Federal Education Minister Dan Tehan has withdrawn remarks over Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews’ leadership, conceding frustration over schooling in the state during the coronavirus crisis led to his extraordinary attack.
On ABC television’s Insiders program on Sunday, Mr Tehan lashed Mr Andrews’ handling of the controversial issue of opening schools during the COVID-19 crisis, which federal Labor has described as “bullying”.
“The question to Dan Andrews is, sure, take a sledgehammer to defeating the coronavirus but why are you taking a sledgehammer also to your schools system?” an unusally heated Mr Tehan had said.
He said Western Australia, South Australia and the Northern Territory hadn’t had to quash their education system to fight the virus and have a 70 per cent attendance at their schools.
Pressed several time on the prime minister’s previous advice to parents about listening to their premiers, Mr Tehan said the government’s advice was that parents should listen to the medical experts.
“It’s safe for schools to be open and it is safe for teachers to be in the classroom when the right protocols are in place,” Mr Tehan insisted.
Several hours later, Mr Tehan issued a statement saying he had expressed his personal frustration that more schools weren’t starting more in-class learning in his home state.
“It was this frustration that led me to overstep the mark in questioning Premier Andrews’ leadership on the matter and I withdraw,” Mr Tehan said.
“I will continue working constructively with my state counterparts as they run their state school systems to support them with the best medical and education expert advice the federal government can offer.”
The attack had come before state health minister Jenny Mikakos reported a teacher had tested positive to COVID-19 at the Meadowglen primary school in Melbourne, which will be closed for three days for cleaning.
Mr Andrews has been adamant in not opening schools for fear of spreading the virus, while Scott Morrison has urged all schools to open.
But the prime minister has also previously said parents should listen to their premiers.
Ms Mikakos said she will continue to urge Victorian parents to listen to the advice of our government. The advice remains unchanged and that is that we will continue to engage in online learning for the foreseeable future.”
Labor’s education spokeswoman Tanya Plibersek said Mr Tehan’s attack was “disappointing” when states and territories had been working so well with the commonwealth government during the crisis.
“We don’t need the federal education minister trying to bully and harass state education ministers and state governments,” she told reporters in Sydney.
“This is a very difficult and stressful time for families … and to have a big political fight between the states and the commonwealth when it comes to schooling is the very last thing they need.”
Queensland Health Minister Steven Miles said he was unaware of Mr Tehan’s original comments but said no one should be criticising state leaders.
“It would be pretty disappointing if the Morrison government was using it as a chance to take pot shots at the states,” Mr Miles said.
“The last thing we need right now is levels of government criticising each other.”
Deputy Chief Medical Officer Nick Coatsworth said COVID-19 affected far fewer children than they represent as a proportion of society.
“We know now that COVID-19 is not behaving the same way as influenza,” he told Sky News.
“Whereas with influenza, children are often primary transmitters in our society. It is clear now for COVID-19 that is not the case.”
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