Ms CHAPMAN (Bragg—Deputy Leader of the Opposition) (11:02): I rise to speak on the Children's Protection (Implementation of Coroner's Recommendations) Amendment Bill 2015 and indicate that I will be the lead speaker. The bill comes before the house and, according to the Attorney-General and now the newly appointed Minister for Child Protection Reform, as a result of a cabinet meeting following a damning report from the State Coroner, Mark Johns, arising out of the death of Chloe Valentine. Before I address that in particular, I propose to outline to the house the reports that preceded the tabling of that report and, indeed, what became the subject of public discourse and condemnation, media coverage and questioning here in the parliament.
Let's return to 2002. The then Premier Mike Rann advised that as two of the first acts of his government he would convene a drug summit, which took place I think in about mid-2002, and further that he would commission a child protection review. He announced that he would appoint Robyn Layton QC and that she would be commissioned to complete a report and outline a state plan to deal with the protection of children in South Australia. It was a massive exercise. It was one which the opposition fully supported. In fact, I think both initiatives were meritorious and they were undertaken.
'Our best investment', the report prepared by Robyn Layton QC in March 2003, was comprehensive and one for which she should be commended. Some of the initiatives which she recommended were acted upon by the then Rann government. Unfortunately, to this day, her recommendations in respect of the appointment of a commissioner for children have remained on deaf ears with this government.
We then had second and third reports and a fourth, if one refers to an interim report of the Children in State Care Commission of Inquiry by former judge, the late Ted Mullighan QC. He provided an interim report and then his final report on 1 April 2008, together with a subsequent report in respect of children in institutional care arising out of a member of his commission's inquiry on the APY lands.
Again, they were very comprehensive reports with multiple recommendations, most of which were claimed to be taken up by the government but, sadly, we still have the legacy of the government's failings in respect of those children. Certainly, there was identification that followed, some in criminal law proceedings, on which action was taken, prosecutions pursued and convictions obtained. Years later some compensation was made in the form of payments as victims of crime to a number of those children who were then adults.
In 2008 the parliament set up a select committee, under the stewardship of the Hon. Caroline Schaefer in the Legislative Council, on Families SA. That committee reported on 17 November 2009, and if ever there was a damning report prepared by a committee of this very parliament, it was that report. In fact, I will just read into Hansard three of its recommendations:
1. The Minister must take steps to address the 'rotten' culture within the Department.
It was referring to then then department of families and communities.
2. The Department must adopt a more cooperative, accountable, transparent and inclusive approach to dealing with foster carers, families, non-government organisations and others.
3. An independent competency assessment and evaluation of minimum training and competency levels for child protection workers must take place.
It then continued with a number of other recommendations including mandatory reporting for independent regional panels, etc., and a number of other initiatives, most of which the government claimed they were going to pursue and which, frankly, even if they did, have utterly failed.
That report was followed by probably the most comprehensive inquiry, the Independent Education Inquiry convened by former judge, Bruce Debelle QC. Again, this was a royal commission arising out of an allegation of child sexual abuse in a western suburbs' school. That was commissioned in 2012. The commissioner was given extra powers of inquiry and investigation, as requested by him, and he reported to the parliament on 21 June 2013. In fact, I think he reported to the Governor on that date, and then subsequently the report was tabled in the parliament.
That report again shed light on the operation of the government department and its failings in respect of the school, in particular the concealment of vital information that was necessary for the proper prosecution and investigation of cases and protection of children within our school system. It shed light on a legal advisory unit which, again, was condemning. It outlined concerns about the failure of staff, including ministerial staff, to advise of the serious incident to the then minister, minister Weatherill, who is now the Premier, and made other recommendations—again, a damning report, again identifying the culture of cover-up that was rampant.
Still without any comprehensive response by this government—in fact, even immediately prior to that, of course—the government had set up its first task force specifically to deal with investigations in other schools. By December 2013, five school cases had been identified in which there had been child abuse, sexual abuse or exploitation. By 2013, the government announced that it would have a review of its department by Mr Peter Allen, who was a former chief executive officer of a Victorian department. He was brought over to undertake a report.
Again that year, the government announced the undertaking by Mr Alan Moss, former chief magistrate, who had conducted a review under the State Records Act. Curiously, to this day, it omitted to consider the ministerial officers and their recording of records—in particular, emails between ministerial advisers and ministers; nevertheless, that review was undertaken.
We then had another litany of disasters in respect of allegations against persons who were either in the department or approved by the department—by that stage, known as Families SA—in relation to which there had been severe embarrassment of the government and again reaction into conducting a number of reviews. Firstly, we had the select committee on Families SA commissioned, which is still continuing. That, as I understand it, is about to report on foster care, which was one of its terms of reference.
In 2014, several months after the election, there was the disclosure that Mr Shannon McCoole had been charged with multiple counts of child exploitation—in particular, child pornography and other offences—to which he subsequently pleaded guilty. Again, the government is thrown into chaos and embarrassment, as they should be by this stage, having recklessly disregarded the responsibility they have had. There had been multiple reports already telling them how bad the situation was.
They rushed into another review—in this case, appointing former police commissioner Mal Hyde to conduct a review in respect of departmental employees because Mr McCoole was, in fact, an employee of Families SA. Not only had this culture been so without transparency and committed to cover-up but we had one of their own exposed, charged and ultimately convicted whilst in place and working for Families SA.
In direct response to that, the Premier came out with his now famous statements about acts of evil against children being exposed and announced that there would be another royal commission. This is the third royal commission in the lifetime of the Labor government since 2002, this time being undertaken by Margaret Nyland QC, a former Supreme Court judge, into child protection systems.
Her commission is continuing, and we look forward to receiving her report in due course which apparently, according to the current minister, is due sometime later this year.
Overlapping that, we have had numerous annual and individual reports: the Public Advocate, annually; the State Coroner, annually; the Child Death and Serious Injury Review Committee, annually since its inception in 2004; the guardian for children; and the Council for the Care of Children. I do not know how many times the government needs reports to tell them that their government department is in a state of dysfunction and utterly failing in its responsibility to children, but if they have not learnt to read yet I suggest they go back and reread some of these reports and understand how severe it is in the circumstances.
This year, we also had the damning report arising out of the death of Chloe Valentine that was tabled in April this year by State Coroner, Mark Johns; I will come back to his report in due course. Let me remind the house that the death of this little girl, and the tragic circumstances leading up to her death, the blind dismissal and ignorance of people who were responsible to protect this child both legally and morally, as was exposed in that report, has resulted in further inquiries, including another government task force—they are good on task forces; we never see what they do in the end but, nevertheless, we have another task force.
