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Children, Young Persons and Their Families Amendment Bill 2021

Cassy O'Connor MP  -  Wednesday, 25 August 2021

Tags: Legislation, Child Safety

Ms O'CONNOR (Clark - Leader of the Greens) - Mr Deputy Speaker, the Greens will be supporting the Children, Young Persons and Their Families Amendment Bill. We recognise it has the capacity to improve child safety and welfare outcomes, and to lead to more coordinated responses across jurisdictions.

There is logic behind this amendment bill, and I note it is part of the national reform process. I have a few questions that relate to the intersection - and potentially, collision - between the imperative to ensure the safety of children and young people, and also the protection of privacy.

I note in clause 5 in the bill, which is new Section 111C subclause (6) -

(6) The Personal Information Protection Act 2004 does not apply to information recorded and stored in, or accessed from, the national database to the extent that -

(a) the information is recorded and stored in the national database in accordance with this section; or

(b) the information is accessed in this jurisdiction by a person, or a member of a class of persons, approved by the Secretary to access the information. [ok]

which then takes us back to the powers of the Secretary to authorise access to the data and personal information in that data set. Perhaps the minister could provide some clarity over what class of person or persons may be authorised to access that database? And on what basis, outside data sharing nationally to improve child safety frameworks and regulations, the Secretary might otherwise approve access to that data?

It also says the Secretary may approve access 'for the purposes of the administration of an Act of this State, another State or a Territory, or the Commonwealth'. Perhaps we could have some more clarity on what that means.

Ms Courtney - Which section is that?

Ms O'CONNOR - Page 6, clause 5(c).

It says the Secretary may authorise access under -

(c) for the purposes of the administration of an Act of this State, another State or a Territory, or the Commonwealth.

The House should have some clarity over whether, for example, the secretary might give Tasmania Police authority to access that database because of a matter under the Youth Justice Act or the Criminal Code Act 1994, for example, the secretary might give Tasmania Police authority to access that database because of a matter under the Youth Justice Act or the Criminal Code Act 1994, for example. What are the circumstances in which the secretary could say to another individual, or a person from an agency, that you can access the database? Could it be used, potentially, to bring about charges against the person, or against a young person?

You have to be very cautious when you allow an exemption from the Personal Information Protection Act. I understand through the second reading speech that Salinger Consulting did a privacy impact assessment and advised ministers that, on the balance of risk, they should come down in favour of the safety of the child. Nobody can argue with that. However, you need to be very careful on how that data is stored, managed and accessed, in order to protect the privacy of persons, including children and young people, and also their families.

It would be fair to say that in the child safety space, the pace of reform here has been glacial. I was listening to the Leader of the Opposition talk about the child safety and wellbeing framework that has been in train for nearly six years now. The first minister who was part of it was Mrs Petrusma, then we had Mr Jaensch, now we have Ms Courtney, and yet we still have no tangible improvement in outcomes for children and young people who go through the child safety system. We know the people who work in that system are under enormous stress, and that their case loads are unsustainably high. They have stayed persistently unsustainably high throughout the Liberal terms in government.

We also need to talk about further amendments to the Children, Young Persons and Their Families Act that drive a much stronger focus on creating a child-safe community and child-safe organisations. I am old enough to remember our previous Commissioner for Children, Mark Morrissey, who started some really important work on child-safe organisations in Tasmania. Yet again, the progress of reform has been glacial. There has been too little direction or leadership from government into the community about what a child-safe organisation and community looks like, and what responsibilities that places on everyone in terms of the protection of children.

I had an interesting briefing with Leanna Buchanan, who heads the Victorian Commission for Children and Young People. In 2016, the Victorian Parliament released a report, Betrayal of Trust, which exposed the many failings in Victoria to protect children. As a consequence, a whole series of reforms were made that embedded child-safe organisational frameworks in Victoria, increased the powers of the Commission for Children and Young People, and put in place a model recommended by the Royal Commission into Institutionalised Responses to Child Sexual Abuse.

Victoria has led the way. Victoria now has a statutory framework for monitoring, compliance and enforcement. In Victoria, the Commission for Children and Young People has a significant suite of powers to ensure organisations have child safety policies in place. They have set seven standards for child-safe organisations, covering around 60 000 organisations. In Victoria they have policies in place, codes of conduct, complaint and response standards, strategies to protect the rights of children and to empower the voice of children. These measures have been in place since 2016. At the same time as these new, very robust standards, enforcement and monitoring powers have been put in place, the Victorian Commission for Children and Young People has engaged in a statewide education and information program to work with organisations to ensure they are child-safe. They have in place an advice and response line, a help line.

