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Child Safety

Cassy O'Connor MP  -  Wednesday, 10 November 2021

Tags: Child Safety, Commission of Inquiry

Ms O'CONNOR (Clark - Leader of the Greens) - Mr Speaker, this report, which has only been released through right to information, is deeply confronting reading. What we know is that Professor Stephen Smallbone and Professor Tim McCormack put their heart and soul into this work, and you can read that in every word and in every recommendation.

What also comes through is a sense of shock at what they discovered. Poor record keeping, and historical behaviour when dealing with education department staff, that reflects in many ways what the Catholic Church did, which was to move on paedophile priests. In the Department of Education, there is a record going back to at least the 1990s of the department moving on teachers who were the subject of complaints and allegations of improper behaviour with children and young people - if not downright abuse.

What happened in question time today was the most tone-deaf demonstration I have seen from this Government. We had the Premier getting up and talking about a letter he is going to write to Cricket Australia about the Ashes, and then the Minister for Racing. It is this bread-and-circuses deflection from the most serious matter, because all parliament has on the record is the summary report that was released yesterday.

Mr Speaker, I seek the leave of the House to table the full redacted report that was provided to the ABC through right to information.

Ms Archer - You are going to breach section 194K under parliamentary privilege.

Mr SPEAKER - The question is that leave be granted.

Leave granted.

Ms O'CONNOR - We just heard the Attorney-General muttering; I do not know why. Parliament should absolutely have the full report that was provided to the ABC through right to information. Instead, a choice was made by the Government to sit on this information for five months.

Every day of that five months, Tasmanian parents were sending their children to school in complete ignorance. It is unacceptable that what we get in here is a summary report that conveniently - and apparently coincidentally - is tabled on the same day that the full report is released to the ABC through right to information.

What the full report, and indeed the summary, tell us is that there has been a culture of cover up in the Department of Education - just as there was a culture of cover up in the Department of Health over the LGH; a culture of cover up in Child Safety and Communities Tasmania; and at Ashley Youth Detention Centre.

That culture of cover up is reinforced when ministers sit on critical reports for five whole months, and then release the summary in the shiftiest way.

Why not a statement from the minister yesterday to the parents of Tasmania detailing the findings of this inquiry, outlining the steps that have been taken by Government, reassuring parents that their children are safe in our public schools? Why was this decision made to sit on this report, release a summary, not make a ministerial statement, deflect with bread and circuses in question time today?

I have no doubt at all that this minister and the secretary of the Department of the Education do take this inquiry and the recommendations extremely seriously. How could they not? I also acknowledge that they are dealing with legacy issues in the department. Legacy issues that have allowed perpetrators to continue to work with children and young people. Legacy issues that we hear through the findings of this inquiry are persisting - at least in part to this day.

People who are interviewed by the professors pointed to a reluctance to report to Child Safety because of a lack of feedback and follow-through. That is so deeply and profoundly concerning. Legacy issues that, because of poor record-keeping, lack of integration and lack of guidance to Department of Education staff, paint no conclusive picture about the extent of the problem today relative to how it has been in previous times.

I thank Professor Stephen Smallbone and Professor Tim McCormack for their incredibly important work.

I place on the public record through Hansard that the Greens played a critical role in getting this inquiry established, because we had received information from survivors of abuse in schools and we were not prepared to just lay it out in question time; we wanted it dealt with properly. We approached the then minister for education who, in an open and honest way, sought our advice on how to approach this and then initiated an inquiry. We were part of this, because we did it constructively out of concern for survivors of past abuse. We will not be written out of the history on this.

Tasmanian parents are entitled to know why five of the most important recommendations that have been made by the professors are not going to be implemented before 2023. It is simply not good enough.