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Education, Children and Young People – Commission of Inquiry

Cassy O'Connor MP  -  Wednesday, 7 June 2023

Tags: Commission of Inquiry, State Budget

Ms O'CONNOR - Minister, in Estimates on Monday the Premier detailed a number of state servants who had been either suspended or stood down or subject to ED5 investigations in relation to historical or contemporary child sexual abuse allegations. Are you able to tell the committee how many state servants from within the education system are captured within those numbers?

Mr JAENSCH - No, I won't. These are matters of employment and conduct and management of staff and any of those investigations are operational and are not matters I am involved with as a minister.

Ms O'CONNOR - Hang on, it's just about numbers, it's not about identifying anyone.

Mr JAENSCH - I am happy to stand by the Premier's answers to questions this week. He is the minister responsible for the State Service and the employment of them, but I won't be able to go into detail.

Ms O'CONNOR - I don't think that's acceptable at the Estimates table. You have just detailed to Ms O'Byrne how many teachers have resigned or retired in the last year or two and yet you won't tell the committee how many teachers, educators and other school staff have been suspended or stood down in relation to historical or contemporary child sexual abuse allegations. There is a complete contradiction in your response.

Mr JAENSCH - I don't believe there is. [audio lost] investigation of complaints or allegations that are undertaken at a high level in the State Service. I believe that those questions you have should be directed to the head of the State Service.

Ms O'CONNOR - Are you saying as minister for Education you have no line of sight or briefing or information that should be on the public record about the numbers of people who work in the Department of Education who have been captured as part of this process which you talked about in your introduction? You are happy to talk about the department's positive progress in making sure our schools are safe, but a simple request for a number of state servants within the department of Education who have been stood down or suspended, you can't detail that. I'm quite taken aback.

Mr JAENSCH - You shouldn't be because it's the sort of answer we've been consistently providing to these sorts of questions over a couple of years.

Ms O'CONNOR - What's the basis for the secrecy about it?

Mr JAENSCH - I'm happy for Mr Bullard to talk to the process but we're not going to be providing numbers in our department or in subsets of our departments in this hearing.

Ms O'CONNOR - Why not? It is unarguable that the agencies that have the most significant involvement with and impact on children and young people are the agencies for which you're responsible. They will have been captured within the evidence presented to the commission of inquiry and, undoubtedly, the recommendations when they come down at the end of August. I don't think you've got a leg to stand on in not providing some detail on the extent of the issue within your agency.

Mr JAENSCH - Through the commission of inquiry, we all listened very carefully to the very serious matters that were covered there and issues raised. There was a lot of coverage of the state Government's processes for responding to allegations, putting the safety of children and young people first, standing staff down pending investigation, involvement of all relevant authorities as required. The public can be assured that we have processes that are robust and procedurally fair for all involved to deal with those matters. We have stood those up and we've prosecuted them strongly. I'm happy for Mr Bullard to speak to the processes.

Ms O'CONNOR - I don't really need to understand the processes -

Mr JAENSCH - As to your line of questions, I don't think, given that we have those robust processes in place, that it is useful to anybody to be diving into details of who and where, what in roles -

Ms O'CONNOR - We're not interested in who or where. It's about the extent of the problem.

Mr JAENSCH - That's where we end up when we start breaking down to agencies and parts of agencies and roles in agencies.

Ms O'CONNOR - These are the agencies that have responsibility for children and young people.

Mr JAENSCH - We would expect, as you said it in your overview, that the agencies that I'm responsible for, which have been most closely examined through the commission of inquiry due to matters that arose that triggered that inquiry, a lot of this will play out in my departments, and I fully expect that. What I can assure the public about is we have a process for responding to those allegations which I am happy for Mr Bullard to describe but I'm not going to be opening up numbers.

Ms O'CONNOR - I'm looking at a picture of Mr Bullard in The Examiner in May last year where evidence was presented to the commission of inquiry that details exactly the sort of information we're looking for here today:

As at May 2022, the Education department had stood down 32 employees in the past 12-18 months over historical allegations regarding conduct with children. The independent inquiry found that 21 staff had been stood down but that since increased by 11.

Why is it that information can be shared with the commission of inquiry, and rightly so, but not a parliamentary committee?

Mr JAENSCH - I've given you my reasons.

Ms O'CONNOR - They're pathetic. They're woeful.

Mr JAENSCH - I can repeat them again. I am not going to change them.

Ms O'CONNOR - Has Mr Bullard anything to add?

Mr JAENSCH - I'm happy for Mr Bullard to speak to the process.

