The high-achieving schools of northern Sydney are in danger of being "dumbed down" to one generic Australian standard under the federalised education scheme planned by the Rudd Labor government, according to comments reportedly made by opposition seniors spokeswoman Bronwyn Bishop to her constituents.
The Mackellar MP then asked voters if they wanted their schools to be the same as Tasmania's, and answered her own question: "No, thank you."
Ms Bishop, MP for the affluent northern beaches electorate of MacKellar and a special favourite of Opposition Leader Tony Abbott, reportedly made the remarks on Monday night at an election forum held in Mona Vale and attended by candidates for the seat from the ALP, the Greens, the Palmer United Party and the Christian Democratic Party.
Linda Kewin, a 49-year-old Dee Why resident who attended the forum, said Ms Bishop's comments came after a group of pro-Gonski activists asked a question about the Coalition's education policy.
"When the topic came to education, she made a comment that we don't want our kids to end up like those in Tasmania," Ms Kewin said.
"It was an offensive comment. She used the words 'dumbing down'."
Ms Kewin is acquainted with the Labor candidate for Mackellar, Chris Hedge, but is not a member of any political party. She lives in the neighbouring seat of Warringah, which is Mr Abbott's seat.
Fairfax Media spoke to two other attendees at the forum who confirmed the remarks attributed to Ms Bishop.
Both said Ms Bishop said the schools in northern Sydney were the best in Australia and any move to a federalised education scheme would lead to their "dumbing down".
The forum was attended by about 150 people and according to a local newspaper report, constituents asked questions on everything from same sex marriage to self-funded retirees.
According to the report, Ms Bishop responded to a question about public transport on the northern beaches by saying that increased public transport would bring more people to the northern beaches, which residents didn't want.
"They do call us the insular peninsula, but we do have a special way of life that should be protected," she said.
Ms Kewin said the meeting was "robust" and Ms Bishop received some boos and hisses from the crowd when she made her remarks about the schools.
"She copped a lot of flack. It was a robust meeting, not everyone agreed with her," she said.
Ms Bishop has been contacted for comment.