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Saturday, July 24, 2021

Opinion: Canberrans want schools to be open

We’re starting to see a light at the end of the tunnel and Canberrans want schools to be open, argues Senator Zed Seselja, Liberal Senator for the ACT, and Assistant Minister for Finance, Charities and Electoral Matters.

This week we saw the number of active cases of COVID-19 in the ACT drop to zero.

It’s thanks to the diligence of everyone in our community to be socially distant and stay home, as well as the hard work of our doctors and nurses, that we can now see a way out of this crisis.

The National Cabinet, led by the Prime Minister, has shown great leadership to get us to this point. They have listened to the expert medical advice and we are now in a position where new cases are low and the health system is not overwhelmed.

But as we’re starting to see a light at the end of the tunnel, it’s becoming clear that some of our leaders are moving away from listening to the evidence.

We are seeing this most prominently on the question of when to reopen schools.

The advice from the independent Australian Health Protection Principal Committee (AHPPC) and the Chief Medical Officer on schools has been consistent since day one of this crisis.

When it comes to COVID-19, children are a very low risk of either getting infected or spreading the virus.

On that basis, the advice has always been that schools should remain open, especially for the parents who cannot keep their kids at home due to work.

Schools remaining open is critical because education is too important for a child’s future for them to lose a full term or more of in-classroom learning.

Too many health and essential workers will get pulled from the frontlines if their kids aren’t in school, because they have no one else to look after and teach their kids.

Indeed, when it comes to the economic recovery we need, the PM has repeatedly made clear that every job is an essential job, and every worker is an essential worker. Getting jobs and businesses started up again will be made that much harder when many parents are forced to do at-home schooling.

Not only that, Canberrans want schools to be open.

I sought out the thoughts of Canberrans during the last week on this issue. Of the 2,492 people who responded, 55% had school-aged children and 64.3% of those said they would send their kids to back to school if they could. 75% wanted schools either fully open immediately or for a transition of one or two days a week to begin now.

But it appears Andrew Barr and the ACT Labor Government are more interested in keeping the unions happy than doing what is right for students and parents.

I understand teachers work hard and often sacrifice much for our kids. But the evidence has been clear and consistent and, with sensible safeguards, the risk is low.

The Barr Labor Government has already cut in real terms funding for Canberra’s health system despite record Commonwealth funding. They’ve gutted the public transport system, and tripled rates for Canberra households.

Canberrans don’t want to see the Barr Labor Government add compromising our kids’ education to their record.

The evidence is clear. The views of Canberrans are clear. The Barr Labor Government needs to reopen schools now.

– Senator Zed Seselja

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