Second Reading-EDUCATION AND TRAINING REFORM AMENDMENT (REGULATION OF STUDENT ACCOMMODATION) BILL 2020

Mr FREGON (Mount Waverley) (15:24): I rise to speak on the Education and Training Reform Amendment (Regulation of Student Accommodation) Bill 2020. It is a shame that we have to have these amendments, but it is a very good bill. It is very gratifying to see that members across the house support these amendments.

 

This is an important bill that addresses recommendations of the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse. In doing so it continues the important work undertaken by previous governments, and of course the Andrews Labor government, in implementing the royal commission’s recommendations and attempting to eliminate one of the scourges of our society. The royal commission made clear that our boarding schools can be a high-risk environment for students. As other members have said, one in three people who reported their abuse had experienced it in boarding schools. One case of child abuse in our society is a tragic abomination, and there are far, far too many stories in our Victorian history. Anything we can do to stamp out these crimes, especially, as in this case, in our school environments, is well worth doing.

 

As I mentioned, I am proud to see that members across the house are supporting this. I note that the messages from each of the members are very similar: that we will not tolerate this, we need to stamp this out. Growing up in the 1970s and 80s I think, as the member for Hawthorn mentioned from his experience of boarding schools, you knew which members not to be left alone with. He referred to, if you can put yourself back to when we were all younger, living a life where you knew you did not want to be caught alone with that person. That is a terrible fact that children in our history in this state have had to live with. The member for Box Hill mentioned a woman’s name, who I am not even going to mention because she does not deserve it, and I know the member for Caulfield has had very strong advocacy on attempting to right the wrongs that were done there. I support those efforts to bring that woman back to answer to the allegations.

 

This bill amends the Education and Training Reform Act 2006 to expand the powers of regulation of the Victorian Registration and Qualifications Authority (VRQA) in regard to the regulation and registration of Victorian school boarding premises. The intention of this is to ensure that these premises are child safe environments. In regard to specifics, it will expand the powers of the VRQA to regulate school boarding premises, require registration of school boarding premises with the VRQA, prescribe minimum standards for registration of school boarding premises including in relation to Victorian child safe standards, set out processes for reviewing the compliance of school boarding premises with prescribed minimum standards for registration and provide the VRQA with necessary compliance and enforcement powers to ensure school boarding premises satisfy the minimum standards. As others have mentioned, a number of these school boarding premises were under the impression they already had to comply. That is great. That is good. But nobody has said all of them yet, so let us make sure that they all do.

 

These amendments are being made today for many reasons, but first and foremost they will support and reinforce the obligation of schools with boarding premises to exercise their duty of care to the students and young Victorians in their care. Whilst one would have thought that common-law obligations would have been sufficient for that, as the royal commission has obviously shown us, that has not always been the case. These amendments are about creating a regulatory system to prevent abuse by creating an obligation for schools to establish the right policies, procedures and conduct to keep our children safe. School boarding premises will be required to comply with the prescribed minimum standards for registration in the act and in education, training and reform regulations, and in doing so it is worth pointing out that this will be consistent with already existing registration requirements for schools. As most of the boarding premises are attached to schools, this should not be a more excessive regulatory burden than what they already have. As I previously said, if most of them already think they are doing it, then it is not going to be excessive red tape or any issue like that.

 

Some of the prescribed minimum standards for registration of schools are in the act, but the bulk of these standards are prescribed in the regulations. In regard to the registration of school boarding premises, this will be the same. That makes sense. It relates to the discipline of students, managing the risk of anaphylaxis, and presumably other severe allergies, and managing the risk of child abuse.

 

Bec and I are lucky enough to have three kids of young ages; they are all going to school. My youngest is still young enough that it is quite likely when I come home it is, ‘Daddy, Daddy!’, and I throw my arms around him. To think that people who place their children in the care of others and have that trust betrayed, it is an abominable thing. And to consider that lives are changed permanently by this—the member for Burwood talked about the survivors who came forward, and I can imagine that is a very, very difficult thing to do. But from hearing their stories, by understanding what they had to endure, that is what has made change after change. I am sure the member for Broadmeadows will explain some of his interactions with the Betrayal of Trust report. I look forward to hearing those. The member for Thomastown and others have alluded to that as well. I thank Prime Minister Gillard for instigating the royal commission. Step by step we are working to get rid of this problem in our society. Again, it is gratifying that we are doing that together.

 

The schools are currently required to comply with a ministerial order for managing the risk of child abuse as part of the prescribed minimum standards for the registration of schools. The prescribed minimum standards for the registration in this bill include compliance with the ministerial order for managing the risk of child abuse.

 

One thing I have noticed has changed since the 1970s or 80s when I grew up is that we are talking about it now. I am sure, as the member for Hawthorn alluded to, growing up we heard stories, knew of things, but it was not something that was out in the public domain; it was not something that you would talk about, that you would deal with at a governmental level. We have changed in that way—that is a really good thing—and we need to keep working on that change, not only for protecting our children from abusive adults but also protecting our children from racism, poverty, homelessness and drug addiction. Every child who was abused grew up to be an adult, if they were lucky. Not all of them grew up. It is our role to reduce the number to zero. I commend the bill to the house.