Legislative Council: Tuesday, June 27, 2023


Statutes Amendment (Education, Training and Skills Portfolio) Bill

Second Reading

Adjourned debate on second reading.

(Continued from 4 May 2023.)

The Hon. R.A. SIMMS (16:13): I rise to indicate the Greens' support on the Statutes Amendment (Education, Training and Skills Portfolio) Bill. This bill contains some technical amendments to support the administration related to education, training and skills. The Greens believe that education is a right of all people at all stages of life. The opportunity to learn unlocks potential that reduces inequality, and it allows people to live a good life. We should ensure that the administrative provisions in any legislation do not create unnecessary difficulties for the delivery of good quality public education in our state. Sometimes that means we need to deal with some technical amendments to existing legislation.

The bill addresses some inconsistencies between what occurs in practice and the provisions of the Education and Children's Services Act 2019. I understand that under the existing act approved learning programs, such as the VET programs, are not listed as being required to report on non-attendance. That is ironic, given the number of members who are not present in the chamber at the moment who are due to speak.

The PRESIDENT: Order! We do not reflect on that.

The Hon. R.A. SIMMS: While we have been advised that this already happens in practice, it is not reflected in the legislation. The bill also removes principals of schools as the authority to waive fees for international students. Currently, fees are administered by the Department for Education, and thus it is more fitting for that responsibility to sit with the department. We understand that there have been circumstances recently where this applied, such as fees being waived for families who were evacuated from Afghanistan and resettled in Adelaide. We welcome fees being waived in these circumstances.

The bill also provides for the registration and standards boards to have a deputy act for a board member while their position remains vacant. This is a reasonable measure to ensure seamless operation of the board when vacancies arise and while the process to fill the position is still being undertaken.

Finally, this bill allows for an amendment to the History Trust of South Australia Act 1981. The amendment, I understand, comes at the request of the History Trust to ensure that artefacts and other historic items can be protected from unwanted behaviour where the History Trust is holding an educational event at locations other than on their own premises. It allows for the provisions of that act to apply to locations that the History Trust is temporarily using. The Greens consider these to be sensible provisions and we are in support of the bill.

The Hon. J.S. LEE (Deputy Leader of the Opposition) (16:15): I rise on behalf of the Liberal Party to make my contribution regarding the Statutes Amendment (Education, Training and Skills Portfolio) Bill 2022 and to indicate our support from this side of the chamber. The bill before us will amend a number of pieces of legislation—namely, the Education and Children's Services Act 2019, the Education and Early Childhood Services (Registration and Standards) Act 2011 and the History Trust of South Australia Act 1981—to rectify a number of small or minor technical, legal and administrative issues associated with the operation of provisions of those acts.

A substantial contribution has already been made by my colleague in the other place the Hon. John Gardner, shadow minister for education, skills and training. The bill was passed with strong bipartisanship and there is no doubt that we all want to advocate for the advancement of a better education system in South Australia. I take this opportunity to recognise the tremendous work of those who have helped shape this bill and would also like to put on the public record the significant advancement made by the former Marshall Liberal government in education reform between 2018 and 2022.

Improving attendance requires a deep appreciation of the complex factors that influence student, family and community engagement. Understanding the relationship between attendance and achievement can help teachers, school leaders, parents and school communities create welcoming school environments, promote positive attendance habits and tailor early and individualised interventions to address problematic absenteeism. It is a testament to the efforts of the former Marshall Liberal government that the current government is seeking to continue its approach to dealing with attendance and truancy.

Due to the significant challenges presented during the COVID period, we must acknowledge that it was difficult to achieve consistent school attendance and hence we were unable to make progress in this space as fully as we would have wanted to when the Liberal Party was in government.

We are thankful to parents and school communities as a whole for following health and SAPOL directions and ensuring children stayed at home if they were sick or had any COVID symptoms. Their sacrifices and responsible actions helped in safeguarding the health and wellbeing of their communities and, later on, paving a much faster COVID recovery compared with interstate and other places in the world when it comes to face-to-face education in a classroom setting. I commend everyone for that. We have so much to be grateful for.

