By: Matthew Doran
Federal Opposition Leader Anthony Albanese has pledged $440 million to improve Australian schools in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic during a pre-election address to the National Press Club on Tuesday.
The set-piece speech has been a feature of the Australian political landscape for many years, and Mr Albanese leader used it to spruik his vision for Australia under a Labor government.
Half of the money would be spent on upgrades to school buildings, improving ventilation and outdoor teaching facilities, Mr Albanese said while the rest would be earmarked for mental health support for students returning from two years of pandemic-affected learning.
“Both [the upgrades and mental health support] are key to managing the spread of COVID,” he said.
“Just as they will be valuable for schools in a post-COVID world as well.”
Mr Albanese noted that the expert advice was that the pandemic was unlikely to end anytime soon.
“Chief Medical Officer Paul Kelly tells us that COVID will be with us for some time, so we need to act and adapt. That means making our schools safer and better prepared for what’s ahead,” he said.
Shadow Education Minister Tanya Plibersek described the proposed changes as “quite simple things to do”.
“Buying extra air filters, upgrading existing air conditioning, cooling and heating systems, moving classrooms outdoors, putting up shade structures, and so on,” Shadow Education Minister Tanya Plibersek said.
“State and territory governments should be investing in making sure our schools are safe, but the Commonwealth could absolutely play a role in partnership with states and territories.
“And the problem with Scott Morrison is he just wants state and territory governments to take responsibility for anything that’s a little bit difficult in this COVID crisis.”
Ms Plibersek said Labor was particularly concerned about how students would adjust to being back in the classroom, and wanted to spend $190 million on hiring more school counsellors and psychologists.
“They’ve struggled with their learning, but they’ve also struggled with connection, they miss their friends, they miss their teachers, they miss being able to kick a ball around in the playground at lunchtime, they miss sleepovers, and 16th birthday parties and school formals.
“All of the things that we remember as rites of passage growing up, kids are struggling with having missed out on those things for two years.
“So we need to make sure that they’re doing OK, because you can’t learn if you’re stressed and anxious, you can’t learn if you’re disconnected.”
Ms Plibersek said details on how the opposition would fund the measures would be made public during the election campaign.
Albanese says best days are ahead
Mr Albanese told the National Press Club that Australians have made a considerable effort to deal with COVID-19 restrictions across the country.
“If I’m elected prime minister, I see it as my fundamental responsibility to repay these sacrifices, to reward these efforts, to prove worthy of the generosity and bravery of the Australian people,” he said.
“’Pushing through this pandemic is not enough.
“We need to learn from it, we need to use what the last two years have taught us to build a better future.”
He said Australians were worn down by bad news, uncertainty and separation from loved ones, but the nation’s best days are ahead.
Mr Albanese also reaffirmed Labor’s commitment to put more money into the TAFE sector and make child care more affordable, as well as his desire to see Australia manufacture a wider variety of products so the nation is less reliant on imports.