DEBATE ISSUES: Rockhampton's aspiring election candidates have responded to questions about the region's significant issues.
DEBATE ISSUES: Rockhampton's aspiring election candidates have responded to questions about the region's significant issues.

Candidates address Gracemere High School and bullying

IT HAS not been the highest polling issue, but plenty of locals and Rockhampton election candidates have rallied around the idea of building a high school at Gracemere and are appalled with the escalation in school bullying.

At The Morning Bulletin's online candidates debate, we challenged the Liberal National Party's Tony Hopkins, One Nation's Torin O'Brien, Katter's Australian Party's Christian Shepherd and Legalise Cannabis Queensland's Laura Barnard on the issues.

Additionally, those who weren't there, Labor's Barry O'Rourke and The Greens' Mick Jones have also responded to the question:

While Labor remains opposed saying we already have insufficient student enrolments and the lost students would mean less educational opportunities for Rocky's existing high schools, where do you stand on the issue of building a high school at Gracemere and secondly, what would you do to reduce bullying in high schools?

LNP's candidate for Rockhampton Tony Hopkins.
LNP's candidate for Rockhampton Tony Hopkins.

LNP candidate Tony Hopkins

From the word "go", Mr Hopkins said he'd been backing the high school and if it was good enough for a small town like Calliope to get one, it was good enough for Gracemere.

"With the rate the city is growing, both out at Gracemere and Rockhampton, I was always led to believe if you had smaller class sizes, you get a better quality of education," Mr Hopkins said.

"I believe there is a need for both Rocky High and Gracemere (High)."

He described bullying as a difficult challenge but he would like to see a tougher approach towards offenders with increased anti-bullying education and expanded entertainment options.

"With the high school out at Gracemere, I would like to see a PCYC attached to it so maybe these children will have more time sport or something to take their mind off (things) and not be bullying people as much," he said.

One Nation's candidate for Rockhampton Torin O'Brien.
One Nation's candidate for Rockhampton Torin O'Brien.

One Nation candidate Torin O'Brien

Mr O'Brien accused Labor of abandoning Gracemere when it should be looking at the model created by Calliope to roll out a small high school catering initially to a limited number of grades.

He said there were growth and safety issues that needed to be taken into account when weighing up the merits of the new high school.

"I know that Rockhampton's high schools aren't at capacity, however, they can't handle the numbers that they have," Mr O'Brien said.

"The extreme violence and bullying that's going on is out of control."

According to Mr O'Brien, it was the toxic culture driving bullying in schools which needed to be fixed.

Mr O'Brien, with the help of WBC champion and anti-bullying campaigner Charlie Hall and champion boxer Jeff Horn, will launch an school anti-bullying program in Rockhampton at the Rocky Sports Club on Saturday.

Katter's Australian Party's candidate for Rockhampton Christian Shepherd.
Katter's Australian Party's candidate for Rockhampton Christian Shepherd.

Katter's Australian Party candidate Christian Shepherd

Mr Shepherd backed the comments of the One Nation and LNP candidates on the new high school saying Labor was the only reason why it wasn't proceeding.

Given Rockhampton High School's struggle to maintain law and order while it was below capacity, he struggled to imagine how its problems would improve with more students.

"Since 2005, Rocky High has gotten between 15 and 20 new classrooms," Mr Shepherd said.

"So how is this school ever supposed to reach capacity if they are constantly throwing in more classrooms?"

He said it was the fault of the Queensland Government's planning why these out-of-town students were being forced to financially and logistically prop up Rockhampton's highschools.

Legalise Cannabis Queensland's candidate for Rockhampton Laura Barnard.
Legalise Cannabis Queensland's candidate for Rockhampton Laura Barnard.

Legalise Cannabis Queensland candidate Laura Barnard

Ms Barnard said there were a number of existing support programs in place including the Darumbal Community Youth Services, which offered support for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander young people aged 12 to 25 years.

"Children are not possums. We don't need to catch and release them, that is not good," Ms Barnard said.

She urged people to get behind initiatives like a program on Instagram called 'Rocky People', where students and teachers were able to interact and share positive thoughts with each other.

