You are here

Children, Education and Youth – ED5 Investigations

Cassy O'Connor MP

Cassy O'Connor MP  -  Wednesday, 8 June 2022

Tags: Commission of Inquiry, Child Safety

Ms O'CONNOR - Minister, how many staff at Ashley Youth Detention Centre have been stood down or had their position terminated as a result of reports of historical or contemporary abuse of children and young people? How many have been subject to ED5 investigations? How many matters have been referred on to Tasmania Police?

Mr JAENSCH - You may have heard this in some of the other hearings as well, the practice we've adopted is to not identify cases of public service staff stood down.

Ms O'CONNOR - No, that is not what the Premier said the other day. The Premier -

Mr JAENSCH - There is a continuous proactive disclosure - that is not the right term on the DPAC website. We don't identify staff by agency or their workplace.

Ms O'CONNOR - That is a choice you've made, which has meant there is no transparency about where the problems are, the problems staff, in which parts of government. It's been scandalous since day one for your Government not to be honest with the parents of kids in Ashley, the parents of children in public schools about where these people are and where they have been removed from. It is unacceptable, you are not identifying individuals. We are talking about numbers here. It should be core, if you want to be seen as a transparent minister, just core to doing that.

We got a number out of the Premier the other day about how many State Service staff had been stood down. I don't accept that it is not appropriate for you to tell the committee now how many Ashley staff have been subject to contemporary or historical abuse allegations, and how many have been stood down that have been referred to Tasmania Police.

Mr JAENSCH - What I can reassure you and the public viewing this is that our Government has a zero-tolerance approach to allegations of child sexual abuse.

Ms O'CONNOR - No, that is not the question.

Mr JAENSCH - That has resulted in staff being stood down pending investigations. That has been happening for quite some months now. The process we have adopted is to ensure that the numbers of staff stood down are published on the DPAC website. This is Tasmania, we do also have obligations to natural justice.

Ms O'CONNOR - No one is asking for individuals to be identified, but Tasmanians have a right to know from which agencies and public institutions these people have been moved.

Mr JAENSCH - Ms O'Connor, in Tasmania with small numbers of people in divisions of departments in different locations. It is very difficult for information to be provided which does not lead to the identification or misidentification of people who might be subject to stand downs, according to these sorts of allegations, which may also be historic, and which have a very low bar for us accepting them and taking them seriously pending investigation. I won't be providing you with numbers of staff from divisions of our agencies or locations of their work regarding their stand downs.

Ms O'CONNOR - Well, that is shameful and unacceptable, because my next question to you was, how many staff from within the child safety service or other parts of Communities Tasmania, for which you are responsible at the moment, have been stood down or removed as a result of historical or contemporary allegations of the abuse of children? I will just say it one more time, these are publicly funded agencies. Parents in Tasmania entrust their children to schools, they know their kids are in Ashley, they can't be there for them, it is totally unacceptable for your Government to take a position that it shouldn't be transparent about where people are being removed from.

So, can you confirm, you will not give the committee any information on how many stand downs there have been in the youth justice system in relation to Ashley, and you refuse to tell parents whose children, for example, are in out-of-home care, how many child safety staff have had to be removed as a result of historical or contemporary allegations?

Mr JAENSCH - What I can definitely tell those families and anyone else listening that if there are any allegations of child sexual abuse in any of these settings, we have a zero-tolerance approach, those staff are stood down, we undertake -

Ms O'CONNOR - So you are not prepared to be honest with Tasmanians, Tasmanian parents?

Mr JAENSCH - I am being absolutely honest, and I am -

Ms O'CONNOR - No, you're not, you're trying to hide the truth.

CHAIR - Ms O'Connor, I understand your interest in this matter. My view is that the way you asked the question is entirely within order. The minister is trying to respond to you, however your interjections are not in order. Can you please allow the minister to provide the answer to the question which you posed?

Mr JAENSCH - I will reiterate to the families that Ms O'Connor is alluding to, to this committee, and to anyone watching, we have a zero-tolerance approach. Any allegation of child sexual abuse in our Tasmanian State Service is taken seriously, staff are stood down -

Ms O'CONNOR - You want to keep Tasmanians in the dark about the truth.

Mr JAENSCH - Thorough investigation processes are undertaken, and we are committed to routine disclosure of the numbers of staff who are stood down in any point in time. That ensures that we are being fair, rigorous and offering natural justice

Ms O'CONNOR - Opaque, it ensures you are being opaque about where the problems are in which agency.

Mr JAENSCH - We are providing the public with an assurance that we have a zero-tolerance approach -

Ms O'CONNOR - Which is taken on trust.

Mr JAENSCH - and that we remove any potential risk. At the same time, as we have discussed through the hearing this morning, we are actively rebuilding and reforming our settings, including our youth justice setting, including our education settings, to ensure that they are safe places for children. We will continue to do that.

