On October 21, 70 local parents and supporters filled Moreland Concert Hall to hear state election candidates from the Pascoe Vale and Brunswick electorates speak on the issue of a high school for Coburg.
The meeting was organised by the campaign group High School for Coburg. HSC was established about two years ago by a group of parents who were concerned that there was no local high school for their children to attend.
The group has been campaigning with petitions, leaflets, submissions and media exposure. HSC has highlighted the shortages of places for local students currently attending surrounding high schools. In the lead-up to the November 27 election, the state government has acknowledged the shortage.
HSC argues that children have the right to attend a local high school on the grounds of ecological, youth engagement, health and social cohesion principles.
The current lack of a high school in the area means that when children finish their time at one of the 22 local primary schools, their friendship groups break up because they all have to go to out-of-area high schools.
The community also breaks up, because families leave the area to be close to a high school.
HSC says 16 secondary colleges have closed down or merged in the last 18 years in the area from West Preston to Pascoe Vale and Fawkner to Brunswick.
Most of these were closed by the previous Jeff Kennett Coalition government, but the last local high school, Moreland Secondary College, was shut down in 2002 by the Labor government of former Premier Steve Bracks.
At the meeting, Labor member for Pascoe Vale, Christine Campbell, blamed the parent council at the time for making the decision to shut down the school rather than looking at issues of resources and support that may have left the school struggling.
Liam Farrelly, Greens candidate for Pascoe Vale, pointed out that the subsequent 11 years of ALP governments had not addressed the shortage of secondary education in the area.
Calling it a “terrific day” for education, Labor candidate for Brunswick Jane Garrett informed the meeting that, earlier that day, Premier John Brumby announced a commitment to invest in specialist facilities and upgraded amenities for Brunswick Secondary College.
But audience members were sceptical, suggesting the announcement was an election stunt because of the tight race between Labor and the Greens in the Brunswick electorate.
Cyndi Dawes, Greens candidate for Brunswick, dispelled the myth of Labor's claim that education is its first priority. She said Victoria had the lowest spending on education across the states and ranked sixth among the developed world for largest class sizes.
Dawes pointed out there were many areas like Coburg that had no local high school.
Tapping into parents' frustration about the inaction of successive Labor governments, Socialist Alliance candidate for Brunswick, Trent Hawkins argued that there was no need for further investigation and more taskforces.
He said HSC had established the facts, we “now need to just build [the school]”. Hawkins linked the situation to the legacy of privatisation and the failure to provide public facilities. He said the $570 million of taxpayers’ money the government had earmarked for the controversial desalination plant would be better spent on community facilities such as a high school in Coburg.
The discussion was led by parents concerned about their children's future. Campbell promised a roll-out of secondary schooling in Coburg for grades seven to nine within four years of the next term of a re-elected Labor government. But she didn’t say how this would be achieved or what it would look like.
Dawes said any guarantees from Campbell were “porky pies”, pointing out that the new government would need to work in partnership with other parties — implying the likelihood of a hung parliament.