Some of the important steps the Marshall Liberal government were able to make included the establishment of the educational family conference tool. This helped the education department and staff to engage effectively with families and ensure kids were supported to return to school. The Liberal Party has always prioritised children and young people remaining engaged with school, as education creates important pathways for future success and empowers young people to reach their full potential.

Research has shown that non-attendance has a variety of effects on students, both academically and socially. Absenteeism can increase social isolation, including alienation and lack of engagement with the school community and peers, leading to emotional and behavioural difficulties. It is also associated with the increased likelihood of students dropping out.

My esteemed colleague the Hon. John Gardner, member for Morialta, served us well as the Minister for Education in the Liberal government. John advocates strongly for the need to support families to address the issues which may lead to lost school days and impact children's learning.

During the 2018 to 2022 period, truancy officers were increased from 20 to 30. Resources available to truancy officers and social workers were also increased by 50 per cent. This reflected the growing demand from schools for support from truancy officers to help get kids back on track with their education and back in school.

In the 2020 and 2021 school years, COVID prevented the full benefits of the work being realised. We expect the current government, with the opportunity that they have with things back to normality after the pandemic, to continue to improve the support available to those working diligently to keep our kids and young people across our schools engaged.

Clause 3 of this bill will amend section 75 to clarify that section 75(2a) applies to both the notification of persistent non-attendance at school and persistent non-participation of a student in an approved learning program. This section 75 requires a principal of a school and the head of an approved learning program to notify the chief executive or cause the chief executive to be notified if a student of the school or approved learning program is persistently failing to attend school or participate in an approved learning program.

Section 75(2a) enables this notification to be made in the form of an electronic report at least once a term; however, as currently drafted, section 75(2a) does not expressly state that the head of an approved learning program is able to provide notification of a student's non-participation in this manner. Clause 3 of the bill will insert a new section 75(2a) to address this issue.

When a student is engaged in a VET program as part of their school studies, that program may involve a student doing some of the hours outside of the school in a registered training organisation or through a service, or it could be a school-based apprenticeship. As that relates to truancy, this bill makes it clear there is no difference whether a student is at an RTO or inside the school grounds, provided they are present performing that sort of activity, and deals with the ambiguity that currently exists. The Liberal Party supports this change, which makes these cases clear beyond any doubt, as was the intent of the legislation.

Clause 4 of the bill amends section 130(4) to provide the chief executive the discretion to waive, reduce or refund a charge, allow it to be paid by instalments, or require a person to give security of payments of a charge under section 130. This discretion will relate to charges fixed by the chief executive of the Department for Education under section 130 for full fee-paying overseas students, students enrolled in school who are not residents in the state, and children enrolled in school who are dependants of a person who is the subject of a visa of a kind prescribed by the regulations. Currently, this discretion rests with the principal of the school and is inconsistent with the practical administration of these fees, which is undertaken by the Department for Education.

These amendments also remove unnecessary ambiguity around the powers of principals. While there are many reasons why school-aged international students may be attending school here, it is often because their parents have come from overseas. I have experienced a lot of those during my time as the shadow minister for multicultural affairs.

Although often delegated to a chief executive or chief finance officer, principals can apply a school discount or exemption. It is not hard to imagine there would be some very sympathetic cases, particularly where there are multiple children. The administrative change proposed by this bill will remove the burden for principals to make the judgement where someone asks to have the school fee burden relieved due to personal circumstances. The change would rightly leave the decision-making to the chief executive.

I would like to talk about the Education Standards Board, which is the third part of the bill. The role of the Education Standards Board includes matters of compliance, supporting and ensuring that new services are fit for purpose, as well as the ongoing monitoring, assessment and rating of schools and early childhood services.

The Marshall Liberal government invested millions in our first budget for education to ensure this work can continue to be done at the expected level. We do not want children, particularly at the early childhood services level, to slip through the cracks due to a lack of appropriate assessment and monitoring of compliance with safety issues. Evaluating whether individual cases of breaches are a once-off, could have been foreseen or are systematic is an important call to make. The Education Standards Board works very hard to make the right call.

