Are we missing something here? Victorian Education Minister Bronwyn Pike, pandering like her Premier to the hysteria that surrounds the visit by artist Bill Henson to a Melbourne school, yesterday told the media that in her view, “the most important thing here is consent. I don’t think that people should be approaching schools so that children can be used for their own personal gain,” she observed.

How then does Ms Pike justify her practice, and that of her colleagues in parliaments right across Australia, eagerly rushing off to schools, particularly at election time, so they can be photographed with unsuspecting kids who can’t vote? If that is not for personal gain – i.e. to garner votes and improve the image of the politician and government in question – then the sun does not rise each and every day of the year.

Ms Pike herself, on her website, has such a photograph. There she is beaming with a group of school kids from Flemington Primary School in March 2008.

And if you type in Bronwyn’s name on Google Images you are confronted with a portfolio of shots of the Minister smiling with kids at the museum, at the Royal Children’s Hospital and at schools.

Why? Because all politicians just love using kids as props for their own political ends. Politicians and kids go together in the same way as ants and sugar or bees and the honey pot. There is not one election campaign in this country at the state or federal level that does not involve a photo opportunity for political leaders and kids.

And it’s worse than that, because one generally finds politicians with primary or pre-school age kids. Teenagers are rarely used as props. Politicians get into the sandpit with toddlers or the classroom to read kids stories or gaze vacantly at the school work of a 6-year-old, but rarely do they hang out in the schoolyard with Year 10 students. Presumably, the Year 10 students are not as malleable.

And do politicians get the consent of students before entering the classroom, schoolyard or sandpit? Do they write to the kids asking them if it would be ok to use them for the proposes of a nice soft election photo or TV footage? Or do they simply barge in, stay half an hour, hop back in the ministerial car, and race off to their next vote buying gig? The latter is nearer the truth.

Now that Bronwyn Pike says consent is important, we should expect her to be consistent. Next time her minders tell her it’s a good idea to get the Minister into a classroom, we should expect that each child in that classroom is fully informed and consents to Ms Pike being present and disrupting their learning day, and doesn’t mind their photo appearing on that evening’s news bulletins, or worse still, in an election brochure for Ms Pike.

Peter Fray

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