Education and Training Reform Amendment (Protection of School Communities) Bill 2021 – Second Reading
Ms ADDISON (Wendouree) (14:23): It is an absolute pleasure to stand up and talk about an area that I have such a great interest in, that being the education of future generations of Victorians, and today talking about the protection of our schools, protecting our school communities and protecting our teachers.
Our teachers need protection, very sadly. That is why this bill has been introduced, and I am very, very proud to go in to bat for teachers. After being a teacher myself for 12 years and having lots and lots of very good friends who are teachers, I am so proud to go in to bat for them and support this very important Education and Training Reform Amendment (Protection of School Communities) Bill 2021.
I would like to thank the member for Croydon, the Shadow Minister for Education, for his thorough discussion of the bill, going through the technicalities and making sure that everybody in this house has a very strong understanding of why we are doing this and what the bill actually hopes to achieve. So I thank him for his contribution, and I also acknowledge the opposition’s support for this important amendment that will make our schools safer.
What we are doing today, and why this is so important, is because we need to give Victorian government and independent schools the power to ban aggressive and violent parents from entering school grounds in order to protect students and staff. The bill amends the Education and Training Reform Act 2006 to address the very important issue of occupational violence and aggression that can be directed towards school staff from adult members of the school community, including parents and carers of students.
This bill introduces new orders that restrain certain behaviours from occurring on school premises and school-related places. Let me be very, very clear: there is no place for violence, intimidation and abuse in our schools. They are places of learning, not only academic learning but learning of important life skills of respect, of being able to get along with people, of being able to hear opinions that you do not agree with. They are not places where we should be having anyone being abusive or abused.
These powers show the very great respect that we have for our teachers and our schools in the Education State, and that is why this bill will apply to not only the 1500 government schools but also our 500 Catholic schools and more than 220 independent schools. This new legislation is going to make it safer for 1 million students enrolled in these schools across Victoria, and I am very fortunate in my electorate to have a number of amazing schools. We have Ballarat High School, we have Mount Rowan Secondary College, we have Loreto College, we have St Patrick’s College, we have Ballarat Clarendon College and Ballarat Grammar school, as well as numerous government primary schools and Catholic primary schools.
I was looking on the Victorian Institute of Teaching website today as I was really trying to get a sense of how many teachers we have in Victoria, and I was really quite surprised to see that as of February last year, in 2020, 135 000 people were registered as teachers with the VIT. That is a larger population than Ballarat. It is a larger population than Bendigo. It is such a very significant group of people, and that is why this legislation is so important—135 000 registered teachers need to be protected in their workplace.
I would really like to thank the teachers, particularly in my electorate of Wendouree who, when the latest announcements regarding the lockdown were made, just switched to online learning. They just got on with the job. Nobody wanted remote learning to start again. It was hugely disruptive, but our teachers and our principals and our support staff and our admin rose to the challenge, and I thank them for that.
After all we had been through last year, we did not want to be in this position again to go into remote learning, but our teachers did what it took to make things happen, and it was a seamless transition back into remote learning. And then for the good teachers in regional Victoria to be back on deck in their classrooms on Friday, we are so grateful to them for all that they do.
This bill will mean that parents or carers or any other adult members of the community who abuse teaching staff or principals or admin assistants can be banned from the school grounds for up to 14 days, and the penalties are tough. For those caught breaking an order—so if an order has been made against you and you break it—you could be fined up to $10 000, because we are serious about protecting our teachers.
And I would like to thank the Minister for Education, his ministerial office and the department for the work that has gone into the development of this important bill that will make our schools safer for everyone. Because the Education State and building the Education State is not just about building new schools and improving infrastructure across our state, it is also about building respect for our teachers, and that is what this bill does. Because schools are such important institutions in our society, and as a former teacher and as a parent of school-aged children, I strongly support the protection of our school communities, our staff, our students and also their families.
One of the many reasons I am supporting this bill is that I want our schools to be safe places of teaching and learning. In introducing this bill we are delivering on a key recommendation made by the 2018 Protective Schools Ministerial Taskforce: to make our schools safer for everyone.
This bill will allow authorised persons, including our school principals—positions of such great leadership in our community—to have the power to issue school community safety orders to parents, carers and other people who engage in harmful, threatening and abusive behaviour at our schools. But this is going to go beyond the school building because in this era of social media and electronic communication this bill also includes provision to address any behaviours that include online abuse or threatening communication through emails, messages, texts or any other channels. These orders cannot be applied to children, students or staff employed at the school. They are for people who do not attend or do not work at the school.
This legislation has come about—and it was mentioned by the member for Croydon—with a high level of stakeholder engagement and comprehensive consultation. I am very pleased that our good friends in the AEU—the Australian Education Union—and also my union, the Independent Education Union, have been involved in the consultation regarding the introduction of this.
As a proud IEU member I would really like to take this opportunity to congratulate general secretary Deb James of the Independent Education Union, Victoria and Tasmania branch, on being elected to the Victorian Trades Hall Council presidency. Deb is an outstanding unionist. She has been general secretary of the IEU since 2006, and she has done her very best to promote and advance the issues of independent school teachers across Victoria. To have her be president of the Victorian Trades Hall Council is something I am very proud of as a member of the IEU.
I would also like to thank Meredith Peace for her incredible leadership of the AEU. I recently met with my local AEU organiser, Billy McCabe, and delegates and members to hear directly about the issues that are facing them at school. It was really great to be able to share stories about late-night marking and the stresses and challenges of end of term and report writing.
But we have not just consulted the unions; we have consulted school associations, parent associations, Victoria Legal Aid, the Victorian Aboriginal Legal Service, the Victorian Equal Opportunity and Human Rights Commission, the Victorian Multicultural Commission and Victoria Police. All of these different groups have welcomed the proposed changes because this is important to Victoria, it is important to our 135 000 registered teachers, it is important to our 1500 government schools, it is important to our 500 Catholic schools and it is important to our 220 independent schools that they are safe and that what happens at school is teaching and learning, not abuse and intimidation.
So I am very, very proud to commend this important legislation to the house, and I hope that it has speedy passage.