Mark Cummins’ Parliamentary inquiry bid quashed by standing committee

Warren HatelyAugusta Margaret River Times
Former teacher Mark Cummins has raised concerns about access to suicide guidelines in all WA schools.
Camera IconFormer teacher Mark Cummins has raised concerns about access to suicide guidelines in all WA schools. Credit: Michael Wilson/The West Australian

A Parliamentary committee tasked with considering issues relating to mental health and self-harm flagged by former teacher Mark Cummins has decided not to pursue those concerns any further.

In a decision confirmed with the Times this week, the Standing Committee on Environment and Public Affairs said on November 16 it had decided “not to conduct any further inquiries and to finalise its consideration of the petition” lodged by the ex-teacher.

“The committee took the view that the matter is being properly dealt with by the relevant authorities,” a spokesperson said.

Earlier this year, Margaret River-based Mr Cummins called for a Parliamentary inquiry into schools allegedly failing to follow protocols known as the School Response and Planning Guidelines for Students with Suicidal Behaviour and Non-Suicidal Self-Injury.

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Mr Cummins and three other staff members resigned from St Mary MacKillop Catholic College after the death of a student last year, claiming it failed to notify parents or put risk-management plans in place when students disclosed thoughts of self-harm or suicide.

A departmental review had found no evidence of “systemic failure”, according to Education Minister Sue Ellery.

Ms Ellery said the guidelines — developed by the department in 2018 — were recommended but not mandatory.

However, Mr Cummins said Catholic and non-Government independent schools received funding to follow those guidelines, which they had adopted as mandatory, without any explanation about the auditing of those arrangements.

In its submission to the committee, Catholic Education WA, which oversees 148 schools Statewide, defended its processes, bolstered by its expert staff in consultation with Mr Cummins immediately after his complaint to CEWA.

“The specific concerns detailed in Mr Cummins’ complaint were not substantiated,” CEWA said.

“In the two student files reviewed — that Mr Cummins had highlighted — risk assessments had been completed and the students’ parents engaged.

“These (SSB&NSSI) ‘guidelines’ have been included in CEWA’s executive directives that give them the force of a lawful direction by the executive director, making it mandatory for all staff to follow.”

CEWA further reviewed its use of those guidelines and training arrangements in Term 3 this year, with contact psychologists working with individual schools.

South West Liberal MLC Steve Thomas previously said he hoped the inquiry would give him the opportunity to test the minister’s stance on the non-mandatory guidelines, but he did not respond to questions about the committee decision this week.

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