AUSTRALIA. The criminal history of more than 60,000 teachers in Queensland will be checked under a state government plan to weed out paedophiles and other serious offenders from schools.
The police investigation will check the backgrounds of teachers who were registered before 1998 and who were not then subject to character assessments.
Anna Bligh, the state education minister, said it would be the largest single retrospective criminal-history checking of teachers anywhere in Australia.
Ms Bligh said about 62,000 of the state's 80,000 teachers had not been subjected to criminal checks. The process would take several months and would cost more than $1 million (pound;400,000) but teachers had nothing to fear from the investigation, she said.
The decision follows an earlier scandal involving teachers at Anglican schools in Brisbane. An inquiry by the Anglican diocese into the church's handling of sexual abuse led to the resignation of Peter Hollingworth, Australia's governor-general.
Mr Hollingworth had been the Anglican archbishop of Brisbane in the 1990s and was strongly criticised in a report of the inquiry for failing to remove a known paedophile priest who had been sexually abusing students.
Other Australian states have also introduced checks on teachers applying for registration but Queensland is the first to conduct a retrospective investigation.
Under the new regulations, all Queensland teachers will have their backgrounds checked while schools will be required to report suspected child abuse to police. The board of teacher registration will have the power immediately to suspend teachers who pose a risk to children and to notify education authorities in other states of their names.
Ms Bligh said any paedophile who had "slipped through the net" in the past would be removed from schools. "It sends a very clear message to those people who are in our schools, and who are using our schools as places where they can prey on children, that the net is tightening and your days are numbered," said the minister.
Since background checks on new teachers began five years ago in 1998, six people who applied for registration as teachers have been rejected.
A further 12 voluntarily withdrew their applications.