Mr SOUTHWICK (Caulfield) — It is my pleasure to follow the member for Albert Park after that fantastic contribution. We are used to the likes of that from the member for Albert Park, who likes to engross himself in novels, in bloody romances, in fiction, in Shakespeare, in the Twilight saga — it just goes on and on. I think he has an obsession with bloody novels and a takeover of the opposition.\
If I was anyone in the Labor Party, from the Leader of the Opposition downwards, I would be wary of the plots and deceptions he is working on from his side. But let me get back to the bill.
The bill proposes amendments to the Education and Training Reform Act 2006 primarily to provide for additional functions of the Victorian Curriculum and Assessment Authority so that it fulfils its obligations and responsibilities in relation to the national assessment program — literacy and numeracy (NAPLAN). Already we have heard a number of speakers talk about the importance of testing, of ensuring that there is consistency in testing and of ironing out any problems when it comes to having our students tested right across the schools, no matter where they are, no matter what region they are in and no matter whether they are in the public or private system.
The amendments to the Victorian Curriculum and Assessment Authority will enable it to investigate breaches of testing protocols under NAPLAN and to report the outcomes of such an investigation to the commonwealth body.
We are certainly aware that students in years 3, 5, 7 and 9 sit NAPLAN tests which result in schools, parents and the state and commonwealth governments receiving a snapshot in time of where the students are at. The opposition has claimed that this bill does not do anything when it comes to fixing the problems of inconsistencies in the testing. We have seen a lot of reports already where that would not be the case — where this bill would certainly be tightening up the system. From recent reports in the Age we have heard that more than 150 schools have been caught breaching NAPLAN test rules, which has prompted an investigation and crackdown on cheating, and that there were 20 breaches in Victoria. The sorts of cases that have been put in front of us therefore imply that it is very important to look at tightening up the laws when it comes to ensuring that we have consistent testing.
When NAPLAN was introduced by the Labor government back in 2008 there was widespread criticism of the testing.
The main criticism was that the testing was a snapshot in time, that there would be teachers who would teach to the test — that they would be focusing on the tested areas and neglecting the other areas of the curriculum — and most importantly that the testing would put undue pressure on schools to perform and would in extreme cases deter low-performing students from sitting the test. We have also heard of instances where low-performing students have been encouraged not to attend school when the tests are held, and we have already been working to tighten up relevant elements. Part of the bill in front of us is to ensure that there is consistency and a testing system in which parents feel confident. Confidence in a testing system is very important. It is at the pinnacle of any education system to ensure that our kids are getting the absolute best, and I think members on both sides of the chamber would agree that to invest in the best possible education system is what we all as members of Parliament intend to do.
The members for Bundoora and Albert Park spoke about cuts to education, completely neglecting the fact that the Baillieu government has invested $400 million in school education, which does not include an extra $408 million in capital funding, and that $100 million of this has been for maintenance, which again was neglected by the previous government, which
spent — —
Mr Foley — On a point of order, Acting Speaker, going to relevance, I rely on the contributions of the honourable member for Benalla in hauling up a number of speakers on this side of the chamber on relevance. I ask that you advise the honourable member for Caulfield to perhaps stick to the content of the bill.
The ACTING SPEAKER (Mr Northe) — Order! I do not uphold the point of order at this point in time.
However, I will be listening intently to the member for Caulfield.
Mr SOUTHWICK — I was picking up on the contributions of the members for Bundoora and Albert Park, who referred to education funding. I am sure the member for Albert Park will be particularly interested in contributions on education, maths and specialist areas in primary school teaching and — for the member for Albert Park particularly — on the $14.5 million package to combat bullying in schools. These are the sorts of things we as a government are doing to ensure that our kids feel protected in schools and that we have the best possible education system for them.
I will now deal specifically with the second part of the bill, which refers to the Victorian Institute of Teaching setting standards for teachers entering the profession.
The bill increases protection for students and parents by improving the operation of disciplinary procedures and ensuring that in terms of sexual offences and charges under the Victorian Crimes Act 1958 our kids will feel protected and safe when attending school. The amendment provides explicit power for the Victorian Institute of Teaching to use disciplinary powers in circumstances where a teacher is charged with a sexual offence only under the Commonwealth Criminal Code. The bill takes things a step further by ensuring that, if a teacher is charged under the commonwealth legislation, under this legislation Victoria is also able to act. Teachers hold a unique position in the community, and we can all refer to some great teachers in our electorates who do a terrific job. At the same time parents expect there to be a registration process which is relevant and which ensures that suitable people are responsible when taking up their roles.
The bill also proposes to remove the current cap of 30 persons who can be appointed to the institute’s hearings panel. With this bill we will be improving upon the situation of having a cap and instead will be getting the best people for the job, having specialists to sit on the panel and ensuring that cases are heard in a timely manner. There is nothing worse than having people waiting, no matter what system is involved. I have spoken many times about our judicial system — about people in that system waiting for a trial to take place. Again, this bill will enable expedition of the process and the taking of people through that panel process as quickly as possible. The bill also provides additional protection for witnesses in formal hearings to ensure that those witnesses are protected. It will improve delays and, most importantly, continue to give confidence in the system.
This bill is not the end; it is only the start of what we have to do in terms of education and reform in this state. We have been left with a mess; we know we have been left with a mess. The previous government was all about bells and whistles and plaques and opening up school halls. This is a specific piece of legislation that looks at things like NAPLAN, and extending it to the sorts of things that I said — —
Mr Foley interjected.
Mr SOUTHWICK — The member for Albert Park is interested in this. There is funding for things like 100 scholarships to encourage university science graduates to teach and a new international baccalaureate for government schools.
Mr Foley interjected.
The ACTING SPEAKER (Mr Northe) — Order! I think the member for Albert Park is out of his place as well as out of order.
Mr SOUTHWICK — As I said before, there is $14.5 million to assist with antibullying programs. I know the member for Albert Park is very interested in this and would do everything he could to ensure that there is no bullying in schools.
Mr Foley interjected.
The ACTING SPEAKER (Mr Northe) — Order! The member for Albert Park!
Mr SOUTHWICK — If I could continue, Acting Speaker. This is a very good, solid bill. It is not about spin of the sort we have heard from the previous government.
It is not about the absolute rubbish we heard from the member for Albert Park. In his contribution all he spoke about was Shakespeare, and he continued on about novels and romance. That is not what we in this government are about. We are about facts, we are about delivering, and that is what we will continue to do in this government. We will do away with the spin we heard previously and we will fix the problems that we had during the last 11 years of the previous government. Its members had their opportunity. They missed their opportunity, and we are now fixing the problems that they have left behind. I commend the bill to the house.