ACT Labor has announced its plan to fast track the removal of hazardous materials in schools if re-elected next month, after lead paint has recently been detected in three Canberra schools.
The dedicated $15 million fund announced today (Friday 18 September) matches a Canberra Liberals election promise announced late last month.
ACT Labor spokesperson for education Yvette Berry said the fund would be managed by a new team within the Education Directorate.
“Managing these materials can be complex. As buildings age, management becomes more difficult and costly,” she said.
“ACT Labor will allocate $15 million, on top of funding for school infrastructure repairs and maintenance, dedicated to the removal of hazardous materials from public school buildings.”
Areas of the Yarralumla Primary School were closed to staff and students for up to six weeks for cleaning.
Ms Berry said Canberra buildings established before 1985 would most likely contain hazardous materials that needed to be managed.
“The safety of students and staff is a priority, and this includes making sure that families and students feel comfortable and confident that schools are safe,” she said.
“This commitment will fast track a program of works to remove hazardous materials from public schools and will create jobs for Canberra’s economic recovery.”
Canberra Liberals education spokeswoman Elizabeth Lee said the fund announcement had come after months of “denial and inaction”.
“It’s disappointing that it takes an election for Labor to finally realise that there’s a problem requiring urgent attention,” she said.
“Labor’s long-standing neglect of our schools and blinkered approach has shown a complete disrespect and disregard to our students, teachers and parents who deserve better.
“Only a Canberra Liberals government can be trusted to take the safety of our school communities seriously and resolve the concerns of hazardous materials in our schools with our audit and additional school maintenance fund,” she said.
The ACT Greens have also weighed in on the debate, pledging a policy change to avoid further hazardous materials.
“The Greens will enshrine the ‘right to a healthy environment’ into our Human Rights Act, to protect both Canberrans and our natural environment from unnecessary harm,” ACT Greens environment spokesperson Jo Clay said today.
“Like the current right to education, an overarching legal right to a healthy environment simply places a responsibility on government services to consider these rights at every decision point.
“This would help prevent this type of contamination in the first place, require prioritised rectification, and potentially offer legal remedies to people affected.”
The Greens have also called on more transparency in lead contamination reports.