Ms PENNICUIK (Southern Metropolitan) — My adjournment matter is for the Minister for Education and pertains to reports in the media from 1 March regarding evidence given at a hearing of the commonwealth Joint Standing Committee on Migration by three members of the South Sudanese girls group New Change, who said that there were restrictions in place when they were students in 2010 and that these continue to be enforced at a number of public schools in Melbourne's western suburbs. The hearing was held on 22 February in Melbourne. One witness said, amongst other things:
We have uncovered a lot of accounts from youth workers and young women themselves about the different forms of othering and exclusion across a range of settings. This includes separate English language classes, implementing rules in schools that pertain to just one specific cultural group, like not being allowed to hang out in groups of more than three in their schools, and being tracked into VCAL streams. They all have really serious impacts on their wellbeing and life chances. Negative and inaccurate media accounts that portray an entire group as dangerous, in addition to racial slurs in public and being told to go back to where you came from, jeopardise their sense of inclusion and belonging.
The chair returned to this question a bit later and said to one of the witnesses:
Does this still happen now?
And the young witness said:
Yes. One of my sisters, my little cousins and others have to actually go through a lot of this. They are separated during lunch and they are not allowed to be with one or two. For us back then it was like three. If you are with more than two people then you have to separate.
The chair asked if this is happening now, and the witness said yes:
It is happening now.
There are different schools that have this.
The media report indicates, the Department of Education and Training stated that it:
… has received no formal complaints about the policy, but it has contacted the group and vowed to investigate the 'serious allegations of racial discrimination'.
A spokesperson stated:
Diversity is one of Victoria's greatest strengths, and arbitrarily singling … out on account of race is completely unacceptable …
and also that they:
… encourage anyone with complaints or allegations of racial discrimination in a government school to report them to the department.
Well, it is all well and good for that to happen, but if people are at the receiving end of that discrimination, they might not feel as if they can report it to the department.
The action I ask of the minister is that he investigate these claims that this is still going on in some of Melbourne's government schools and be proactive about making sure that where it is occurring it stops occurring and that it is not just left up to people to report to the department.
REPLY on 2 May 2017:
I am informed as follows:
Diversity is one of Victoria's greatest strengths and discriminating against people on account of race is completely unacceptable, and against the law. The Department of Education and Training (the Department) is in discussions with New Change about this matter.
The Andrews Labor Government recently released its multicultural policy statement, Victorian. And proud of it. At the heart of the policy is the Victorian Values Statement, which sets out the core values that unify us as a peaceful and prosperous society with a shared sense of belonging, respect, acceptance and contribution. It affirms what we expect of ourselves, of each other, of our community and our State and details the policies, programs and services that will extend this work.
As part of the Education State reforms, there is a strong focus on supporting and empowering all young people who experience disadvantage and face social, community and economic barriers. Providing safe and respectful school environments, building resilience, responding to student health and wellbeing and ensuring students are engaged with school and their learning is critical.
The Department is working with schools to build the capacity of teachers in inclusive practice in Victorian schools, and will seek input from New Change in addressing this issue.