Disability advocates have slammed One Nation senator Pauline Hanson's call for children with autism to be removed from mainstream classrooms, saying the "hurtful" idea would amount to "segregation".The Queensland senator made the suggestion during debate on the Federal Government's school funding legislation, saying children with disabilities were putting a strain on teachers and schools and should be educated separately.
"These kids have a right to an education, by all means, but, if there are a number of them, these children should go into a special classroom and be looked after and given that special attention," she told the chamber.
"Because most of the time the teacher spends so much time on them they forget about the child who is straining at the bit and wants to go ahead in leaps and bounds in their education."Both Labor and the Greens have condemned Senator Hanson's remarks while disability advocates, including Craig Wallace, said there was no evidence to support her claims.
"What the evidence does tell us is that students with a disability perform much worse when they are put away in segregated settings and denied the benefits of a mainstream face-to-face education," he said.
Photo: Disability advocate Craig Wallace said there was no evidence to support the senator's claims. (ABC News: Adrienne Francis)
Mr Wallace speaks from personal experience.
He was sent to a so-called special school, which he said was like a warehouse where children with disabilities were "shunted away" and given a cheap education.
"It is segregation, it is a kind of apartheid and it's one that many of us experienced personally," he said.
"It simply doesn't work, it's second rate and no-one benefits by people with disabilities being excluded."His comments were echoed by Autism Australia chief executive Nicole Rogerson, whose 21-year-old son Jack has autism.
She said she felt sick when she heard Senator Hanson's "repulsive, bigoted and hurtful" comments and argued they took "the discussion about inclusive education back about 50 years".
"Any Australian still listening to that woman needs to seriously think about what they're doing," she said.
Ms Rogerson said Senator Hanson would do well to realise there were 160,000 Australians with autism and accused her of turning her back on the "battlers" she claimed to represent.
"They vote and their parents vote and their grandparents vote and they will not be voting for her," she said.
"If she cares about the battlers, she needs to know that those battlers have got kids with autism and they're struggling."
Greens senator Rachel Siewert called on Senator Hanson to apologise and retract her comments, which she said showed "a lack of understanding of the issues and the fact that people have been working so strongly to ensure we have an inclusive community".