An old teacher always enjoys hearing of ex-students. A story in today’s Sydney Morning Herald has brought back a lot of memories. The story itself is hardly relevant, the only point being that it mentioned National Party NSW Legislative Council member Trevor Khan from Tamworth, a fact that will delight Jim Belshaw.
Trevor, along with my old friend Simon H, was in the class of 1975 at The Illawarra Grammar School in Wollongong. I taught him English, and I suspect Asian Studies, from 1971 to 1974. I was fascinated to read this in his maiden speech delivered in the NSW Parliament on 9 May 2007.
What I have also learnt over the past 20 years is that our justice system is perhaps one of the best in the world. Certainly there are deficiencies, but it is composed of a body of men and women committed to ensuring that the system works. I fear that all too often criticisms are made of the system by people who have no experience of it, with an eye more to the next headline than upon achieving beneficial change. There are principles in our system that appear to be under threat. The growth of strict liability offences, the shifting of the onus of proof, the lessening of the criminal standard of proof, are all matters of concern. Of equal concern is the trend to remove decision making from the judiciary and place responsibility with members of the executive or quasi-judicial tribunals. All these moves involve a lessening of the protections previously available to the ordinary citizen and must therefore be resisted.
However, I feel in detailing my legal career it is only fair that I pay tribute to the many hardworking and talented teachers who saw me overcome early difficulties to eventually enter this profession. I was privileged to attend what was then a small private school, The Illawarra Grammar School in Wollongong. That school provided me with a quality education throughout the time of my schooling from 1962 until the completion of my Higher School Certificate in 1975—in fact, 11 November 1975 was the day of my final economics exam. There can be no doubt that it is the teachers in the early years of my education who are owed the greatest debt, for it was those teachers who identified a reading difficulty which was then simply described as dyslexia.
I well remember those times in the special reading classes. I well remember as a child my school friends speeding along in their reading exercises whilst I struggled with much simpler tasks. It was a difficult and embarrassing time. As I say, if it were not for those teachers who identified my difficulties I may well not have had the opportunity for the higher studies that I have had. But my gratitude to the teaching profession does not end there. As a result of my university years I became a firm believer in the values of the State public education system. This belief in the public education system arose for a number of reasons, but principally because of the significant contribution that a public education system plays in ensuring the homogeneity of our society.
Let me add also, for those who believe in the dreams of Menzies, that a quality education system is one of the great levellers in our community. A quality public education system can help lift those who are less fortunate from their poverty and disadvantage and give to them the chance to share in the wealth and opportunity of our community. My belief in the benefits of the public education system came to be tested when it was time for my children to attend school. Both my children first attended Tamworth Public School and then Oxley High School.
My daughter, Jen, has completed her secondary schooling and is now at university studying to be a physical education teacher. Her achievements are in no small part due to the dedication, support, nurturing and commitment of her teachers. My son, Nick, still attends Oxley High School and he also receives a level of professional tuition and care that I believe is difficult to match. If it were not for the quality of care that my son receives, if it were not for the positive influences that his school has had upon him, I do not believe it would be possible for me to leave my family in Tamworth and travel to sit in this Chamber.
Good things there, Trevor. Shame about the National Party though, but we can’t have everything. 😉