Education and Training Reform Amendment (Miscellaneous) Bill 2016
Written on the 1 September 2016
16 August 2016
GEORGIE CROZIER (LIB - Southern Metropolitan)
I am pleased to be able to rise this afternoon and make a contribution to the Education and Training Reform Amendment (Miscellaneous) Bill 2016. As has been said by other members, this bill will empower the Secretary of the Department of Education and Training to summarily dismiss a member of the government teaching service for serious misconduct, put in place a statutory debt recovery arrangement for financial assistance that is provided by the commonwealth to Victoria for schools, ensure that new sexual offences under the Criminal Code of the commonwealth can be taken into account when assessing the registration and performance of Victorian schools or teachers, simplify and clarify procedures relating to the Victorian Institute of Teaching (VIT), and make minor and technical amendments.I note that Mr Wakeling, the member for Ferntree Gully in the other place, made a number of comments in his contribution on the bill in relation to the findings of IBAC following its investigation into the rorting of education. Mrs Peulich has similarly commented on this. I think these are indeed very important because IBAC found that serious misconduct had occurred in the education department. There was a lot of media attention paid recently to this issue, and article after article demonstrated that there were serious concerns in relation to a number of individuals who, quite frankly, did defraud the state and gained from the misappropriation of public funds.
At the time the former coalition government was setting up IBAC the now government criticised its formation, saying that it would be a toothless tiger. The findings from this particular inquiry were certainly alarming and I think demonstrated the powers of IBAC. We have of course seen in the IBAC inquiry that another project set up by the former Labor was mismanaged that is, the ultranet project. It was certainly extraordinary to see what IBAC uncovered in the course of its inquiry. I do not want to go on about that too much because it has been canvassed in other contributions, other than to say that there was an enormous amount of public money misspent. I am quoting now from an article in the Age of July last year, which states:The $2.5 million in public funds involved in potentially corrupt transactions would go a long way in state schools. It remains unclear whether schools will recoup any of the money that was misspent or whether assets will be seized from officials who were found to be corrupt.
The article also goes on to talk about the ultranet project and states:The rorted $2.5 million identified by IBAC is minuscule compared with the cost of the botched $180 million ultranet computer system, which was supposed to revolutionise school life.
There were serious concerns about that process.This bill looks at a number of areas. It wants to not only minimise the disruption caused when teachers engage in the types of serious misconduct that I have alluded to but also, more importantly, deal with any teacher who might pose an unacceptable risk of harm to children. In that case of course they would need to be suspended. I know that when I was involved in the Victorian parliamentary child abuse inquiry we certainly looked at this issue in relation to teachers and the early education sector and at the time noted that the Victorian Institute of Teaching (VIT) did have specific standards that needed to be adhered to.
Teachers have a unique role in terms of creating a safe educational environment. At no time should a teacher who has a professional relationship with a student enter into a sexual relationship with them, use any sexual innuendo or engage in any of the types of issues that this bill seeks to address which require suspension of their registration. I know that the suspension of a teacher's registration is not undertaken lightly. It is something that needs to be considered seriously, but it also needs to be in the best interests of the children that that teachers is protecting. Of course the education facilities will want to have some oversight of this if they can and have some say in relation to what they can and cannot do.This bill also looks at various elements of the make-up of the board. I note that this was something the former government looked at closely. The coalition wanted to have input from people who are directly involved in the education of young people and students. It was very clear at the time that the coalition did not want the unions to be overly represented on the board or for them to overly influence the board, but this bill looks to ensure that that will occur.
The coalition will not be supporting clause 8, which inserts new section 2.6.64(2), which requires the minister to consult with either the Australian Education Union or the Independent Education Union on filling a relevant vacancy on the VIT board. This is something that the coalition does have concerns about in relation to the power and influence of the unions. I note that the government is bringing in a house amendment to ensure that the secretary has ultimate power, which suggests that that could be more open to influence from the unions. I hope that would not be the case, but nevertheless if we do not have a range of people on those boards, then that is open to occur.I just want to move quickly to the area that I have responsibility for, and that is in relation to the early education sector. When I consulted with the sector on the provision to enable early childhood educators in regional and rural Victoria who require registration to not be bound by the requirement to hold an approved qualification and for the secretary to grant temporary approvals to work, it was clear that it is a very reasonable provision of this bill. Often it is difficult to get educators in those areas there may be a shortage or there may be a time factor in play so I think it is a common-sense measure. As I said, at the time of looking at this bill there were no real concerns in relation to this sensible provision in the bill.
In the final few moments of my contribution, I return to Mr Wakeling and his contribution on the bill. He referred to the commonwealth's inability to recoup funds from school authorities and school bodies and the fact that that needed to come through the states. The new provision that provides for debt recovery arrangements is I think another area of the bill that is welcome and where a common-sense measure applies that will enable those moneys to be recouped if necessary.I do not think there is too much more that I need to say that others have not covered in their contributions. Suffice to say that the coalition welcomes any legislation that gives assurance to Victorian communities that there are provisions in place to protect students from those that might be wanting to sexually exploit or seeking to have an unprofessional relationship with them, as clearly they need to be protected. In saying that, I do note that this also goes to our looking at the area of forced marriage. Speaking just briefly to that, I note that of course that is not a common occurrence in this country, but it could occur, so this bill also highlights that provision. Should that occur in our community, this bill addresses that issue, saying that it is completely unacceptable.
There are a number of very good parts to this bill in relation to protecting children and providing safe learning environments for them to enable them to gain the necessary education to further their future opportunities.