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Ashley Youth Detention Centre

Cassy O'Connor MP  -  Thursday, 25 August 2022

Tags: Ashley Youth Detention Centre, Commission of Inquiry

Ms O'CONNOR (Clark - Leader of the Greens) - Mr Speaker, I move -

That the House take note of the following matter: Ashley Youth Detention Centre.

The commission of inquiry heard yesterday in evidence on the Ashley Youth Detention Centre from AYDC assistant manager Fiona Atkins that right now at Ashley there is one child serving a sentence and there are 10 children on remand awaiting a court appearance. This goes to the minister's answers to our questions earlier this week about looking at alternative youth justice options. The evidence is right there. The majority of children who are sent into that house of horrors do not need to be there. There have to be alternatives. The evidence the commission of inquiry heard is that there are only four youth workers on at present and they need between 10 and 11.

The commission of inquiry has also heard from Peter Graham, who is the coordinator of the Working with Vulnerable People Unit. Mr Graham told the commission how the registrar - he is the registrar - tasked with assessing and registering Working with Vulnerable People cards had been given a list of more than 300 people in 2020 who had been flagged as a possible risk to children who held Working with Vulnerable People registration. Of that 300, 33 were current and previous staff at AYDC. Of this 33, 28 held a current card in 2020 and 23 still hold a valid card.

That information came to light during evidence and Mr Graham said he had difficulty in obtaining information or records in relation to the staff and that he was unable to access information about whether particular people could remain registered to work with children, and this including Ashley workers. Mr Graham said these were allegations 'of the greatest kind' and not being able to get the information prevented him from risk-assessing whether they should have their cards suspended or cancelled so they could be removed from the settings. Damningly, he said:

It is my view that the leadership of the department didn't see this for the crisis that it was. There are multiple grave allegations about current staff that got a 'business as usual' response from the former Department of Communities.

In further evidence, counsel assisting the commission Rachael Ellyard pointed out that Tasmania Police did not receive a notification about an alleged child rapist until November 2020, a delay of 10 months after the Department of Communities Tasmania had been alerted by whistleblower and Ashley clinical psychologist, Alysha. Throughout that time, this man - who we will call Lester - continued to work at the centre on alternative duties. Tasmania Police was first notified about this alleged paedophile at Ashley in 2012, some eight years before he was ultimately stood down.

Each day the commission of inquiry hears evidence on the Ashley Youth Detention Centre that is more and more damning. We know that Alysha first reported suspected historical child sexual abuse from a then existing senior AYDC staff member, and the director told her not to go to police and said she was being hysterical. Of course Alysha has been utterly vindicated. Every word she has said about that place and every allegation she has made has been confirmed to be true.

The commission of inquiry has now heard that Alysha's response was appropriate given the circumstances and the seriousness of the allegations. Then a lawyer for the then manager at AYDC denied Alysha had reported another separate child sexual assault incident and yesterday, in evidence before the inquiry, it was confirmed that she had and the then manager's lawyer told the commission of inquiry yesterday that he had overlooked her email alleging serious sexual assault.

At every step of the way, this whistleblower has been proven correct and we owe her a debt of thanks for how she has revealed the harm being caused to children and young people at Ashley, the enormous problems with some staff, the epic and tragic failures of management and massive issues in the former Department of Communities Tasmania. I believe this Government and people in Communities Tasmania owe Alysha an apology.

We know that UNICEF Australia and Amnesty have called for Ashley's closure, as has the National Children's Commissioner. I am going to pause here and very carefully say that the Greens have been very disappointed in the Tasmanian Commissioner for Children and Young People's failure to advocate for Ashley's closure earlier. The evidence of the need to close that place has been there for decades and multiple commissioners for children and young people have called for its closure. The Noetic report in 2016 put forward the preferred option, which was to close Ashley and have two therapeutic facilities in the north and south. It has been disappointing, to say the least, that we have not had more vocal advocacy for the closure of Ashley from our own Commissioner for Children and Young People and in fact it has been the National Children's Commissioner who has stepped up right now to advocate for those children.

No delay in the closure of Ashley is justifiable. I was reassured yesterday to hear the minister say that that house of horrors would be closed by the end of 2024. What we need to see in place is a therapeutic trauma-informed response that gives those children and young people the chance that they deserve and ultimately makes our community happier, healthier and safer. Those kids deserve our full attention every day. We cannot be allowed to forget what they have endured over generations.

I look forward to having a further update from the minister on progress towards Ashley's closure and perhaps to respond to our request on behalf of Alysha for an apology.