Education Legislation Amendment (Victorian Institute of Teaching, TAFE and Other Matters) Bill 2018

Written on the 21 June 2018

21 June 2018

COUNCIL 

Second reading 

GEORGIE CROZIER (LIB - Southern Metropolitan)

 

I am pleased to be able to rise to make a contribution after Ms Bath and Mr Morris, who I have had the pleasure of listening to in my office. I was very interested in what Mr Morris had to say. He said that the three people who are sitting on the opposition benches are all former teachers. It actually was a really relevant point because

Ms Shing interjected.

Ms CROZIER I was going to mention Mr Mulino as well. I was about to say that I think it is a great loss to the education department that people like Mr Morris, Ms Bath and Mrs Peulich are in the Parliament, but it is our gain, I have to say. I can probably say for you, Ms Shing, that you would say the same thing that it is a great loss that the education department has lost Mr Mulino.

Ms Shing interjected.

Ms CROZIER Do you not agree with that? I think it is a great loss for the education department, Mr Mulino. I have got to say that it was a really relevant point made by Mr Morris. I wanted to make the point that there are three ex-teachers on the opposition benches, and it just shows the depth and the diversity of what we have. I am sure those education facilities would be missing Mr Morris.

This is an important bill because, as has been highlighted by previous speakers, there is no more important a role in a young person's life than that of the education system. That starts at the early education stage and goes through the primary years and into the secondary years, and it is incredibly important that children of education age have that ability to feel safe and secure in their educational setting and in that learning environment. It is very, very important.

Unfortunately there have been far too many instances where the betrayal of trust and the abuse of children have occurred in those educational settings. A working with children check of course is an assessment of a person's suitability to work or volunteer with children, and it is very important to have that if you are working with children. But as other members have said in relation to what has happened, there have been some significant issues around people that have been found to have abused and still been allowed to teach.

This piece of legislation, this bill that we are debating today, is aptly named the Education Legislation Amendment (Victorian Institute of Teaching, TAFE and Other Matters) Bill 2018. It does a number of things. The main purpose of the bill is to increase the protection of children in education and early education settings. As I said previously, it is absolutely critical that children have the ability to feel safe and secure in that learning environment. It is in part a response to the royal commission into sexual abuse, but I can say that when we were conducting the inquiry into child abuse as part of the Victorian child abuse inquiry, which resulted in the Betrayal of Trust report, we went through this issue too. We looked at working with children checks and we looked at how the working with children checks applied here in Victoria as opposed to other jurisdictions and how they actually worked within the school environment, and the Victorian Institute of Teaching (VIT), came into play throughout that inquiry. So I feel like this is not just in response to the royal commission but also in response to some of those issues that were raised through the course of our inquiry as well. Of course we know that unfortunately too many people have betrayed and abused children in those school settings.

This bill, as I said, will align the registration of teachers and early childhood teachers with the scheme under the Working with Children Act 2005 for assessing applicants for a working with children check to see if they are actually suitable. The last thing we want is people with criminal histories or very adverse backgrounds. We are putting the trust of our children in their hands. It is absolutely critical that we have a robust system to ensure that that is undertaken.

The bill also provides penalties for registered teachers who fail to comply with requirements to give the VIT certain information. It requires the VIT to give certain information about the suspension and cancellation of registered teachers to the secretary under the Working with Children Act 2005; it empowers the VIT to share certain information with the secretary under the Working with Children Act 2005 regarding child-related work undertaken by applicants for registration; it provides for the handling of complaints by the Victorian Registration and Qualifications Authority against various persons, bodies, schools and institutions; and it provides for a TAFE institute to merge with an adult education institution. I know that that part of the bill relates to the Box Hill Institute of TAFE merging with the Centre for Adult Education. That will take place under this bill.

Working with children checks, as I said, are absolutely critical for anyone who is dealing with children in a professional or voluntary capacity, especially in the teaching environment. Currently teachers registered under the VIT are not required to also apply for a working with children permit because similar checks are made through the VIT registration process. However, this amendment to this piece of legislation will seek to align the VIT registration process with the Working with Children Act 2005.

The amendment set out in clause 5 replaces the definition of 'sexual offence' with a hierarchy of offence categories that align with the Working with Children Act 2005. They can be from the very serious category A of sexual offences committed by an adult against a child, including child pornography, as well as murder and attempted murder, and rape offences, regardless of the victim's age. Category B includes serious sexual offences and category C covers other indictable offences and specified summary offences, as well as serious misconduct that is not criminal.

I think that is worthy to note because those penalties will apply according to those various categories. They are serious. We are talking about some very serious crimes and unfortunately far too many instances of where children have been abused or taken advantage of, groomed and where terrible abuse has occurred which has led to some lifelong implications. I certainly saw that through the course of the inquiry that this Parliament did back in 201213.

Why are we debating this legislation? It came out of the review that some of my colleagues have spoken about in relation to a number of instances where, for instance, a Victorian teacher, who admitted to grooming a 15-year-old girl for sex almost four decades ago, had been allowed to continue working in schools. That story highlighted the flaws and the issues surrounding the process, and how people who have committed these crimes have been allowed to continue to teach. We have to be very, very careful about those children who are vulnerable and are at risk of predators like this. That review highlighted the issues of various individuals who had dodgy pasts or had criminal records and the like and needed to be called out.

I note that, as my colleagues have said, the opposition will not be opposing this legislation. We need to ensure that we have a robust system to protect our children. This piece of legislation will ensure that the loophole that was there can be closed so that we can feel somewhat more confident, although not entirely, because we can never protect everyone. The closing of this loophole will go a step further to ensuring the safety of some of Victoria's most vulnerable that being children in the educational setting.

 


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