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Estimates Reply - Jaensch

Cassy O'Connor MP  -  Thursday, 16 June 2022

Tags: Children and Young People, Education, Commission of Inquiry, Ashley Youth Detention Centre

Ms O'CONNOR - Chair, there was a lot to talk to minister Jaensch about.  I will go through the ones that it is possible to go through. 

We started our questioning of the minister around evidence that was given to the commission of inquiry by Sonya Enkelmann, an expert in this area.  Ms Enkelmann told the commission of inquiry that she had been commissioned by Communities Tasmania to do a body of work on an outcomes framework for children and young people in out‑of‑home care and work on reforming the model of family‑based care.

The evidence that Ms Enkelmann gave to the inquiry was that those bodies of work seemed to have been lost in the department.  The concern was that there was no continuity in this reform work and there was not a clear direction, particularly on outcomes for young people in out‑of‑home care, to the department or to service providers.  The minister suggested through his answers that those bodies of work are not lost, they are still guiding the agency.  However, what has become really clear, particularly through the commission of inquiry, is that the pace of reform in out-of-home care and Child Safety is dangerously glacial. 

We have recommendations from the royal commission from four or five years ago saying that all states needed to introduce child-safe organisations frameworks and legislation, and a reportable conduct scheme.  What the committee heard was that although this recommendation from the royal commission is some four years old, that work will not be finalised for another three years.  It is simply not good enough. 

I heard what the minister and his advisers had to say about having to bring organisations across the state up to standard in understanding what this framework would mean and what their legal obligations would be, but it is just not good enough for it to take seven years after the royal commission has identified the need for legislation reform for that reform to be in place.  We will certainly be keeping a close eye on the minister's progress in this area.

We also asked questions about the advice and referral line, which at the table I likened to something of a data black hole.  I heard what the minister had to say about the benefit of a line that can respond to a child's needs and see if there is something that can be done by service providers or the state to support that family and keep that child safe and at home.  I understand that, but the problem we have with the system, in our view, is that it fundamentally changes the notification process.  If a person has a concern about a young person and rings up the advice and referral line, there is a listening and triage process.  Then a decision may be made to refer the matter to Child Safety and that is when the clock starts ticking on a referral.  We regard that as a somewhat risky situation if there is a child sitting in that system, the advice and referral line, for two or more weeks before a decision is made on referring to Child Safety.  Again, we will be watching the minister closely on this.

Mr Jaensch - The triage is done up the front end.

Ms O'CONNOR - I said I heard you at the table and I acknowledge some of what you said.

The other real frustration for us was the question I asked initially of the Premier about the number of State Service staff who had been stood down as a result of historical or contemporary allegations of child sexual abuse.  Before he was stomped on, by probably somewhere in DPAC, the Premier said that there had been a total, I think, of 31 state servants stood down and he was prepared to detail which agencies they had been stood down from. 

I asked the minister for Education and child safety who has responsibility for the wellbeing of young people in Ashley how many of the Department of Education, the Child Safety Service, Youth Justice and Ashley Youth Detention Centre had been stood down as a result of historical allegations, ED5 investigations, and that is when the wall came down. 

We do not buy the argument that naming how many people, for example, have been stood down from the Department of Education potentially compromises their right to natural justice and a fair hearing.  That is a rubbish argument.  Parents of children in public schools in Tasmania have a right to know if there have been people working in the Department of Education, which there have been and that is the evidence to the inquiry, who have been stood down because they presented a real and present danger to children. 

The Premier's reflex was to be honest about which departments these state servants had been stood down from.  This minister's reflex was not to be open about that, and then later in the answers to the questions on notice we saw the Premier revert to the default position, which is not being open with Tasmanians about where people who threaten the health and wellbeing of children, predators potentially, are being stood down in government agencies.  It is simply not good enough and it makes a mockery of this new Premier's commitment to openness and transparency -

Dr Woodruff - Not to mention Mr Ellis's comments yesterday about tracking down paedophiles and doing everything we can to lock them up.

Ms O'CONNOR - That is quite a helpful interjection.  I did catch that part of Mr Ellis's posturing, and it was in relation to mandatory minimum sentencing legislation which the Government has put on the table for the fourth or fifth time, and the stated commitment to stop paedophiles in their tracks, yet there is no transparency with Tasmanians about how significant that problem has been and what is being done to address it.

I also want to understand what this Government's plan is for children and young people during a pandemic, to really understand what advice the Department of Education and the Education minister were working on from Public Health.  I want to understand how it could be that it is official government policy to allow more than 50 000 children and young people under the age of 19 to be infected with a novel coronavirus which has known long-term consequences, which causes brain damage, enlargement of the heart, gets into our neurons, our veins, and every organ in the body. 

Yet this Government's policy has basically been one of herd immunity, which is completely discredited.  Even at our own Menzies Centre, the evidence is coming in that there is no such thing as herd immunity with COVID-19, and particularly with Omicron.  Yet we have a government that allowed at the beginning of this school year children under 12 to go into under-ventilated classrooms unmasked, and the highest number of infections have been amongst primary school-aged students.  The cavalier attitude to the health and wellbeing of our children is very distressing to many Tasmanian parents.  There is a sense of abandonment, and now the Government's position is to remove all masks from schools. 

This novel coronavirus is killing, on average, 50 Australians a day and has taken the lives of more than 80 Tasmanians.  This is a scandal and a Public Health failure of epic proportions.  Over time the general public will come to understand that they have been scammed by their political leaders and their not independent Public Health officials into allowing themselves to be infected with a very dangerous and rapidly mutating virus.  I am very worried about children and young people.  I am deeply worried about this official government policy which says it is okay for them to be infected over and over again. 

Our kids deserve protection.  We have anecdotal stories of whole classrooms full of bright young maths whizzes, all of whom got infected with COVID-19, who failed their maths test as a collective.  That happened in Sydney.  I saw it on social media; it was a report from a parent.  We are playing with fire here but, worse than that, we are playing with the health and the long-term health and long-term possibilities of our children.  It is bordering on criminal.  The extent of the negligence is really breathtaking. 

Time expired.