In Tasmania there is no organisation resourced to undertake the educative role. We have an outstanding Commissioner for Children and Young People, and marvellous people who work with Ms McLean in her office, all of whom are dedicated state servants. But you do not have that sense of an Office for the Commissioner for Children and Young People that is resourced or statutorily independently empowered enough to be leading that educative role and that protective response we need for children and young people in Tasmania.

In Victoria there is an umbrella piece of legislation called the Child Wellbeing and Safety Act 2021, which is just going through their parliament now, as I understand it. Their child-safe framework in Victoria is all about prevention but, as I said, it gives that commission very considerable powers. That is what we need here, Mr Speaker. There are standards for what is reportable conduct and the commission can refer a person or an organisation to their unit that undertakes working with children registration and checking. The commission in Victoria has a very important advocacy role but also a regulatory role so, when it is needed, the commission in Victoria can take out the big stick.

There has been a big spike in notifications in Victoria in recent years and that is, undoubtedly, in part because of the framework put in place, the focus on child safety but also that broader community education role.

We need to have those standards in place here in Tasmania. There needs to be a capacity for the office of the commission for children to engage across the community about what a child-safe organisation looks like, to have standards in place, to make sure that the commission has an enforcement and compliance role. At the moment, children are slipping through the cracks. There is uncertainty within businesses that engage with children, not-for-profit organisations, for-profit companies that work with children, about what a child-safe organisation is. There is a wish on behalf of those organisations in Tasmania for more guidance and clarity from government about what making sure we have a child-safe place looks like.

The broader Children and Young Persons and their Families Act 1997, as I understand it, is up for review. We need to recognise that we have lost time here in Tasmania since the Royal Commission handed down its findings in 2016. I acknowledge some of the work that has been undertaken by government to give effect to the Royal Commission’s recommendations. But you still have a Commissioner for Children and Young People who has, in many ways, one hand tied behind her back in terms of being able to provide that leadership and guidance across the community on what a child-safe organisation looks like but also to make sure that there are consequences for organisations that do not make sure children are safe when they are with them.

I also want to draw the link between the fact that tens of thousands of Tasmanians live in poverty and we have a widening divide between those who have enough to get by and those who have far too little. Poverty, research tells us, increases cortisol levels in our brains, we become very stressed and we can make bad decisions. If you are a parent, those bad decisions can have a life-long impact on your children and extensively limit their capacity to have a good life and to fulfil their potential.

We have to tackle poverty, and there was too little discussion of it during the last state election campaign. Frankly, I have had a gutful of government ministers getting up in here and telling us how wonderful things are in Tasmania and talking about this economic sunshine which is not being felt by at least 30 000 Tasmanians.

Let us have some more honesty about the lives that are being lived out there in the community, from people who cannot get enough work, do not have a job or cannot find a secure rental. We have families who cannot pay the rent and, if they pay the rent, they cannot buy the groceries they need.

Every member of this place has constituents who have got in touch with them to say 'my real estate agent is putting up my rent by $50 a week and I am on a pension', or 'my real estate agent is putting up my rent by $120 a week and I am on a low income'. That is happening right across the state, in the major centres and in our towns.

More empathy is required from government ministers when they get to their feet and read out their prepared answer, provided to them by the department and touched up in the ministerial office, that paints this rosy picture of life in Tasmania during a pandemic.

We heard this morning, from the contribution from Ms Finlay and Dr Woodruff, about how many small business operators are struggling and how at the margins of survivability they are. This is a story being told right across the state. People have lost jobs, they have lost hours, their rent has gone up and the price of food is going up. I am sick of hearing from the Premier and from other government ministers how terrific it all is. It is not.

You need to be able to measure community wellbeing in a more empathetic and nuanced way. We need to acknowledge in this place that poverty is a major driver of child neglect. In some of those instances, the neglect is the consequence of not having enough money to provide for your family and being so stressed that you hit the bottle, or you go out and get some ice, or go down to the pokies bar and lose all your money.

Short personal story: my late sister, who was profoundly mentally traumatised, every pension day would go down to the local pokies pub and just about blow every cent she had. Four small children. Then she would be filled with self-loathing and have no money. That meant the kids would go without unless the rest of her family made sure that there were groceries there for her and the kids.

That happened to a kind of technically middle-class family. This is happening all over Tasmania. It is a hidden and deeply sad social story and it is contributing to the pressure on our child safety system, the pressure on our alcohol and drug treatment system, the pressure on our homelessness support system and other housing services. We have a piece of legislation that will come in here before too long that will guarantee that generations of children and young people will go without because their parents have been down to the pokies barn and blown what little money they have. That will be on the heads of everyone who supports the amendments to the Gaming Control Act.

