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Education and Children's Services Bill

The Hon. J.A. DARLEY (12:30): I rise to speak on the education bill. The bill completely rewrites the Education Act, which has not had a major overhaul since the 1970s when it was introduced. It is very similar to the bill that was introduced by the former government last year; however, the current government has made a few changes. The manner in which the minister can interact with the governing council has been changed. The bill last year had a number of concerning provisions which allowed the minister to direct, suspend and dissolve governing councils. It was very concerning that the minister could have such powers, so I am glad the current government has sought to have these provisions removed.

Schools will continue to be able to participate in religious and cultural activities. However, notification of those activities must be given to parents, with the opportunity for parents to opt for their children to not participate. The suggestion to fine parents for their truant children has also been removed. Again, I am glad that the government has taken this step as truancy is not always as simple as a naughty child who skips school. It can be an indication of deeper issues within the family unit.

A truant child might need to stay home in order to look after their sick parents or care for their younger siblings because their parents cannot afford child care. A truant child might not want to go to school because they are being relentlessly bullied. The parents of a truant child might not realise the effect they are having by making their child stay at home to keep them company. There can be many reasons for a child being truant and penalising the parents financially is often not the solution.

One issue in relation to which I have had a lot of contact is the matter of AEU representation on interview panels. Whilst the bill removes the specific requirement for an AEU member to be part of interview panels for promotional level positions in the teaching service, as well as on committees that are reviewing the closure or amalgamation of a school, by far it is the union representatives on interview panels from whom I have been contacted the most. I have received hundreds of emails from teachers, and presumably AEU members, urging me to retain AEU representation on interview panels. I assume this is at the behest of the AEU, which contacted their members to lobby members of parliament, and I applaud the AEU for mounting this campaign.

However, interestingly, I was also contacted by a few other teachers who specifically urged me not to retain union representation on boards, as they felt they had been discriminated against by union members on interview panels because they were not union members themselves. I do not believe that a place should specifically be reserved for a union member on these panels and committees. I understand the workforce is becoming less unionised and, by holding a position, the union could be preventing other willing panellists from participating in the process. I have no issue if a person selected to be on the panel happens to be a union member. I do not want to exclude union members but I believe it should be open to everyone.

The bill outlines measures that can be taken to protect both students and staff at schools. Students can be excluded if their behaviour is unacceptable, and individuals can be barred from school premises if they engage in bad behaviour. These measures are important in order to protect school staff and the wider school community. In turn, students will be protected as staff will be required to have appropriate clearances and registrations. It is important that schools are safe and respectful places, where people can learn and work in a secure environment.

When I was young, teachers were very highly respected in the community and would not be subject to some of the behaviours inflicted by some students and parents. Recently, however, I have heard horrendous stories of students who do not respect teachers. These behaviours are sometimes supported by parents who do not want to believe their child is behaving badly.

One secondary school teacher in the northern suburbs, who served time in the Army, likened their time to what they experienced in Afghanistan. 'I've seen war', he said. 'At times, my classroom is worse.' Students are becoming wiser about their rights and the manner in which they can be controlled is far more limited than when I was a child. Good teachers are hard to find, and it is important they are supported so they do not leave the teaching profession. I support the second reading of the bill.