"Never in my life have I had so much to lose."
Partnership for the Outback is working alongside other concerned groups such as the Isolated Children's Parents' Association WA to fight the WA Government's proposed cuts to WA's Schools of the Air. The following letter, by Lara Jensen from Wondinong Station, is a powerful explanation of why closing Schools of the Air is not acceptable.
Letters to the Editor The West Australian 8 January 2018
I am a pastoralist and a mother who lives in remote WA and never in my life have I had so much to lose.
The McGowan Labor Government’s decision to axe the five Schools of the Air across WA in 2019 has totally gutted my family and our outback community.
Our home is 80km north-east of Mt Magnet on a 77,000ha cattle station and I have two young children, one and two years old respectively.
I was educated along with my four siblings on Yoweragabbie station south-east of Mt Magnet through Meekatharra School of the Air (SOTA). It gave us all fantastic education, on a par with our city peers, and an incredible social network that has continued throughout our adult lives.
Despite repeated assurances by Labor’s Education Minister, Sue Ellery, that the proposed School of Isolated and Distance Education (SIDE) service set to replace the SOTA model will pick up its key elements, I don’t for a second believe her political rhetoric.
Neither do I believe that “access to quality education no matter what a person’s circumstances” is one of the core values that underpins the Labor Party.
Minister Ellery has made it completely clear that the education for 160-plus remote SOTA students scattered across 100,000sqkm of WA isn’t as important as their city peers.
Sinking $68 million into a inner city high school in Subiaco is proof of that.
Adding to the lunacy of this decision is the public admission by Ms Ellery herself that the costings for the replacement SIDE service have not been finalised.
So the saving of $14 million itself is completely open to scrutiny. Furthermore, we are all scratching our heads as to how a Perth-based system with teachers in Leederville could even come close to being cheaper than the existing SOTA model.
At best it is a badly advised, poorly thought-out axing of a much-loved and iconic educational institution in place of an alternative model that will, in all likelihood, be more expensive to administer.
The McGowan Labor Party has displayed an alarming degree of ignorance as to the fragility of remote communities and the social fabric that holds them together, along with a detached arrogance they will not recover from in this mining and pastoral region.
It is clear we will be the casualties of a political payback campaign stemming from the Nationals and Liberals refusing to support the gold tax.
Quality education is paramount. It is something we value above all else out here. Without it, our children will become a disadvantaged minority simply because of where we live.
Nothing can replace access to teachers who live in and understand their region and, most importantly, know our children.
If these changes are allowed to pass we will be stuck with an inferior education system, with limited or no support for home tutors.
We will struggle with educating our children while addressing the massive demands of running properties and managing livestock.
I am unsure who the McGowan government thinks is going to manage the 100,000sqkm of the pastoral and mining region once we all decide to pack up and leave, with the essential services supporting life out here having been stripped away.
With a mass exodus of pastoral families, Australia will lose its most self-reliant, resourceful and resilient human resource.
Lara Jensen, Wondinong Station, Mt Magnet