Children in State Care Apology


I rise to speak in support of the motion presented by the member for Badcoe and acknowledge the contributions made by other speakers, including the Premier and Leader of the Opposition, in recognition of 17 June 2018 being 10 years since the apology was given. Can I just say though that, like the member for Cheltenham, I have been here for 16 years as well, but I do not have a view on this matter that is quite as 'skip through the wildflowers' or some sort of 'tiptoe through the tulips' that is being presented in respect of the celebration of 10 years since the apology.

I am angry and I am deeply disappointed that in that 16 years we actually have not done anywhere near enough for the children today who are suffering right now and who are now still vulnerable as a result of a number of inactions. Some of them are by governments, some of them are by parents, some of them are by predatory people who will always seek out and try to do bad things to children.

However, today we want to recognise—and I do, too, as I did 10 years ago—His Honour Ted Mullighan, as he was known to us. I had the privilege of briefing him, having cases against him and dealing in this child protection area during the 1980s in particular. He was a man of great wisdom and extraordinary patience. He was the best man for the job. The decision by the former Labor government to appoint him to conduct this inquiry I fully applauded and still do.

Mr Mullighan did an extraordinary amount of work, and perhaps only the member for Lee would understand the significant sacrifice to the rest of his family in giving their father in his twilight years, which was all too short, when he died not long after completing this arduous task—a great contribution. But let's just consider what was happening around it. Shortly after the new government of 2002 came in, we had the member for Cheltenham now as the minister covering child protection, and we had then premier Rann. They announced that they will engage Robyn Layton QC to do a comprehensive report. She did that: Keeping Them Safe.

But remember this: when we got that report in 2003, it was only the skinny version. The 189-page report of Robyn Layton QC was kept secret for 10 years—10 years! She gave an enormous number of contributions in her recommendations, including that we must have an independently appointed commissioner for children, and we had to fight kicking and screaming with the then government to finally have that come to fruition in 2017. Then, to add insult to injury, what did they do? They kept away her powers until November last year. They would not even give her any powers to investigate until November last year.

I am not happy that at the time we had this comprehensive review, groundbreaking in the sense of dealing with child sexual abuse in institutional care, we had a 189-page report kept secret. In 2008, we had recommendations from Mr Mullighan about secure state care for children at large. He said this in his report, he said it to me and he said it to others: it is too dangerous to leave these children on the street—and nobody has listened. We even had the Nyland report years later say the same thing, and nobody has listened!

When I talk now about having mandatory treatment for children and giving them actual therapeutic treatment in relation to addiction for drug abuse, the opposition is still screaming. It is not acceptable to leave these children at large, vulnerable to predators and left in the ignorance of some parents who are unable or unwilling to properly care for their children. We then had a second report from Mr Mullighan telling us of the scandalous situation on the APY lands. He said child abuse was an epidemic up there, sexual abuse in particular.

The Debelle report: again, a whole shroud of secrecy over a child who had been abused in a canteen in a school by someone who worked for the government, and it was then kept secret from the parents. We went through another royal commission. Then we had the announcement, just after the 2014 election, that one of their very own, Shannon McCoole, was caught red-handed exploiting and abusing seven children and had an enormous amount of equipment in relation to child exploitation material. He was ultimately convicted, of course, but another royal commission was announced with more evidence received, thousands more pages written and millions of dollars spent.

Then we find there is a second person in the department of the then government, employed and abusing children, so we have the Hyde review, and guess what? A former commissioner of police conducts the Hyde review and it is still a secret. It is just utterly scandalous to me that we keep asking these people to conduct inquiries, identify deficiencies, say that the reporting system is inadequate, identify that the training is inferior, clearly identify that the mandatory processes of reporting are inadequate, and what do they do? They keep these reports secret. It is not acceptable that this continues.

We have been here for 16 years, and for 16 years we have had to fight to have a dedicated minister for child protection and an independent department. We have had to fight to have a commissioner with investigative powers. We have had to argue again to deal with protection in relation to children and whether to have a three-year limit on claiming for child protection. We had to fight and win an election to be able to get into the National Redress Scheme and go to the federal table and say, 'Yes, we are ready to line up again and make sure that these children at least have some redress.'

We are still fighting for these children who have been identified and who have cried out for help over the last 16 years. I find it unconscionable that we can sit here and envelop ourselves with some kind of accolade because we have made an apology. That is not enough. It is a very important thing to do and I said that 10 years ago, but it is not enough that we come back in here again and say, another 10 years later, 'Aren't we good because we gave an apology?' It is disgracefully inadequate and any member, new or old, sitting in this chamber ought to remember that and do something about it.