in one of our schools, to provide an update by stealth is unbecoming of the minister for education, who commands one of the biggest directorates and a budget of almost $2 billion. But we cannot be surprised, as it is just another indicator of the amateur and cagey way she has handled this entire issue.
The Canberra Liberals sought an urgent briefing from the minister on 30 August. We had no response and so followed up a week later. Finally we got a response from the senior adviser in the minister’s office which basically said, “The minister will provide an update when she provides an update.” That is now over a week ago. Despite repeatedly assuring the public that she would be providing the opposition with a briefing, she has failed to do so. It seems those assurances were pure theatre in front of the media only. The minister wants to look like she is transparent when she has absolutely no intention of doing the basic courtesy of keeping the opposition updated.
The minister may feel she is now off the hook, that her paltry effort this morning is sufficient. Well I, and I am sure a number of Canberra families, still have questions. The minister goes to great pains to outline a time line of events: when the report was first made, when it was first tested and when parents were notified. One date that is starkly missing from her statement is when she was first made aware of the incident. Was she made aware as soon as the directorate was notified? If not, why does her own directorate not trust her with something as serious as this? If so, why did she not know any facts when she was finally forced to front the media more than three days later? Why did she not take that opportunity to accurately update the community, instead of choosing to fling accusations at us for political point-scoring whilst incoherently reassuring the Canberra community that it was only one garden bed?
We now know that she was just plain wrong. When I called on her to apologise to parents, students and the school community for her inaccurate reassurances, her delays in communicating with the community and her poor handling of this issue, what did she do? What she does best: bury her head in the sand.
We still do not know why parents were not notified as soon as possible. When they finally were, why were they falsely reassured that it was only one garden bed? Why was the incident not treated as a critical one? What investigations have been done or are underway to make sure that there are no other schools affected?