Labor candidate for Rockhampton Barry O'Rourke.
Labor candidate for Rockhampton Barry O'Rourke.

Incumbent Labor candidate Barry O'Rourke

On the issue of Gracemere High School, Mr O'Rourke said the Queensland Government's record of education investment was unmatched.

"We have invested $65 million across Central Queensland for new or improved facilities at existing schools in the past 12 months," Mr O'Rourke said.

"I would love to see a high school at Gracemere but, unfortunately, the current numbers don't add up and building one now would likely lead to worse outcomes for students in both Rocky and Gracemere.

"When we have sufficient students numbers to make a high school at Gracemere work, I'll be the first one banging on the door of the Education Minister to get it done.

"Unlike One Nation and the LNP, I deal with facts and, unlike One Nation, I won't be making false promises to the people of Gracemere for political gain."

Mr O'Rourke said he took the issue of bullying in society very seriously, especially when it occured in schools.

"Providing mental health support for our students has been a key focus in schools over the past decade," he said.

"There are supports available in every school, state and non-state, to help protect young people and address mental health issues.

"Guidance Officers (who are experienced teachers with additional qualifications to support student wellbeing and mental health) can also refer students to appropriate supports within the school and community as required."

While they say "it takes a village to raise a child", Mr O'Rourke said "I think it takes a village to protect a child as well".

"Everyone has a role to play in identifying these issues including friends, parents, teachers, principals, guidance officers, coaches, and extended family," he said.

Queensland Greens candidate for Rockhampton Mick Jones
Queensland Greens candidate for Rockhampton Mick Jones

Mr Jones said he had personally been in touch with advocates for a new High School in Emu Park, and heard the calls for a new high school in Gracemere.

"Before we build new schools, we need to properly fund the ones we have," Mr Jones said.

"Without funding reform, new schools will stretch our underfunded public education system even further.

"Queensland has some of the most underfunded state schools in the country and parents, teachers and children pay the cost. Both Labor and LNP governments have continued this neglect."

He said state schools in Queensland scraped to get by with a tight budget, often unable to purchase basic supplies or see to basic upgrades.

"Teachers and parents end up footing the bill. Families can be out of pocket thousands of dollars to cover service fees, excursions, and mandatory tech like laptops and tablets," he said.

"Some families can afford these extra expenses, and some are covered by aid programs, while many kids just miss out, or make do.

"The truth is, nobody should be paying thousands of dollars to send their kids to a state school. Out here in the regions with so many families doing it tough, that's doubly important.

"The Queensland Greens will invest an extra $8.1 billion over four years in public education in Queensland. That includes a billion dollars for infrastructure, a laptop and internet fund, and more."

Regarding the issue of bullying, Mr Jones said schools pushed to the limit of underfunding couldn't do much to solve these problems with teachers having to manage larger classes, with less support, and less free time.

"I'm confident that the solid improvements to funding that the QLD Greens are proposing, including more policy announcements to come, will make a big difference in how our schools deal with bullying, problem students, and anti-social behaviour," he said.

"But I've got to be honest here, bullying doesn't just take place in schools, and it's clearly not starting there.

"Xenophobic politicians target our fellow Queenslanders for their heritage, sexual orientation, religion, style of dress, and more. The politics of hate have reached fever pitch in recent years, is it any wonder we see that reflected in our schools? We're teaching our kids that attacking people for being different is the Australian way.

"These political culture warriors even attack anti-bullying programs, like ones aimed at making GBLTIQ teenagers safe in schools. How are we supposed to protect kids in schools if we can't even talk about what they're going through? Young people hide their suffering, cop a bunch of abuse, and then tragedy strikes.

"The false outrage about 'keeping our kids safe' often conceals an agenda that makes Aussie kids less safe by forcing them to hide who they are, by making them ashamed of their culture or orientation, by cracking down extremely hard on juvenile delinquency, or even by dumping whole families in offshore prison camps, which happened to a much-loved, and hard working family from Biloela.

"If we want these kids to treat each other better, we have to show them we can do the same."



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