I would like to acknowledge that the Education Standards Board is supported by a board of professionals with varying experiences in the school and early childhood sector and has a very important group of deputies acting beneath them. The significant change in this bill will enable the deputy members of the Education Standards Board to serve as full members without having to go through the cabinet process again should a member of the board step down or be removed for some reason. This change will make life easier for the Education Standards Board and the cabinet office and we are happy to facilitate it. The Liberal Party will support this measure.

The fourth part of the bill relates to the work of the History Trust. The History Trust manages our state's museums, such as the Maritime Museum, the National Motor Museum and the Migration Museum, as well as the Centre of Democracy. In addition, it also has responsibility for our state's history collection. This includes a vast number of artefacts, memorabilia and items of significant value to our state. These items tell the story of South Australia.

To carry out this role, the History Trust is given certain powers to protect the property it is entrusted with preserving. Currently, the History Trust could ban someone from one of its sites for a day or for longer to ensure good order. These powers have not been used or been required to be used; nevertheless, that does not mean there would not be circumstances that could arise where it would be appropriate for these powers to be utilised.

The clause in this bill extends the powers of the History Trust to sites being used temporarily to conduct activities or events related to its function. The Migration Museum, for example, might want to rent a room to do a display while it was undergoing some significant renovations, included those funded dramatically by the former Liberal government. In this case, the History Trust might use some other spaces for its displays. This bill addresses those circumstances. We believe that, if these powers are to continue to exist, it would seem a logical extension of the powers of the History Trust. The Liberal Party offers our support for this change, which is part 4 of the bill.

In conclusion, we believe that this bill provides many sensible measures and therefore the Liberal opposition will support the bill.

The Hon. C. BONAROS (16:27): I rise very briefly on behalf of SA-Best to speak on the Statutes Amendment (Education, Training and Skills Portfolio) Bill 2022. As we have already heard, it is very technical in nature. It makes a number of minor amendments to various acts, in particular the Education and Children's Services Act. I think it is the second tidy-up bill following the enactment of that act under the previous government.

It seeks to clarify the reporting requirements for school principals for persistent non-attendance or non-participation of students, namely, the requirement for an electronic report just once per term. I understand that this relates to a student aged between six and 16 being absent for more than 10 days without excuse.

We have been told it is not crystal clear in its present form, hence the reason for the changes. It seeks to further clarify that it is only the chief executive who has the discretion to waive or vary fees for certain overseas and non-resident students, rather than individual principals.

An amendment to the act that prescribes the composition of the board seeks to manage circumstances where a temporary vacancy arises towards the end of a term. If a long term remains, we are told the minister is likely to seek to make a fresh appointment, which I think makes perfect sense.

Finally, the bill seeks to amend the History Trust of South Australia Act 1981, as already mentioned, to broaden the scope of vandalism offences to include temporary locations and allow fines to be imposed for damaging work at those temporary locations. I understand the advice from OPC was that this update in the act was a necessary change as opposed to any changes via regulations.

We do support these changes. As everyone has highlighted, they are technical in nature. There is nothing earthshattering or groundbreaking here, but I think given that we are dealing with the issue of education, training and skills, it is important to bear in mind that there are probably a number of other very significant changes we could be making. On a more general note, when it comes to education, training and skills, we certainly stand by our policy that we really need to rethink the way we deliver education outcomes for our kids.

We need to think outside the box more and provide more choice for students, particularly at a younger age. It would probably do a lot towards the absentee rates that I mentioned earlier. The reality is that there are students who are not always going to fit the mould of the curriculum and schools and education facilities should be trying to adapt to that to provide them with as many education options as possible. I am pleased that this government has, in that respect, invested in the training and skills portfolio in particular.

I was pleased to see the Premier at the EV launch of the MTA recently. The importance of those programs is in terms of providing students who are not ever likely to go off and become academics or follow down that path of going to university or TAFE, or whatever the case may be, with real, viable options, particularly young women in trades and areas of training and skills development that they are—or were historically—less likely to go into.