Mr BULLARD - We share the same objective, which is that children in our child and family learning centres, our schools, libraries, and child safety services are safe. You would have seen from my evidence at the commission that I take that very seriously. The objective is that children are heard and believed, and that we take immediate action to ensure their safety. When there is an allegation of anything that could look like child sexual abuse - and I've given evidence before that that's a very broad span, that could be an inappropriate comment, it could be touching which a child or young feels is inappropriate, to more serious allegations. That individual is asked immediately to leave the workplace whilst we prepare paperwork for me to consider whether or not I've formed a reasonable belief that there's been an ED5 and there should be an investigation. If I form that belief then in every one of those circumstances those individuals are then suspended from the workplace under ED4. I take my responsibilities very seriously.

Ms O'CONNOR - I understand that.

Mr BULLARD - We take immediate action to ensure that any risk, however small, to children and young people is dealt with and we put in place robust investigation processes.

Ms O'CONNOR - Mr Bullard, perhaps you could tell the committee how many ED5 investigations there have been.

Mr JAENSCH - I don't think this is the place for that.

Ms O'CONNOR - Well, where is the place for that? Are you serious?

Mr JAENSCH - I think that if you want that information you should write to the head of the State Service who is responsible for the employment of state servants.

Ms O'CONNOR - I'm really struggling with the apparent need for secrecy over something as basic as numbers, given that there's been a culture here within agencies - I'm not reflecting on the agency as it is now, but a culture within agencies of secrecy and cover-up that's allowed the abuse of children to happen. So, to ask these questions at the table which are about getting a clear understanding of the extent of the issue within education is a legitimate line of questioning.

Mr JAENSCH - It is.

Ms O'CONNOR - It's concerning that there is still this attempted kind of cover up of the extent of the problem.

Mr JAENSCH - What happens is that we are in a small state. Everybody knows everybody.

Ms O'CONNOR - But not by numbers.

Mr JAENSCH - It doesn't take long, once we start dissembling numbers, that you ask how many have people have been stood down because of allegations, that we get into talking about how many teachers, and are they in the north or are they in the south? Are they in high school or a primary school? That leads us to a situation where somebody who is on leave and their colleagues don't know why, a community can start to draw connections and join dots that aren't there, and a person's reputation can be brought into question for no reason at all -

Ms O'CONNOR - That's legitimate. I hear you.

Mr JAENSCH - and a proper investigation, which may include a police investigation, could be compromised by there being speculation about a person's involvement in misconduct.

Ms O'BYRNE - Nobody is trying to do that, so stop deferring in that way.

Mr JAENSCH - That's why I resist going to a breakdown of numbers. In place of that, what I can assure the public, who's keenly interested as we all are, that we have routine disclosure through DPAC of the broad numbers and we're able to provide an explanation of the process that applies in all cases so that people can have confidence that their allegations are taken seriously and all matters are followed through with rigour and integrity, and with procedural fairness to all involved.

Ms O'CONNOR - Thank you minister. I hear that concern and respect what you are saying. Of course, there are natural justice issues and procedural fairness issues here. What we asked for is a simple data set on how many educators, or people in the department of Education, have been suspended or stood down as a result of contemporary or historical child sexual abuse allegations. To give a global figure does not put anyone's identity at risk.

Mr JAENSCH - I am happy for Mr Bullard to provide global figures across his agency, as we discussed.

Ms O'CONNOR - That is just for ED5's we are talking about, the stand-downs and suspensions.

Mr JAENSCH - I remind anyone watching or listening that our Government stood up a commission of inquiry to investigate this range of matters as well. Our Government is responding on a range of fronts, which we will hopefully have a chance to talk about through these hearings.

I think we are all for transparency, accountability and rigour of process, and fairness to all involved. But what that means is that we don't reproduce a system of inquiry and investigation in this hearing where we have already got the State Service doing it, the commission of inquiry doing it and we already have secretaries in their own processes making sure that allegations are responded to in an appropriate way.

Ms O'CONNOR - If you won't provide that information to a parliamentary committee that is very unfortunate.

Mr JAENSCH - We are going to provide you with some numbers that you have asked for at department level. Mr Bullard wants to clarify the request for numbers.

Mr BULLARD - Just back to Ms O'Byrne's question because we are trying to reconcile: is it the number of ED5's that commenced in 2022-23?

Ms O'BYRNE - You gave a figure of the amount of ED5s since 2020.

Mr BULLARD - No, 2022.

Ms O'CONNOR - Minister, perhaps, in a nutshell, you could explain to the committee exactly what has changed within the agency, within the education system since the secretary presented to the commission of inquiry last year. What steps, without going through a long brief, what is different culturally within the department of Education that keeps children and young people safer? As we know from the evidence to the commission of inquiry and the evidence that prompted the independent inquiry that Professor McCormack was part of, the Education department historically has been a very significant part of the problem.

Mr JAENSCH - Thank you for the question. The single biggest example I can give you would be the establishment of the Office of Safeguarding Children and Young People and the -

Ms O'CONNOR - Perhaps you could explain how that works, practically, within a school.

