Education and Training Reform Amendment (Miscellaneous) Bill 2016
Ms GRALEY (Narre Warren South) — I have to say that building the education state is a responsibility this government does take seriously. We have got a concerted and deliberate agenda to make Victoria the education state.
After just listening to the waffle that came out of the shadow Minister for Education’s mouth in the last 3 minutes of his contribution on the Education and Training Reform Amendment (Miscellaneous) Bill 2016, I am going to tell you that we will not be distracted by the suggestions made by those opposite. Certainly we will not be taking up the irregular comments coming from Canberra — from the Treasurer one day and from the Prime Minister the next day, who do not have any idea of what is required to build a great education system for every child in Victoria. That is what this government is dedicated to: making sure that every child in every classroom in every school can achieve their education potential and is set up for the capacity to have lifelong learning to get a job and to be successful in life. But it is more than that.
It is really important that when our children, our parents and our teachers go to school they have a safe and secure environment in which they can learn, teach and share the responsibility of bringing up the child. It is also important that we have a responsible department that supports those schools in our community. It is an important role of government to make sure that the Department of Education and Training works effectively, and we have given it extra resources and the capacity to restructure itself so it is more in tune with students’ needs and more responsive to what the community expects from the education system. It is certainly our responsibility as a government and as parents, taxpayers and citizens, to expect that every dollar that goes into the department to be spent on education is spent on providing the best education for students. We know, as a wise and responsible government, that we want to have a responsible and wise public service backing us up.
This bill is a very important step in the direction of ensuring that our schools are safe and secure environments and that we have responsible and accountable governance in the department. The bill makes miscellaneous amendments to the Education and Training Reform Act 2006 to confirm that the secretary has a summary dismissal power where a government teaching service employee has engaged in serious misconduct. It provides for a statutory debt recovery arrangement in relation to commonwealth funding for schools. It expands the definition of ‘sexual offence’ to be taken into account when addressing school registration or teacher employment and registration. It simplifies the process in relation to acting arrangements for the Victorian Institute of Teaching and the temporary approval of early childhood teachers, and it makes minor technical amendments to correct typographical and grammatical errors.
As I said, this is an important bill. We have all witnessed the IBAC investigation through Operation Ord. This is part of a series of measures relating to the secretary’s public commitment to examine potential regulatory reform to ensure that serious misconduct can be more effectively managed.
I thank the shadow minister for agreeing that this is a step in the right direction. As he quite correctly said, we have had some appalling examples of misbehaviour, and we have had some examples of highly appropriate — I think they were the words he used — misuse of government funds. I do not think there would be a parent out there who does not want to have the best facilities and the best teachers in their school. They go about their days selling lamingtons, having chocolate drives and running marathons — doing all sorts of things to make sure that they can provide extra funds for their school. To hear of the misuse of funds that happened in the department during a period of time really makes it very difficult for parents to say that they feel confident about what is happening in the education system. When they hear of people having extravagant lunches, going on very expensive trips and giving advantages to relatives so that their families are better looked after than the families of most people in the community, we realise that has to stop, and it has to stop quickly.
Under the provisions in the existing act there are two barriers to the efficient management of serious misconduct. They is a lengthy and complex dismissal process and there i an absence of any explicit legal power for the secretary to summarily terminate — that is, without giving notice — the employment of a member of the government teaching service for serious misconduct We are talking about a lot of different forms of misconduct, but it is very important that when she knows — as in this case — that something is really rotten, appalling and highly inappropriate, as the shadow minister said, the secretary have the power to act swiftly to rectify things and make sure that every teacher and teaching department official is on the job and providing an excellent education for our children.
The proposed amendment confirms an employee’s right to appeal to the Disciplinary Appeals Boards and that an employee’s right to seek remedy under the Fair Work Act will not be affected. The Australian Principals Federation, the Victorian Principals Association and the Victorian Association of State Secondary Principals support the introduction of the proposed summary dismissal power. I am very pleased to see that the leaders in our community are getting behind the government in taking steps to introduce these corrective measures.
Whilst I have a little bit of time left, the second thing I would like to talk about are the provisions relating to sexual offences. The definition of ‘sexual offence’ is expanded in the principal act to include the following additional offences under the Criminal Code of the commonwealth: forced marriage involving a person under 18 years of age, as provided for in section 270.7B; using a carriage service for sexual activity with a person under 16 years of age; and using a carriage service to transmit indecent communication to persons under 16 years of age. The commission of the relevant offences under the Criminal Code of the commonwealth, as with any charge relating to these offences, will be taken into account when assessing school registration or teacher employment and registration in Victoria.
I know that in my own electorate there have been examples of some highly inappropriate sexual activity at certain schools. It has been a difficult time for the school, the teaching service and the principal and also for the community. I have to say that sadly probably the department did not have the capacity or did not deem it necessary to take the appropriate action quickly enough. I have had principals talk to me about many cases of activities in their schools. They actually need some more direction and some more power to be able to resolve such issues quickly.
As I said, this is an important bill. It is part of an immense and complex jigsaw that the Victorian government has in rebuilding the education system, as I would like to remind those opposite. It is well and good for members opposite to lecture members on this side about which schools we should be funding, but I would like to remind them that this year, 2016, when kids were going back to school there was not one new school opened in Victoria, such was the legacy of the previous government. It did nothing but cut and gut the education system. That is the legacy and the truth of the matter. Nobody can deny that and that kids, especially those in the outer suburbs, are sitting in overcrowded classrooms because the new school that should have been there when they moved into their new house and their community has not been built.
I am pleased to say that this government is certainly getting on with the job of building new schools in the outer suburbs. We are getting on with the job of making sure that every kid in every school gets the best possible education opportunity. Victoria is going to be the education state.