Gordon Opposes Mallard's Decision To Appeal
30 April 2002
Gordon Opposes Mallard's Decision To Appeal Special Education Case
Alliance MP Liz Gordon is opposing the Education Minister's decision to appeal the recent court victory for parents of special needs students.
Dr. Gordon, who chairs the Education Select Committee of parliament, says she has "consistently acted to try to avert court action that pits the rights of ordinary parents of special needs children against the government".
She attempted to broker a resolution to the dispute nearly a year ago. "I went to meet with the parents in Auckland to help them make a concrete proposal to put before the government. I then presented a five-point plan to ministers. However, nothing came of it".
Dr. Gordon said that the original Crown Law advice, that the government would win the case, "never seemed very robust to me. The legislative rights to special education are very specifically laid out in the Education Act, and I'm not in the least surprised that the High Court has upheld the government's responsibility to act on that legislation".
She recently wrote to Helen Clark pleading with her and Labour Ministers not to appeal the case.
"In my view this is a once-in-a-generation statement by the courts of fundamental rights to education. This decision says that governments must act to provide special education to children with special needs. I think it's a landmark case, and, while it should never have had to go to court, I am heartened that the parents won".
She said that attention should now shift to how the needs of the children can be properly met, not how the case should be appealed.
"I am profoundly disappointed in Trevor Mallard's decision to appeal. I am particularly disappointed with the lack of consultation. I thought he had agreed to let the coalition partners view Crown Law advice before the decision was made. The minister had the power to make the decision but we hoped he would do so with consultation, but he failed to consult.
Dr. Gordon says that the problems of special education that led to the court case being taken could be fixed "quite easily".
"The Government has already acted to set up a regional network of learning support centres that will ensure that individuals' needs are properly assessed and that resources exist to address them.
"The second part of that programme must be to reform the funding to ensure that the dollars go where they are needed. Forecasts of hundreds of millions of dollars in extra expenditure, or that 66,000 children will now need individual entitlements, are simply untrue. The needs of these children can be met largely from existing budgets, in my view".
Dr. Gordon feels that she is free to speak publicly on this matter because the decision was ministerial and not made by cabinet and therefore does not bind the coalition government. Her previous involvement in this case, her plea to Helen Clark and her discussions with Trevor Mallard all indicate her ongoing desire to work out the differences within the government.