Teachers Registration and Standards (Miscellaneous) Amendment Bill
Adjourned debate on second reading.
(Continued from 25 October 2018.)
The Hon. C. BONAROS (17:14): I rise to speak in support of the Teachers Registration and Standards (Miscellaneous) Amendment Bill 2018, which will amend the Teachers Registration and Standards Act 2004 to address a number of issues, namely, the ability of the Teachers Registration Board to suspend the registration of a teacher charged with serious offences and to improve administrative arrangements for the appointment of an acting registrar for the board.
From the outset, I want to put on the public record on behalf of SA-Best the high value we place on the dedication of our educators to their profession and the invaluable input that over 35,000 teachers in South Australia have made and continue to make in the learning journey our children undertake from kindergarten through to primary school and on to high school, preparing them for SACE and beyond. I am sure that we all have warm memories of particular teachers who recognised the potential in each of us, spurred us on to achieve academically and who helped shape the people we have become.
Teachers are vital to the strong and healthy development of our children, playing a fundamental role in the care and wellbeing of children while at school. We recognise the long hours that teachers work, particularly outside of school hours, marking papers, preparing lessons—usually on weekends and throughout the school holidays—as well as providing additional tutoring to children during school hours in maths clubs and language clubs to give our children an advantage.
It is that dedication that often goes unnoticed by parents and gets criticised by those such as federal Liberal MP, Andrew Laming, who suggested that teachers should work more and take fewer holidays. Perhaps Mr Andrew Laming could look inwards to his own party and colleagues, and all their job insecurities that come with their self-inflicted instability of government, and instead focus on the job that they were elected to do, which is to govern, rather than looking at what our teachers are employed to do. Teachers deserve our respect, that is unquestioned, but they must earn our trust, given that they are charged with caring and educating our most precious resource—our children.
The opposition opined that the vast majority of teachers go out of their way to meet the highest standard on a daily basis but there will always be a small minority who do not. I have highlighted the many ways in which teachers go out of their way to nurture our children, but we must also speak out about those who do not and instead choose to prey on children. While these teachers may be in the minority, it is cold comfort to the innocent children abused in our schools. I remind the chamber that there was only one Shannon McCoole, and I know his name has come up many times in this place, and his appalling depraved actions towards innocent young children gave rise to a royal commission.
It is deeply disturbing to learn recently that a South Australian teacher who had a preoccupation with sexual partners wearing school uniforms and another one who left kids on camp alone overnight while he went to a hotel, are two of 13 local teachers to be struck off or face other disciplinary action in the last year alone. This was detailed in the Teachers Registration Board of South Australia Annual Report 2018. In addition to those two teachers, another five teachers were permanently disqualified from being registered as a teacher for actions, including child exploitation and unlawful sexual intercourse. Let that figure sink in for a moment.
Only last month, we learned that the principal of a southern suburbs school wrote to parents saying that a member of staff had been arrested and charged with sexual offending. Parents were justifiably outraged, having been told that one of the teachers had been charged with sexual offending, but they are not legally allowed to be told that person's identity. That is a debate for another occasion. The examples I have highlighted demonstrate the urgent need for this bill.
Current provisions for the suspension of a teacher's registration limits the board's ability to address any immediate concerns with regard to a teacher's conduct. For example, if the board becomes aware of serious charges laid against a teacher, it cannot take action to suspend that teacher's registration until it has held an inquiry into the matter and determined there is proper cause for disciplinary action. The board may also need to await the outcome of related court action before it can even commence a disciplinary process.
Currently, a teacher's registration will remain valid while any court proceedings and subsequent disciplinary inquiries are underway. In effect, this means that a teacher can potentially hold himself or herself out to be a fit and proper person to work as a teacher, switching from the public sector to the private sector, or working as a tutor, or working as a tutor in people's homes with their children, their vulnerable children, despite being the subject of serious criminal charges relevant to the safety of children.