In his new role as the child protection reformer for the government, the Attorney has given notice that he will be moving a motion to have another inquiry by a select committee into early childhood protection and the services that are currently either there or failing in that regard. In the wake of all of this, what occurred just a week ago? Just days ago, in fact, we had the announcement on the front page of the paper that a foster care worker was charged and appeared in court on 21 May for child exploitation charges. This is a person who is supposed to be a non-government but contracted employee of an agency, engaged to undertake child protection work as a foster care provider, who has been charged.
What did we have? We had an announcement by one of the department's deputy directors that they will convene another review—another review—into the guidelines under which these employees are to be appointed, continually assessed and annually reviewed. This is obviously wanting because here again we have serious criminal charges being brought against someone who is supposed to be an agent to protect children and who is supposed to be under the supervision and assessment procedures of this same department that has had a history of condemnation by multiple eminent reviewers. I do not know how many times the government has to be told this, but it is damning and it continues, and they just seem to sit there in blind ignorance.
Let me say that one of the most extraordinary elements of this litany of unattended reports, the blind ignorance of what is going on, is the Premier himself. The Premier, when he came into the parliament, was a backbencher, but he soon became the minister for families and communities, on 5 March 2004. He followed the Hon. Steph Key, who was called the minister for justice for the first two years of the Rann government, but on 5 March 2004 minister Weatherill came in as the minister for families and communities, which was a new name, and he was there for just over 4 years, until 24 July 2008.
Then, of course, from 2008 to October 2011 he was followed by the stewardship of the Hon. Jennifer Rankine, who was still called the minister for families and communities. Her reign was a disaster. Then, from 21 October 2011 to 21 January 2013, there was the newly appointed minister for education and child development, the Hon. Grace Portolesi. If minister Rankine's term was a disaster, and we remember her sitting there with her chief executive officer over the 'house of horrors' claims, Ms Portolesi's reign would have to be a close second.
Quite bizarrely to me, after what had been a demonstrable failure under minister Rankine, she was reappointed on 21 January 2013 until February this year. Why they ever brought her back I do not know, and again, if one looks at the history of the reporting and the identified exposed abuse cases by numerous statutory and other appointed persons commissioned to provide advice and recommendations to the government during this period, it is just stunning that she would have been reappointed.
Nevertheless, she has now been retired off and we now have minister Close, who has been newly appointed. I think, sadly for the children of South Australia, even under her reign this year,having been brought in with the Attorney-General in his new role as the Minister for Child Protection Reform, we have further exposures of shocking cases. The list goes on. We all want to give the new ministers an opportunity to say that enough is enough and that a line has to be drawn in the sand with a preparedness to actually do something about what has become endemic in the culture of the departments. Whether it is concealing from parents, whether it is concealing from governing councils of schools, or whether it is concealing from the proper authorities to protect children in those circumstances, it is just a cancer in this government and it has to be addressed.
The reason I particularly identify the contribution from the Premier is that he has been a minister for over four years in this difficult but important area. He was there overseeing the commissioning and supposed implementation of a number of these reports. He made a number of statements in earlier times on his claim about the previous government—that is, the previous Liberal government—and just recently, on 7 May 2015, he claimed that that government had failed in respect of children in suggesting, in his quote of 7 May this year, 'utterly and completely criminally underfunded'.
I will come back to that in a moment, but here we are in 2015—13 or 14 years into this government—and he claimed it had been deficient in the previous government. What is more, on 6 May 2004—that is, 11 years ago—he had this to say to this parliament about the circumstances that existed in the department he was responsible for and about the government that had preceded his (that is, the Rann government and the Kerin/Olsen government):
I accept my responsibilities for the children in my care, and we are taking steps to address those very issues. Indeed, at a public forum just a few days ago, I admitted that the child protection system is in crisis, and it is…Frankly, despite two substantial responses to the Layton report—and he detailed those—there remain deep and systemic problems within our system of child protection. But one of the important things we have done [he says] is change the culture of the system. There has been a culture at the very top...
There is an important piece of information that members of this house should be aware of and it concerns the culture that has been endemic within these agencies that deal with child protection. A culture has existed among people at the most senior levels of government—and I am talking now of a period prior to our term of office—where they simply did not want to hear the truth about child protection and they went to extraordinary lengths to prevent themselves being told the truth.
Apparently I interrupted, because he went on to say:
The member for Bragg invites me to name them. I say that senior members of advisory bodies sought to communicate to the previous government that this system was in crisis and, in fact, emissaries were sent by the previous government to tell them that they should not use inflammatory remarks to describe the child protection system. Indeed, they went further. (The member for Finniss knows this and he should sit forward and listen to it.) They set up structures to ensure that those agencies could not get the message through. That is the way the previous government dealt with child protection—coverups and lies. They created a culture of bullying and cover-up.
He went on:
We have established a new Department of Families and Communities. This area now has been disaggregated from the Department of Human Services, where many of these unfortunate patterns of behaviour had been perpetrated. Extraordinary efforts have been taken to increase resources in child protection. Our system needs to turn around and face those people at the coal face who deal on a day-to-day basis with families in crisis. Early intervention is at the heart of the Layton report, and further significant responses to the Layton report will be released soon.
That was on 6 May 2004. That is 11 years ago. He knew the problem, he knew how serious the problem was, he claimed it had actually extended back under the previous government, he claimed that his government was doing something about it. As minister of the day he went on to say that, in fact, it had been; they had actually done something that had worked.
Clearly, that was not the case. He may have been hopeful at the time, he may have thought, 'Well, if we do some more it will get better,' but he told the parliament, 11 years ago, that the problem was known about and that he had addressed it. That is not only mischievous, it is completely without foundation, as we now know, with contemporaneous inquiries that were going on at that time, including the need to move to progress a report for the first select committee in the Legislative Council.
This is complete rubbish from the then minister. And even today, when he is under pressure to answer questions about the failings in respect of the department in his government arising out of the Chloe Valentine inquest, he condemns those who raise concerns about his government's system. And we will remember, emblazoned on this parliament, his despicable statement on 7 May when he said, 'And there is a special place in hell reserved for those who play politics with child abuse.'
It is a disgrace! The ministers should be speaking immediately to their Premier about their displeasure about that kind of despicable statement. He knew what the problem was, he did nothing about it. He gave a gloss-over—at best shallow but nevertheless insincere—report to the parliament in 2004, and he has done nothing about it to fix it up since. And for someone who was so cognisant, allegedly, of the problem that was there to have come into this parliament and made statements not only this year but, of course, back in 2012 and 2013 when he was questioned about his 'I know
nothing about the child abuse case in the western suburbs school. My chief of staff didn't tell me anything about it. I've visited the school, I still wasn't told anything about it' is just laughable. It is just laughable.
