Second Reading

Ms CHAPMAN (Bragg—Deputy Leader of the Opposition) (15:49): I consider it quite a privilege to have been the lead speaker in this matter on behalf of the opposition, because one of the important responsibilities for any parliament is to ensure that our most vulnerable are protected. My greatest concern about this bill is that it has been introduced following the flood of embarrassment that this government has had to face as a result of a penetrating and very important report by the State Coroner.

It may have been embarrassed into action and that in itself is not a bad thing. My concern, however, is that they did so without consultation and that they do so without even awaiting the response from Margaret Nyland QC, the former judge who has been appointed in the latest and third royal commission on children—in this case, children's protection systems. Why is this particularly concerning, apart from there being a history of a number of reviews and reports? This is particularly concerning because the government has seen fit to consult on other areas of reform, including the reform as to who should comprise the judiciary in the Youth Court.

The Youth Court, of course, is an arm of the District Court and is led by a District Court judge. Additionally, the judicial officers are supported by magistrates in two areas of law. One is child protection and one, of course, is the criminal cases in relation to children. That bill proceeded with reform and was passed through this house and I am uncertain as to its passage through the other place. I do not make comment on the substance of the bill today. I simply make the point that the government saw fit to consult with the royal commissioner, Ms Nyland, on that issue and also on another act that they sought to amend recently in respect of children's matters.

It does concern me that, on an area specifically relating to the protection of children arising out of this Coroner's inquest and the findings thereon, the government has not sought even an interim report or consideration by the royal commissioner. It is such an important area of law reform. It is without consultation with those who would normally have a stake in reform in this area or the public and, therefore, the one person who would assist the parliament in considering these reforms, it seems to me, would be the royal commissioner.

The second person who, I would have thought, ought to have been consulted at least to identify whether the reforms proposed in this bill do meet with the recommendations of the Coroner is the Coroner himself. Why would it not be appropriate to put a copy of this bill to the Coroner and obtain his view as to whether he is satisfied that this complies with the recommendations that the government say they are undertaking?

I would have thought that was a fairly simple exercise and that the parliament ought to have that information before us and, furthermore, ought to consider that advice. After all the government have said, 'We're introducing this bill in response to the recommendations.' Surely, if they are genuine and bona fide in that regard, they would also have with that either a letter from the Coroner or an indication that he had been consulted and that that is satisfactory.

Why have they not done that? My guess is this: he has made a number of recommendations and, whilst he might even agree with the tenor or flavour of what has been presented in this bill, I would be very sure that he would be concerned about the government's lack of action in dealing with other parts of the enforcement that he has recommended, in particular in respect of section 20(2). I would also be quite confident in thinking that he too might be concerned about the ravaging of the objectives and principles of the act, which has been a direct consequence of them forcing this matter into the parliament in a hurry. So, I for one would be keen to hear his view, too, as to what is missing and what should be improved in respect of the reforms in this bill.

With that, I can count and confirm that we are satisfied that the government will win the ballot in relation to this bill passing through this house. It is not the opposition's objective to in fact hold up reform that will help to protect children. Indeed, we will support the government in initiatives that work. At this stage, they have not demonstrated that the principal area of reform here will work, and we are concerned about the construct and presentation of the reforms in respect of definition within the act as to harm and cumulative harm. That is the position from the opposition's point of view. Let's have some serious consideration of this from the stakeholders and, in the absence of there being any evidence of high need for the urgency of the progress of this matter, that matter should be delayed.

I confirm that we will object to the repeal of section 4 in the vote on this. During the course of the balance of the debate, I will read through carefully the amendments that have been tabled and, if they are on the face of it an improvement, they will not have any objection from the opposition.