Education and Training Reform Amendment (Child Safe Schools) Bill 2015

Mr. J. BULL (Sunbury) — It gives me great pleasure to speak on the Education and Training Reform Amendment (Child Safe Schools) Bill 2015. As members have noted, the bill amends the Education and Training Reform Act 2006 to enable the implementation in Victorian schools of the Victorian government’s response to certain recommendations made by the Family and Community Development Committee to the previous Parliament. I acknowledge the contributions made by members on both sides of the house and in particular the contribution made by the member for Broadmeadows, who I know has done a lot of work in this space.

The Andrews government is committed to implementing all the recommendations of the Betrayal of Trust report, and the previous government agreed in principle to implement all of these recommendations.

Before I talk about the mechanisms within the bill, I would like to talk about the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse, and in particular the example of Frank, who did not use his real name. Frank attended the royal commission hearings in Perth, and the commission’s website states:

He told two commissioners of the sexual abuse he suffered at the hands of the Catholic brothers who ran the institution. He says that sexual abuse was accompanied by constant and quite extraordinary levels of physical abuse. The children were belted with straps with metal objects in them. They were punished for minor transgressions by isolation and deprivation of basic sustenance. Their lives were completely miserable.

Although his experience occurred 50 years ago, until he decided to talk to the royal commission, Frank had not been able to tell any of his family what had happened to him. He disclosed to his children only two weeks before coming to the commission. He was only able to tell his wife of his childhood experiences the night before he came to talk with us.

This bill will take the first step towards implementing recommendations 12.1 and 16.1 of the Betrayal of Trust report.

The bill will amend the Education and Training Reform Act 2006 to add a minimum standard for registration of government and non-government schools which is about ensuring child safety and responding to suspected child abuse within Victorian schools. It will empower the minister to make a ministerial order to prescribe the policies, procedures, codes and other measures that schools are required to develop and implement to manage the risks of child abuse. It will also enhance the power of the Victorian Registration and Qualifications Authority to monitor and ensure compliance with the prescribed minimum standards for registration and make a number of statute law revision amendments to fix typographical errors and incorrect numerical and technological references.

In meeting with local schools in the electorate of Sunbury it is clear that they welcome any guidance and assistance on matters that pertain to child protection and child abuse. The Betrayal of Trust report arising from the inquiry conducted by the Family and Community Development Committee made 15 recommendations after analysing practices, protocols and policies for organisations that had concerns about recurring abuse. The committee went further and investigated whether these policies actually precluded or discouraged reporting of abuse, and this is a very important point.

I want to now speak about recommendations 12.1 and 16.1. Recommendation 12.1 revolves around the implementation of a minimum standard for a child-safe environment. Once again this is an extremely important point as it considers the funding and organisational structure in its approach. Meanwhile, recommendation 16.1 calls for the review of government school procedures for responding to child abuse allegations so as to identify benchmarks that are suitable for non-government schools. Under the changes proposed in the bill schools will need to take action in relation to child abuse situations that are connected with a school because a child is enrolled in the school, the alleged perpetrator is an employee, contractor or volunteer at the school, or the alleged perpetrator is another student at the school.

Many principals and educational professionals will be asking what they will need to do to meet the new standards. The ministerial order will outline much of this. It may require schools to publicly commit to zero tolerance of child abuse, work to develop principles, policies and procedures for managing risks, and amp up referee checks and pre-employment screening.

It is also worth noting that the current teaching regulatory body, the Victorian Institute of Teaching (VIT), will continue to act upon registrations for all Victorian government, Catholic and independent schools. To qualify currently teachers undergo a national criminal history check covering all Australian jurisdictions. The government does not expect the VIT teaching code of conduct to be directly changed as a result of this legislation.

The Andrews Labor government considers family violence to be the state’s greatest challenge. It is devastating and a disgrace to know that day after day Victorians from all walks of life present at emergency departments and local clinics with injuries as a result of violence. Of course there are those who do not present at emergency departments or local clinics, and tragically sometimes the worst case scenario can occur.

All members in this house agree that we must do more to protect vulnerable Victorians, especially women and children. It is extremely pleasing to see that just today the Minister for Police and the Minister for the Prevention of Family Violence have appointed an assistant commissioner of Victoria Police to head up Australia’s first family violence police command. This new command will dedicate itself to investigating family violence, sexual assault and child abuse where the perpetrator and victim know one another.

As a society and community we need to protect our children from all forms of sexual violence, physical and emotional abuse, and neglect. As a former teacher I am particularly passionate about this bill, and I commend it to the house.