If it was not so serious and if it was not for the safety and the protection of the most vulnerable people in our community—the children of our state—then it would be laughable. But it is a tragedy that he should go on still trying to claim that he is doing a good job in this area. And what do we have most recently? Let us consider his statement post the Mark Johns' Coroner's report in April this year. He claimed, and I quote, that he's 'done more to shine a light on the evil of child sexual abuse than any other government around the nation'. That is his claim, just this year, just here in May this year.
He claims that his government has been undertaking its responsibility under the Children's Protection Act. That is laughable, because if you read, of course, the Coroner's report that is damning of that, and it is damning even by his own government's departmental annual report to this parliament. This is not just Mr Johns who is exposed to a shocking case of the failings of this government, but the annual report of this government, 2012-13, which is done on a calendar year (it is a little quirk of the legislation) suggests that the number of notifications that Families SA (which is the agency responsible, of course, for child protection) had been growing, and in that year was 37,434 (there had been a 6.1 per cent increase), and that of those 19,120 were screened in notification (that is, the department had identified that they warranted some reasonable suspicion that a child was at risk), but of those numbers only 5,333 were investigated.
That is disgraceful. We are talking about over 10,000 reports where there was confirmation of a child at risk under a preliminary assessment which have just been ignored, the file not even opened, nobody has even gone to see if the child was alive or going to school or being fed or not being hit— the file was not even opened. It is just appalling. Either the Premier is walking around in la-la land and he is completely oblivious to this, or he comes into this house (from 2004, when he was a minister, to date) trying to claim that his government is doing a great job in this area and that it is actually better than any other governments around the nation.
Well, what a joke that is because, of course, again this year we have had the disclosure (which was covered in the media) of information, which has gone to the commissioner (this is Commissioner Nyland who is undertaking the current inquiry), of allegations with respect to the funding of other jurisdictions. So, whilst the Premier comes in here and talks about how great his government is relative to others, in that 2012-13 year, from the information that is available, what is claimed is that South Australia has ranked the second lowest in Australia in terms of expenditure per child on statutory child protection services.
Then, if we look at the per child spending on intensive family support services, because this is another—remember his 2004 speech to the parliament—area of early intervention, etc., we find that in fact South Australia is sixth out of the eight jurisdictions, so we are third to last in that category, and fifth out of eight in the combined child protection spending per capita. I mean, the gall of this Premier to come into this parliament and to try to pretend that they are doing a good job, which is completely defied by the facts, by reality and, tragically, by the continuing and ongoing reports and plaintive pleas from relatives, members of the public and senior people who have conducted these inquiries. He is walking around with his hands on his ears and with a hand across his eyes, in blind ignorance, refusing to accept the reality that this situation has continued and is even worse than what he claimed it was in 2004.
They have not made an impact on child protection in this state. They have utterly destroyed what thin tissue of fabric of protection we gave to these children over the last 11 years. I ignore the first few years because I think it is fair to say that it was reasonable for them to do those two things: have a drug summit, from which there has been very little outcome but, nevertheless, it was a good idea; and to commission Robyn Layton QC to do that first report. That was very good. They were a new government, they were entitled to review that and they did that, but they have done stuff all since to actually protect children in this state. It is just obscene to me that the Premier still keeps coming into this place, or at the media level, parading his bona fides and his government's commitment to protecting children, when it is far from it.
I look forward with interest to receiving the report of former justice Margaret Nyland QC. As I understand it, there have been comprehensive submissions presented and for someone who has had such a level of experience herself, both as a judge and as a legal practitioner in this field, I have some hope that there will be, not the stinging rebuke that might follow but an exposure of the utter failings of the current system.
After the government's attempt to have an independent families and communities department, they then threw them in with the department of education. Having said that it is important to have a separate entity, that they were going to break down the old department of human services under the previous Liberal government, that it needed to have its own minister, that the importance of child protection needed to be recognised separately, they threw that away. They threw that away after it had been, they claim, a failure and put it back in with education. What has happened since?
I just want to say one thing in respect of education, and that is how concerned I am that the hundreds of children who are in our education system have a department which is now so focused on fixing up the disasters with child protection that it has little opportunity, in my view, to address what is a very significant service provision in this state, and that is public education and the regulation of non-government schools. If anything should tell you that that concern is corroborated, it would be the NAPLAN tests that we are seeing published on a regular basis, where again our South Australian children are missing out.
The government needs to take away the pride, take away what has been shallow comment in suggesting that that experiment was a success and follow the Liberal opposition's lead and the Leader's commitment of the opposition to say, 'Give these children—whether they are in child protection or education—separate ministers and separate departments and give them a chance,' because at the moment both are utterly being failed.
The second thing I look forward to is seeing this government—if it is seriously committed—support child protection in this state and abandon its instruction to be hit with the 40 per cent overall budget savings measures. What is the point in saying that there is a need to prioritise and to strengthen our child protection system and then say to the department, 'But you are not excluded from our budget measures; you are not excluded from the necessity to cut staff, cut services, cut expenditure. You must fall into line with everybody else.' The fact that the government has been engaged in a rampant spending spree, much of which has not been necessary for the interests of the state, and thrown us into a fiscal desert is a matter for which the Premier and his Treasurer (he himself a treasurer for a while) need to take responsibility. There is no question about that.
The Premier cannot stand here in the parliament and say that he is proud of his government's record in respect of child protection and claim that he has actually done more for children in this state, particularly for child sexual abuse, than any other jurisdiction in Australia and then have it exposed
that in fact we are utterly failing in the funding provision for child protection in this state. We are down at the bottom of the pack, but not right on the bottom of the pack, as we are in regard to our financial position. We are way down there in that regard. He cannot in the next breath say, 'I require this department to be subject to budget measures.' It is actually inconsistent.
I am looking forward to this year's budget. I expect that if the government is serious about this matter, it will undertake a number of the reforms that have come out of the Coroner's more recent report—and again, I will come to those in a moment—and, in addition to that, look at its provision for spend. Some of those recommendations, which include training for note taking and further assessment for those who are involved in the child protection area, including requirements for supervision of trainees and a number of other implementation commitments the government has made arising out of Mark Johns report, are going to cost money. There is no point in saying, 'We're going to commit to 19 out of the 21 recommendations, many of which require implementation by the government and in particular by the department,' and then saying, 'We're going to strip it of money.' It just does not work that way.
Let me come to the bill itself and what the government say they are going to do, consistent with the report from Mr Johns. The State Coroner tabled his report on 9 April this year, as we all know, and we will have images of this poor little child probably embedded on our brains forever from the coverage that this case attracted. We have the report of the Coroner tabled into the death of Chloe Valentine whilst in the care of her mother on 20 January 2012, which is over three years ago. This is a tragedy that, as it unfolded, we all watched in desperation, but that could only be a fraction of what had been experienced by her grandmother, Ms Belinda Valentine, and the hurt and pain that she and other members of the family have suffered as a result of this child's death.