Ms O'CONNOR - That is a totally unacceptable lack of transparency.

Ms O'CONNOR - Thanks Chair. Minister, I note your refusal in the earlier part of this Estimates session to be clear how many people within Communities Tasmania or Ashley Youth Detention Centre have been stood down as a result of historical or contemporary abuse allegations

Surely you would agree that Tasmanian parents, people who have their children in the state system or have had their children in the state system, are entitled to know how many teachers have been stood down as a result of contemporary or historical abuse allegations? Particularly given the findings of Professors Smallbone and McCormack's work, which were damning of the department and for which the secretary has profusely and sincerely apologised.

Mr JAENSCH - Thank you Ms O'Connor. It may not surprise you my response is to reassure those parents, this committee, anyone listening, that our Government and our Department of Education has a zero-tolerance approach to allegations of child sexual abuse in our State Service.

I will not be providing additional information on numbers of staff in different parts of our state or our department.

Ms O'CONNOR - I have asked for teacher numbers.

Mr JAENSCH - I will refer you instead to our routine disclosure on the DPAC website regarding current numbers of staff stood down.

Ms O'CONNOR - Again, minister, that is really unacceptably opaque. There is no possibility here that identifying the number of teachers who have been stood down would personally identify them or the school at which they taught or any group of children who they did teach. You have not been able to justify being so opaque about this information and I remind you these are public schools, publicly funded. There are more than 100 000 children and young people in these schools, which means there are families and communities of concern, that would cover most of the state.

On what basis do you think it is acceptable not to give a most basic piece of information at this committee, which is, how many teachers have been stood down as a result of historical and contemporary abuse allegations? Tasmanian parents should know how many teachers have been referred onto police? That is information you should not be afraid of being transparent about.

Mr JAENSCH - I reiterate our school communities, our parents and Tasmanian public can be assured we have a zero-tolerance approach and that applies across the State Service. The evidence of that is given in the routine disclosure on the Department of Premier and Cabinet website, which shows the total numbers of staff stood down. Which is evidence of us prosecuting that policy of zero-tolerance. Also, we have responsibility to procedural fairness for state public servants as well who may be stood down - and to ensure we are able to - in taking the precautionary zero-tolerance approach of standing staff down on receipt of an allegation of child sexual abuse. We also have responsibilities to ensure those allegations are thoroughly investigated and there is procedural fairness in the processes that we use for that.

Ms O'CONNOR - Minister, I put it to you that this culture of opacity, of departmental backside covering, is part of the reason we have had the huge issues we have had, in terms of the safety of children in Tasmania broadly. That has been identified at the commission of inquiry, a culture of cover up. We are seeing it now. This is not about procedural fairness. There is no effort here to identify individual teachers or schools. We are asking you to be transparent. Your Premier has said he wants to lead a transparent and accountable government. Be transparent with Tasmanian parents, about how many teachers have been stood down as a result of abuse allegations, because it is this culture of cover up that has got us where we are today and has damaged so many children.

Mr JAENSCH - It is a culture of zero-tolerance and a culture of safeguarding that we are investing in on their behalf to ensure that our school settings are models of child safe organisations.

Ms O'CONNOR - You are just asking parents to take you on trust and why should they?

This is the most basic of data requests. How many hundreds of teachers do we have here in Tasmania? Thousands of teachers and you will not tell this committee, who are asking on behalf of parents, how many of them are now stood down, moved on, out of work as a result of revelations that have been made to independent investigators or through the commission of inquiry's submissions and evidence? It is absolutely disgraceful. Parents with kids in public schools have a right to know this information. Mr Bullard has something there for you, minister. Is it any line of sight to this information, which should be on the public record anyway?

Mr JAENSCH - I will ask Mr Bullard to provide extra detail.

Mr BULLARD - It is understandable that parents and carers of students in our schools would want comfort the matters are dealt with correctly and why in every single matter of child sexual abuse, however minor, that goes from inappropriate comments, activity we might think is grooming, befriending children, moving outside professional boundaries, through to more serious acts. Employees are immediately suspended from the workplace and then we commence a formal AD5. In terms of our level of accountability for doing that, where teachers are concerned every single matter is reported to Tasmania Police, to RWVP, to the Teachers Registration Board and also to the Integrity Commission. From time to time the Integrity Commission asks us to submit the file in full so it can audit the manner in which we undertook the investigation to ensure it complies with best practice. There are a number of safeguards in place to ensure that -

Ms O'CONNOR - All internal. All of it. There is no transparency about the scale of the problem within the Department of Education. No transparency.

Mr JAENSCH - I thank Mr Bullard for the additional detail there on the processes of what happens to allegations received by the department and how they are referred appropriately. I note in response to Ms O'Connor's line of questioning the Premier has given an undertaking to see what further information can be provided in his hearings, I understand, this week. I will stand by his agreement to do so and I will not be providing any additional undertaking.