A teacher facing serious criminal charges related to offences against children remaining on the public register while these matters are finalised has the potential to negatively impact the safety of children and undermines the integrity of the register of teachers. It means that they can still have access to children, our children. This is completely unacceptable, and I applaud the government for moving to address a longstanding issue.
Clause 7 of the bill sets out provision for the registrar of the board to immediately suspend the registration of a teacher who is charged with a prescribed offence pending an inquiry as to whether there is proper cause for disciplinary action against that teacher. The clause also provides for the registrar to vary the conditions of a teacher's registration, including by imposing new conditions, if they are charged with a prescribed offence.
Prescribed offences will be set out in regulations under the Teachers Registration and Standards Act and will replicate prescribed offences under the Child Safety (Prohibited Persons) Act 2016 as well as other serious offences. These include offences against children, whether they be murder, manslaughter, the kidnapping and unlawful removal of a child, rape and other sexual offences against children, including incest.
The bill provides for three members of the board to review a decision of the registrar to suspend a registration or impose or vary conditions on a registration within 60 days. On review, these board members can continue the suspension on the variation of conditions or cancel the suspension or the variation of conditions. A suspension would continue until the board has determined whether there is proper cause for disciplinary action against a teacher or 120 days after the day on which the last charge to which suspension or variation relates has been withdrawn or finally determined or until the suspension is otherwise cancelled under the provisions. The board can determine to cancel a suspension or variation of the conditions at any time.
A teacher whose registration is suspended or whose registration has conditions imposed or varied would have a right to appeal that decision to the Administrative and Disciplinary Division of the District Court under current section 49 of the act.
It is clear from the Teachers Registration Board of South Australia Annual Report 2018 that children continue to be harmed by those they trust, their teachers, and more must be done. We at SA-Best remain open to all possibilities and we have flagged the idea of psychometric and psychological testing of teachers. I know that is not popular amongst all sectors and it is something that we are certainly consulting with sectors about.
I note it is consistent with an announcement made by the Premier on the day of the apology last month. That is an announcement he made which I have been trying to get some more information on in relation to how psychometric testing could possibly be used in this space in terms of child protection issues, because that is what we are talking about here.
A media release from the Minister for Child Protection on the day of the apology to adult survivors of child sexual abuse in our trusted institutions stated:
The State Government has committed to taking strong actions to support people who have experienced abuse in the past and better protect children in the future.
The federal opposition leader Bill Shorten in his sorry speech said:
And we are sorry that the abuse and the assault and the rape of children is still going on and is being covered up to this very day in this very country. We are sorry that we still cannot protect our children. We are sorry—all of us in this parliament—that we've not done enough to guarantee that this cannot happen again…Too many Australian children are still living unsafe lives at risk.
It's the true test, isn't it, of our words?
I agree with the Leader of the Opposition that we have not done enough to guarantee this cannot happen again and, of course, it is still happening. Words can be cheap, especially from us politicians, but we must ensure that every child in all our schools is safe, and we will consider every option available to do just that.
The teaching profession deserves the trust and respect of our community. To engender this trust, the state must maintain high professional standards for its teachers and ensure that those teachers registered in South Australia are not only competent educators but fit and proper persons to have the care of children. Every child is precious and every child's innocence must be protected. With those words, SA-Best indicates its support for the bill.
The Hon. R.I. LUCAS (Treasurer) (17:25): I thank honourable members for their indication of support for the second reading of the bill.
Bill read a second time.
The Hon. T.A. FRANKS: I remind the government representative, obviously not the Minister for Education but the minister representing the Minister for Education, of my questions in my second reading contribution, which have not yet been answered in the government's summary. I draw the attention of the Marshall government, again, to the findings of the New South Wales Ombudsman that, in fact, drug sniffer dogs four out of five times get it wrong.
I remind the government that I would like an answer to my question now, which is: given the Marshall government's commitment to this war on drugs and to having sniffer dogs in schools, what happens the very first time a sniffer dogs sits next to a teacher in a school, noting that four out of five times that that sniffer dog sits next to that teacher that dog is likely to be wrong? What happens to that teacher? How will they be treated, and how will they be given natural justice, given that it is more than likely to happen in error, according to the New South Wales Ombudsman?