I want to mention one thing in this report which has not had much airplay, in the sense that it has been omitted from any descriptions by the government. I am going to refer to some of the passages of Mr Johns' report that I think it is important we be reminded of. It is my contention on behalf of the opposition that, whilst the government purports to pick up three of the recommendations in this bill that require legislative reform, there is an utter failure to deal with some others. I do not know how many reports we are going to have to table to deal with some of these, but let me look at the area which attracted the attention of Mr Johns.
The Coroner made a finding that Chloe Valentine died on 20 January 2012, and he found that the cause of her death was 'closed head injury with possible contributing factor extensive subcutaneous and intramuscular haemorrhage'. He went on to say, in respect of Dr Karen Heath's evidence, the following:
Dr Heath said it was not possible to determine from the neuropathological findings whether the head injury observed was a result of one episode of trauma or the cumulative effect of several episodes of head injury. She said that other findings at autopsy included extensive bruising of the scalp and face, back, chest, abdomen and upper and lower limbs. She said that in particular there was extensive subcutaneous and intramuscular bruising of the lower back, buttocks and thighs.
She goes on to describe what she called:
…'a confluent area of bruising', which is actually a large number of bruises that have all merged together into one bruise so that she could not tell where one bruise finished and one started.
There are a number of other findings about blood being trapped between levels of the muscles, etc., which I will not go into, but the Coroner went on to find:
Dr Heath was unable to attribute how much each of those process contributed to death…
He also found:
Dr Heath said she had never seen this degree of bruising in a child before in her experience as a forensic pathologist and had only ever seen it once in an adult.
I found it quite gruelling and chilling to read the evidence and subsequent findings of Dr Heath because, if ever there was a physical and forensic corroboration of what should have been so utterly obvious to the multitude of people in Families SA who failed this little girl, it should have been that. In her evidence, this forensic expert said that this was the worst case ever, and yet so many people were blind and, according to Mr Johns, gave evidence that was very unsatisfactory in attempting to justify their actions or failure to act as the case may be.
I am not going to go individually to those who were involved. The minister is yet to come back to us with some answers to questions raised about what happened to a number of those employees— whether they are still with the department, whether they have been demoted, whether they have been disciplined, or whether in fact they are no longer with the department and have left that employer. It does raise some serious questions and we look forward to the minister's answers in respect of that.
This is so very important because the first of a number of recommendations the government gave was that there be a recognition in the Children's Protection Act to the words 'cumulative harm'. The recommendation of the Coroner is that pursuant to recommendation 22.11, the act be amended to include cumulative harm as a relevant factor in making decisions about the care of a child—that is, not just one abusive act or gross neglect, but where a child's circumstances suggest a history that the child's care is wanting. That is not a quote; they are my words.
This issue was referred to in other reports, including the Child Death and Serious Injury Review Committee Annual Report 2011-12, at page 39, when considering the gross neglect and abuse in what is now known as the 'house of horrors' case—another example, exposed in that instance by police officers, of the utter failure by the government's departments in education, Families SA in particular, and Housing SA, to name three, that utterly failed that family.
The Child Death and Serious Injury Review Committee undertook a special investigation of that shocking case, providing a detailed report in its annual report, and made a number of recommendations. They made it very clear as well, even though the government have had this for a long time, that this is a factor that has to be looked at. If that was not enough, because of the current provision in the Children's Protection Act, even the Coroner himself said that he wanted there to be clear attention of the department on its obligation to look at cumulative harm, not just isolated incidents. At page 142 of his report, in respect of the proposed amendments to the Children's Protection Act, to make it clear that cumulative harm is a relevant factor he went on to say:
I agree that this is a sensible proposal, but with this qualification: the inclusion of the words cumulative harm in the objects section of the Act will not achieve anything unless it is acted on. The fact is that there is nothing to prevent Families SA building a case for a care and protection order based on sufficient evidence of multiple instances of neglect. Merely including these words in the Act without more will not solve anything apart from creating the impression that something is being done in response to Chloe's tragic death. Far more than this is needed to prevent a repetition.
Nothing less than a massive overhaul of Families SA and the culture and training of its staff will suffice.
He went on, of course, to give us a rather extensive enlightenment as to why it is important to understand that children are not possessions. As parents, we have responsibilities for them; as members of this parliament, we have responsibilities for them; and, as a government, particular ministers in this area have a direct and legal obligation towards them.
He made it absolutely clear that, in relation to the first of the areas of reform in this bill, which is to introduce the cumulative harm in the objects of the act, it is not necessary at the moment. However, he is happy to recommend it but that the department should be acting on it already—they have the power, they know what their obligations are, they have, in fact, been reminded by a number of directives. Apparently, on 1 May this year, as a response to this inquiry, multiple directions were given by email to members of the department. I want to refer to those because Mr Tony Harrison, who is the chief executive, issued these directives by way of circulars, apparently on 1 May and also on 17 April and 13 April.
There was another one, a circular issued on 9 April, which was basically distributing, apparently, to all Families SA staff an electronic copy of the findings of the Coroner and indicating that the state government would be looking at those recommendations. It then acknowledged the work that all of the staff did in the care of hundreds of children in South Australia. It concluded by saying, 'Please continue to go about your work with pride and professionalism.' At that stage, there was no mention of what was obviously a major deficiency of this department or of the failings of a number of people in it.
With respect to the directives of 13 and 17 April and then the one of 1 May, I place on the record as follows. I will not read out the full directive, but they comprise four or five paragraphs just to say that the government had resolved to support 20 out of the 21 recommendations—19 in full, one in principle and one to be referred off for further investigation. It then gave all of the staff of Families SA a copy of the government's response; I do not know what it was, but I am assuming that it was the ministerial statement minister Rau had tabled in the parliament on 13 April, which is the day on which this circular went out in relation to the government's response. So, they got advice about what the government's response was and that they would be in touch with them again in the near future.
The third directive, on 17 April, was to inform the staff of what is titled 'Chloe Valentine coronial inquest: initial instructions to staff'. This was to tell the staff, firstly, that everyone was required to read the email and that, in respect of the coronial inquest findings—and I will paraphrase this here now—there would be action to assist in the operation of the daily work of Families SA workers, that workers were to have training and that there would be a development of a training program for report writing, including case notes, which, as I said before, was one of the deficiencies exposed, again by Mark Johns, State Coroner, and something which, really, was well known to the state government from the select committee back in 2009 and which, as I have read out, was already well known to the department.
