Liberals flag licence ban for 'bad students'

August 2, 2009

The Tasmanian Liberal Party, now in opposition, is running with a new youth-bashing policy in the lead-up to the next state election. The election will take place early next year.

If the Liberals get their way, students who have been suspended or expelled, and even those caught wagging from school, will not be allowed to apply for a driver's licence for up to two years.

The earliest age a person can apply for a learner's licence is now 16.

Liberal leader Will Hodgman drew a false link between achievement at school and driving ability to justify the policy.

He told the July 20 Mercury: "If we can't trust students behind the desk, how can we trust them behind the wheel?

"We will give students an incentive to behave in school and we will ingrain an understanding of road safety and responsibility on our roads before students get behind the wheel of a car."

There is absolutely no link whatsoever between school attendance and driving ability. But the Tasmanian Liberals feel attacking the rights of young people is pretty safe. After all, people aged 16 to 18 won't have the right to vote against the Liberals in the election.

The voting age itself is a travesty. People aged 16 and 17 are considered old enough to leave school, get a job, pay taxes, get married or live independently — but current voting laws don't allow them to vote against political parties that want to take rights away from them.

Hodgman went on to say: "If students want to play up and play truant, then why should we trust them with a driver's licence before they are legally an adult?"

There is host of reasons why students don't turn up to class, or fare badly, at school. Overcrowded classes and a public school system starved of funding are two of them. Stressed and overworked teaching staff is another.

Furthermore, there are usually factors outside the classroom that prevent students from engaging in study at school. It's obvious that schools in wealthy areas perform better than schools in working-class areas. Put simply, poor performance at school is a class issue.

If the big parties were serious about improving education outcomes they would support a huge boost to public education spending, better pay and working conditions for teachers and measures to end poverty and inequality.

But because the Tasmanian Liberals aren't serious about it at all, it's easier for them to make young people scapegoats for the failings of the system. Most of all, the Liberals' policy is a bid to divert attention away from their unpopular pro-business and anti-environment policies.

Yet even if education spending was raised and poverty reduced, changes still need to be made to the school system overall. Many students would still baulk at the stifling conformity of a system designed to instill conservative values into a younger generation.
School curriculums are more focused on teaching students how to pass exams than they are about genuine education and self-development.

The school system trains young people to be submissive and conformist. By conditioning students to go to class by the bell and getting into the routine of the workday, the school system plays a part in training students up to become passive workers in the capitalist system.

The Tasmanian ALP has rejected the policy. But the Liberals are likely to keep pushing it as the election nears in the hope that blaming the students for the failings of the education system is a vote-winner.

Both the ALP and the Liberals defend a capitalist economic system that is failing young people.

The economic crisis is hurting young people more than most. Youth unemployment has reached 12.3%. Federal employment participation minister Mark Arbib told a Young Labor conference on July 25 that youth unemployment would get even worse. He said young people simply "have to adjust their thinking and be more adaptive and flexible", in the Sydney Morning Herald.

This implies part of the problem lies with young people being too "picky" and "choosy" about taking jobs.

But it's pretty hard to be "picky" about jobs that don't exist. And it will be even harder for many young people to "choose" to take a job if politicians like Hodgman succeed in banning young people from driving until they turn 18.

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