Ms O'CONNOR question to MINISTER for EDUCATON, Ms COURTNEY
In asking this question, it is important to acknowledge that your Government did the right thing for the right reasons in initiating this inquiry. What we want to understand is why the secrecy thereafter? Professors Smallbone and McCormack's full report of the inquiry, which was only released through right to information and tabled by the Greens in here yesterday, points to a culture of cover up in the Department of Education, historically and, likely, to this day.
Do you agree it does not help that culture to decide to wait five months to release a cut down version of this critical report and to decide to table it on the same day the national broadcaster obtained the full report through right to information? To change culture in any organisation requires leadership from the top. Do you not agree that your decisions, as minister for Education and Children, about this inquiry report regrettably reinforces the culture of cover up in Education?
Mr Speaker, I thank the member for her question. I reject any allegation or assertion that the Government has improperly acted over the handling of the investigation and the outcomes.
I want to be very clear about the report: we have provided the full report to the commission of inquiry, as we committed. I noted their comments and, in line with what they have said, we have sought to look at what we can now release. We have been clear that the Government has received advice that there is a range of legal concerns and legal impediments relevant to the release of the full report. This is why we have taken the action we have taken.
This inquiry was first announced by the former minister, Jeremy Rockcliff, on the 27 August 2020. On 23 November the Government announced the establishment of the commission of inquiry and stated that:
The agency specific investigations currently underway will continue until the commission of inquiry is established. All information gathered will be rolled to the commission of inquiry.
On 2 December, the Attorney General reiterated this in a media release. This was restated on 2 March 2021, when the Attorney General advised the House that the important work already underway by Professors Stephen Smallbone and Tim McCormack in relation to the Department of Education, and Ms Maree Norton into the Department of Health, the Tasmanian Health Service and other entities, would all continue by being rolled into the commission of inquiry. On 7 June 2021, the report was received by the Department of Justice. On 14 June 2021 it was provided in full to the commission of inquiry.
Mr Speaker, we did what we committed publicly to do. When the Government received the report, it was provided, as I said, to the commission of inquiry. We also took advice on what could be released publicly at the time. The advice to the Government was that the report should only be published by the commission of inquiry, with legal impediments to the release of the report. The advice considered a range of issues, including the potential identification of victims, with many people contributing to the inquiry on a confidential basis, as well as consideration of section 194K of the Evidence Act. The Government accepted that advice.
Concurrent to this, it was provided to the Department of Education in July. The department took immediate action with the establishment of the Office of Safeguarding Children and Young People in August.
The Government and I take not only the outcomes of this report seriously, but we are ensuring that the very sensitive information contained in reports like this is appropriately handled. We want those who have been impacted by child sex abuse, their families and their loved ones to feel confident to come forward and know that their information will be appropriately protected.
This Government has not only delivered on what we said we would, in terms of providing that to the commission of inquiry in full, on receipt of it; we have stood up within the Department of Education, the Office of Safeguarding Children and Young People, so that we can get on with delivering the outcomes.