Secondly, an instruction to the staff that they were able to and had a responsibility to ask questions even if the parent or guardian was not granting consent. This was another feature of a deficiency of the implementation of workers' responsibility in this area as identified by the State Coroner. He made it perfectly clear that the claim by the department that they were in some way going to be in breach of privacy as an impediment on their charge and responsibility to investigate matters and ask
questions was a complete furphy. It was without foundation and it was requested by the Coroner that an instruction go to the staff accordingly.
The final instruction went out on 1 May, according to what has been tabled in parliament—there may have been some since then. I am not quite sure who this went to, but it says it is a message from the chief executive dated 1 May 2015 and it is titled 'Chloe Valentine Coronial Inquest Update'. This instruction comprises three paragraphs and it says that Families SA should strictly comply with section 20(2) of the Children's Protection Act with immediate effect. It outlines what section 20(2) says, and a reminder that they have an obligation 'to utilise the full existing provisions' within the Children's Protection Act 1993. It goes on to say that it sets out the terms of sections 20(1) and (2) which set out the requirements of investigation and assessment orders including applications for drug assessments.
This is a circular which clearly needed to be sent, but it is interesting that, whilst the government has apparently complied with the recommendation of the Coroner to advise Families SA staff of their obligation in this area, there does not appear to be an indication as to who that has gone to—and I think we need some answers on that. There is no detail in this obligation as to in what circumstances they should be undertaking that recommendation, in particular, whether they should be making applications under section 20(2) or indeed whether they should be even under an application under section 20(1) seeking orders for a drug assessment to be undertaken as part of that application.
Remember that in this area the Premier claimed—as he did again quite recently on 6 May 2015 in this parliament when questioned about his commitment to the parliament back in 2005 when we debated amendments to this parliament—that he had not taken any action to inform his department of the expectation of provision of the detail of that in the annual reports, and went on to say, in short, that they were sitting in the parliament during those debates—and I am sure they were—and that they would 'know what is required of them'.
In other words, even though he was minister at the time, he was sitting down here in the parliament and he had representatives of the department here, as he would have other advisers in the progressing of the bill for the committee stages and the like. Bear in mind that that day, back in 2005, was the last day before the parliament rose for the election in early 2006. It was a Thursday afternoon. We had been debating, and we had a committee of members of the parliament from the other place, which the member for Heysen and I were on.
There had been much toing and froing during that day to resolve the amendments that had been presented in the upper house by the Hon. Nick Xenophon. He claimed, here on 6 May 2015, that he did not need to be telling the parliament what action he had taken because these people were all there; they knew what they had to do. Furthermore, his claim was that the debate over mandatory testing had been included within the assessment process and that, consistent with the contribution by the Attorney-General, in essence this provision and obligation under section 20(2) was a subset of 20(1) of the act. That was their position.
The reason it is particularly important is that the Premier was the minister at the time of the debate in relation to this, was responsible for its passage through the parliament, was involved in the negotiations and the settlement, if I can describe it as that, of the ultimate provisions and amendments in subsection (2) and the acceptance, when he came back into the parliament in the dying minutes of that parliamentary day, telling the parliament of the commitment in respect of the annual reporting. This had been a feature and a discussion during the day.
In fact, whilst there has been some reference to the fact that there had been no annual reporting of the instances of cases which included drug assessment in the annual reports, if members look at the first annual report after these debates, which I think was in 2005-06, it actually referenced the fact that if drug testing was to take place it was to be done by the drug and alcohol unit in the health department. So, it is true that the department did know its obligations in respect of the reporting. They did report in that next year.
There is absolutely no detail of any drug assessment cases, either the numbers or the details, as per that commitment in subsequent annual reports, and that is a shameful omission of responsibility. I consider that to be an omission for which the government have to take responsibility. After all, the buck stops with them, whether it is the Premier as the then minister or indeed subsequent ministers. If a chief executive or persons below the chief executive, who are feeding up the information, who are working on the preparation of reports, who are collating the necessary and mandatory reporting commitments for those annual reports, are not doing their job, ultimately the buck stops with the minister. It is a shameful omission.
The person who is now the Premier of the state came into this parliament as the minister, confirmed the agreement and the commitment to provide this, and it has been completely ignored ever since. I think that it is shameful that the government comes in here and says, 'We are going to act and we have acted immediately to consider the Coroner's report,' gives a ministerial statement, tables a bill in the parliament and then ignores some other very fundamental issues that are missing from this report. I think is shameful.
What it tells us is that, even if the three proposals they have in this bill have merit (and I think some of them have—some of them need a bit of improvement, but some of them have), what is the stark omission in this bill is the failure to address deficiencies, particularly in respect of the drug testing in cases where a child is at risk because of drug or alcohol abuse in the household in which he or she is living and, secondly, some explanation to the parliament about why this has not happened in the annual reporting, and to provide that data. They have not even done that.
They rushed into here after a cabinet meeting and said tick, tick, tick, tick, tick, 19 times, one in principle, through to the last on adoption—'We will send this over to someone else; it's under a current inquiry and we will have a look at it.' But they did nothing to answer two fundamental questions. They were asked earlier this month, in May, the minister, as he was then, now Premier, and the current minister, how many cases of the 225 assessments that were done by order through the Youth Court last year involved the obligation for a mandatory drug test as a condition of the order? How many?
Mr Harrison was asked on radio, the Attorney-General has been asked, the minister has been asked when we were last in the parliament: still no answers. Not any answers, not one case! If they said, 'Oh, look it will take a little bit of time for us to go back and check those 225 files because we did not keep the data,' fine, but they have known about this for months. It is not just a report that came out even in April. They knew what were these deficiencies because their employees were giving evidence to the inquiry over the last year. They knew exactly what was going on.
We had published statements during the inquiry as each of these tragic, exposed deficiencies was reported in our press on an almost daily basis, and followed up with television pictures again of this poor little girl on her bicycle. We had a constant repeat and reminder of what the deficiencies were. The government has known about this for a long time. This little girl died over three years ago. Notwithstanding that, we still do not know.
What is even worse, we do not even have anything from the government to tell us, since they issued the directive a month ago on 1 May, how many cases have been applied for since in the Youth Court for assessment, in how many of those have they specifically sought a drug test and how many of those have undertaken a drug assessment? Nothing! Complete silence! This is a perpetuation of exactly the problem that Mark Johns exposed in the findings of his inquest, yet the government just stick their head in the mud—it is not even sand, it is mud. They are hiding, closed ears, closed eyes, and will not address this issue.
The second thing I condemn them for is for failing to come in here and account to us, in an addendum to the annual reports, what that data is. But nothing, not even a commitment that they will make sure that they do it. They send out some generalist missive to the department to persons unknown, and they come in here and say, 'Oh, well, we've done our job'. I mean, hello? After repeated reports have said that there is a culture of cover up, that there is a situation which is described as a 'rotten culture' by one of the inquiries, and that it is so persistent, so prevailing and so perverse, if they think that just issuing a general directive to people in the department, an email, to remind people about their obligations to follow the provisions of the act is enough, then they are completely in la-la land.
