By Sue Wight
the action or process of formally consulting or discussing.“they improved standards in consultation with consumer representatives”
synonyms: discussion, dialogue, discourse, debate, negotiation, conference, deliberation“the recommendations include increased consultation with local people”
Consultation on the Education Regulations has been a matter of appearances, with the requirements of Subordinate Legislation Act only minimally met.
The Department (DET) called for submissions on its website and in school circulars – home educators weren’t going to see that.
An e-mail to every registered home educator would have been easy and free, but this was neglected. This can be contrasted with the planned communication campaign to encourage compliance with the proposed regulations where “a direct communication to all currently registered home schooling families, advising them of the changes” forms only one part of a concerted campaign. So DET is much more conscientious in communicating compliance requirements than in communicating opportunities for input to the regulatory regime. This is paternalistic.
DET advised HEN that public consultation had opened only because HEN had made repeated requests for consultation due to the approaching sunset date.
To frame the first round of public submissions, DET identified no problem, made no proposal and set no agenda. They had already conducted a desktop review and should then have flagged that home education had been “singled out for special attention” as a result. Doing this and indicating what changes they hoped to achieve, would have resulted in many more submissions by home educators.
Despite DET having made so little attempt to engage home educators in the regulation review, 95% of first round submissions referred to home education. Of these all but two were from home educators or home education groups but these were dismissed as “unlikely to represent the whole home schooling community” and the only two submissions on home education quoted in the entire RIS are by non-home educators who also happen to be government bodies that have their own vested interests.
In between the two rounds of public consultation, HEN was not consulted. DET just held a couple of meetings with us in order to claim consultation had taken place. The consultation process was ineffective, opaque, dismissive, dictatorial, and undemocratic.
The Draft Regulations and RIS were released on 21 December. As DET had been working on these regulations for at least 18 months, it is difficult to believe that the release date was not carefully planned for minimum exposure in the Christmas rush.
The Minister has claimed that the public response period was “doubled”. This is misleading when Victorian Government policy is that, wherever feasible, consultation should be for at least 60 days.* The government has therefore tried to portray best practice as a favour to the community. Setting their 60-day period across the Christmas holidays, when all schools were closed and MPs unavailable for meetings, appeared to be planned to avoid public engagement.
Those home educators aware of the draft made considered submissions because home education is critical to the wellbeing of their children. Of the 565 submissions, over 500 were made by home educators. Following a massive privacy breach in handling the submissions, DET republished submissions with damaging sections quietly redacted. The Minister then announced that submissions had been noted and the regulations were proceeding unchanged.
Now the Minister has announced there will be a committee of home educators to provide feedback on the new requirements. We’ve seen DET’s version of ‘consultation’ – ‘feedback’ is clearly meant to be even less consultative.
Someone needs to educate the Education Department on the meaning of consultation!
*Victorian Guide to Regulation: A handbook for policy-makers in Victoria. P 53