St Johns College Bill

7 March 2018

The Hon. JOHN GRAHAM (17:41): I make a contribution to debate on the Saint John's College Bill 2017. I state at the outset that I support the minimalist changes to the legislation that governs St John's College at the University of Sydney. The changes, which have been a long time coming, are a step in the right direction. However, I remain concerned about the state of the culture at this institution and others across this State. In fact, I do not believe these minimalist changes will be enough to change that culture and this House should be very clear about its expectations as to the changes. The Hon. Dr Peter Phelps said we should be careful not to throw stones if there is a culture of misbehaviour or of cover-up. We have to tackle these cultures wherever we find them—whether it is in the institution we are now talking about or in a political party. It is important to note that in all political parties there are issues, and we should take them on.

I recognise the many students, especially the campus women's officers and the End Rape on Campus [EROC] team, who have been raising these issues for a long time. I recognise also some of my colleagues in the other place who have been campaigning on these issues, particularly over the past 12 months—the members for the electorates of Summer Hill, Maitland, Canterbury and Lakemba. The Hon. Penny Sharpe spoke earlier in this debate. She also has a long history of campaigning on these issues. I have listened to this debate with great interest, and some very good contributions have been made across the Chamber. It is obvious that people on all sides of politics hold strong views and are committed to tackling this culture.

I also appreciate the way in which the university has tried to tackle this issue. I believe, looking from the outside in, that the vice chancellor is taking this seriously. I thank Elizabeth Broderick for her report, which has put some facts on the table, and nor do I underestimate the hard work of the Minister in bringing this matter forward. He has done much better than his predecessor on this issue. The Hon. Dr Peter Phelps said this has been an issue since 2012 and yet six years later we are dealing with it. My view on this issue is much the same as that of my colleague in the other place, the member for Summer Hill, who is currently on maternity leave following the birth of her twins. Her written contribution to this legislation concluded as follows:

Let this bill also be a promise that this is only the first step in a much longer journey of reform, because there is much more work to be done if we are to end the scourge of sexual assault, harassment and rape on our university campuses.

For decades this culture has been a problem. Several members have quoted from the Broderick report, including the Hon. Dr Peter Phelps. I will now refer to a couple of things that have not been quoted from the report, including that 50 per cent of students surveyed reported they had witnessed bullying, intimidation or hazing. The report states:

The majority of US states have laws against hazing, and many tertiary education institutions there base their anti-hazing policies on those laws. The result is a powerful message …

I acknowledge that the earlier quotes from the report were accurate. The report states also that 25 per cent of women reported they had experienced sexual harassment since commencing at the college, almost all of which occurred on college grounds. Some 12 per cent of women surveyed reported that it happened in one week—Orientation Week—and 6 per cent reported experiencing actual or attempted sexual assault since commencing at the college. We cannot look sideways when those figures are included in this report.

The Hon. Catherine Cusack: Is that at university?

The Hon. JOHN GRAHAM: At university.

The Hon. Catherine Cusack: That is not true of colleges.

The Hon. JOHN GRAHAM: I repeat the earlier figure that 90 per cent of these sexual harassment issues happened on college grounds. To put this in context, there are also very few police reports. Police are not receiving reports, which goes to culture. This culture poses a risk to the education sector in New South Wales. First, Tanya Plibersek has already made it clear that a future Federal Government may well take action against educational institutions. Money could be taken out of educational institutions in New South Wales if these issues are not cleared up and this culture improved—that is the case in jurisdictions such as Canada. Secondly, this is a key export industry. In New South Wales international education is valued at $10 billion; it is our second biggest export earner. The reputational threats associated with this should not be tolerated. It deserves a serious response.

I take this opportunity to express my support for all those victims who have spoken out publicly. I specifically express my support for the Kelly family in the loss of their two sons. Stuart Kelly's story is very upsetting and should be cause for reflection for us all. I join the university in supporting the call of the Kelly family for a coronial inquest into the circumstances of the death of Stuart Kelly. From reading these reports it seems as though these colleges have been conducting a decades-long masterclass in misbehaviour rather than providing accommodation. I call on the Minister to do the following things. First, he should request quarterly reports from the colleges on the key measures that the Broderick report draws attention to—namely, gender balance in leadership positions, the diversity of residents, and, crucially, on the number of incidents of harassment or assault reported and the outcome of each of those reports.

Secondly, the Minister should use this information to brief the Minister for Police and the Commissioner of Police so that it can inform a risk-based assessment of policing by the commissioner. Given the Broderick review's finding that fully 12 per cent of these incidents happen during one week of the year and the majority occur on college grounds, I suspect such an assessment would make it a high priority. Thirdly, I call on the Government to deal with the general governance reform for colleges in New South Wales. Today we deal with St John's College, but I ask the Parliamentary Secretary: When do we deal with the issue generally? When do we deal with governance at other institutions that have been referred to in the debate? Fourthly, the Minister should introduce New South Wales legislation to outlaw hazing. Most US states have done so. Given this culture, why should we not act? Lastly, the functions of the college, set out in the bill, are as follows:

(a) to provide accommodation, education and religious instruction to students.

If the incidents do not stop, if the culture does not change, if the cooperation of the colleges ceases, then in my view these institutions will have strayed unacceptably far from their stated public purpose. In that case, these colleges—situated on land granted to them by the public—should be handed back to the university and run as accommodation for students who most need it. I support the bill and I support changing the culture. It has taken too long to do so; it has to change.