When the controversy around the NSW Government’s proposed “child refugee education” system flared up, the government had a few days to react before the media was bombarded with claims the system was aimed at preventing “a repeat of the refugee crisis”.
The first major news stories of the day were the NSW Health Minister’s claim that the proposed system was not about preventing “an influx of refugees”, but was instead about providing education to vulnerable children in the NSW community.
The ABC’s The World Tonight was also given a “secret” briefing on the system.
“There’s nothing like this in Australia,” the Minister said.
ABC reporter Andrew Langford asked the Minister to elaborate on the government’s claims.
He said that the policy was not aimed at providing a pathway to citizenship for children in need, but instead was intended to provide the opportunity for “those children who are in that vulnerable situation to be able to get into an education program, whether it’s the public school system, whether there’s an alternative school, whether they’re in a home environment”.
In response, a spokesperson for the NSW Department of Education said the “child migrant program” was aimed primarily at vulnerable children and was not designed to provide citizenship to any children in NSW.
In the lead-up to the media storm, the ABC’s “Special Report” showed how the Government was not upfront about the policy’s purpose.
According to a report in The Australian newspaper, the NSW Minister was unaware of the plan until after the program was announced.
“[Mr] Gillard was aware of the program as early as last month, and it was not even formally announced,” the spokesperson said.
“The Minister has been assured the program is designed to meet the needs of vulnerable children, and he has been advised by the Department of Health that the program will have no adverse impact on children’s education and will ensure that the system is as safe as possible for children and their families.”
However, the Department has since released a statement that states: “The Department of State has undertaken a detailed review of the child migrant program in NSW and will make any further adjustments as required.”
The report did not address whether or not the Government had consulted with children’s advocates about the proposal before announcing it.
Despite the lack of transparency, the Government has now admitted the scheme was not in fact aimed at reducing the number of refugees.
But it’s clear the Minister’s comments have not gone down well with some parents.
A letter to the NSW State Opposition was signed by parents of children affected by the program.
They said the Minister should have been more forthcoming with parents who were affected by his plan.
One parent wrote to the ABC on Tuesday, asking why it took them “so long” to demand answers from the Minister about the program’s purpose: “What is the point of the Government releasing a statement on child migration before they’ve consulted parents and children?”
Another parent told the ABC he was “so sick of people being treated like idiots” and was now considering taking his complaint to the Victorian Labor Party.
Another wrote: “I am sick of this government telling me that I have no right to know the truth.
I am not entitled to know that the plan has no impact on my child.”
“The reality is that these programs are not designed for children, they are designed for the wealthy and powerful.
It is time the Government got its act together.”
Meanwhile, other parents have been critical of the Minister.
Last night, a father who identified himself as “A” from Brisbane wrote to Premier Gladys Berejiklian to complain about the Minister “talking about our kids’ future in a country they don’t even live in”.
“I am angry at you for doing nothing for us, we are so upset, we do not want to live in a world that has no hope,” he said.
“The children are the real victims here.”
This story originally appeared on The Sport God’s Blog