Melina BATH (Eastern Victoria) (16:57): I rise today in full and passionate support for the motion put forward by Dr Bach, 156 on the notice paper, that the Andrews government should be condemned for callous cuts to over 80 frontline teachers who work with disability students in classrooms, supporting the students, the teachers, the schools and ultimately also the parents. Approximately 4000 of these fantastic children with disabilities across Victoria and heavily noted in regional Victoria will miss out.
I have had some significant emails from and discussions with parents about this loss – and it is a cut, it is a loss. We heard just before the platitudes of a member reading what he was informed to read about what the Andrews Labor government is doing. I will share with you my experiences from one of my constituents from Eastern Victoria Region, in fact from Eagle Point. She was blindsided by the fact that her school informed her that the visiting teacher that she had for her deaf child, who is now in year 8, would be cut. That visiting teacher had provided nuanced and special services to that child for over six years, since early primary school. She spoke to me and related the importance of that teacher in terms of advice, information and making the journey of education with a hard of hearing or deaf child so very much the focus.
What we have heard from the government here is, ‘Don’t worry. It’s all right’. Well, many, many parents feel that it is not all right. Many elements, whether it be the blind or the deaf or the hard of hearing in our society, are very concerned about this.
They are concerned that the government’s definition of consultation is actually just notification. They are concerned that the consultation is lip-service. They are concerned that whilst they reach out and request advocacy from the Andrews Labor government, they get turned away or at the very least get a platitude.
Matthew Bach: They didn’t talk to one parent of a kid with a disability.
Melina BATH: Correct – they didn’t talk to one parent of a kid with a disability before cutting this service. I will reiterate those very wise words.
Part of our role in here is to learn, to connect and to understand and then to advocate. The other day it was very pleasing to have a very fulsome meeting with the Deaf community from not only Victoria but interstate, from a deaf parent, from a child – a young man – and also from Indigenous Deaf advocates and people doing fantastic work in the country. It was startling. Their passion and disappointment at the current status quo from the Andrews government was palpable. I wanted to drill down and understand. Had they been consulted? No, they had not. It was lip-service. I asked them, ‘What is on your wish list? What do you want to see?’ ‘We want deaf children to have deaf mentors. We want to have early intervention. We want to have deaf teachers not only in the city but also very much in the country, and we want those mentors to be across the school supporting teachers and parents.’ Now, when we talked about specifically the visiting teacher program, they said it is not perfect, but they absolutely endorsed its continuation. It was an important part of them and their child negotiating the way through a mainstream school. We heard discussion over there about special development schools – that is not what this topic is about. It is about providing the service to children with a disability in that classroom scenario, and this government is cutting it. It is cutting it, and the government is saying, ‘Don’t worry, we’ve got the disability inclusion policy, and we’re rolling it out.’ Well, to my understanding so far, it has been rolled out in three pilot programs, and they are saying it is rolling out in other areas. I know in outer Gippsland, in far East Gippsland, it is not going to be rolled out until 2025, and I also know that it will not add one extra in-the-classroom teacher for that vital support.
Matthew Bach: No teachers.
Melina BATH: No teachers. Some of the things that I learned the other day I will be very keen to advocate for in the future. In terms of deaf children, we have got 2500 deaf students across Victoria, and those numbers are growing every year, naturally. But also they are in mainstream schools. They need real support, they need to be bilingual and they need for our schools to offer Auslan, and the importance of that came through very clearly in our discussions. Otherwise you are going to end up with language deprivation; otherwise you are not going to have that future goal of learning and creating.
They related a story to us where a young man – a fantastic young kid who was doing so well in the school – was unable to keep going because he did not have deaf teachers in his school, and there was no capacity for that where he was. He then took up a plumbing apprenticeship. Now, we need plumbers – plumbers are fantastic – but we also need deaf students to go on to university and become those huge Deaf advocates. The same goes for those in the blind category as well. It is very important.
With that, I think it is disingenuous of the government to say to people, ‘We have got you covered.’ Parents listening to the government side in this debate will not grow confident from those discussions around the measures that the Minister for Education is supposedly increasing and improving.
You should not be withdrawing one service and replacing it with something that does not suit the mould. The jury is still out, to be honest. The Victorian Auditor-General’s Office report still says that one of those pilots was working well in the disability inclusion pilot program and one was adopting it early, but it is only as good as the people on the ground. The other two, while they had merit, were still not moving forward at a pace that I think the VAGO would see as reasonable.
Again I go back to the 4000 students and 85 specialist teachers, and they are being cut. This is unacceptable. Every student who goes to school, with or without a disability, deserves the very best education that any state government can offer. When you have got budget blowouts in the magnitude of black holes, what is this government looking to do? It is looking to find money from areas where children are most vulnerable. We know that on any given day, when parents get up they have a struggle. No matter how wonderful that student is, they have a struggle to make the rest of the world understand their student’s issues, their student’s difficulties and their student’s pathway to success. Cutting these visiting teachers will not support that. I certainly do appreciate – and I felt quite moved by them – the parents that came in and the Deaf advocates that came in and shared their stories with us.
Again, removing these sorts of fantastic frontline teachers is only going to put more and more pressure on our already overstretched classroom teachers, particularly in regional Victoria. Victoria now has over 2000 vacant positions for classroom teachers. How much pressure is that putting on classroom education in the state of Victoria? How much pressure is that putting on principals who are absolutely under the pump? Not only are they having to do administrative work and all of the rest that goes with being a principal, they are also having to go into classes. Removing these vital services is contraindicative to the health and wellbeing of these amazing young people. We need to be supporting them, and I totally endorse this motion before the house today.