Mt Eliza Secondary College – Funding Urgently Needed

Legislative Assembly 22 February 2022

Mr MORRIS (Mornington) (14:49): (6214) My question is to the Minister for Education.

I recently received an email from a constituent, and I will quote it in part:

I’m shocked and so disappointed at how little public investment has been allocated to my local high school—

Mount Eliza Secondary College—

… is in desperate need of being brought into line with neighbouring local schools. Given the demographic change with many young families moving into Mount Eliza, the school is not prepared for the needs of these families. The infrastructure is inadequate, or at the least in much need of upgrade …

and I would certainly second that.

The infrastructure is extremely inadequate.

It is not as if there has been underinvestment; there has been effectively zero investment in the school probably for the entire last 16, if not more, years.

So, the question to the minister is:

What are the minister’s plans to bring the Mount Eliza Secondary College infrastructure up to a standard comparable with neighbouring secondary schools?

Balcombe Grammar School Speed Zone – What’s Happening?

Mr MORRIS (Mornington) (12:55): (4733) My question is for the Minister for Roads and Road Safety.

The issue is the lack of appropriate speed reductions during school times outside Balcombe Grammar School on the Nepean Highway at Mount Martha.

This is an issue I have raised on numerous occasions in the house, because unlike other locations in the electorate, the speed limit is a constant 80 kilometres per hour. It is not reduced, so it is dangerous.

In December 2019 I again raised this issue with the then minister and requested renewed consideration. The minister responded in January and indicated that the site visit and pedestrian count would be undertaken.

The school is not aware that this has occurred, and that is not surprising given the events of this year. But equally, with things getting back to normal, it is not appropriate yet to get an accurate figure this year.

So the question is: has the site visit occurred?

If so, when was it undertaken and what was the result?

If not, will the count be undertaken in term 1, 2021?

Boarding School Registration – Long Overdue

MR MORRIS (Mornington) (14:57): It is a pleasure to join this debate on the Education and Training Reform Amendment (Regulation of Student Accommodation) Bill 2020 which, while it does a number of things, is essentially about the registration of premises, according to the long title, ‘at which accommodation services are provided to students enrolled at or attending registered schools’, boarding schools.

There are also some minor amendments relating to early childhood teachers and there are some statute law revisions and some consequential amendments to the Child Wellbeing and Safety Act 2005. But of course the meat of the bill really is in part 2, which is the school boarding house premises.

A number of members have gone through the provisions of the bill in quite some detail, and if time permits I will do something similar, but I simply at this point make the observation that the key piece of the bill is the insertion of a new division 1A, ‘Registration of school boarding premises’, and that effectively sets out the framework.

There are a range of associated provisions with it, all of which appear to me to be more than reasonable. Certainly this afternoon I am speaking in support of the bill and am pleased to do so.

As other members have alluded to, there is a significant backdrop to this bill.

We have sadly become aware probably over the last 20 years—perhaps a bit longer but particularly in the last 10 to 15 years—of the extent of the abuse of children and the extent of the abuse of young people, not only in the state of Victoria but both in the state of Victoria and across the nation and, as far as we know, across the Western world.

We have seen the reports from Ireland, we have seen the reports from the United States and of course we have seen one particularly high-profile case recently, which was eventually quashed. We have seen so many reports of similar events.

So I guess in the aggregate we are now pretty much aware of the appalling facts of the abuse that was allowed to occur. Now, frequently that abuse was sexual in nature, but not always. Sometimes it was physical abuse, sometimes it was psychological abuse. Sometimes it was all three, which of course makes it an even greater offence.

It is hard to estimate the damage that the cumulative effect of that has had on literally thousands of children and thousands of young people in recent years.

Others have also mentioned the Betrayal of Trust report, and I think anyone who was in the 57th Parliament could not help but be staggered, and not staggered in a good way, at the revelations that came out of that report. I still think of the toll it must have taken on members of the committee to simply hear that evidence and to weigh it, and they produced a very, very good report.

I think that report is evidence, if it was ever needed, of the capacity of this Parliament—and sadly it is a capacity that is seldom harnessed—to actually undertake that significant work and to develop pretty far-reaching recommendations for the betterment of the whole community.

I also think if the government was prepared to commission similar inquiries on some of the intractable problems of today and approach them in a similar manner, we might well all be better advanced rather than simply undertaking too often make-work inquiries that are more about burnishing the government of the day, burnishing their political standing, than simply doing the job, as was done in this case.

Four members of that committee remain in the Parliament: Georgie Crozier in the other place of course chaired it, the member for Ferntree Gully, the member for Broadmeadows and the member for Thomastown. Those last two members are sitting in the chamber here this afternoon. And there were two then upper house members, who are no longer in the Parliament, Andrea Coote and David O’Brien. I think the quality of the report is obvious, in that six and a half years on it remains the key work on the subject in Victoria.

Of course we have had the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse, and I may well come back to that, but the committee report was the first attempt, and I think it was the best attempt, to cover the issue in Victoria.