I think the situation really is that they know what the problem is, they have not addressed it, they will not address it, and they just think that they can keep throwing out these red herrings like, 'Aren't we doing a great job?' to some way pass what has been shamefully inadequate conduct by this government.
In respect of this bill, I am more concerned about what is omitted than what is in it. I am very concerned about what is omitted. In fact, I am so concerned that, on our side of the house, we have looked at the preparation of a bill to provide further amendment to ensure that this government is bound to comply with what was the clear intention of this parliament, and that was that, when there is drug or alcohol abuse in a household in which a child is living in this state, and that child is at risk, then they must act and there must be an order for assessment, including drug and/or alcohol testing—that must happen.
That must be absolutely clear in the act, so that we do not have the Attorney, child support reform minister or other ministers coming into the house saying, 'This is a subset of the other subset.' What rubbish! If that was so true, why have we not had back the response from the Coroner to a letter which the Attorney says he sent to the Coroner, explaining his subset idea? Why has that not been tabled here in the parliament? We do not have anything.
We are being asked to deal with this bill and progress this bill in the absence of any of that stakeholder information. Some has been coming in pretty quickly because people have had to rush around and get some advice because, again, the government's decision to progress this, its trying to pretend to the people of South Australia that it is actually dealing with and addressing the important deficiencies in its department by these legislative reforms, is a desperate attempt by them to save their own image in the public and is not comprehensively dealing with a number of these concerns.
Well, we are and we will look at this issue. Because of the government's failure to address this, because of the government's insistence that sending out a generalised missive to persons unknown in its department is inadequate, we are addressing that issue and, between the houses, we will be looking at what amendment should be introduced in the Legislative Council to ensure that the intent of this parliament is followed.
In the meantime, I will be asking in committee further questions in relation to these drug assessments, and I expect some answers. The people of South Australia expect some answers, and everyone sitting in this parliament should expect some answers, on the government side and on our side, from the ministers who are responsible for this.
The second matter covered in this bill which we consider to be deficient is the tightening of the objects to deal with the paramountcy of protection of children from harm—that is my general paraphrasing of the effect of this. The government has, I think it is fair to say, considered this question of tightening the focus to give the sharp attention that is required to make the primary, paramount, whatever word you want to use but most important aspect under the act to be protection of children before, particularly in 2005.
At that time, consistent with recommendations which stemmed from Robyn Layton QC's report, in the fundamental principles and the objects of the act there was the inclusion of two clauses. One was in section 3(a), under Objects of Act: 'to ensure that all children are safe from harm'.'That was inserted and, under the fundamental principles, subsection (1) provides:
Every child has a right to be safe from harm.
It then recounts a number of other important considerations. In 2005 this parliament already at that time changed the Children's Protection Act to put right at the top of the list the protection from harm as both an objective and a key principle. Furthermore, it amended this section and added at section 4(2):
Every child has a right to care in a safe and stable family environment or, if such a family environment cannot for some reason be provided, in some alternative form of care in which the child has every opportunity that can be reasonably provided to develop to his or her full potential.
Subsection (3) provides:
In the exercise of powers under this Act, the above principles and the child's wellbeing and best interests are to be the paramount considerations.
Frankly, I thought Robyn Layton had it right; I thought the parliament of the day got it right. We made it very clear what the position was but, nevertheless, it seems that privacy, hurting the mother's feelings and other considerations in the actual operation of the investigation and applications for assessment by certain employees of the Department for Families and Communities took a different view. Either they had not read the act, they did not understand it or they did not care about it—and there are all sorts of issues in relation to that—but nevertheless, they did not do it. They did not make sure that the paramount consideration of all was the child's wellbeing and best interests, and they clearly had not read the clause at the top of the list which said that every child has a right to be safe from harm.
The provision in the Coroner's report tells us that the objects in that regard needed to be clear because some were just not responding to it. When the government presented this bill to the parliament, they claimed that pursuant to recommendation 22.12 of the recommendations that the objects of the act be made plain, that the paramount consideration in the administration of the act was to keep children safe from harm. So, what the government did in their bill was to amend the act by removing the fundamental principles as set out in section 4 in the repeal of that section and, curiously, to me anyway, by leaving in the provisions under section 5.
The provisions under section 4 are probably well known to the parliament but they do provide a comprehensive list of commitment to consultation with children, the opportunity to have a voice, to be listened to, to have their view considered if they are of age to be able to do so, and in relation to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children that their child placement principle be observed and a number of other rights to protect for a nurturing and safe environment, etc. I will not go through them all because there are a number of them.
Many of these arise out of our historical commitment to the understanding that living in a family unit, a good family unit, is a good environment for children to grow in. It certainly has benefit, and there is a myriad of research which suggests that, whatever the combination of the family, if there is a warm, loving, nurturing family unit in which the child has a stable upbringing and some consistency that this is good for our child's development and maturity because we want them to grow up to be good responsible parents and members of the community as well. We understand that.
The state also has a responsibility arising out of being a signatory to the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child. Australia is a signatory to that and so we have a number of these aspects included in it. I am still unsure as to why the government would seek to repeal section 4, because I think if you are going to prioritise harm or make it clearer, then by leaving it in its current form it would need to have some tightening up in language: it does not mean we have to abolish it altogether. However, it seems that in the haste of the government to rush in and look like it was doing something useful, they just repealed it altogether.
Curiously to me, as I say, they left in the provisions for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children so it seems that those children, who for lots of reasons which I support deserve special recognition, could have the child placement principle which is in section 4 which applies to them ripped out, but section 5 remain. Again, not a lot of thought it seems. I will give them the benefit of the doubt on that.
In the haste of trying to do this they have said, 'Yep, right, bang, we will strengthen the objectives of the act and we will delete all of these other miscellaneous things which is only a United Nations' convention. Just rip them out and make it absolutely clear.' In their haste they have undermined a commitment to other important aspects for children, including the right for children who have a level of maturity to have their views expressed, recorded, taken into account and given weight, which I think is very important.
The opposition will be opposing the repealing of section 4. We need to consider in the long term how we deal with the correct description to confirm and ensure coroner Johns' recommendation is clear. We need to rewrite the provisions in the objectives in section 3, the other important considerations in section 4, and special provision for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children which has some extra provision in subsection (5).
What happens sometimes when we have an act and we play around with bits of it along the way is that it is often mucked up, especially when it is done in a hurry. We must make sure that we get this right because, whilst it exposed in the Coroner's inquiry a deficiency on the part of Families SA in their claim that they had some obligation to privacy, which was a complete nonsense, further to that, that they had other considerations to take into account as though they were in some way to supersede what the statutory imposed obligation was. We know it is no excuse and we want the department to understand that.