Mr JAENSCH - I will ask Mr Bullard to take you through the more operational details of that; but you referred to the Department of Education inquiry conducted by Professor Smallbone and Professor McCormack, which came before the commission inquiry and -

Ms O'CONNOR - Which we helped your predecessor to have the will to stand up.

Mr JAENSCH - It was thorough. It was initiated by the Government with the support and agreement of others. It also made findings, and it was then, in some ways, superseded by the commission of inquiry role and rolled its findings into the commission. As Government, we took the view - and the commission of inquiry agreed - that matters arising from the original DoE inquiry identified a need or a shortcoming and a way of addressing it, and we should not delay doing what we knew needed to be done to make our schools safer.

That's where that safe guarding work came from. It commenced with the appointment of safe guarding leads in every school across the state - a network of people whose job is to work with principals and their school communities, their educators and school staff, to be able to plan for removal of risk in the school environment; to identify behaviour that may be grooming behaviour and may be the precursor of there being harm to children; and to develop a community of practice that is consistent across our network of schools, so that in the future, we can avoid not only situations arising in a school or in a classroom, but also for there to be dark areas in our network where people who move from one school to the other could find cover to continue their behaviours.

Ms O'CONNOR - The department moved them from one school to the other, historically; that's part of the problem.

Mr JAENSCH - What we need to do is shine light everywhere, the same way, and to have a network of people whose role is to see those risks and to plan to remove them. That's been operationalised. At the simplest level, there is a range of training, professional learning and development induction and other requirements. I will ask Mr Bullard to refer to them, because it is more operational level.

Mr BULLARD - The professors' report was very useful for us and we accepted all of the 20 recommendations. The biggest impact was building a culture of safety that is underpinned by processes, policies and procedures. More importantly it is underpinned by a strong culture where children and young people feel that they have agency to raise issues of concern; and that when they do, they are listened to and believed. Part of the reason that you would see such a rise in the ED5s is that, if you go back in the historic trajectory, it is very heartening that children are raising issues. Yes, there is a range of those, but it's okay if you don't feel comfortable with how close a teacher is standing to you.

Ms O'BYRNE - Is it always children who raise it?

Mr BULLARD - Sometimes it is staff, and part of that is raising awareness. One of the biggest areas that we are putting some money into is professional development. Grooming is very hard to spot, and historically, when you look at the evidence that came through the commission, it's quite easy to dismiss because 'I'm sure they're fine, I'm sure that's going okay'. Things such as raising concerns with teachers - not in an accusatory way, the professors were very big on this - but just to say, 'it's not a good idea to be in classrooms with students by yourself, and what protective behaviours are you putting in place'.

There's a lot of training going on with staff. The safe guarding leads are fantastic - someone in every school who we are working with to make the site physically safer, but also the culture of schools safer; and providing the confidence to staff and young people to raise issues. We've had 9000 staff do that mandatory reporting training module to date, and very proactive reporting. Through looking at the historic records that I took to the commission, we saw that, at times, decisions had been made at different levels of the organisation - which had either meant that matters were dismissed or maybe forgotten, or not proactively dealt with. Now, matters of concern are recorded at the school site and escalated straight to Workplace Relations, and they come to me. We haven't got those multiple layers of decision making going on.

We've also got our safeguarding framework. We recognise that staff need tangible materials to be able to make the right decisions quickly. It’s a safe, secure and supported safeguarding framework. It's about checklists, flowcharts and knowing where to find the right policy or process when you need it. We continue to talk consistently and constantly around the importance of being a safe organisation for children, and we know that starts with leading from the top. So, it is a narrative that you will hear me talk about a lot.

Ms O'CONNOR - I'm sure all Tasmanians welcome the allocation of $30 million towards implementation of the recommendations of the commission of inquiry. There has been some concern raised about whether that allocation has come at the expense of other funding areas, or it has seen delayed expenditure in some areas. Can you confirm that funding of $1.3 million for the Child Safety Service that had been expected in the upcoming budget is now delayed until 2026-27. There is also delayed funding of nearly $3 million to the Transition to Independence program and delayed expenditure of $20 million on the support school package, including the North West Support School, by a year.

Can you confirm those delayed funding allocations and enlighten the committee about the source of the $30 million for the commission of inquiry, and whether it has come out of other areas of your portfolio, particularly?

Mr JAENSCH - The $30 million is entirely new funding. The other line items you referred to do not represent delays. Where the new budget papers show funding for the Child Safety Service System Transition to Independence, et cetera, kicking in after this year, it is because they are already funded for this year. The previous budget papers show that. There is funding continuing through Safer Transition to Independence 2022-23; 2023-24 funding was in last year's papers. Therefore, budget papers that refer to new allocations are for the previously unfunded years.