Adjourned debate on second reading.
(Continued from 20 September 2016.)
Ms CHAPMAN ( Bragg—Deputy Leader of the Opposition) (11:54): I rise to speak on the Child Safety (Prohibited Persons) Bill 2016 and indicate that I will be consenting to the bill. Largely, this is a bill to remedy a working with children model which exists in South Australia but which has failed to be as robust as is necessary. The opposition agrees that it needs to be tightened. The measures to improve checks on people working with children are incorporated in this bill through a new model, that is, essentially to introduce a single working with children check which is portable and valid for five years and which, when the technology is ultimately developed, will hopefully be robust enough to be real-time effective in maintaining its accuracy and relevance.
It also creates a centralised assessment unit that will be the sole agency in South Australia responsible for conducting checks on individuals. As has been stated by others, the whole purpose of this regime is to minimise the risk to children posed by persons who work or volunteer with them, to provide the appropriate screening and now to introduce a regime of prohibition where the party who proposes to work or volunteer with a child poses an unacceptable risk to that child or children.
The matters I want to point out today relate to what this bill does, and other speakers have spoken at length on this. It is to be implemented by mid next year, and multiple regulatory provisions are to be introduced with it. We all know what it proposes to do. I think its implementation time, of course, is moving at a glacial pace. What it does not do is deal with the circumstances that arise such as those in the Shannon McCoole case. We all know how disgraceful that exposé was in mid-2014—to find that a person had been identified by the Danish police, I think (but from Europe), to be an operative in an international paedophile ring and that he was identified as someone who was an employee of Families SA.
More shattering was the exposure that there were a number of children—seven, I think—whom he ultimately admitted to directly assaulting, abusing or confronting in some clearly offensive manner. Reading case study No. 5 of Shannon McCoole in Commissioner Nyland's recent report is chilling. It can be said to be nothing less because of the repeated and layer upon layer of ineptitude of the screening alone of this man that allowed him to graduate from out-of-school-hours care employment to NannySA employment—an organisation supervised and regulated in its operation by government—and then to Families SA.
Thank goodness for the international police. The rate Mr McCoole was going, when one reads this report, he would probably be director of the department by now if they had not intervened. That is how obscene this circumstance and the failings exposed by Commissioner Nyland on this matter were. Can I just recount that, even though we have a situation of screening of checks, Mr McCoole was able—apart from lying in his curriculum vitae; apart from giving falsehoods about his experience, training and learning of educational training and the like; apart from getting through a panel of questions; and apart from the fact that people failed to actually check his history—to start to work unsupervised with children during a period of training.
Yet everyone else was out there, a working with children check process having been introduced some years ago that required that people be checked, that they be cleared, that they be trained and that they be screened. In every single way, Mr McCoole's advance in employment, and his graduating to higher office from one children's operation to Families SA, is scandalous. I am very concerned about what this bill does not do. It is fair to say that although it is proposing to strengthen the gatekeeping in respect of those who may have been found to have committed offences as detailed in the legislation, that is only a tiny sample of those who are clearly out there causing harm to children and capable of causing further harm to children. Let us not forget that.
It is such a narrow area of protection for children against those who are in their space of work or volunteer activity, that against that background it is absolutely puzzling to me and quite stunning why we are here in September 2016 debating the improvement of the model of this check when this has been an issue that has been known to this government for years. They did not need Margaret Nyland's report in August 2016 to tell them that the current model was deficient. They only had to look around Australia and see the advances in other states and jurisdictions dealing in this area to know that the model we have had in South Australia for years now has been grossly inadequate.
It is still expensive, over $100 if you are an employee and something like $58 or $60 for a volunteer to do a check, but ours has been shown to be wanting for a long time. We did not even need the Shannon McCoole case to make it clear to this government that it needed to do something. However, having announced a royal commission and the Attorney-General having a representative sit on that royal commission for two years, they knew exactly what was going on; they had every opportunity to bring this legislation before the parliament and not leave our children exposed in these circumstances, narrow as they might be.
Our children are entitled to have a system that works, that is effective, that is time sensitive and that is up to the standard around the country and not wait two years before they do anything about it. As the Attorney-General pointed out to the parliament just recently on the public data sharing legislation before the house, they of course were trying to claim that this exchange of information between departments for policy advancement was also in response to the Nyland royal commission. When it was pointed out to him that he tabled that bill before the Nyland royal commission had been published he said, 'Yes, but we knew it was coming.'
