Contributed by Joe Montero
The rezoning Melbourne Girls College out of Richmond and into the upper crust parts of Kew, Hawthorn and Toorak, has not gone down well with the affected families.
Richmond Girls College used to be Richmond Secondary College, where in the 1990’s, the school community fought a long battle against its closure by the then Kennett government and in a compromise resolution that allowed the Girls College to come into existence.
A big part of the battle was that Richmond was going school short, forcing many students to commute out of the suburb. Since then, the population density has increased markedly, and with this the demand for more schools.
This is the reason why the state government has embarked on building a new school. It is recognition of the need. But building one and then denying access to another looks like sleight of hand. To make it worse, some of those living on the other side of the demarcation line, will still be allowed to enroll in the Richmond side, giving rise to a perception of inequality of treatment.
The the beginning, the push to make Melbourne College one of the handful of élite government schools has been contentious and smacking of building class differences. Critics have long argued against what they see as the use of tax money to create a more defined two tier education system, by shifting resources from the poorer to richer communities. Critics argue that built in exclusion works in the same direction.
Richmond is a traditional Labor heartland. A combination of gentrification in parts and disillusion with Labor, has changed this and Richmond now almost Greens territory.
Victorian Greens leader Greg Barber said he had been contacted by residents who were “shocked” by the change.
The battle for Richmond Secondary College was iconic, because it grabbed national and international attention. The massive scale on community support, put an end to a policy of systematic and widespread school closures in Victoria and made if a too hard call for governments in other states to follow. The Kennett government received a grievous blow, leading to its defeat at the next election.
There is a lesson in this.