Yunta School Closure


Mr VAN HOLST PELLEKAAN ( Stuart ) ( 15:29 :34 ): I bring to the house's attention a dreadful situation that we have just heard of. It is very clear under the Education Act—and I am sure that the education minister is fully aware of this—under section 14C that if a school is being considered for closure, and that school is outside the local government area, the Minister for Local Government must nominate a representative to be on the committee that is formed to consider the closure of that school. In the situation of the Yunta Rural School that did not happen, so that means that the process for closing the school has been done illegally.

Let me be very clear about this. When there were two students at this school, the community and I agreed—everybody agreed—that the school should close, but now there are seven students enrolled for next year and things have changed. We are not asking for a new school to be built; we are asking for a school to be left open. The reality is that the process undertaken by the Minister for Education has actually been unlawful and contravenes that minister's act.

Schools are incredibly important for regional areas in general, and I am sure the Minister for Regional Development would agree that every school is very important not only for its primary purpose of educating the students but also for supporting the local community more broadly. There was dissent among the review committee. The majority of members of the committee that was formed voted to close the school but there were certainly members who opposed that recommendation. But now we find, even more importantly, that the process was unlawful and contravened the Education Act.

Unfortunately, the minister has never even visited the school. You would think, given that this does not happen very often—and I understand there are a lot of schools in the state—the minister could visit a school before making a decision to close that school. That certainly has not happened.

When the committee met, there were quite a few recommendations that were made in addition to the majority, but not unanimous, recommendation to close the school and one of them was that an outreach model could be used so that Yunta school students could be attached and essentially be a satellite of Peterborough Primary School. The Yunta families did not want that—they want their own school. Nothing against Peterborough Primary School or St Joseph's or potentially down the track Peterborough High School—they are all perfectly good establishments—but what they definitely do not want is for their students to be travelling 180 kilometres every day five days a week. So, they accepted the outreach model but they definitely do not want their students to have to go to Peterborough every single day.

I will read a letter from 27 November from the RAA's Mr Richard Butler, Traffic and Road Safety Analyst to Ms Tanya Stephenson, one of the parents of the students at the school:

I am writing to you to express concern at the impending closure of the Yunta Rural School. The prospect of sending your children on a 180-kilometre round trip for school along the Barrier Highway must be of great concern to you. Whilst traffic volumes are low, Department of Planning, Transport and Infrastructure estimates suggest that one in three vehicles that use the Barrier Highway are commercial vehicles. This is a concern as the RAA identified that only 59 per cent of the highway met the minimum standard lane width requirements of 3.5 metres. A number of sections of the highway recorded lane widths of 3 metres which can increase the risk of motorists running onto the unsealed shoulder, particularly when passing heavy vehicles. Between 2009 and 2013 there were 180 crashes on the Barrier Highway at a cost to the economy of $39 million. This included four fatal crashes, one of which was a head-on crash that occurred 35 kilometres west of Yunta—

so between Yunta and Peterborough—

In 2012 the most common crash types were rollover and hit animal crashes which are most common during dawn and dusk. By closing the school, parents may be forced to drive significant distances to ensure that their children are provided an education which in turn could lead to more fatigued drivers, therefore the alleged savings generated by the closure of the school would be wiped out if a serious crash on the Barrier Highway were to occur.

Those are the words of the RAA's Traffic and Road Safety Analyst warning the families that this is not a good model. We now know that the review committee which was established to consider the closure of the school was established unlawfully because it did not have a representative from the Minister for Local Government as required by the act. We also know that there still remains on the table the opportunity of an outreach model which the parents of the Yunta children accept and would like. They do not accept the unsafe prospect of taking their children every single day to Peterborough.

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