Ms BATH (Eastern Victoria) (16:24): I am really pleased this afternoon to make a brief contribution on the Education and Training Reform Amendment (Protection of School Communities) Bill 2021. In doing so I will say that my colleague and shadow minister in this place, Dr Bach, has canvassed quite comprehensively the Liberal and Nationals position, but I just wanted to raise a couple of points and put my comments around the importance of a great education system and really good teachers. The Nationals will be supporting this bill.
Now, in a former life, 6½ years ago, I was a teacher at a fantastic school—a country school, a regional state school—called Mirboo North Secondary College, and I had the great pleasure of working with approximately 30 fantastic staff members and educational support. What I want to say is that we need to continue to have such dedicated staff, such great teachers in our rural and regional schools, and it is another whole ball game as to how we direct, encourage, stimulate and attract people into regional schools. But one other really important matter is when young people are making a decision—‘Will I go and become an accountant and earn lots of money and be highly successful but maybe a little bit more sedentary, or will I go and throw myself into the system and become a teacher, become an educator, become a communicator and hopefully become an inspiration to my students, at the very best, and at a reasonable standard provide a good education?’—what we do not want people to think, what we do not want our young people or our people returning to a new field to say, is, ‘I don’t want to be in that environment, because I know that it’s actually an unsafe environment for me to operate in. I know that there are unfortunately parents, guardians and the like that are creating an unsafe workplace for me’. This bill to my mind is part of the element of this. Hopefully when people are making that decision about, ‘Will I go into an education career?’ they can say, ‘Well, this bill helps to ensure a greater level of safety of recalcitrant and dangerous parents or guardians or school associates related to children’.
Now, as we have heard before, all of these groups are in the minority. The vast majority of our thousands and thousands of parents, siblings and guardians do the right thing. Not only do they do the right thing but they absolutely support children through the educational system. But we need to fortify and protect our staff and our hardworking teachers on all levels in both the public and the private sectors.
Now, it seems to me also that in many ways we—Australia and Australians—in 2021 have become more casual. Once upon a time the role of the teacher was far more respected in society as a whole. Now, in many ways I think the ability to be informal in our school system, a bit more relaxed than it once was, is a good thing because it can really stimulate great relationships, positive and still professional relationships, between staff and staff, and staff and students. But what we still do not want is for that to drop too far so that our staff are not being given the level of respect that they absolutely deserve for the work that they do in our school communities.
It is a busy life, the day of a teacher. It often starts the night before or the weekend before, in order to get ready for that day. It is a busy life. There is bus duty—if you work in a regional school you often have to do bus duty or yard duty. You have got lesson preparation, you have got home room, as we used to call it. You have got a busy day actually conducting your lessons and jumping between classes—if you are in secondary college, certainly—and really being comprehensive around producing a really fulsome curriculum in the primary and junior schools, without a doubt. It is busy, and many staff see their students at lunchtime. Many staff even stay after work if that can be adapted, depending on the school situation, to do that additional homework and support. They are the pillars of society, hardworking and conscientious, and a big shout-out to the members of staff who still might recall my name at Mirboo North Secondary College. I value them very much for the work they do, and all teachers also in society.
We have seen that students are potentially struggling more than they ever have before. They struggled last year due to COVID, without a doubt. They struggled through that process of learning online, and despite the good efforts of the schools and the teachers, there are, I think, on the whole, certain students who are slipping through the cracks because they are disengaging with the educational process.
There is nothing like being in a classroom and having that classroom vibe, that learning, that nuance, that understanding, that asking of the question on an instantaneous basis. These are really important things. But a student has to be ready to learn when they come to school, and we have seen unfortunately, certainly in society, that there are students that get to school that do not have a good meal in their stomach, that have come from a fractured home environment for whatever reason. Their head is not in the game, it is not in that school and it is not in that classroom, and that is a great disappointment, and it is a challenge for teachers. We also know that in terms of parents there are fantastic parents who will come into the classroom; if they cannot do that, they are on the end of the phone. They are great communicators with their respective teachers and with their schools, encouraging and supporting. They are the ones that as a teacher you smile at and you say, ‘I know why this student is such a great student’, because you see that whole and comprehensive home life.
But unfortunately there are those, there is that minority, who do not do that, who cannot do that for whatever reason, who live a fractured and potentially mentally unstable life and who have behaviours that are outside the accepted and the norm, and that is what this bill seeks to fortify the teaching fraternity and the wider school community against. It is needed, so we will be supporting this bill. It has come from the Protective Schools Ministerial Taskforce, which was established back in 2018, and there are a number of recommendations from that. I note that there has been wide consultation, and I hope—it seems to be the flavour, seems to be accepted—that it was good consultation. And through that there are those 12 recommendations about how to put the hand up in terms of legislation about threatening or aggressive conduct towards staff.
We have ‘authorised persons’. The word of the season and the word of the last few years is ‘authorised persons’. We know that we have them in relation to COVID. There are authorised persons that can come into a small business and check whether you have been QR coding correctly or whether you are stepping over one line correctly or not—we hear this ‘authorised persons’. We hear of them in terms also of other bills that I will not go down the rabbit hole into. But we hear that the authorised persons will be able to issue a school community safety order to prevent an adult person from entering that school or remaining in it or within a certain range of it for school safety.
Also, in terms of aggressive behaviour on other platforms, it is very important in terms of social media. We see that it is a great medium of communication, and we use it in our parliamentary life, but it is a diabolical level of communication if there is intimidation and aggression shown on social media. In these instances an authorised person would be empowered to ban an offending parent or caregiver.
There are ramifications in the bill in terms of what happens if these orders are overstepped and taken down the wrong way. There are time frames in there. They certainly are ramped up and failure to comply can end up in the Magistrates Court with a civil penalty of 60 units.
I will conclude my remarks there. I do want to finally say that in all of these cases, whatever the situation, paramount to schools, to education and to government should be the safety of children as well. We want our staff safe without a doubt, but we also expect that when a child walks into a school environment they are nurtured from an educational point of view but also safe from any danger, and I think that should always be paramount for this government when making decisions and rules and indeed any investigations that occur in relation to children. With that, I hope after some questions in committee of the whole, I wish this bill a speedy passage.