The federal opposition has seized on reports one of the men tasked with reforming Australia’s national curriculum was previously employed by big tobacco to design education packs for schools.
The coalition on Friday announced that Kevin Donnelly, a former chief of staff to Howard government minister Kevin Andrews, would be one of two men to review the national schools curriculum.
Fairfax Media reported on Sunday that Dr Donnelly was previously employed by tobacco firm Phillip Morris to design a school program that taught children about peer pressure and decision-making.
Labor education spokeswoman Kate Ellis said education experts, not people with strident political views, should decide on the curriculum in the nation’s schools.
“Only (Prime Minister) Tony Abbott would think it’s OK to appoint someone who’s been paid by big tobacco to roll out propaganda to school kids to such a significant position,” she said in a statement on Sunday.
The 1999 material designed by Dr Donnelly encouraged students to make their own decisions about doing “something wrong”, including smoking.
Only later versions of the guide discussed the harmful impacts of smoking.
Dr Donnelly said he had never hidden his work for Phillip Morris and had taken the project on the condition he would have full editorial control.
He said a lot of the health impacts surrounding smoking had been well covered.
Dr Donnelly is director of Education Standards Institute and the author of Australia’s Education Revolution: How Kevin Rudd Won and Lost the Education Wars.
He taught for 18 years in government and non-government schools and is a critic of Labor’s education reforms, including the Gonski review.