Australia's One Nation founder Pauline Hanson smiles after being released from prison in Brisbane, November 6, 2003.
Australia's One Nation founder Pauline Hanson smiles after being released from prison in Brisbane, November 6, 2003. Reuters/Greg White

Pauline Hanson has said Australia needs “to get rid of” children with special needs from mainstream classrooms. The One Nation Party leader said kids are not competing in real life because autistic children are holding them back.

Speaking in the Senate on Wednesday, Hanson said children with special needs should go to special classrooms and be given special attention, not in regular classrooms with other students. According to the senator, autistic children are holding other students back from learning and competing in the workforce.

“Most of the time, the teacher spends so much time on them they forget about the child who wants to go ahead in leaps and bounds in their education but are held back by those,” she said. “It’s no good saying we’ve got to allow these kids to feel good about themselves and we don’t want to upset them and make them feel hurt. We have to be realistic at times and consider the impact that is having on other children in that classroom.”

She explained that unless the country kept a decent educational standard, children would not be getting the “good jobs” because they would be bested by people from overseas. Hanson added that children with special needs should be handled by teachers who are especially trained to give them the support and attention they need. This is not a role in which teachers trained to educate mainstream students can do, she said.

Her speech met with disapproval from Children and Young People with Disability Australia chief executive Stephanie Gotlib, who called her comments “ill-informed and deeply offensive.” Gotlib said, “Senator Hanson should also be mindful that access to inclusive education is a human right. Ignorant remarks such as these demonstrate that she clearly needs to take up this offer as soon as possible.”

Opposition Leader Bill Shorten said it is “heartbreaking and upsetting” for parents of autistic children to hear the senator say their kids don’t deserve the same opportunity, while Greens Senator Sarah Hanson-Young thought it was “disgusting” that Hanson believed that of children. “What sort of mother [is Hanson]? It is disgusting,” she said.

Dr David Roy, a lecturer at the University of Newcastle’s School of Education, has opposed Hanson’s statements. He told Sydney Morning Herald that studies had shown that the One Nation senator’s comments actually had “the exact opposite.”

“Children with a disability may have a deficit in one area, but will often and regularly have an asset in the other so they can support other children in the classroom who aren’t good with language or literacy, who aren’t good with maths … and see an alternative way of doing something,” he said.

Meanwhile, Melbourne University special education expert Dr Shiralee Poed said that although Hanson’s comments would be “popular” among frustrated teachers and parents, her solution may not be the best step to consider. She said that schools were admittedly stretched for resources and teachers were not trained to support autistic children. However, the problem was with the system, not the students.

Removing the children from mainstream classrooms isn’t the solution, Poed said, adding that doing so is a “simplistic view to place the blame on the child.” She explained that what Australia needs to do is to focus on what needs should be done to improve the system.

Hanson delivered her speech as she announced that her party would be backing the Federal Government’s $18.6 billion school funding package. She blasted the Labor party for opposing the funding just because they are in the opposition.