Call for register of sex offenders

4th April 1997 at 01:00
AUSTRALIA.

A crackdown on teachers suspected of child sex abuse by the New South Wales government has led to calls for a national register of teachers convicted of paedophilia.

The NSW government has drawn up files of more than 130 state school teachers described as "high risk" by the education minister, John Aquilina, and who have been removed from schools.

A retired Supreme Court judge has been appointed to inquire into the issue of how teachers suspected or convicted of child sex abuse continued to work in the classroom.

State premier Bob Carr ordered Mr Aquilina home from a trip to China after details of sex abuse in schools came out during a Royal Commission into the NSW police force.

Evidence given by senior education officials at the commission suggested that teachers accused of sexual abuse had been given references by the department, and in a number of cases the accusations had been ignored by school principals.

Mr Aquilina contacted his counterparts in the other states and territories, advising them to check with his department before employing any teacher from New South Wales. He also warned the NSW Teachers Federation that anyone trying to stop the removal of suspect teachers should "stand aside or be stood aside".

The federation accused the minister of a "McCarthyist, Salem-style witchhunt" in which the civil liberties of teachers were being ignored.

A federation spokeswoman said that in the hothouse atmosphere following the Royal Commission evidence, no distinction was being made between allegations of paedophilia, child abuse and improper conduct.

When a teacher was removed from a Sydney school, the education department sent in counsellors to treat distressed students. This came after an angry parent went to the school and distributed copies of legal documents relating to a previous child abuse court case involving the teacher.

The document carried a handwritten warning: "Parents, this man may be teaching your child."

At a meeting of state and federal education ministers in Melbourne last week, Mr Aquilina proposed that a national register be compiled to stop convicted paedophiles from crossing state borders to get jobs in different school systems.

The Australian Education Union, which represents the nation's 150,000 state school teachers, called on the ministers to establish a national licensing system that would certify teachers' qualifications and include routine criminal record checks, including convictions for paedophilia.

AEU president Ms Sharan Burrow said a statutory licensing system to ensure proper qualifications for teachers was needed.

She said the issue of paedophilia was related to the question of teacher qualifications and asked how children could be entrusted to the care of people without proper qualifications.

In Victoria, more than half the state's 35,000 teachers have undergone police checks to find out if they have any criminal convictions.

Every year, some 10 teachers in the state are charged with sexual acts against their students. Four are now under investigation even though the offences are alleged to have occurred years ago.

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