I will not back down - Pauline Hanson remains defiant on autism segregation

Education Minister Simon Birmingham has repeatedly refused to condemn Pauline Hanson's comments students with disabilities should be segregated from mainstream classrooms, while the One Nation leader remained defiant against calls for an apology.

With the Gonski deal hanging in the balance, Senator Birmingham refused to renounce or even mention Senator Hanson's name, when questioned on the issue during question time on Thursday.

And Senator Hanson would not be cowed, facing down repeated calls for her to apologise, while maintaining she was right, blaming political opponents and the media for the backlash, saying she had been taken out of context.

She continued to speak about segregation as the best answer for both children with disabilities and other students, while denying she had advocated segregation. 

Senator Pauline Hanson during a press conference at Parliament House Canberra on June 22, 2017. Photo: Andrew Meares

Senator Pauline Hanson during a press conference at Parliament House Canberra on June 22, 2017. Photo: Andrew Meares

"Teachers are saying it themselves," she said. 

"These children need special care and attention. They are not getting it in a normal classroom. If they need special care and attention, then give it to them. You can actually have a special classroom to teach them in class hours.

"The rest of the time they are allowed to mix with the other kids in the playgrounds and sporting events. Whatever. You must consider their educational needs to help these children progress through."

Unlike the vaccination debate she sparked in March, Senator Hanson said she would not back down over her views.

"What have I said that is offensive? No, that is wrong. You're taking it out of context. I'm not saying they do not belong in the mainstream, I am saying give them the special attention, if they need that special attention."


Labor Senator Murray Watt, who launched into question time with an attack on the Education Minister's refusal to comment, accused the government of selling out its principles "just to suck up to Senator Hanson".

"Senator Birmingham is known as a Liberal moderate," he told Fairfax Media.

"His failure to condemn Senator Hanson can only be because Malcolm Turnbull has instructed him to not jeopardise the government's deal with Senator Hanson."

The Prime Minister's office called any suggestion ministers had been told not to criticise the Queensland senator "completely and utterly false".

"The government completely rejects any suggestion children with disabilities should be segregated," Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull said in a statement.

"Our policies, such as the needs-based schools funding and the NDIS, are based on the principles of inclusion and opportunity; the belief we should help those living with disabilities live full and productive lives."

One Nation's four votes are crucial to the success of the education funding bill, which needs the majority of the crossbench's support, after Labor and the Greens announced they would not support it.

Senator Hanson was announcing her party's decision to side with the government on Wednesday when she veered onto the topic of students with disabilities, including autism.

"I think that we have more autistic children, yet we are not providing the special classrooms or the schools for these autistic children," she said.

"When they are available, they are at a huge expense to parents.

"I think we need to take that into consideration. We need to look at this. It is no good saying that we have to allow these kids to feel good about themselves and that we do not want to upset them and make them feel hurt. I understand that, but we have to be realistic at times and consider the impact this is having on other children in the classroom."

Senator Hanson said it was time for the education system to rid itself of "people who want everyone to feel good about themselves".

Labor and the Greens immediately condemned the comments, with Labor MP Emma Husar, who's son Mitch has autism, expressing her anger and hurt on Thursday morning over the speech.

 "Senator Hanson's comments yesterday are just like all the other comments that Senator Hanson makes," she said.

"They call on people to be divided, and to segregate those people that are different.

"They call on people who are ill-informed to make uneducated comments like those.

 "She owes an apology to every single autistic child in this country; to every one of the parents, like me, because we have got better things to be doing than defending our kids."

Social Services Minister Christian Porter said Senator Hanson's comments were "very wrong".

"I think that when you're an important figure in Parliament, in the Senate, you've got to make sure that you're very well informed about things that you speak about," he told ABC radio.

"I think one of the descriptions that was provided of Senator Hanson's comments was that they were archaic, and that's absolutely right. They were very unhelpful comments."

Queensland LNP MP Luke Howarth said they were "blunt".

But while Labor and the Greens lined up to repeatedly condemn the comments, government voices were, by comparison, small in number.

Senator Birmingham avoided answering the question at least six times during senate question time, leaving it to Attorney-General George Brandis, who, after some deflection of his own, rejected her remarks on  behalf of himself, the Education Minister, the Prime Minister and the government.