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Child Safety

Cassy O'Connor MP

Cassy O'Connor MP  -  Tuesday, 26 October 2021

Tags: Child Safety, Commission of Inquiry

Ms O'CONNOR (Clark - Leader of the Greens) - Mr Speaker, it is déjà vu all over again when we talk about the wellbeing of children and young people in Tasmania. While we, the Greens, acknowledge that some progress has been made in terms of the policy, the structures and funding, what the data tells us is that at-risk children and young people in Tasmania are more at risk than children are in any other jurisdiction in this country.

We have had nearly eight years of Liberal government yet the data is still either static or going backwards. There is something deeply wrong with the child safety system here and the way it is being administered. We are hearing evidence of that at the commission of inquiry which began its hearings today.

On behalf of the Greens I thank the commission of inquiry for the vital work they are undertaking. I also acknowledge that the Premier did the right thing in establishing this commission of inquiry.

We have heard from counsel assisting the commission that Tasmania's out-of-home care system can place children at greater risk of sexual abuse. The commission of inquiry will be looking at the culture and processes of managing risks for children in this state. We know, because there is evidence in a trail of damaged people, that the out-of-home care system, the systems that we have in place in our health system and in our juvenile justice system are failing children. They are failing them repeatedly. It is those failures which have led us to the point where we have a commission of inquiry in place.

We still do not have answers, for example, about the Griffin matter, the paedophile nurse at the Launceston General Hospital who was able to abuse children for close to 20 years that we know of. What we heard out of the commission of inquiry today is that allegations about his conduct towards children and young people may have been made as early as the early 2000s. We also know, because Tasmania Police undertook an evaluation of its response to the Griffin matter, that there were four separate investigation reports made. They were made in 2009, 2011, 2013 and 2015. In May 2019, a formal complaint was made to Tasmania Police by one of James Griffin's victims. It was not until two and a half months later that Mr Griffin's working with vulnerable people registration was removed.

We recognise that Tasmania Police has apologised for its failings. As they should have, because Tasmania Police let children and young people down. The Launceston General Hospital and the way it responded to allegations about Mr Griffin let children and young people down. So too, when you look at the evaluation report, did Communities Tasmania. They were made aware of concerns about Mr Griffin's behaviour and yet nothing was done.

Our job in here is to make sure nothing like that ever is allowed to happen again. It is 2021 and we are still dealing with almost Dickensian approaches to complaints made by children about the way they are abused by adults to whom they are entrusted at one level or another.

Another thing we know about Griffin, is that during this time, he was transferred to Ashley Youth Detention Centre. We do not know how Mr Griffin was able to get away with it for so long. Was he aided and abetted somewhere within the system?

The commission of inquiry will examine these matters but for someone to be able to harm children for such a long period of time tells us something about the system; a rottenness in the system, whether it is, on the part of some people, a refusal to see the evidence. Or it is negligent or it is aiding and abetting? There are issues here about how Griffin was allowed to get away with it for so long, just as there are serious critical questions about the 100 years of abuse that young people who went through the Ashley Youth Detention Centre experienced.

I welcome Labor coming on board, at last, over the welfare of children at Ashley and the need to close that centre. It was particularly dispiriting to see Labor vacate the space for so many years when the evidence was piling up about what was happening to children at the Ashley Youth Detention Centre.

We certainly hope that the commission of inquiry is able to, in the case of both the Launceston General Hospital and the Ashley Youth Detention Centre, get to the bottom of who knew what, when and why did so many people apparently fail to act.

The commission of inquiry also heard today from counsel assisting that there is an allegation of the cover-up of sexual abuse at the Ashley Youth Detention Centre. The legitimate question was asked about how safe those kids will be over the next three years, given the chronic and systemic failings of that place to provide a rehabilitative response to at-risk kids, to keep them safe and to make sure they exit that awful place with some hope for a better life and some hope not to be on a one-way train to Risdon Prison.

The ROGS data is really worrying. The ROGS data tells us children and young people in this state are going backwards and the system is not keeping them safe.