The Australian Government has accused a Sydney high school of hijacking an annual competition to protest against a visit by United States President George W. Bush at next month’s Sydney Apec summit.But the organisers and the New South Wales education authority have defended the school’s anti-war themed entry in the Rock Eisteddfod Challenge, saying the event is about freedom of expression.
Bush will be in Sydney when the event is staged on September 6.
Bad Knight II, the production by northern Sydney’s Davidson High School, depicts Bush as the pilot of a crashing plane and attacks the US-led invasion of Iraq.
Federal Education Minister Julie Bishop questioned whether the students were performing material of their own choice.
One pupil involved in the production said the concept for the performance came from one of the school’s teachers and did not represent the views of all the students involved.
“There appears to be a teacher’s political agenda here,” said Bishop.
But the NSW Department of Education said while the idea may have come from a teacher, parents and students had been advised of the content of the performance and had been free to withdraw.
“The department supports the school and the way they have gone about their Rock Eisteddfod production,” a department spokesman said. “No student could participate without signed parental approval.
“This is not about politics, it’s about the ability of students to express their views in the atmosphere of a stage production,” he said.
Rock Eisteddfod Challenge executive producer Peter Sjoquist said organisers had no say in the themes schools chose for the event.
“Our view is that we provide a professional venue and crew to these schools to enable them to perform on stage,” he said. “The choice of theme is up to the school, parents and students. We don’t get involved in censorship.”
Opposition education spokesman Andrew Stoner said the NSW Government needed to make it clear that politicising the classroom was unacceptable. “The Department of Education should ensure the positives of the Rock Eisteddfod are not overshadowed by divisive politics,” Stoner said. “Students in our public schools must be allowed the chance to develop their own viewpoints as they grow up.”
NSW Premier Morris Iemma said students should be allowed to express themselves. “I’ve seen George Bush many times on television and I’ve heard him say that he believes in people’s free speech,” he said. “I don’t think George Bush would want any intervention … that would curtail the right of those students to make their point.”