Tasmania’s Education
Minister Paula Wriedt, who welcomed a Code of Ethics for teachers this
week and a Code of Conduct last year, tells Crikey today that her past
relationship with a teacher when she was a student has had no bearing
on her decisions as Education Minister.

It has long been
rumoured among teachers and journalists in Tasmania that Wriedt, 38,
left a senior secondary college after a developing relationship with a
teacher, who she later married (she is now happily married to someone
else with whom she has a family). She never gained any formal
qualifications and has often said publicly that she wished she could
avail herself of the opportunities open to students today.

Crikey
sought an interview with Wriedt this morning, in view of her
endorsement of the Codes. A media advisor called back to say the
minister didn’t want to talk about her past and was too busy on the
election campaign. Wriedt issued this statement to Crikey: “It’s a
personal matter, There was nothing improper. And it has had no bearing
on my decisions as a Minister.”

Wriedt’s private life is her own
affair – unless it affects her public performance. And in this
instance, as Education Minister, it could have a bearing on her
portfolio.

Last year, for example, she defended the Education
Department’s handling of an incident in the early 1990s in which a
senior secondary college teacher had affairs with two 17-year-old girls
he met at the school where he taught and still teaches, after they left
the school. One made a complaint last year, it was investigated, and he
was officially reprimanded.

Wriedt then told The Mercury:
“This is a complex case relating to matters which occurred more than a
decade ago. The student involved was not underage and the teacher and
student subsequently formed a relationship. Since this time, society’s
attitude has shifted enormously and employers, teachers, parents and
students understand this significant change. Today, a relationship
involving a student and a teacher is not acceptable.”

Her
comments caused a storm of controversy and Wriedt apologised. In a
prepared statement she said: ‘I fully concede I should have been more
careful in my choice of words in relation to this very sensitive
matter. As a Minister I have always maintained I do not condone
relationships between teachers and students.”

Wriedt is the
daughter of former state Labor leader and Whitlam Government Primary
Industry Minister Ken Wriedt. She is tipped as a future Labor leader,
but in the March 18 state election she could lose her seat. Pollsters
predict Labor will lose one of its three seats in the electorate of
Franklin, now held by Premier Paul Lennon and two of his minsters,
Wriedt and Economic Development and Arts Minister Lara Giddings. Wriedt
or Giddings could go and, having taken some flak over education issues,
Wriedt could be the most vulnerable, although Giddings once lost her
seat when in the Upper House.

Peter Fray

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