The Labor Party opposition in Victoria have recently announced that they would build a co-educational high school in Richmond if they win November’s state election. This is to be welcomed cautiously. The details of the announcement are suspiciously sketchy and a lot of questions remain unanswered.
Education in Richmond was devastated during the 1990s under the Kennett Liberal government. In fact only a year-long community occupation saved the site of the closed co-ed Richmond Secondary College for state education. Thanks to this struggle, the site now houses Melbourne Girls College (MGC).
The campaign was greatly influenced by the Socialist Party at the time and the campaign co-ordinator was our candidate for the state seat of Richmond, Stephen Jolly.
However, while girls wanting single-sex education had their needs met by MGC, since then boys have had no school in the area. The same problem is faced by girls wanting a state co-education option.
The gap in provision has been exacerbated by the fact that the population of Richmond has exploded by 30% over the past few years, putting huge demands on the schools in the broader area.
Against this backdrop locals have been demanding a new school in the area for some years. A combination of a community campaign for a boys, or co-ed school, and a looming tight election, pushed the Labor Party into making this announcement.
Labor are in the process of trying to repaint themselves as defenders of public education. Unfortunately both Labor and the governing Liberal Party have a record of school closures and education cuts.
The Kennett Liberal government closed 350 schools from 1992-99. However this school closure policy actually started under the Cain Labor government in the late 1980s – they closed 78 schools. The Kirner Labor government continued with closures, including a technical school and a primary school in Richmond!
When Labor defeated Kennett in 1999, the new government only reopened one of the 350 schools closed by the Liberals – Fitzroy High School – and that was a result of a long community campaign.
Worse still the last Labor government continued closing schools. Australian Bureau of Statistics figures show that in 1999 there were 1631 government schools in Victoria yet this had dropped to 1593 in 2008, two years before Labor lost power.
Neither the Liberals nor Labor can be trusted when it comes to public education. The problems we are facing now are a direct result of both the major parties education policies.
Even in regards to the specifics of Labor’s latest proposal many questions remain. The proposed site for this school is a small area behind Richmond Town Hall and could mean the long standing local boxing club will have to go.
Only weeks ago, this club beat back an attempt by the Liberal government to push them out so they could sell the site. Now Labor is doing the same.
A school on this tiny site would have to be multi-story in order to provide enough floor space. Even then the school is destined to be too small for local needs. By going up on a small site, the school would overshadow the neighbouring bowling club.
In their opportunist rush for votes Labor hasn’t bothered to consult the local community or even Yarra Council. There are a number of bigger and better sites that could be found in Richmond.
Richmond desperately needs a co-ed school – one large enough to meet the community’s needs. The fact that Labor have been forced to announce that they are prepared to right the wrongs of their past is to be welcomed, but we need to push further in order to win a proper school on a proper site.