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Statement from the NSW Minister for Education

Statement from the NSW Minister for Education

I am deeply concerned by this tragic event and every allegation is being thoroughly investigated by the Department. There is also a criminal investigation underway by the NSW police and the matter is before the courts.

We cannot and will not rush an investigation of this importance. To do so risks degrading the integrity and fairness of the outcome for the victim.

I am unable to comment on the specifics of investigations that are underway. Should it become clear that any employee of the Department has engaged in misconduct, appropriate action would be taken against that employee.  

All NSW public schools are required to report all known allegations of criminal behaviour on and off school grounds to NSW Police. We have a specialist unit within the department with seconded police officers who support our schools in managing serious incidents. As soon as we are made aware of a serious incident, it is put in the hands of police who lead the initial and ongoing investigation.

Neither the Department nor myself have ignored ‘Steve’. In line with advice from the Department’s investigative unit, the Department has provided delegated responses on my behalf to Steve. All Steve’s correspondence to the Department has been replied to. We have provided as much information as possible given the ongoing investigations. It is entirely inappropriate to share information gathered during the investigation with third parties, including Steve, before the investigation is complete – and to do so could jeopardise the outcome of both the court case and the Department’s internal investigation.

We urge media organisations to also respect this process, as people’s lives and careers are impacted by making determinations before an investigation has concluded.

In relation to this case, requests have been made for information about students, staff and community members to be made available to Steve. The way this information is collected, used, disclosed and secured by schools is subject to NSW legislation including the Privacy and Personal Information Protection Act 1998, Health Records and Information Protection Act 2002 and the Children and Young Persons (Care and Protection) Act 1998. These laws limit the circumstances in which information relating to staff, other students and community members can be provided.

Last Friday the Department of Education signed a Statement of Intent with the Catholic and Independent school sectors which commits more than 3000 schools across NSW to drive cultural change to reduce harm.

This joint commitment sets in place a common foundation for the significant and ongoing work ahead to build a more respectful, safer experience for all children and young people.

I am also mindful of the crucial role that parents – as the most important educators of children – play in supporting this work.

All students in NSW have a right to learn in a safe and supportive school environment and their safety and wellbeing is always our top priority.

NSW leads the country when it comes to teaching consent in schools. Under the new PDHPE syllabus introduced in 2018, and made compulsory for all schools in 2020, all students learn about consent explicitly from kindergarten onwards.

The Department’s enrolment procedure requires information about health and safety risks to be obtained when a student enrols in a government school.

Health and safety risks are defined as including any behaviour that seriously interferes with the physical or psychological health, safety and wellbeing and seriously inappropriate sexual behaviour that could cause physical or psychological harm to a reasonable person.

The application to enrol also requires the disclosure and assessment of court orders prior to an application to enrol is finalised.

Guidelines used by schools require a principal who knows a student has engaged in problematic or harmful sexual behaviour to notify the new school of the risk their behaviour potentially poses.

If a student is charged with an offence, the Department would need to consider any bail conditions and any terms of an AVO, if one is put in place.

Depending on the nature of the charges, we would consult relevant agencies such as NSW Police, Department of Communities and Justice and NSW Health.