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Out-of-Home Care Monitoring and Oversight

29 October 2019

 

Ms O'CONNOR question to MINISTER for HUMAN SERVICES, Mr JAENSCH

Can you explain to the House why almost three years after the Safe Pathways scandal and subsequent strong recommendations from the then Commissioner for Children and Young People, Mark Morrisey, there is still no effective monitoring and oversight of children in out-of-home care as identified by the current commissioner in her damning report yesterday?

Out-of-home care in Tasmania remains recklessly unregulated five-and-a-half years after the Liberal Party took government. Do you acknowledge this is placing already highly vulnerable children and young people further at risk? When will you have in place oversight and monitoring of children in out-of-home care?

 

ANSWER

Madam Speaker, I thank the member for her question. I thank the Commissioner for Children and Young People for her report on Tasmania's out-of-home care system. It was the Hodgman Liberal Government that, on coming to office, increased the powers and the independence of the Commissioner for Children and Young People to be reporting directly to the parliament and to undertake own motion investigations as well.

It was the Hodgman Liberal Government that provided $1 million over four years in the 2017- 18 Budget for the commissioner to develop and implement an independent out-of-home care monitoring framework and program, the first report of which has now been released.

I welcome the commissioner's report. This is what we need to keep our policies and our delivery of policies and management in out-of-home care on track and aligned to the best interests of children and young people in our care, and best practice in Australia and overseas. I welcome the commissioner's findings that the Government's policies and reforms are the right ones, they are on track, and that our plans to reform the child care system in Tasmania are valuable and needed and should continue.

Ms O'Connor - Five-and-a-half years.

Madam SPEAKER - Ms O'Connor, warning one.

Mr JAENSCH - It is entirely disingenuous for the member to characterise this as a 'damning report'. I will quote the Commissioner for Children and Young People directly saying -

I acknowledge that the work currently underway in the Department of Communities Tasmania, Department of Health and the Department of Justice is directly relevant to the recommendations I make in this report. My recommendations are not intended to amount to a new reform agenda, rather they are designed to strengthen the foundations of our out-of-home care system. In this way I hope to contribute to the current significant reform agenda underway in our child safety system more broadly, a reform agenda which I support.

It is my strong view that we are at a pivotal point -

Ms O'CONNOR - Point of order, Madam Speaker. Standing order 45, relevance. While the minister might like to praise himself up on this issue the fact is he has not answered the question about why there is no monitoring and oversight of children in out-of-home care. He is excuse-making. It is outrageous. I ask you, please, to direct him to the question, on behalf of those kids.

Madam SPEAKER - Thank you. As you know that is not a point of order. I ask the minister to address the issue.

Mr JAENSCH - It is outrageous for the member who just resumed her seat to be characterising this as a damning report. I think she is lying about what this report contains and what the -

Ms O'CONNOR - Madam Speaker, I take strong personal offence to that. I am not lying. I have read the report from cover to cover. It is damning and the minister should acknowledge that. The language is careful, but it is damning nonetheless.

Madam SPEAKER - I remind the House that language does matter and we need to be mindful of how we call out other people's actions. This is a very sensitive issue. I would like the minister to withdraw that if he could, please.

Mr JAENSCH - Madam Speaker, I am happy to withdraw my unparliamentary language. I point out that I believe the member has chosen to misrepresent and mischaracterise the Commissioner for Children and Young People's findings in overview in this report. In my response I am choosing not to characterise but to quote directly the commissioner's own words.

Ms O'CONNOR - Point of order, Madam Speaker. The last part of the question was, can the minister tell the House when there will be in place oversight and monitoring of individual children in out-of-home care?

Madam SPEAKER - As you know, that is not a point of order, and I need to grant the minister, for those two points of orders, at least another minute.

Mr JAENSCH - Thank you, Madam Speaker. I would like to continue to put on the record the commissioner's overview of the report and her intentions. She says:

In this way, I hope to contribute to the current significant reform agenda underway in our child safety system more broadly, a reform agenda which I support. It is my strong view that we are at a pivotal point in the reform process, a point at which previous successive reform processes have failed, and we must now push, invest and plan ahead positively to achieve a better child safety system for our children and young people.

In relation to regulation, oversight and accountability in the system, I further note the commissioner's comments that:

I acknowledge that the Government of Tasmania has already commenced work to strengthen the quality and accountability of the out-of-home care system. The quality and continuous improvement framework for out-of-home care is under development and the Government is progressing implementation of recommendations of the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse, which are relevant to the quality, safety -

Ms O'Connor - You're a disgrace.

Madam SPEAKER - Ms O'Connor, that is not helpful.

Mr JAENSCH -

… and accountability of the Tasmanian out-of-home care system. These reform initiatives are, in my opinion, critical to ensuring that Tasmania has a robust and accountable out-of-home care system which promotes the wellbeing of children and young people.

Madam Speaker, we are working on all fronts through a range of complex reforms. We have substantially reformed the intake component of our child safety system and are working now with the sector on reform of the out-of-home care system and have established a wellbeing framework as well to measure it against. We have increased the powers of the Commissioner for Children and Young People. We are working with the Commonwealth and other jurisdictions to ensure that the ChildSafe organisation's framework is reflected here as well -

Ms O'Connor - You haven't even signed up to it.

Madam SPEAKER - Ms O'Connor, warning two.

Mr JAENSCH - As the commissioner points out, there is more work to do but we are on track. We do have a plan; we have a better and bigger plan than the government that we replaced. We are fixing the child safety system that they left us and we are delivering on our plan.