Backward: Kevin Donnelly. Photo: Andrew Taylor
In journalism, it is taught that a reporter should always play the ball and not the man, meaning focus on the issues and not the personalities involved. It is often easier said than done and, in my case, never more so than today as I try to express my concern over Christopher Pyne and his proposed education reforms in a calm and bipartisan way.
As someone who was a fan of the previous government's Gonski report, I don't share Pyne's view, as expressed in these pages recently, that: ''The electorate endorsed it [a review of the national curriculum]; parents want it; many education experts and teachers desire it; and, for the sake of our students and developing a quality education system, this government is doing it, as promised.''
I must have missed this loud call for review, and it appears I'm not alone, given the widespread surprise and condemnation that has accompanied Pyne's announcement. But I have sure been listening since, and I don't like what I hear. At all.
You see, I am deeply disturbed by what he perceives as the problems in our education system, for example that it had not properly ''sold or talked about the benefits of Western civilisation''. And I am downright terrified by what he plans to do about it and the men he has hired to realise his party's vision.
Both review appointees, Ken Wiltshire, a Queensland professor of public administration, and Kevin Donnelly, a former teacher and Coalition adviser, are outspoken opponents of the current system and have right-wing leanings. But it is Donnelly who has been receiving the most attention since last month's announcement - and with good reason.
In his book Why Our Schools Are Failing, Donnelly lays much of the blame for what he perceives as declining standards in literacy and numeracy in Australian schools on the ''left-wing academics, teacher unions and sympathetic governments'' that have infused curriculums with ''politically correct'' material.
He writes: ''The [Australian Education Union] argues that gays, lesbians and transgender individuals have a right to teach sex education … and that any treatment of sexual matters should be 'positive in its approach' and that school curricula should 'enhance understanding and acceptance of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people'.
''Forgotten is that many parents would consider the sexual practices of gays, lesbians and transgender individuals decidedly unnatural and that such groups have a greater risk in terms of transmitting STDs and AIDS.''
Or this view of the union's curriculum policy as one that ''is anti-family and that promotes the rights of gays, lesbians, bisexuals and transgender people and that applauds PC fads like black armband history''.
And lest we forget: ''One of the most damaging aspects of the feminist agenda is the assumption that equality means sameness. Not only do girls, to succeed, need to become more like boys, but boys, so they are told, need to be more in touch with their feminine side.''
Now, I can accept if someone is right, middle, or left politically, but what I cannot accept is someone whose views are homophobic, bigoted and backward. And I cannot tolerate this person's wage being paid by my tax dollars to influence this country's future. Call it the ball or the man or both, what is at play here is no game. And, thankfully, I am not alone in this view.
Opposition education spokeswoman Kate Ellis said Donnelly's views were ''extremely offensive, dangerous and extreme'' and had ''absolutely no place in our schools''. Shelley Argent, from the support group Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays, called his views ''ridiculous''. NSW Teachers Federation president Maurie Mulheron said: ''You cringe at some of those statements … You can only assume Mr Pyne is being deliberately provocative.''
Our education minister is well aware of views such as these, writing in The Age: ''So far, criticism of the inquiry has been almost entirely about its members … Petty personal attacks before we even get to the result of the review serve no purpose other than the political - the last thing we all need.''
But to the argument that the underlying basis of this review is political, Pyne scoffs: ''To suggest the review is a political ploy is disingenuous.''
I disagree vehemently that this is not all about politics. It is exactly that - namely, promoting right-wing ideologies. In fact, I believe Pyne unconsciously revealed that this was exactly the Abbott government's agenda with the national curriculum review when he wrote of his plan: ''The national curriculum is a work in progress. It is new. Before it is fully rolled out, let us make sure we have got it right.''
With this advisory panel, it will certainly be ''right''.
Saturday Age columnist Wendy Squires is a journalist, editor and author.