How did he know it was coming? He said, 'Because we have had people in the commission and they of course have been reporting to us. I have had regular meetings with the commissioner.' So they knew exactly what was going on. There is no excuse that for two years our children out there who are in a circumstance of being at risk have been exposed and required to rely on a model which is defective and inadequate. There is no excuse for that.
Yes, this bill tightens some of the regime, centralises the operation, makes it a prohibition and, indeed, an offence to employ someone where you do not have the check and, furthermore, that they are not identified or excluded from being a prohibited person—that is fine. It is a narrow piece of work but it should have been done two years ago. It still does not do all of those other things which are very important, where the government is dragging the chain in amending or rewriting the Children's Protection Act, and so many of the other recommendations of Ms Nyland which need to be attended to.
They have utterly failed in dealing with the really hard stuff. They have looked at and said they are picking up, I think, 38 recommendations—well, there are over 200 in this report and they are in urgent need of attention. If we have to wait, as we did for two years, for somebody to get off their backside and actually draft a bill to tighten this, God help those children who are out there exposed in so many other ways. It is completely unacceptable that we have had to wait for two years to have this tightened.
For all of the time we have had to wait, we now have a situation where this bill is heavily laced with a failing to describe exactly what it is that is being prohibited and the parties that are to be affected by it. Prescribed offences are a long list: murder, manslaughter, all the usual felonies and the like; criminal code offences in the commonwealth, where the victim is on trial (multiple lists); significant sexual offences are listed; and we now have a new provision in there that says, 'but does not include an offence referred to in a preceding paragraph of a kind declared by the regulations to be excluded from the ambit of the definition'.
Rule number one in criminal law is that you make abundantly clear in the legislation the nature of the offence. The government here has lazily described a whole list of things and then added a clause that says, 'But we are going to exempt some things, which we have not told you about, we're not going to tell you about in this debate at all, other than by regulation at some later date, what we are going to exempt.'
So, the person out there, the employer who may be at risk for not actually complying with this, is left with no clear indication about what the line of liability will be for them. I say that is lazy, and we should at the very least have had the regulations, if they were going to put it in a regulation, which I think is a sloppy approach, but nevertheless we should have at least had those draft regulations on our desk and not have the government's officers scrambling around in haste to try to bring a bill to this parliament that they should have dealt with two years ago.
This should be implemented now, and the people who are having to work on this project would have had the time to do it properly, see what is happening across the country, what works and what does not, and make sure we have an effective system in place. What happens? Now we are faced with an unclear determination about what is to be a prescribed offence.
As for working with children, what is the nature of the employment? We have a long list in clause 6, 'The meaning of child-related work and work with children,' what I call the usual things— education activities, and the like—but where are the children's clothing shops, where is the local store where lollies are sold? Obviously, there is a lot of other activity, in which there is a direct relationship where a service is provided for children, which I do not think is even captured here or, if it is, it is clumsy in its application for those who will not have any clue.
In a country town, what does the local general store owner do if they frequently receive children into his or her shop, the store that sells products for children or other products which might be picked up on an errand for mum or dad? Are they required to ensure that the packing boy up in the freezer room has taken a working with children test? Who knows? I read this bill and I am none the wiser.
I do not disagree that it is important to make sure we do not have inadvertent, unreasonable capture of people—what we call the McDonald's or Kentucky Fried Chicken checks. I can recall a girl of 16 years saying that she had to have a working with children check to take up a shift at Kentucky Fried Children because she was serving other children. How absolutely ridiculous! I do not doubt that we have to have this clear, but let us have it clear while we are debating it and not make it up on the run and in a hurry and expect those officers who have to do this work to do it hastily to avoid embarrassment for the government in its utter failing to deal with this.
We will support this bill because it has been a long time coming. Although it is narrow and still in a shabby, lazy, unclear form, I will support this bill, but I expect these regulations to be on the table quickly, and I expect that whoever is the technical person, the person who is supposed to be setting up the computer program in Families SA or the child protection agency, whatever it is going to be called in the new regime, administers and implements it quickly.
That is so that when Ms Cathy Taylor arrives here at the end of October to take over the new department—it is operational and she has a new sign on the door—we will have a unit that is going to be effective and works and does not leave so many people out there confused about what their obligations will be under the current regime and at risk of prosecution if they are not clear, and it will not leave employers, employees and volunteers in an environment of exclusion from being able to get on to work because we have such a hopeless system at present. Get on with it, government, and stop wasting time.