Education Legislation Amendment (Governance) Bill 2012

Ms GRALEY (Narre Warren South) — It is a pleasure to rise to speak in the debate on the Education Legislation Amendment (Governance) Bill 2012, because this is a life-changing bill for many people. I cannot help but notice the state of the chamber, which is absolutely bereft, empty, of Liberal Party members holding marginal seats — although we do have
B1 and B2 over there, the intellectual giants and political geniuses of the Liberal Party.

The member for Bentleigh and the member for Burwood, the intellectual giants and political geniuses of the Liberal Party, are in the chamber, but I notice that nobody else is here. Why are they not here? Because they are hiding in their offices.

Where are they? They are cowering in their offices, hiding away, because they have nothing to say on this bill that they would want to read in the papers. They do not want to talk on this because this bill is an absolute disgrace; it is a dog’s breakfast.

If members of the Liberal Party could show courage — or in fact even some political aptitude — and come in here and support the reasoned amendment, that would be a step in the right direction. That would be the right thing to do for the educational futures of our kids, our families and the community.

Sitting suspended 1.00 p.m. until 2.02 p.m.

As I was saying before the luncheon break, this is a very important piece of legislation and, having just sat through question time and seen yet again the government’s utter disregard for the quality of education being provided to the students of Victoria, I again ask those
opposite to reconsider their position on this bill and their position on the reasoned amendment. This is an opportunity for them to fix this problem, to do the right thing by the community, the students and the staff who work in our educational environments by getting behind the opposition’s reasoned amendment.

There are a few more of them in the chamber than there were before lunch, but we are still getting the same inane quality of interjection. I am going to confine my extra comments to the part of the bill that amends the governance arrangements of the university acts to provide for governing councils to be appointed solely on the basis of relevant skills and
experience, with no elected members and no fewer government-appointed members
than council-appointed members, with the size of the council able to be varied by the Governor in Council.

I have been a student and staff member at both La Trobe University and the University of Melbourne, and I am a great supporter of university education and the university experience. It is important not only for people to become well educated but also for our community and our economy.

At present the university acts provide for university councils to consist of
between 14 and 21 members, including at least three elected members who represent the staff and students.

I expect that most of us in this chamber have served on boards, even if only at a local level of management, and we have all been impressed, I am sure, by the quality of people who put their hands up to be on boards and the breadth of their experience. It has been my experience, because I serve on the Monash University Community Council at the Berwick
campus, that it is a very good experience for students and staff to be involved
in. Indeed their contributions are invaluable. I have been especially impressed by the quality of the staff engagement with the real issues that challenge our local area in Berwick and Narre Warren South.

I draw the house’s attention to the comments of Colin Long in an article in yesterday’s Age, where he said that the state should butt out of our universities. His comments ring true. When talking about the fact that no longer will staff and students be on boards, he said:

In the case of universities, it is remarkable that an allegedly ‘conservative’ government would seek to destroy, in one fell swoop, centuries of constitutional tradition that protect universities from the heavy hand of state interference.

The government’s changes to university governance arrangements not only remove elected representatives, they provide the state government with unprecedented ability to interfere in the running of universities.

As I have said, I have worked as a staff member and I have been a student at two universities. I have been very aware that the way that a university will grow to do its best work is without outside interference, and the staff and the students of the University of Melbourne, and indeed the chancellor, Ms Elizabeth Alexander, have expressed extreme
disappointment over the state government’s decision.

Ms Alexander has said that the University of Melbourne Council resolved unanimously to oppose these changes because she sees the heavy hand of state interference in these changes. She has also said:

The University of Melbourne Council is of the strong opinion that each institution should be allowed to choose the governance mission that best reflects its mission and values.

The government should stay out of it. The state government should get out of it and allow the universities to run their business and allow the staff and  students who work, study and do research at these institutions to look after them.

I am very aware of the concerns because I have been contacted by numerous students who are very upset about these changes. One of them has written to me and said:

I have personally sat as a student-elected representative on the Monash Academic Board, and it was one of the most valuable experiences I have had as a student leader. I was involved in determining what programs were offered by my university, in overseeing student complaints and questioning the faculties with the highest number of student
complaints, in passing policy documents that affect my university and the students there at a governance level. Having the voices of student representatives, elected by their peers, heard at this level is critical.

I have heard the member for Mitcham say they can go on some subcommittee — that is, students can be put out where they are not going to be heard because the government does not want to hear their complaints — but the fact is students and staff deserve to be sitting at the big table where the decisions are made, because the decisions are going to impact on them.

I draw the attention of the house especially to the concerns of postgraduate students. If you have been a postgraduate student you would realise that they have special needs and requirements. They are usually busy balancing family life and work, and paying fees. The fact that postgraduate students, through these changes, will be effectively discriminated
against in that they will not have a voice is an area of real concern.

Postgraduate students are often our key researchers, people who will be making an incredible contribution to the quality of our community in the future and our future leaders, yet with this legislation those opposite will be denying them the opportunity to voice their concerns and get their experience across to those who make decisions where it
matters, effectively locking them out. Postgraduate students are very concerned about it.

I will finish by saying that those opposite should get behind our reasoned amendment.