Frankly, I would have thought that a clear and explicit direction by the government to the chief executive to members of the department who are working in this area ought to have dealt with it,
but if we are going to do it properly in the legislation, let's make sure it is done properly. The government's failure to do that by ripping out other important considerations is not acceptable to us.
I read in the media that members of the child committee of the Law Society, who are very well briefed and experienced in this area, have also highlighted the imminent breach by the government in pursuing an amendment which repeals section 4. We will not support that. We want this fixed and, if it is not fixed properly here, then we will raise that in another place.
Late Friday, I think, or certainly over the weekend and yesterday, I received a hard copy of an email that was sent from the government and, sometime during the course of the morning, I have had placed here on the desk an indication that it is anticipated that the Deputy Premier will move an amendment to this bill. I have just quickly read amendment No. 1 because, in the letter that was sent to us, it was not clear what the government intended. It just said that it would insert an additional object in section 3 of the act.
It did not say what it was but, in the amendment I have just read, it suggests that decisions must have regard to the views of children. So, it appears they are picking up one of the complaints concerning the United Nations convention obligations, but clearly not all of them. Again, they just rush around and think, 'Well, the Law Society have complained, or somebody else has complained about this in the media.' They have this kneejerk reaction, and again they miss the point. They are so desperate to make it look like they are actually doing something useful in this area that they rush around again.
I fear that, whilst this might provide some improvement particularly in relation to one of the issues I have just been discussing, it does not actually put this in clear language so that the people who are implementing this policy in the department, out at the coalface, hard job as it is, do so correctly. It just seems to me that the government is failing to deal with that.
The third area of reform incorporated in this bill is to follow the recommendation of the Coroner when he proposed that the child protection act should be amended, pursuant to recommendation 22.2, to provide that a child born to a person who has a conviction in respect of a child previously born to them for manslaughter, criminal neglect manslaughter or murder, will, by force of the act, be placed from birth under the custody of the minister.
There is some further detail in his recommendation about how that would operate. It is in the second reading, and I will not repeat it all, but, essentially, as I read it, where someone has been convicted of one of these heinous acts, if they have another child then guardianship of, and responsibility for, that child should be vested in the minister from their birth.
It is really going to be up to the parent, or the person who has the conviction, to demonstrate, almost like a reverse onus, that they have now rehabilitated, reformed and set up circumstances that are a safe and nurturing environment. Perhaps, having repartnered or got rid of their drug addiction or whatever the issues of concern were, they have reformed and, presumably, some years have passed and they are now capable of being a responsible and nurturing parent.
The concept is not a bad one; it has already attracted the attention of a few other jurisdictions. Coroner Johns does not outline a lot of detail in the substance of his report, other than in his summary and recommendations as to why this is appropriate. I think it is important to look again carefully at what ill this part of the recommendation attempts to cure and whether the government has achieved it; whether we should be progressing it now or whether, in fact, we should be looking
at it more carefully; and, if it is passed and implemented, whether the government, is in fact in a position to ensure that it is effective. In this regard, the opposition has some considerable concerns.
During the course of briefings on this matter, the government indicated that the introduction of this new provision relating to how guardianship would work in these circumstances was entirely based on the recommendation given by the Coroner. There had been no significant independent study of this option elsewhere to identify whether it was effective in other jurisdictions. In fact, when I inquired whether there were other jurisdictions anywhere in Australia, it appeared that the answer was no. When I inquired whether they were anywhere else in the world, the government said, 'Yes, in New Zealand.'
In 2014, the New Zealand parliament passed the Children, Young Persons, and Their Families (Vulnerable Children) Amendment Act 2014 which purported to introduce provision for the care and custody of children where someone had been convicted of the offence, and last week they very kindly sent me a copy of the bill. I thank those who attended the briefing for providing that, in particular Joanna Blake, who is involved in the legislative reform aspects.
It was made clear at that point that the bill had not been implemented in New Zealand. How surprising that was given that, when we inquired about further capacity and intent of how this was going to be applied; it was clear that New Zealand had not worked that out either. As well intentioned as these things can be, unless you have some clarity as to how they will operate, sometimes all they do is produce this mirage of presentation to the public that you are doing something important that sounds good in a headline but does not actually work.
Let's look at a number of the aspects being proposed and how we understand they may work. In his recommendation, at page 152 the Coroner said:
The Act would then continue to apply to the child in the same way as if the custody had been ordered by the court under section 38(1)(d), so that the parent might apply to the court for a variation or revocation of the custody of the Minister. Furthermore, the Minister would have the same powers in relation in relation to the child as any other child under the Minister's care and protection.
An example is then cited. The Coroner's findings continue:
In such a case the Minister should be empowered to impose conditions on the convicted parent’s dealings with the child, if the parents are still in a relationship. That would alleviate the risk that the proposal might work an injustice upon a person with no relevant conviction who happens to have a child with a person to whom the section applies.
What has happened in the Chloe Valentine case is that Ashlee Polkinghorne, who is the mother of the child, has been sentenced to eight years imprisonment with a nonparole period of four years and nine months, having been convicted of manslaughter by criminal neglect, and her boyfriend, Mr McPartland, is serving a slightly lesser but still significant term of imprisonment. Under this proposal in the bill, if it is to apply, should either of these two become parents again the guardianship of that child would effectively (under a process of 60 days' preparation, etc.) be vested in the minister.
To the best of my knowledge, Ms Polkinghorne is not pregnant. She is at least four years away from getting out of prison, in which of course she could become pregnant and have another child. The pressing need to protect against the mother, in this case who has been convicted, is obviously not imminent. We do not have to pass this in a hurry to make sure that we protect a child who is about to be born. During the briefings, I inquired whether the department was aware of any other child
who was about to be born to a party who had been convicted of one of these offences. To the best of the knowledge that they were able to advise, that is not the case.
The question in relation to Mr McPartland—well, who knows? Who knows whether he already has other children, whether he knows about them or not, or in fact has fathered other children who are about to be born? I have no idea, and how possibly the department would have any knowledge of that is beyond me or anyone, frankly. But it highlights one of the difficulties of enforcing this provision if it passes, and I do not doubt for one minute (although I am seeking some confirmation from New Zealand) that there are real difficulties in being able to enforce this provision. What we do know is that, to the best of the department's knowledge, it is not urgent.
The second thing we know is that the government already has at its disposal the protections of the Children's Protection Act 1993 which allow it to immediately go to the Youth Court upon the birth of a child to seek guardianship if they were at least concerned and if, in the opinion of the chief executive, there was a risk. Quite frankly, members should be aware that in this state that happens on a regular basis.
