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However, there are differences between public and private schooling in terms of a contract between the school and student. These differences have been discussed in a number of relatively recent Australian court cases. In a fairly recent case, Justice Blackburn found:
There is no rule or principle of law from which it can be made out that the principal of a private school has to act, or acts in a quasi judicial capacity and therefore has to apply rules of natural justice.
The public education provider is obliged to enrol students between the ages of six and 15 years, with powers of exclusion resting only with the chief education officer. Parents enrol students in non-government or private educational institutions on a contractual basis under which, together with the payment of a fee, they agree to abide by the rules of the school. By means of the publicly administered registration process for non-government schools, these rules, including pastoral care provisions, are open to independent scrutiny, which provides parents and students with additional safeguards.
Earlier this year the Government approved new guidelines for the registration of non-government schools which strengthened accountability arrangements for pastoral care and the discipline of students. This process provides the flexibility not available in legislation to take account of the particular ethos in the wide range of non-government schools we have in the ACT. For example, Catholic schools have been established and are supported by the Catholic community because of their religious emphasis. Similar philosophical or religious convictions have motivated the establishment of other private schools. In 1993 the Catholic Education Commission thoroughly reviewed its student welfare policies, considerably strengthening them to ensure a higher degree of accountability to their community. To interfere, through legislation, with the pastoral arrangements associated with this ethos would have the potential to interfere with the basis of parental choice in education.
In summary, I believe that the current legislation, including recent amendments to the guidelines for registration of non-government schools, satisfies the need of all educational communities in the ACT. The Bill before us has the very real potential to create a situation in schools which would render exclusion a purely punitive measure. The complicated review procedures it proposes are unnecessary and will mean that exclusion will be used as a last resort only. This will undermine schools' ability to implement effective behaviour management while simultaneously putting the interests of those students who are not involved in disruptive behaviour at risk. We have, after all, a responsibility to act in a fair and reasonable way towards all our students. Policies and procedures which are already in place do this in a way that takes account of the interests of all involved in student management and care. Accordingly, Mr Speaker, the Government does not support the Bill.
MS TUCKER (11.20): Mr Speaker, the Greens will not be supporting this Bill. We do sympathise with Mr Moore's sentiments. However, we believe that it is not appropriate for the Assembly to take such drastic measures to deal with the problem. Our main reason for opposing this Bill is the question of imposing upon a school a bureaucratic system that may contravene the individual philosophy of that school.