Ms PENNICUIK (Southern Metropolitan) (22:41:32) — I am very pleased that we have in fact got to the stage where we are debating this bill this week and hopefully passing it, because even though there are a large number of substantive provisions in it — there are quite a lot of technical provisions and miscellaneous amendments — it is an important bill. The substantive purpose of the bill is to bring the respective registration schemes of the Victorian Institute of Teaching (VIT) and the working with children checks into line with the recommendations from the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse and the 2017 independent Review of the Victorian Institute of Teaching.
I note that the bill comes into operation on 1 September 2019, if not beforehand. I think it would be great if it could come into operation prior to that. The bill also contains administrative amendments to the Education and Training Reform Act 2006 with regard to TAFE and adult education institutions as well as a number of minor miscellaneous amendments to various other acts.
One of the major purposes or provisions of the bill will be the requirement for the Victorian Institute of Teaching to 'consider the wellbeing and safety of children, including by taking into account community expectations' when performing any regulatory functions. This amendment is consistent with recommendation 1(c) of the independent review of the VIT commissioned by the government following some decisions not to sanction or deregister teachers whose conduct involved a child. As I said, this is an important provision to focus the regulatory performance of the VIT on: the safety of children.
The key provisions of the bill also include ensuring that registered teachers who do have their licence suspended or cancelled by the Victorian Institute of Teaching will also be ineligible to engage in any other child-related work, subject to the completion of a working with children check. This will be achieved by creating a register of teachers who work with children outside of teaching or early childhood education. The register will be held with the Department of Justice and Regulation (DJR).
The bill will also align disciplinary offences of the Victorian Institute of Teaching with the system of grading that is used under the Working with Children Act 2005. To improve the consistency or alignment of those schemes, the bill allows the Victorian Institute of Teaching to treat serious criminal charges and offences that may be committed by teachers, or applicants for teacher registration, in a similar way to the Working with Children Act, such that a category A offence will result in the VIT automatically refusing or cancelling registration; a category B offence will result in the VIT refusing or cancelling registration unless the VIT is satisfied that the person does not pose an unjustifiable risk to children; and a category C offence may result in the VIT refusing to grant registration if the VIT is satisfied that this conduct makes the person unsuitable to be a teacher and it would not be in the public interest to register them.
Other provisions in the bill require that the suitability panel is required to notify the VIT regarding misconduct and disqualification decisions for out-of-home carers so that the VIT can take those determinations into account when considering a person's suitability for registration as a teacher. This is known as the notification gap, so it is aligning those two things. Teachers who are registered with the VIT are already exempt from the working with children scheme as the VIT process is analogous to the working with children scheme. While information-sharing arrangements between the VIT and DJR are already in place, the bill aims to enhance these by providing improved safeguards.
The notification gap refers to the current situation where a teacher whose licence has been suspended or cancelled by the VIT could potentially continue to engage in any child-related work they were undertaking out of school without obtaining a working with children check. The bill requires registered teachers to advise the Department of Justice and Regulation of the details of any organisations other than schools or early childhood services where they are engaged in child-related work — for example, sporting clubs, as Mr Gepp mentioned in his contribution. That could be teaching swimming outside school, which I used to do myself. I used to teach swimming and loved it, because I love swimming — but I digress.
The Department of Justice and Regulation will maintain a record of registered teachers who are engaged in such work outside of schools and will apply new penalties for teachers who fail to provide proper notification under that scheme. This is designed to close the gap by allowing DJR to notify relevant organisations when a teacher's licence is suspended or cancelled by the VIT. If a teacher in this instance wishes to continue such work, they will have to apply for a working with children check. In the past there has been a lack of transferring of information between the relevant agencies, and that sort of information not passing between them could mean that people were engaged in activities with children where they had not been through the appropriate working with children check or the VIT process. I think these are really good reforms, and it is good to see that they are going through this week.
Another provision is the one regarding the ability to amalgamate Box Hill TAFE and the Centre for Adult Education institution, which I think for all intents and purposes has already happened. This bill just codifies that.
Just briefly, I was privileged this morning to attend the launch of KPMG's report entitled Final Report: The Importance of TAFE to Victoria's Prosperity. I have not really had much of a chance to look through it. The minister was there this morning, along with many people from TAFEs around Victoria and a range of other MPs. I want to read just a small part of that report, from chapter 3, 'Overview of Victorian TAFEs', section 3.2, 'The unique role of the Victorian TAFE sector', where the report says:
Victorian TAFEs have a broader remit than the delivery of training and education alone, with a public service engagement role to uphold. TAFEs are not-for-profit training providers, where revenue is reinvested back into the public VET system for the ongoing benefit of the community. The public charter that TAFEs need to fulfil is extensive and differentiates TAFEs and dual-sector universities from other providers — commitments related to this role are wideranging, and include education and training offerings across the spectrum of the Australian Qualifications Framework, and across a breadth of education fields which meet public demand, maintaining a range of courses even when there is low demand. TAFEs maintain campuses across Victoria which are accessible to the public, providing counselling, library services and student facilities at scale and often with access provided to the broader community. TAFEs and dual-sector university campuses are spread across the state, providing access to education in regional and remote areas, and through the introduction of new campuses in areas of high population growth. TAFEs further demonstrate a commitment to public good through their undertaking to provide access and equity to training, enrolling students from diverse education and socio-economic backgrounds. In addition, TAFEs respond to industry need by providing specialist training in niche areas, as new trends emerge and business transformation occurs.
Victorian TAFEs have experienced continuous and rapid change over the past decade, as a result of both state and federal reforms — the most impactful being the move to a contestable training market, and associated substantial funding changes.
I would say funding cuts.
This has had a major impact on the public VET providers, requiring them to continuously adapt and adjust … In recognition of the broader contribution TAFEs make, the Victorian government recently reinstated some of the funding intended to provide support for the additional costs TAFEs face as public providers.
The report goes on to document the role of TAFE in regional areas and the public TAFE sector. In introducing the report, the speaker from KPMG outlined that one of the benefits of TAFE is that they are public providers and so have other motivations, as I just outlined in the section I read out from the report.
As I quoted from the report, the last 10 years have been very difficult for TAFEs. It is actually quite heartening to see those lines in this report, because certainly that is something I have been saying over the last 10 years in my opposition to the market contestability that was introduced by the previous Labor government. It almost destroyed the TAFE system in Victoria. The funding cuts introduced by the previous government are still underfunding TAFEs.
I hope everybody will read this report. As I said, I have only had time to read a bit of it and skim through the headings, but I think it is a very timely report, reminding everybody why we should be treasuring our public TAFE system, upholding it, supporting it and in fact expanding it. As I said, I think this is an important bill with regard to child safety and aligning the working with children check scheme with the VIT scheme. The Greens will be supporting the bill.