I wanted to refer just quickly to that report, and I will mention in passing point 3.3.2, which is about boarding in parish schools. On that page, and just above that point, is some evidence that was given about the Morning Star Boys Home in Mount Eliza, which of course was not a boarding school; it was a place of correction run by the Franciscan brothers.

One of the people that was there gave evidence with regard to physical abuse and mentioned there had been sexual abuse as well. If you read those passages, it is hard to reconcile it with a place of correction. This witness was also at Turana and in the adult prison system, and he testified that the treatment meted out at Morning Star was significantly worse. It strikes a chord because I drive past Morning Star, that property, every night on the way home, and to think that that sort of abuse could have occurred there is very disappointing.

But of course the reason I raised the report is because it talks about boarding schools. It talks about the evidence that was taken in Ballarat and Geelong. It talks particularly about St Patrick’s school. It largely talks about the Catholic education system, and that is where the evidence came from. As I say, it referred to Geelong as well, and of course the issues were not just confined to the Catholic system. At another school there are well-documented and publicly acknowledged offences that occurred over an extended period, and that is Geelong College.

I had the good fortune to attend that school for almost all of my secondary years—I missed a term, I think—and one of my primary years. What I know now that I did not know at the time was that during those years one or more perpetrators were actively engaged in the abuse of my fellow students.

Like most of my peers, I was happily oblivious of that activity and remained oblivious of that activity for many years. I was simply the beneficiary of a great education at a terrific school, and my schooldays were, I think, probably—it sounds cliched—some of the happiest of my life. But now I am aware that unfortunately not everyone shared that positive experience, and that lack of a positive experience occurred not only within the Catholic education system but at schools across the state.

I think one of the good things that we are now aware of, with the revelations and the changes that have come out of it, is that almost the entire current boarding system thought they were under the controls that we are now seeking to apply, so that is a positive outcome.

But I think if my experience says anything, it underlines the insidious nature of the sorts of offences that we are seeking to prevent here and demonstrates why legislation of this type is necessary. I know both St Patrick’s and Geelong College have issued significant apologies and the current leadership of each school are doing everything they can to recognise the issue, to acknowledge that it occurred and to advance, and they recognise that they cannot advance until they acknowledge what has gone before.

We need to recognise that we can never undo the harm that was done to so many victims, but as a Parliament we can take steps and we must take steps to ensure that this abuse does not happen to the current generation and does not happen to future generations.

The provisions contained in this legislation, the major part of this bill, do go some way towards ensuring that we can meet that challenge, so I will certainly be supporting the bill.

Legislative Assembly 16 June 2020

Osborne Primary – Is it a priority for Government

My question is for the Minister for Education, and it relates to Osborne Primary School.

Prior to the last election the then education minister, the member for Nepean, committed some $960 000 in funding for maintenance works, which unfortunately this government has refused to deliver on.

I have followed this up on a number of occasions with the minister, most recently in an adjournment matter in February of this year.

The minister responded that the government is aware that Osborne Primary School may have additional capital and maintenance needs and that he appreciates the challenges but unfortunately there would not be any money, so I ask:

Will the minister advise the house exactly how many schools of the 1500 he referred to in his adjournment response are considered by this government to have a poorer condition and a greater need for funding than Osborne Primary School?

Morris Fights for the Safety of Balcombe Grammar School Students

Mornington MP David Morris has called on the Minister for Roads and Road Safety, Luke Donnellan MP, to implement a school zone outside Balcombe Grammar School. The school is situated on a busy state arterial road, Nepean Highway, an 80-kilometer-an-hour zone. This school zone is vital for the safety of drivers, parents and students.

“No reduction for speed is afforded to Balcombe Grammar School even though it is situated on the same highway as Peninsula Grammar and Mornington Secondary College. Why are the students of Balcombe Grammar not afforded the same degree of protection?”

In February 2017, Morris wrote to VicRoads Regional Manager to express his concern, only to have the correspondence intercepted by the minister’s office.

“The overwhelming majority of cars that enter and leave the school travel on Nepean Highway. The buses that serve the school do so from Nepean Highway. To suggest that this school is remote from an increasingly busy state arterial road is nothing more than semantic nonsense.”

“In his response, the minister falsely claimed that Balcombe Grammar School is remote from Nepean Highway and the risk of an incident occurring is low” Mr. Morris said.

“Minister Donnellan must act before the lives of Balcombe Grammar School students are needlessly lost through petty politics.”

Morris rejects VicRoads grab for cash

Mornington MP David Morris has called on Minister for Roads and Road Safety, Luke Donnellan MP, to facilitate a low value, non commercial lease of VicRoads land on the corner of Canadian Bay Road and Nepean Highway, Mount Eliza.

Speaking in Parliament recently, Mr Morris called on Minister Donnellan to provide approval as the land holding minister to ensure the safety of drivers and particularly of young students.

“There has been a longstanding issue with parking in Mount Eliza, for Mount Eliza Primary School but also the Peninsula School, which is adjacent, Mount Eliza Secondary College and to a lesser extent St Thomas More Primary School.”

