Page 3310 - Week 11 - Tuesday, 13 November 2007

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Mr Speaker, when I make mistakes here, I do not come into this place and blame my employees; I come in here and accept responsibility. It has happened on two occasions where we have made an error. I would encourage Dr Foskey in future not to attempt to cast aspersions on other members or on her staff but, in fact, own up to the fact that she made the mistake in the first instance.

Schools—student smoking

MRS DUNNE (Ginninderra) (6.20): Mr Speaker, I cannot let the adjournment debate go without dwelling a little more on—I am not quite sure what I should call it; should I call it ciggygate or durrygate; perhaps faggate—and the minister for education’s dreadful handling of the issue of a student in his care who has been given some sort of permission that has allowed her to smoke during school hours.

One of the things that became very clear is that, first and foremost, this matter was dreadfully handled by the minister for education. As I have said to many people, and I think I said it on radio the other day, if I had been the minister for education and this matter had come to my attention, I would have been very proactive about this and gone out and actually said, “If this is the case, if this is going on in one of the schools that I am responsible for, I make a commitment to the public that this arrangement will end today.”

But what actually happened was that Mr Barr and his office tried to smother this event for the best part of a week, rather than getting on top of it and getting in front of it, and then they tried to blame everybody else for this issue becoming public. The end result was that when it all became too difficult to suppress any longer everyone was bending over backwards to impress upon the public that no permissions had been given for this student to smoke.

Now, it may be true that no permission was given for this student to smoke on school grounds and it may be true that no permission was given for this girl to leave the school grounds specifically to smoke. But I suspect that there was a “do not tell us, darling, and we will not do anything about it” approach where, yes, someone was given permission at the instigation of parents to leave the school grounds with the full knowledge of the school authorities and, eventually, the minister that if they did this this girl would smoke.

I could have come down here today and read you fact sheet after fact sheet about the perils of smoking at any time, but especially at a young age. What this has actually brought to our attention is that we have a problem in ACT schools and that we have a minister who, instead of addressing that problem head-on, has just tried to bury it everywhere.

One of the things that really stuck out for me the other day listening to the interview, not listening to the broadcast of the interview, but actually listening to the interview that Mr Barr and staff of the Department of Education did in relation to this issue was where that official from the Department of Education said something along the lines of, “We have noticed a drastic reduction in the number of people who are smoking at

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