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Telopea Park High School - Student Protest

MR MOORE: Mr Speaker, my question is to Mr Stefaniak as Minister for Education. Mr Stefaniak, this morning you met with several young people from the Telopea Park High School. Can you indicate to the Assembly what was your response to their protest against the French nuclear tests and how you have responded to their request for an independent mediator?

Mr Berry: Did you throw yourself at the police?

MR STEFANIAK: No, I did not throw myself at the police. I suppose that, if I had thrown myself at the police, they would have had trouble throwing me back, because I am a bit bigger than Mr Moore.

I did meet with three students who were involved in organising the protest, the president of the Student Representative Council at Telopea Park and another representative of the Student Representative Council, and the Chief Executive of the Department of Education and Training, Cheryl Vardon, was there as well. Mr Speaker, as members are well aware, there have been a number of reports of incidents at the Telopea Park school assembly and some protests in relation to the French nuclear tests. The incident started, I understand, when some students declined to stand for the French national anthem, which is played with the Australian national anthem at all school functions. An incident followed, where apparently the principal then addressed some of the students in relation to the need for the school to adopt an apolitical position to promote an environment of tolerance and to avoid hurting or offending individual class- or year-mates. There are a number of French nationals at the school, including teachers. That then led to further protests by some of the students against the French nuclear tests.

Might I say, Mr Speaker, that this is a democratic country, and everyone has a right to protest, as long as that does not hurt anyone else. I am pleased to see that all the protests that have been made have not involved any physical injury or damage to property. Everything that has been done appears to have been done quite properly. No attempt has been made to stop the student demonstrations against the French nuclear tests. In the cases where students wish to lodge a protest themselves, we have taken the position that that is their right. Indeed, as the principal of Telopea Park school, Gwen McNeill, herself has said, it is all part of the educative process. She and the staff have been quite supportive in terms of encouraging proper protests.

I understand that a number of matters have occurred since then. Yesterday, the principal met student representatives to discuss recent protests at the school arising from the French Government's decision to resume nuclear testing in the Pacific. She told the representatives that she regretted that any remarks she made on Friday may have been misunderstood by some students. Her prime concern had been to ensure that the students involved in the protest would be aware that some people might interpret it that they, or the school, were intolerant or lacking in sensitivity. The principal's action had been designed to preserve the students' right to express their views on the issue, to ensure that they fully understand the possible consequences of protest actions and to ensure everyone's safety, as is the duty of staff at the school.

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