ACT Education Minister Yvette Berry has revealed that her 15-year-old son had been suspended from school for fighting.
Ms Berry, who has been under fire for not acting quickly enough to deal with violence in the ACT’s public schools and will soon face a committee inquiry into the issue, issued a statement as Minister detailing her response to the matter so that there could be no perceived conflict of interest.
“While this is largely a private matter, I am conscious of the overlap with my duties as the Minister for Education and how a conflict of interest may be perceived if it is not actively avoided,” she said.
Ms Berry said she had been contacted by her son’s high school earlier in the week about him being involved in a fight outside of school hours and that he had been immediately suspended.
“Although I do not know the precise detail of what happened, I want to state clearly that this kind of violence is unacceptable under any circumstances and I am deeply sorry that it occurred,” she said.
“These incidents can have an extremely negative impact on students and school communities and obviously I have been very concerned for those affected in this case.”
Ms Berry said the school had been told that her son’s father would be the point of contact on this matter.
She had informed the Chief Minister about the incident through her Chief of Staff, as well as the Director-General and relevant Deputy Director-General of the ACT so that a response to the incident could proceed without any regard to her ministerial position.
She had also immediately informed the Legislative Assembly Ethics and Integrity Adviser.
She had also made a personal declaration to the Chair of the Safe and Supportive Schools Advisory Committee and requested that it report directly to the Chief Minister as well as herself, and that any information or advice which it considered might create a real or perceived conflict of interest, be provided directly to the Chief Minister without her knowledge or involvement or that of her office.
She had made a similar declaration to the Standing Committee on Education, Employment and Youth Affairs in light of its current inquiry into the management and minimisation of bullying and violence in ACT schools.
“I am due to appear before this committee in coming weeks and will of course respect its powers and functions under the Assembly Standing Orders and the Assembly motion to which it is responding,” she said.
“I remain well placed to lead the Government’s response on these issues and my record in taking on these challenges is clear. In the past two years I have led Government action – and directed significant resources – to make sure government schools are positive and safe places for students and staff.”
Ms Berry said that although she accepted her public role, she called for the privacy of others involved to be respected.
“Indeed, while it is difficult to have to air private matters in this way, there is at least some benefit of this lived experience informing my work. Nonetheless, it concerns me that any students, their families, staff or schools may be identified and unfairly treated because of my position,” she said.
“Please respect the privacy of these people. I am not involved in any follow-up to this event and the steps being undertaken will be allowed to run their course unimpeded.”
Ms Berry said that an incident like this was difficult for any family, why throughout the public debate on this issue she had refused to discuss specific schools or incidents.
“I fully accept that my position in the community means I need to take these actions and make this statement. But I’m still a mum. Just like any other mum. My family doesn’t need to be brought into political debate and I ask again that their privacy is respected.”