I had the great opportunity on that day to speak to the principal of St Patrick's private school. They are running what I think is an extraordinary project in terms of adapting their teaching methods, bringing on more training and skills development and really attracting kids to areas that they would not have otherwise necessarily pursued or had the ability to access through registered training organisations, like the MTA, that I think are doing an exceptional job at pointing kids to all the very different options that actually do exist, rather than our insistence on a curriculum at schools that does not necessarily always suit all students and does not result in the best outcomes for those students.

I appreciate that these are technical amendments. I appreciate that they are minor in nature, but I think at some point there is very valid scope to look at education in a broader context and in light of the important outcomes that we are expecting of kids, providing them with as many options as we can to make sure that they go on to successful employment at the end of their education. With those words, obviously, given that this is a technical bill, we support it and look forward to its swift passage through this place.

The Hon. R.B. MARTIN (16:33): I am pleased to rise to speak in support of the Statutes Amendment (Education, Training and Skills Portfolio) Amendment Bill. This bill amends three acts to strengthen important safeguards for our students, early educators and the History Trust. The amendment that I am particularly interested in speaking on today is the commitment to increase the powers contained in the History Trust of South Australia Act 1981.

This bill expands the definition of 'premises' contained in section 2 of the act, from those premises 'owned or occupied' by the trust, to:

…premises being temporarily used by the Trust to conduct activities and events related to its functions under this Act during the course of such activities or events.

This is an important amendment, as it gives the trust additional powers to deal with inappropriate behaviour at events, to manage parking and the unauthorised reproduction of exhibits. The effect of this small but meaningful change is to allow the History Trust to properly protect our exhibits and our history and to make sure that all South Australians feel safe and included when attending any of the fantastic activities put on by the trust, wherever they are held.

The History Trust is an extremely important South Australian institution and one that, in my view, sometimes does not get the attention that it deserves. I believe that understanding our history is essential because it allows us to better understand ourselves and the world around us.

The History Trust is responsible for the operation of the Migration Museum, the National Motor Museum, the South Australian Museum and the Centre of Democracy. Its function is to carry out and promote research relevant to the history of South Australia, to conserve objects of historical interest and to encourage the dissemination of historical information.

Recently, I had the pleasure of taking Dr Kiera Lindsey, South Australia's History Advocate, on a tour of Parliament House. I was extremely impressed by the breadth of Dr Lindsey's knowledge and her commitment to preserving and promoting the history of this state. I must add, I was quite nervous taking someone who is an expert in history on a tour of this house, as I thought she may well know more about this place than I do. The following passage from her inaugural address as South Australia's History Advocate elucidates her respectful approach as to how we can reimagine our state's history:

To truly tell the stories of this country, Australian history must grow beyond its western traditions. While historians once confined themselves to written archives and objective analysis, many Australians now recognise that this Country and its precious Elders are living repositories of ancient knowledges about this land and who we have been—as well as all that we might yet become. For some time now, a growing appreciation for First Nations cultures has been inspiring new approaches to our shared past. Approaches which are often more intimate, and embodied, subjective, and speculative than those once allowed by the strict edicts of conventional history. But that is what so many of us sense is now necessary if we are to tell our stories our way.

I congratulate Dr Lindsey on her work as the History Advocate so far, and I look forward to seeing her work in the future.

I would also like to take a moment to congratulate the History Trust on its recent South Australian History Festival, which was held between 1 and 31 May. The History Festival explores the state's places and spaces and the stories, collections and ideas that make us who we are. The theme for this year's festival was Past, Present, Wonder. It involved hundreds of innovative and exciting events held all over the state; in fact, even here in Parliament House, where a number of themed tours were held and a screening of the re-enactment of the suffrage debates was shown.

This important change to the legislation governing the History Trust is yet another demonstration of the Malinauskas government protecting and promoting the history of our state for the future.

Debate adjourned on motion of Hon. B.R. Hood.