Sadly, I think at present on average a child is born every week to a drug-affected mother, frequently at the Women's and Children's Hospital because this is our major public maternity hospital. Frequently, those little babies, often born prematurely and requiring a lot of extra care, born addicted, are the subject of an application to the Youth Court for an order to be made on an interim basis and then followed through.
In the meantime, the children are in the children's hospital—sometimes for a prolonged period of time, weeks or sometimes months—because they are regularly born prematurely and do require a lot of extra care, especially if they are born addicted to heroin. Those babies are frequently placed with a foster care person or agency and the babies then go through a regime—sometimes of regular daily injections—to manage their addiction. It is a sorry saga. It is actually a tragedy that we have babies born in this state every week who need to be on a program to get rid of a drug addiction that becomes clear shortly after birth.
There is a capacity for the agency, namely Families SA, to act quickly if a child is born in those circumstances. I am told that quite often the imminent birth of these children is already well known to the department, so they are ready to deal with it. Sadly, sometimes they already have guardianship protection orders in place to protect other children of the person involved, so they have a bit of an early start and are able to act to protect the baby. Sometimes they discuss this with the person who is about to give birth and there is agreement that there will be a relinquishing of that guardianship or responsibility, in the full knowledge that they themselves appreciate they are in no fit state to provide adequate care to children.
So, we already have a mechanism in the act that allows for their protection; there are no known cases of imminent birth that we need to address, in any event; and, thirdly, on the information I have received there appears to be no set of guidelines regarding how this is to be implemented, other than the suggestion that there is likely to be a list of mothers who are in this category. There might be 10, there might be 50 (I have no idea) females living in South Australia who have had a conviction of this nature. In any event, whatever is on the list it will be provided to the known major birthing hospitals in South Australia.
In some way it will be a high risk alert list, so that if someone of that name presents to a hospital to have a baby they could be in that category, and the various authorities would need to be alerted. Of course, that does not cover what we do with midwives, it does not cover what we do with
homebirths, it does not cover mothers who go to Victoria to have their baby, it does not cover mothers to change their name.
We already have, under some of our management rules and legislation regarding child sex offenders, specific rules in respect of their reporting to police and being prohibited from entering certain areas, including, as I recall our debates on this, prohibitions on changing their name without consent. So we have some precedent, and have accepted it is a legislature, for the monitoring of those who need to be monitored, identified and on various lists for the purpose of child protection. It seems to me that there is no reason why we cannot look at how we deal with this for other children who are to be born to those who have offended, but I am completely at a loss as to how the government would address this. I have not seen any policy or guidelines. There appears to be no mandated or enforceable capacity to make this work even for women in this category; and, unfortunately, in the briefing that I received on this matter, I am not given any confidence that it is anywhere advanced to actually occur.
As for the male offender who might have other children, good luck! How on earth are we possibly going to identify that this person is the father of various children unless that is acknowledged or sought, and what protection is given against children in households where he might associate with the mother in those households? So, just as we currently have child protection restrictions in relation to child-related work, or working with children (which we have all sorts of rules about— having, obviously, to have police checks and various other restrictions on the capacity for them to work if they have been convicted of prior offences), this question of identifying the children who might be at risk it seems to me fails to actually do it in a manner which will be enforceable under this bill.
I am quite prepared to work with the government—and I am sure that people on this side of the house are quite prepared to work with the government—in making this type of initiative work if there is a capacity for its practical application. At present, however, it is not operational in New Zealand; and, as I say, I have absolutely no reason to suggest that they were not well intentioned as well, but these things are practical enforcement aspects which need some further work (and they need a lot of extra work) and in a circumstance where there is no imminent threat and we have got a capacity under the act to protect, then this needs to be done and it needs to be done properly.
The other aspect of this is that it produces a regime of restraining notices which are to be implemented by the department's chief executive and which, again, on a brief perusal of the letter that was received of the government's intent to tidy up some of this, the machinery implications that are proposed in the foreshadowed amendments do not address these significant aspects. They appear to be looking at some of the machinery operations, things such as relieving the obligation to have a family-care meeting, which is otherwise under the act in these circumstances, and the like.
These are, frankly, incidental, and they may be appropriate in due course, but they are not going to deal with the current defect in this legislation, and that is that there is no real capacity to implement this. One of the things I think we should do in this regard is, first, to allow the general public and stakeholders specifically to have a say in relation to this legislation. I note that, again, as of yesterday the Law Society has raised in a letter it has provided to the government its concern about the guardianship where a child is born to a person with a qualifying offence.
The Law Society has raised some other considerations, and, again, we have not had a chance to look at some in detail, but not only are there some practical aspects but also there is the consideration
generally of using this as some sort of instrument of protection when in fact it may have some detrimental effect in its application.
People who are experienced in this area, people who have an understanding of the importance of both protecting children and its application, need to have some say when we develop this type of legislation, and they have not, they have been deprived of that because of the government's desperate attempt to make it look like it is doing something useful and complying with the recommendations of the horrendous inquest findings of the Coroner. It is the opposition's view that there should be an opportunity for the public and stakeholders to have a say and we should have some capacity, at the very least within Australia, as to how it is going to work in other states if people jurisdiction hop.
We have seen this so many times before when there has been an application of a law in one part of Australia and we do not follow it up in other states. I have had the government come to me on areas of management of organised crime in looking at how we deal with that. If we have stringent rules in some states and not in other states, how do we stop gangs moving from one state to another to avoid the stringent rules in those states? How do we stop people going interstate to have abortions where the rules are more relaxed, or come to our state to have them because their rules are too tough?
It is the old Irish-London abortion issue. Incidentally, it seems that Ireland has come of age a bit in recent legislation. Many members would be aware, and I do not mean this as any disrespect to Ireland but, frankly, they had very strict laws, which include that even if you are a victim of a rape and you are impregnated the capacity to have an abortion is frowned upon and does not have legislative protection. So, we had this rather disgraceful situation where girls would go across the ocean to have an abortion in London. I do not doubt that has been going on for as long as it has been able to be procured, but I make the point that if you have a set of laws within this jurisdiction and you do not deal with it as to: how are we going to deal with girls who go across to Mildura to have a baby, in this instance, or fathers who start living with somebody in another jurisdiction who are going to father more children or are exposed to those households, then it will not work.
I would suggest that the government, on its next agenda of discussions of attorney-generals and/or ministers for dealing with child protection, look at this issue. Secondly, that we inquire of former justice Margaret Nyland, the commissioner with respect to child protection systems, as to what her view is as to how that is operating. That in itself may come some months away, but it seems to me that we need to have some clarity about the practical application of this, after there has been general consultation, before we progress this type of regime. I seek leave to continue my remarks.