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Students Say Julie Bishop Is Using Them As "Political Pawns"

They've called for schools to be a "politically neutral space" during the election campaign.

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High School students in the Blue Mountains, outside of Sydney, have accused the foreign minister of using them as pawns in the election campaign after she posted pictures of them on her Facebook page without their permission.

Facebook: JBishopMP

Students from Winmalee High School have taken to Julie Bishop's Facebook page to complain that they were promised the event would be politically neutral. The images of her visit have been used as part of the government's election campaign.

Before the visit, student Ben said he voiced his concerns about a Liberal politician speaking to first time voters during an election campaign, but says he was assured by the school principal that "[Bishop was] coming for the sole purpose of discussing [her] role as Foreign Affairs Minister, Australia's involvement in the world community and what opportunities were available for us in foreign affairs". Despite being happy with the content of Bishop's talk, which he found "very good and helpful", Ben was disappointed when he saw the Facebook post being used to spruik the election with the hashtags #ausvotes and #election2016."I thought (apparently wrongfully) that you were honestly there to help us as young people entering the greater community to pursue opportunities. I suppose this was naive of me," Ben wrote. In a series of comments, Ben argues that "politicizing [sic] a school event is not appropriate", and he wishes school environments could be kept politically neutral and not used as a space to promote views or beliefs.
Facebook / Via Facebook: JBishopMP

Before the visit, student Ben said he voiced his concerns about a Liberal politician speaking to first time voters during an election campaign, but says he was assured by the school principal that "[Bishop was] coming for the sole purpose of discussing [her] role as Foreign Affairs Minister, Australia's involvement in the world community and what opportunities were available for us in foreign affairs".

Despite being happy with the content of Bishop's talk, which he found "very good and helpful", Ben was disappointed when he saw the Facebook post being used to spruik the election with the hashtags #ausvotes and #election2016.

"I thought (apparently wrongfully) that you were honestly there to help us as young people entering the greater community to pursue opportunities. I suppose this was naive of me," Ben wrote.

In a series of comments, Ben argues that "politicizing [sic] a school event is not appropriate", and he wishes school environments could be kept politically neutral and not used as a space to promote views or beliefs.

This is the photo the students are worried about.

Facebook / Via Facebook: JBishopMP

A number of other students also chimed into the debate, adding that they were told they wouldn't appear in photographs, and requesting the pictures be taken down as they don't want to be used as "a pawn in [the government's] political campaign" or "political propaganda".

Facebook / Via Facebook: JBishopMP

Student Samantha had a stronger reaction, accusing Bishop of lying to her face.

Facebook / Via Facebook: JBishopMP

The hashtags #ausvotes and #election2016 have been removed from the post, but the image still remains and there has been no response from the minister to the students' questions on Facebook.

Facebook / Via Facebook: JBishopMP

Samantha and Ben told BuzzFeed News the minister hasn't contacted them or their peers directly to answer their questions and complaints, but the school had been in contact with her office.

"I'm mostly annoyed to be in the photo when I was told that I wouldn't be," Samantha said.Ben said he doesn't mind if the photos stay up as long as they're not associated with the election. He's just happy the hashtags were removed. "I am not really too bothered whether she replies or not ... though it would be nice if some sort of apology was given or at least a recognition that it was inappropriate to use the visit as a campaigning opportunity," Ben told BuzzFeed News.
Facebook / Via Facebook: JBishopMP

"I'm mostly annoyed to be in the photo when I was told that I wouldn't be," Samantha said.

Ben said he doesn't mind if the photos stay up as long as they're not associated with the election. He's just happy the hashtags were removed.

"I am not really too bothered whether she replies or not ... though it would be nice if some sort of apology was given or at least a recognition that it was inappropriate to use the visit as a campaigning opportunity," Ben told BuzzFeed News.

Since the election was called on 8 May, the minister has used other school visits to promote the budget and the election campaign.

Facebook: JBishopMP

When asked, Bishop's office told BuzzFeed News they would not be removing the photos.

"The Foreign Minister and Deputy Liberal Leader was at Winmalee High School as part of a visit to Louise Markus MP in the electorate of Macquarie.

The Minister was asked to speak to students about her role as a member of Parliament and Foreign Minister, and she also answered a number of questions from the students. The Minister was given a tour of the school's hospitality facilities.

School officials advised that students were asked to indicate if they did not wish to be photographed, otherwise photographs of the visit were permitted. When students asked for 'selfies' the Minister obliged."

Alice Workman is a political reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in Canberra.

Contact Alice Workman at alice.workman@buzzfeed.com.

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