I am pleased to rise and make a contribution on the Education and Training Reform Amendment (Protection of School Communities) Bill 2021. The purpose of the bill is to amend the principal act to provide orders prohibiting or regulating certain conduct on school premises or in school-related places in order to protect members of school communities from harmful, threatening or abusive behaviour and also to provide for civil penalties for the enforcement of those orders and to make a range of other minor amendments. It is worth noting that a member of a school community means a student enrolled at the school, a parent of a student enrolled at the school, a staff member of the school or a person who might otherwise be affected if they are in a school-related environment.
It is salutary to note that over a period of time we have seen more and more incidents of violence and unrest within schools, whether it be violence from students or violence towards school staff. While most parents will behave in a civilised manner and, dare I say, a normal manner at the school gate when they are dropping off their children and when they are corresponding with their children’s teachers or other school staff, a national well being survey by the Australian Catholic University and Deakin University found that school principals were subject to increased bullying, physical violence, threats of violence, slander and sexual and verbal harassment in the last 10 years. It showed four in 10 principals had been subject to violence at work in the past year. This is really concerning data. It is so unacceptable that teachers and school staff should be placed in a situation where they are the victims of this sort of behaviour, the sort of behaviour that this bill is seeking to prohibit. Nevertheless we have heard stories directly from people, and I recall just recently when this bill was in the newspapers a teacher being interviewed and talking about her two doors: one that is the front door, where most people enter, but one that is a back door, where she may need to escape from and where indeed she has had to escape from when a very angry parent might be coming through and pushing their way through, past reception and into her office. That is a really high level of aggression, and it creates a lot of fear in people. I think that is just an example of the sort of thing this bill will address.
Just in the last day or so I have heard the chief executive officer at Goulburn Valley Health asking people to just take a deep breath and not be so angry when they are showing up to the vaccination centre. Now, it is not many of them, but it is extraordinary how people will make a target of someone else because of their frustration, their anger or their current emotional state, and it is simply not acceptable. I applaud these new ads that I have just seen recently on television about workplaces: this is someone’s workplace and treat them with respect. It is only recently that I have noticed these, and I assume they are quite new. It really brings home to you that capacity perhaps we all have for irritation at times. It reminds you that people are actually behind that counter doing their job and trying to do it to the best of their ability, whether it be vaccinating someone or looking after your child in a school. This is just so incredibly important. So I would like to just shout out to all those people who are in vaccination centres at the moment doing an incredible job with thousands and thousands of people, Shepparton not the least but even many bigger hubs where they are working hard and long hours and doing the best they can.
I think one of the things that is not talked about a lot is people’s capacity for self-regulation. Self-regulation is something that is generally learned in the first 12 months of life, and it comes when a baby is crying and a mother soothes the baby and the baby learns to regulate its behaviour because it has had a reaction that is a positive reaction and is a soothing reaction and it can internalise that and moderate its behaviour in response to that. I think there is a lot to be learned from the fact that the early years are so often the most critical, the most important, and where a lot of the best behaviours and the most thoughtful behaviours can be learned.
This bill does not seek to replace the role of the police. The police will still be involved where they are required, but it is just another tool in the toolkit for schools and teachers to be able to take action where they deem it is required. It applies to all schools; it is not just the state school system but it applies to all schools across the state, and I think that is important to note. Education is a very important topic to me, and I dare say that education has never been talked about in my electorate, and particularly in Shepparton, as much as it has in recent years. In 2016 I did my grievance debate on the poor state of education in my community. We had four high schools all operating at a level below the state average. We had low aspiration, low attendance and often poor outcomes and many children leaving school without a pathway to the future, whatever that might be. The Shepparton Education Plan was introduced by the government in 2017 and it is across all levels of education, but the government took the view that the secondary schools had to be attended to first—that you could not simply leave them in the state they were in. After a long period of consultation—some say not long enough and not deep enough, but I have to say I was a party to much of that consultation that took place with school councils, parents groups, students and a lot of student feedback, community members and a community advisory group—a decision was made to amalgamate the four schools. Then the question was: would it be all on one campus or would it be two campuses? It has led to some community disharmony. A small group of parents who did not see this as the best way to do things raised a number of issues, and then unfortunately they set up a Facebook page called ‘Stop the super-school’. The school got labelled the super-school—it is actually the Greater Shepparton Secondary College. It is an amalgamation of four schools that have come together that have had a lot of issues in the past. Unfortunately this year we have seen the front page of the Herald Sun with ‘Super-school fear’ on it, highlighting incidents of student violence against each other.
I can tell you that in the years of 2018 and 2019, the two years before those schools were amalgamated into one on three campuses, there were 33 police attendances at the schools. So there has been this big effort to try and blame the super-school as being the cause of a whole range of issues, but it is simply inaccurate. It is wrong, but what has come out of that is a real focus on trying to deal with a lot of the aberrant behaviour that has existed in the schools. It has been excellent to see the Minister for Multicultural Affairs appointing a committee within our own town to look at the incredible diversity and multicultural issues that we have, all of which come together in a school environment and create a lot of challenges. That has been very welcomed. It is addressing issues that have been raised around racism within the school that allegedly lead to some violence.
The principals have been very supportive of all of this. And I have to just say that one of the principals who resigned last year—who was there for two years—became the victim of incredible online bullying from this particular Facebook page. It is really very disheartening to think that an individual is subject to that when they are just doing their job. I think we often expect it, because we are politicians and we are the target of it, and certainly I know I was the recipient of a great deal of that. And unfortunately there were people in the community who chose to highlight the negativity, to promote it and to talk about it endlessly rather than providing the sort of support and affirmation that teachers and principals were really looking for. So I want to say thank you to all the teachers across my region who have worked so hard for their students. They have put the future of their students at the forefront of what they are thinking and what they are doing. And, yes, change comes very hard, but what has been an incredibly difficult journey in 2020 and still is, here in 2021, has been made much better by the absolute dedication of those teachers.