“During the last federal election, Member for Dunkley Chris Crewther committed $280,000 to improve the much needed car parking in Mount Eliza. This included upgrading the existing gravel car park at the corner of Canadian Bay Road and Nepean Highway, providing additional spaces and a safe pick up area. VicRoads proposition of a commercial lease of $21,746 a year for occupancy is unfair and unsustainable.”

“Improving this car park is vital for the safety of drivers, parents and students of the schools in Mount Eliza which urgently require more safe parking spaces.”

“Since the development of the Peninsula Link, passing traffic at the local schools has increased dramatically, in turn making drop off and pick up increasingly more dangerous. The landholding minister has the authority to lease the property on the basis of the peppercorn price; the Minister must do so for the safety of the Mount Eliza community.”

VicRoads Grab for Cash – Mount Eliza Primary

I raise a matter this evening for the Minister for Roads and Road Safety.

The action I am seeking from the minister is that he provide approval as the landholding minister to VicRoads to facilitate a low value, non commercial lease of land at the corner of Canadian Bay Road and Nepean Highway in Mount Eliza.

There has been a longstanding issue particularly with Mount Eliza Primary School but also the Peninsula School, which is adjacent, Mount Eliza Secondary College and to a lesser extent St Thomas More Primary School.

Mount Eliza Primary School is bounded by Nepean Highway on one side and Wooralla Drive on its main front side. Nepean Highway is self evidently a very busy road; Wooralla Drive is now the main access from Mount Eliza to Peninsula Link, and it is becoming very busy as well.

There have been longstanding issues in terms of parent drop off and pick up of kids. A number of us have been working for some time to try to find a solution to that.

During the course of the last federal election the then candidate for Dunkley, now the member, Chris Crewther, made a commitment of $280 000 to fund safety improvements in Mount Eliza and to improve parking around Mount Eliza Primary School, and in particular to fund an improved parking area to be created at the corner of Canadian Bay Road and Nepean Highway, upgrading the existing gravel car park and providing additional spaces and a safe pick up area.

The area, as I indicated, would serve not just Mount Eliza Primary School but three other schools in the area and also take some congestion out of the Wooralla Drive Nepean Highway intersection, a VicRoads intersection.

Unfortunately VicRoads have indicated — because it is VicRoads land that would be utilised — that they believe that this should be a commercial lease, and they have come back and said, ‘Yes, we’ll lease you the land, but we will charge you’ — ‘you’ being the shire — ‘$21 746 a year for occupancy of the site’.

This is a publicly funded project. The principal beneficiaries would be students of a government school and other schools in the area. There is also, as I mentioned, the benefit of reducing traffic in the Wooralla Drive Nepean Highway intersection, which is congested at the best of times, and that is a VicRoads intersection.

To suggest that this is a commercial proposition absolutely beggars belief.

I seek the assistance of the minister in using the policy that was put in place in 2016. There is an escape clause in there that will allow the landholding minister to lease the property on the basis of the peppercorn price that would have applied prior to the introduction of this policy.

I urge the minister to exercise his power so that we can get this much needed facility built.

Osborne Primary School – Funding Needed in 2017 Budget

I raise a matter this evening for the Minister for Education. The action I seek is that the minister refer sufficient funds to the 2017 budget to permit the commencement of urgently needed works at Osborne Primary School.

This is a matter that I have raised on a number of occasions in this Parliament. As I have previously advised the house, in 2014 then minister Dixon announced funding of $960 000 for the school.

Unfortunately, that was not a commitment that was kept by Labor, although to be fair, a modest amount has been allocated – in fact, a very modest amount. There have been two modest amounts, both from the condition assessment report process.

In contrast, the coalition committed a significant amount, and as I have also noted previously in the house, there was a legitimate expectation that an improving budgetary position would in fact allow a total rebuild.

In his response the current Minister for Education, Mr Merlino, indicated that he would ensure that Osborne was on his radar. If it is, then he will know that the school has a dedicated and skilled staff and excellent school leadership but that the condition of the fabric still lets the school down.

The paucity of funding provided by Labor means that no major works can be undertaken – in fact, only minor works, and then only in a piecemeal way. As the chair of the school council has noted in correspondence:

… my fear is that when the works from this allocation is complete, that our school grounds will resemble a patchwork quilt, rather than a playground. This round of funding I understand, is to be devoted to repairing water pipes and electrical cables all of which are located underground, and will see us lift sections of the sheltered area where our basketball courts are located.

That is precisely why this school needs to have the appropriate funds allocated – to allow those works to be undertaken, and undertaken in a way that enables completion.

Labor promised for many years that it would completely rebuild the school. Of course, like 200 others, that rebuild never eventuated. The school is now growing, and we need those decade-old promises kept.

To again quote the chair of the school council:

Our school is struggling to deliver a 21st century standard of education utilising 20th century infrastructure. We all want the best education for our children, but sometimes I feel that our 630-plus students, and growing, just have to make do with whatever we can put together.

This is a school community that has worked hard for a very long time. They have made a terrific contribution to the school, but they simply cannot rebuild it on their own. They need the government to provide this funding, and they need the government to do it in this budget. I urge the minister not to let this plea fall again on deaf ears.