Education Legislation Amendment (TAFE and University Governance Reform) Bill 2015

Mr J. BULL (Sunbury) — It gives me great pleasure to contribute to the debate on the Education Legislation Amendment (TAFE and University Governance Reform) Bill 2015. This is a bill that yet again delivers on an election commitment, an important bill relating to the administration and governance of universities and TAFEs in the state. It is an important bill for students, and it is an important bill for equal and fair representation. The bill restores student and staff representation on university and TAFE councils and boards.

Those of us on this side of the house value the input of staff and students at education institutions across Victoria. We value their ideas and we value their feedback. We understand that for our educational institutes to be the best, we must make decisions in the best interests of students and staff and the TAFE and university as a whole.

Just last week I had the great pleasure of bringing eight students into Parliament House from the four secondary schools in my electorate. These students make up the Sunbury youth advisory council. They come from Gladstone Park, Sunbury Downs, Sunbury and Salesian colleges. They are talented, passionate students who want to make a difference in their community.

In relation to the bill, I want to touch on the reasons we formed the youth advisory council. For me it revolves around the notion, the idea, of understanding young people, helping young people to be the best that they can be, and asking them what are the areas that matter to them and how can they best buy into youth policy. Since forming the youth advisory council the students have met on a number of occasions and have shared many great ideas. As I mentioned, last week they toured Parliament House, and I thank Sarah for her tour.

I also thank the member for Yuroke, who has been involved with the youth advisory council, and the Minister for Youth Affairs. I know the minister met with the council and was certainly impressed by the young people’s ideas and their passion.

On the way home from Parliament House I was quite disappointed to hear some students saying they did not really think politics had much to do with them, that they did not think their opinions mattered. I told them that nothing could be further from the truth, that they were the next generation, that they were here to help shape the future.

In the context of this bill I believe these are very valuable lessons. This bill is designed to ensure that the views of staff and students are central to the operations of TAFEs and universities across the state, and restoring their role as representatives on councils and boards represents good governance.

We have already heard from a number of speakers on this side of the house that unfortunately the former government did not show respect to young people and to staff when it abolished their representation on the governing boards of these institutions. This bill reverses that mistake and repairs the damage done by those opposite. When we look at the damage done by those opposite, we see that it has been absolutely astounding and significant. TAFEs were forced into mergers, campuses were closed, courses were cut, fees skyrocketed, 3000 jobs were lost and there was a total of $1.3 billion in cuts.

Higher education and vocational training institutes are large, complex entities that are responsible for large sums of money. While there must be concern with the business and financial outcomes, they must ensure that the educational needs and concerns of staff and students are considered in their decision-making process, hence the importance of this bill. Having staff and student representation on TAFE and university governing bodies will be fundamental in ensuring their role in the decision-making process. These are people who care greatly for the institutions in which they study and to which they belong. In my view, and in the view of members on this side of the house, they should be in these positions so they are able democratically to have their say.

The Andrews government has listened to university and TAFE staff and students who feel their voices were not being heard after the changes made by the former government. This government understands that decision-making authorities — from governments themselves to boards, councils and local organisations — are at their very best when they are made up of a diverse group of individuals. Boards comprising members of different ages, different sexes, different backgrounds and even different football teams often result in the most robust and effective discussion and in essence a greater decision-making process.

The previous government viewed staff and students as merely special-interest groups. That is certainly not the view of the current government. Their input is vital in this decision-making process. This legislation will ensure that these boards make decisions that are not only in the best financial interests of the TAFE or university but also in the best interests of all those who are involved with a particular campus. With those comments I commend the bill to the house.