In closing, we cannot talk about the wellbeing of children and young people without talking about the state of the climate. I do not know how many members have read the August 2021 Commissioner for Children and Young People Ambassadors Climate Change Consultation Summary. It did not sound from his answer this morning that the Premier had read it. It certainly did not sound like he had read anything about the IPCC report or the summary for policy makers because the question I asked this morning was straight out of the mouths of the scientists or the UN Secretary General.

What scares children is a feeling that they are not being heard and that decisions are being made about their future that are not in their best interests. What scares children is being lied to about big things. Wise young people took part in the commissioner's consultation across all regions of the state.

In the north west children and young people told the commissioner that they want sustainable adaptation of agriculture and forestry. They said we need jobs but we need to do it while protecting the environment. Tick, tick. We need more frequent, reliable and affordable public transport. They want to make participating in reducing the impacts of climate change more affordable for everyone. In the north, children and young people want to be sure that we provide places and activities for people to seek climate relief. They want us to better prepare for emergency evacuation and hazardous events, and because they are wise they want us to ban single-use plastic.

In the south of the state children and young people told the commissioner they want to influence behaviour change around reducing and organising waste and choosing low emissions options, such as local products and eating less meat. They want more frequent, reliable and affordable public transport and they want more, not less, climate change education and support for young people and adults.

When asked what rules would they like to see implemented now in a list of 13 strong recommendations from the ambassadors, this is what we heard:

(1) they want us to ban single-use plastics.

(2) They want better recycling and collection in all Tasmanian council areas.

(3) They did not hear this from the Greens, we have not been messing with their minds, is a ban on native forest harvesting. They are not radical greenies. They just understand what needs to be done.

(4) They want to see emission limits for big companies.

(5) They want all government buildings and schools to have solar panels.

(6) They want to make sure big companies that supply products to Tasmania do not use single use plastics.

(7) They would like to make a seat in parliament for a youth minister.

(8) They definitely want the Australian Government to stop supporting the coal industry. We would all like to see both the Liberal and Labor parties end their devotion to coal.

(9) They want to see 80 per cent green buildings in Tasmania by 2035 and 100 per cent by 2045.

(10) The young people would like everyone to move to electric cars by 2045 50, with half of us driving electric cars by 2030.

(11) They want emergency response plans for all communities with permanent nominated evacuation hubs and relocation plans for animals and livestock.

This is the way young people are thinking. They understand. They are scared by the facts and they will be more scared if they see that governments are not taking action and listening to them. We know it is a very simple sociological equation on climate for young people - action equals hope.

I am not sure how I feel about No. 12:

(12) They want mandatory Clean up Australia Day participation.

(13) They would like media representation around environmental practices to be mandated to teach a good example.

Pretty tough, pretty informed and giving us a signpost for the path forward.

We will be sharing the Premier's answer to our question this morning with scientists, avid climate advocates, with the school strike for climate organisers. We will be asking them to reach out to him and to tell him that what they are scared by is not the facts and the truth, it is a lack of leadership. That is what scares children and young people.

Highly regrettably, what we had from the Premier this morning demonstrated a lack of leadership. He could have said, 'I acknowledge the IPCC report, I acknowledged that the alarm bells are ringing for humanity. I note that the scientists are telling us that Australia will need to reduce its emissions by 75 per cent by 2030 for us to reach our Paris targets. I acknowledge that fossil fuels are the main driver of anthropogenic climate change'.

He could have said, 'I acknowledge that our forests are mighty carbon banks. I acknowledge what the children said to the Commissioner for Children and Young People about their desire to see an end to native forest logging'. He could have said, 'I am all for growth in the plantation sector and I am open to change'.

He could have said, 'I am listening to children and young people and I am prepared to show leadership'. He did not. What he did instead was get stuck into the Greens because when you are on the back foot up there on the Government lectern the safest bet is either to point the finger at the Opposition or the Greens because you can fill out the time, there is a whole lot of noise and you do not have to talk about your own failings. It is a very regrettable failure of leadership from this Premier, who is no fool and should know better.

Today, in recognition of how much young people want to see leadership and change and the right that they have to have a say, we tabled the Electoral Amendment (Voting Age) bill 2021, which would give young people from the age of 16 to 18 voluntarily the right to register to vote and have a say in state elections.

It is not unreasonable. We sit here in this place and we vote on laws that will affect their lives. There are decisions this parliament does not make around climate change that will profoundly affect their future, so they should be given the opportunity to vote.