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Department of Education - Responses to Child Sexual Abuse - Legal Advice

Dr Rosalie Woodruff MP

Dr Rosalie Woodruff MP  -  Thursday, 11 November 2021

Tags: Child Abuse, Education, Commission of Inquiry, Justice


Following the Minister for Education tabling the short version of Professors Smallbone and McCormack's full report of the inquiry into sexual abuse in the public school system, you released a joint media statement with Ms Courtney. In that statement you said:

We understand the public interest in this matter and while we aim to be as transparent as possible, the Government has previously received advice that there is a range of concerns and legal impediments relevant to the release of the full report.

What advice did you receive that meant you could not release the same full redacted report that was released to the ABC under right to information the very same afternoon? Why would the advice you received be contrary to what the Right to Information Act enabled? Why was your reflex to evade scrutiny on the details in the full redacted report? What advice was that based on?



Mr Speaker, I welcome to opportunity to respond, first to that last unfortunate allegation. It is not a knee-jerk action for us to hide anything. What we have done all along, as the Minister for Education has quite correctly identified, and the Premier also in his response, is follow the advice that we have received all along.

Right from when we first announced the commission of inquiry, we said that the work in relation to this investigation into the Department of Education would be enveloped or provided to the commission of inquiry, and that was done. We have done what we said we would do. We have provided the report to the commission of inquiry. It must be remembered that the commission of inquiry works within the framework of the Commissions of Inquiry Act, and is protected by that act.

We have now released the findings and recommendations of the report -

Members interjecting.

Mr SPEAKER - Order.

Ms ARCHER - It is absolutely impossible for the member for Franklin to listen to an answer.

Dr Woodruff - You have not addressed the question.

Mr SPEAKER - Order.

Ms ARCHER - I am going to address the question. This is a very serious matter. You have made serious allegations -

Mr SPEAKER - Through the Chair please, Attorney-General.

Ms ARCHER - of the Government, of the Minister for Education, me and the Premier, and I am attempting to answer the question.

We acknowledge the public interest in the matter. As we have said, the Government has received advice that there is a range of concerns. The member knows where the Government receives advice from.

Dr Woodruff - Just say it, for the people who are listening.

Mr SPEAKER - Order, member for Franklin.

Ms ARCHER - The member knows that, and they know the particular parameters around the advice that the Government receives.

Ms O'Connor - Was it the SG? Who gave it to you?

Mr SPEAKER - Order.

Ms ARCHER - It is sufficient enough for members in this place to be aware that we receive legal advice.

It is important to note that many people contributed to the inquiry on a confidential basis. We acknowledge their valuable contributions to the inquiry, and we want to ensure the rights of these individuals are protected. That is pursuant to both section 194K of the Evidence Act and our defamation laws as well.

RTIs are different. They are a matter for the relevant department to which that RTI is submitted. In accordance with that particular act, the department assesses and releases information at arm's length.

Dr Woodruff - It was deemed in the public interest. That is the why they released it.

Mr SPEAKER - Order, member for Franklin.

Ms ARCHER - I am aware that many RTIs go out. What recipients do with the contents of what they are provided through the RTIs is a matter for them, and a matter for their own legal advice. Journalists regularly seek their own legal advice as to what they can and cannot report on, and what they can and cannot release.

The Greens chose to table the full report -

Dr Woodruff - Redacted report. Who gave you the report?

Mr SPEAKER - Order, member for Franklin. That is at least half a dozen times you have interjected on the Attorney-General. If you do it again, I will ask you to leave.

Ms ARCHER - That is a matter for the Greens, and they do have the protection of parliamentary privilege, but they do not when they walk outside this House.

I will conclude by saying that RTIs are a separate matter. The Government does not have the protection of a Commissions of Inquiry Act. We take advice, we took advice, we have provided the findings and recommendations and our Government's response. The Minister for Education and the Premier have clearly identified the time line and the process that we adopted, and the extreme caution that we necessarily took in that regard. We have been open and transparent according to the process that we needed to adopt, and we acted swiftly.