Education and Training Reform Amendment (Miscellaneous) Bill 2015

Ms GRALEY (Narre Warren South) — It is a pleasure this Thursday afternoon to speak on the Education and Training Reform Amendment (Miscellaneous) Bill 2015. The first thing I would like to say is that this is a really important bill because it helps secure educational opportunity for all children and young people in Victoria, irrespective of their postcode, background or education sector.

 Although the shadow Minister for Education said that he does not oppose the bill, he should lift his game and fully support the measure, because this is a very small but important part of rebuilding the education sector that was so badly damaged under the previous government’s regime. As I said, it is a small but important part because it represents one of those rare moments when Parliament can move as one on a problem area that affects many people in our communities and impacts deeply on education settings when schools go belly up.

The government has brought this bill to the house in its current form. The previous government had the opportunity to do this but somehow did not sufficiently get its act together to do so. This is despite the
fact — —

Mr Nardella — It only had four years.

Ms GRALEY — It was only four years. But it wasted them, and we all know that. Schools have been going belly up across the state — not an enormous number of them but a significant number. It does not matter how many. The pain and suffering that occurred when schools could no longer fulfil their financial obligations was deep and there for all to see.

Unlike the shadow Minister for Education, I do not have to resort to newspaper clippings to find out what happened in schools. One of them, ICA Casey College, was in Narre Warren South. I recall it vividly, because I went to the meeting and stood in front of the parents, students and staff. To describe them as pretty upset would be an understatement. It was the start of the 2010 election period, and they were distressed by what had happened at their school. The media was there; it was a big event. People were wondering what was going to happen to their child’s education. A number of those parents had shopped around and chosen that school, thinking they were doing the best thing by their child. I remember Bernadette Hanna, a single mother, who had looked at all the local schools and decided to send her child to ICA. She was quoted in an article in the Berwick News as follows:

‘My son is a bright kid and I wanted to get him a good education’, she said.

‘I borrowed it against my house to pay for my son from year 7 to 12. He finishes year 7 this year, so I should be refunded about $32 000.

‘I have lost 5 kilos since hearing the news. To me, it’s a hell of a lot of money’.

It is a hell of a lot of money to all of us. Another parent talked about the psychological toll on her son and other students if they were to change schools and leave their friends. This was not just about losing the money. Some of these parents had been absolutely conned by ICA into paying the money up front on the basis that they would get a slight reduction in their school fees. ICA was an arm of the Eddy Groves empire, and we all know what happened to that — it was busy buying basketball teams while kids were not getting educated.

The parents and students were horrified. Having to tell those parents that the school was more than likely going to close and that they would more than likely lose all their money was one of the most distressing public experiences of my political life. The administrator had a lot of trouble convincing those parents that the school was probably not going to stay open. Thankfully the school was bought out, and another organisation is now running a very good school. However, the distress, harm and loss that the community, students, staff and parents were experiencing was visible on their faces, and it was very disturbing.

I know the shadow minister said it is not up to the government to bail these schools out, but on this occasion the Brumby government decided, because it was so close to the end of the school year and staff needed to be paid, to provide an injection of funds. In many respects that was a very good and sensible thing to do. The parents were under a lot of stress, and so was the community. By the same token, the principal at my local high school said, ‘I wish I could get $1 million as easily as that’. We took money out of the system to give it to an organisation that should have known how to manage an educational institution and balance its books.

I am mindful that there are other members who want to speak on this bill and I know that many of my colleagues have similar stories to tell, so I will not take my full allotted time. However, I would like to say that I personally believe we have to keep a very close eye on what is happening in many of these small independent schools — not just in terms of their finances. I visited a school in my electorate recently and found that the second part of the national anthem, which talks about welcoming refugees to our shores, had been replaced with the school’s own version, which talks about a religious experience. I also read in the papers recently that some young girls are being excluded from sport. I am glad to see that the Victorian Registration and Qualifications Authority will have additional powers around school governance.

I say to those opposite that this legislation has been a long time in coming to the Parliament, and that should not have been so. These matters should have been dealt with; it may have stopped further schools getting into situations where parents and students are the ones who suffer — not to mention teachers, who often do not get paid out. Without further ado, I fully commend the bill to the house.