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Child Protection - Safe Pathways

17 November 2016

Ms O'CONNOR question to MINISTER for HUMAN SERVICES, Mrs PETRUSMA

[10.11 a.m.]
This week, the manifest failings of Tasmania's child protection and out-of-home-care system were revealed to a national audience and to Tasmanians. 

Do you acknowledge it is a mistake for governments to give for-profit providers responsibility for vulnerable children? To ensure all children within the child protection and out-of-home-care system are safe and all their needs are being met, the Commissioner for Children and Young People has called for the establishment of an independent advocate for children and young people, similar to models in Queensland and South Australia. Mr Morrissey has consistently called for external independent monitoring of children in-out-of-home care. He has raised this gaping hole in the system with you personally. Will you now commit to establishing this role in the best interests of Tasmania's vulnerable children and young people?


ANSWER

Madam Speaker, I thank the member for her question. She spoke about our alleged failings in regard to child protection. It is time we reviewed past history and looked at the failings of the previous government, which have led -

Ms O'Connor interjecting.

Madam SPEAKER - Order. The minister does not need assistance from the House.

Mrs PETRUSMA - The former Labor government and the former Labor-Greens government had manifest failings over 16 years, which led to the broken system we inherited and into which were are investing an extra $20.5 million to fix. Unfortunately, for the problems we inherited in child protection there is no silver bullet to address these manifest failings. To refresh the memory of the House, because it is hypocritical of the opposition to criticise our record -

Ms O'CONNOR - Point of order, Madam Speaker, on relevance. I have asked the minister a question about the Commission for Children's recommendation. If the minister could point her mind to that it would be most helpful to the House and to people who care about children and young people in Tasmania.

Madam SPEAKER - I am not going to repeat my ruling in relation to relevance. It was a long question and the minister has a certain amount of time and latitude.

Mrs PETRUSMA - I remind the member that she pointed to our alleged failings without addressing her own.

The previous Labor government came to power 16 years ago promising to be a world leader in decreasing child abuse. The sad fact was that, at the end of their 16 years, one in four girls and one in six boys experienced child sexual assault, which is a reason they should be supporting our mandatory sentencing for child sex offenders. 

In regard to independent oversight, during their time four commissioners and two acting commissioners came and went in nine years. In fact one acting commissioner only lasted a day. In regard to Mr Morrissey, I am delighted we now have in Tasmania a Commissioner for Children who wants to work with the Government. We are working with the commissioner, which is why the commissioner is involved in the redesign of our child protection system. He is on the oversight committee for the redesign of the child protection system. We also have another oversight committee, which involves every head of agency involved in oversight. Plenty of measures are in place to oversee the redesign of our child protection system. 

In regard to the failings of the previous government, let us look at a few of the previous minister sitting on the Opposition benches. Mr Llewellyn was minister in June 2005, when there were 354 notifications unallocated for investigation. By July 2005, there were 1650 notifications allocated. We then go to a new minister in 2006, when Ms Giddings became the minister. In September of that year, the CPSU advised that 1648 cases were unallocated. In 2007, under Ms Giddings, it went up to 1793 unallocated notifications.

Under Ms O'Byrne's watch, in 2001, an inquiry into Tasmania's Child Protection Service stated:

The majority of children referred to the child protection system come from families that are affected by a combination of other issues that include financial difficulties, substance abuse, mental health symptoms, inadequate housing and family violence.

That statement confirms what we have been saying, that rebuilding our child protection system is important, in combination with other measures.

Madam SPEAKER - The minister will wind up.

Mrs PETRUSMA - Children were falling between the gaps, hence that inquiry. We knew the system we were inheriting, which is why we are investing an extra $20.5 million into rebuilding it. Unlike the 16 years of the previous government, we are determined to make sure Tasmania has the best child protection system in Australia.