MEDIA RELEASE 22 June 2021
Victorian Aboriginal Legal Service (VALS)

The Andrews Government’s Education and Training Reform Amendment (Protection of School Communities) Bill 2021 is currently before Parliament. This is a deeply troubling Bill and the Government has misstated our position on it 

We do not support the Government’s Bill.

We have particular concerns about how such legislation will be used against parents of children with disabilities and/or multiple complex needs and/or Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children. These children are not only vulnerable due to the complexity of their needs, but are also subject to systemic racism, exclusionary practices, and discrimination, and often have little support. Giving schools the power to exclude parents who advocate for their children’s needs will have a devastating effect on equitable access to education.

The need for such legislation has not been demonstated. For serious cases, schools can seek Personal Safety Intervention Orders, which are made by a court. This Bill introduces a parallel system where school officials, without legal training, in the absence of procedural fairness, could even order parents to participate in a program. The threshold for issuing an order is low and vague, absent critical safeguards, with limited opportunities for appeal. Despite these shortcomings, the proposed legislation could lead to significant fines for breaching such an order. Progressing with such a punitive approach is in direct conflict with supporting families and children.

Education is a key protective factor which reduces the chance that marginalised children, particularly Aboriginal children, will come into contact with the criminal legal system. The Commissioner for Children and Young People’s landmark report Our Youth, Our Way, published this month, found that “[l]eaving school early or experiencing chronic difficulties engaging in education while at school can push some children and young people towards the youth justice system.” Excluding parents from engaging with their children’s education risks the students themselves becoming disengaged from their schooling. This Bill would remove a key protective factor against contact with the criminal legal system, and undermine the Government’s commitment to reducing incarceration of Aboriginal people.

Juliana Addison MP incorrectly stated to the Victorian Parliament on Tuesday 8 June that VALS welcomed the Bill. Several other government MPs have implied that we support the Bill in Parliament or in their public comments. The Andrews Government media release New Laws To Make Schools Safer For Everyone on 4 May 2021 also implied that VALS endorsed the Bill. These statements by members of the Government are profoundly misleading. We were consulted on the proposed Bill. During those consultations we made clear many of our concerns about the impact of these changes on Aboriginal children and children with complex needs.

None of our concerns have been addressed in the Bill put forward by the Government. Parliament should vote down this Bill and the Government should demonstrate the need for such legislation, and commit to a transparent and honest consultation process before introducing any similar legislation in the future.

Quotes Attributable to George Selvanera, Acting CEO of Victorian Aboriginal Legal Service

“The need for such a Bill has not been demonstrated and, in fact, ignores the evidence that has shown time and again that keeping children in school is a protective factor, preventing contact with police and the criminal legal system. Ostracising parents, and adding barriers to them engaging with their children’s education, will, in turn, negatively impact students’ experience of schooling, and risk their own disengagement with their education.”

“It is incredibly frustrating that the Andrews Government would mislead the Parliament into believing that VALS supports this Bill. We are concerned about the impact this Bill will have on the families most in need of support, and the most marginalised children in Victoria.”

“Giving school principals more power than a magistrate to dictate how parents behave, with none of the safeguards of a court hearing, is certain to create unfair outcomes for Aboriginal children and parents.”

“The Victorian Government should withdraw the Bill and, if they don’t, the Parliament should vote it down.”