The Hon. R.I. LUCAS: My advice is that the minister and the department are in the process of developing a draft protocol in relation to the use of sniffer dogs within schools. I am advised that they are currently consulting with their partners in the police and also the independent and Catholic sectors. The government anticipates that an agreed protocol will be released in time for the 2019 school year.
The government's advice is that the Ombudsman's report to which the honourable member has referred could be interpreted in a number of ways. The government's view is that the point the Ombudsman is making, in that part of the report, is that there were very few successful prosecutions for supply. The government's view is that this says nothing about possession. Possession is discussed elsewhere in the report. The essential import of the member's question is natural justice for the teachers who may or may not find themselves in that situation. The government's advice is that ensuring natural justice for staff and students is a significant matter being considered in the development of the protocols.
The principle that indication is not evidence of an offence is also incorporated in the protocol for both schools and police. The answer to the honourable member's question is that there is no answer from the government and the department at this stage. It is the subject of further consultation in the development of a protocol for the use of sniffer dogs within schools. The government's intention is to have an agreed protocol released in time for the 2019 school year.
The Hon. T.A. FRANKS: I would like the government to actually bring back an answer at some stage, clarifying its position that the New South Wales Ombudsman's report did not find that sniffer dogs got it wrong four out of five times. From that report, I have here a number of 14,102 searches on people, and in those 14,102 searches no illicit substances were found on 11,248 occasions. That is regardless of a prosecution success rate or not. On what is the government basing its response that that was due to prosecutions rather than searches?
The Hon. R.I. LUCAS: I am only in a position to share the information and advice that the department and the minister provided to me. As the minister handling the bill, I have shared the information I have with the honourable member. I have indicated that a protocol will be developed. I am happy to undertake to ask the Minister for Education, if he has further responses in relation to the honourable member's questions and interpretation of the Ombudsman's report, to correspond with the honourable member in relation to further explanation of his and the department's interpretation of the Ombudsman's report.
However, as we discuss this particular bill today, not being the responsible minister, I am not in a position to give those sorts of responses. I suspect that the main issue of great concern, not only to the honourable member but to all involved in the discussion about the use of sniffer dogs within schools, will be what is ultimately the agreed protocol to be used in terms of their operation. On that, I can again only add that that is being worked on. The intention is to have an agreed protocol prior to the start of the 2019 school year.
The Hon. T.A. FRANKS: I will not hold up the committee's time too much further. In the minister's original response, he indicated that a consultation process was underway. I heard the reference to the Independent Education Union, but I did not hear a reference to the Australian Education Union. Are they being consulted?
The Hon. R.I. LUCAS: The honourable member might have misheard me. I had not referred to 'union' at all, but to the independent and Catholic sectors, in addition. Clearly, the government sector is obviously being consulted, and I would imagine that all stakeholders are being consulted in relation to government schools. I suspect the reason for the particular advice I was given was to say that there are also discussions going on with the independent and Catholic school sectors. I did not mention unions. They may well be consulted as well.
The Hon. T.A. FRANKS: Just to clarify, have none of the unions been consulted with or are all of the unions being consulted with?
The Hon. R.I. LUCAS: I suspect that will mean that all of them will eventually be consulted with. My answer did not refer to unions at all, but that does not mean that they are not being consulted. I will be amazed if the Australian Education Union is not being consulted in relation to representing the views of teachers in regard to this issue. My guess would be that the appropriate employee associations representing teachers within the independent Catholic sector would also be consulted. If there is anything different to that, I am happy to have the minister correspond with the honourable member. But I suspect that will be an accurate reflection of the situation, either as it is now or as the protocol is developed between now and the start of the 2019 school year.
Remaining clauses (2 to 8) and title passed.
Bill reported without amendment.
The Hon. R.I. LUCAS (Treasurer) (17:36): I move:
That this bill be now read a third time.
Bill read a third time and passed.